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Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough): Why should this Minister, this Government or this party take any lectures from the push-me-pull-you Labour party, which says one thing and does another? Hackney council has 2,000 empty houses even as we speak.

Mr. Dobson: I shall not defend Hackney council's indefensible housing record. Apparently, however, Conservative Members will defend the indefensible record of Departments whose housing "empties" grotesquely exceed that number. The number of empty Department of Transport houses, for instance, has increased by 16 per cent., and the figures for the Ministry of Defence and the Welsh Office have increased by15 per cent. and 44 per cent. respectively. Meanwhile, as the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration himself said in a press statement, the number of empty council houses has fallen.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: I shall return to that issue. Now, however, I want to talk about the Government's record on

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owner-occupation, and compare it with that of the previous Labour Government. Under the previous Labour Government, housing repossessions were running at 3,000 a year, and falling; under the present Government, 50,000 families a year are losing their homes. There are now17 repossessions for every one that took place under Labour; the Tory record on repossessions is 17 times worse than Labour's.

Under the previous Labour Government, fewer than 10,000 families were in serious mortgage arrears. Today, the figure is 250,000. There are 25 families in serious arrears for every one under the Labour Government; the Tory record on mortgage arrears is 25 times worse than Labour's.

On top of that, the present Government have inflicted negative equity on the nation. More than 1,100,000 families now live in homes that are worth less than their mortgages. Negative equity is most common in the south-east, where it affects 434,000 families. It affects 185,000 families in London, and 159,000 in the south-west. However, it also affects 27,000 families in Yorkshire, 51,000 in the north-west, 63,000 in the west midlands and 99,000 in the east midlands.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: Not yet.

I cannot give a comparable figure for negative equity under Labour, because it did not exist under Labour.It did not exist as a fact, and it did not even exist as a phrase.

Mr. Gummer: Does the hon. Gentleman not admit that it would be pretty difficult to bring about negative equity with inflation at 28 per cent.? He is merely saying that, under Labour, inflation was so high that there was never any possibility of such circumstances.

Mr. Dobson: Apparently, the Secretary of State is now claiming credit for negative equity. I never thought that we would get him to do that.

In fact, the Government have had to invent the phrase "negative equity" to describe the circumstances into which they have dragged innumerable families. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. It was necessary to invent the phrase, so the Government invented it. The Tories engineered a property boom in order to win a general election, and when they turned the boom into bust, they left the victims in the lurch. There is nothing in the Bill to help owner-occupiers: they are still left in the lurch.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The hon. Gentleman has talked a good deal about what he calls negative equity. Will he now clearly give his party's position? How much more money would a Labour Government spend to resolve the problem that the hon. Gentleman describes as negative equity?

Mr. Dobson: The main thing that is necessary--[Hon. Members: "Answer."] At the beginning of my speech,I spoke of the insecurity that racks everyone in the country. It is mainly job insecurity. The Government's economic incompetence has caused negative equity, and all the other problems suffered by owner-occupiers.

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The Tory party claims to be the party of owner-occupiers, but it is not: it is the party of repossessions, of mortgage arrears and of negative equity. But it is worse than that because, on housing, as on tax,it is the party of election lies and broken election promises. During the 1992 election, the Prime Minister said:

That added his personal touch to the Tory election manifesto--and Conservative Members were all elected on it--which stated:

Since then, all these Tories, led by the Prime Minister, have cut mortgage tax relief twice, cut mortgage help to people who lose their jobs in six different ways on four separate occasions--

Mr. Thomason: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: No, I shall not.

The Tories have also cut mandatory home renovation grants for owner-occupiers. No wonder Mrs. Thatcher said--so it must be true:

their house--

We could not ask for a clearer statement of the breach of an election promise.

Mr. Thomason rose--

Mr. Dobson: The pre-election campaign contained another of the Prime Minister's flights of fancy.On "Desert Island Discs" in January 1992, presumably dreaming of a Thatcher-free zone, he fantasised:

Since the Prime Minister said that, more than 200,000 families have had their homes repossessed. The rate is running at 50,000 a year.

Mr. Thomason rose--

Mr. Dobson: One in 10 homeless families are the victims of repossession. I say to Conservative Members: no wonder the boss of the house-building company Persimmon Homes said:

I point out to Conservative Members that that was from the boss of a company which, up to now, has donated money to the Tory party.

Mr. Thomason: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for eventually giving way. Is it his party's intention to restore mortgage tax relief to previous levels?

Mr. Dobson: Until we hear from the Government what their intention is, we will not say. I understood that the hon. Gentleman had some experience of the problems of the housing market. Probably, we will not want lectures from him.

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The Conservative Government cannot claim to be the party of tenants. It has been the party of enormous rent rises, which have placed a massive burden on the taxpayer. Under the Government, average council rents are six times as high as they were under Labour. In the past five years, they have risen by three times the rate of inflation.

Mr. Sykes: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: Certainly not.

Over the same five years, when the retail prices index rose by 27 per cent., housing association rents rose by85 per cent. Rent rises in the private sector have been steeper still and, as a result, the cost to the taxpayerof housing benefits has gone up from £4 billion to£10 billion.

So the Tories have done nothing for owner-occupiers and they have driven up rents for tenants. When it comes to homelessness, however, they are even worse--the Tories really are the party of homelessness. Under them, the number of homeless families has doubled.

Mr. Sykes rose--

Mr. Robert G. Hughes rose--

Mr. Dobson: No, I shall not give way to either of the hon. Gentlemen.

Hundreds of thousands of other families have been left in overcrowded and unsatisfactory homes. The Tories claim to be the party of the family--you agree with that, do you? Thank you.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the conventions in the House.

Mr. Dobson: I am sure that you believe in the family, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Under this Government, homeless parents have been forced to try to bring up their families in circumstances that would be unacceptable to every hon. Member, and all that comes after 16 years of the Tory Government and 16 years of Tory housing policy. Last year, more than 120,000 families were officially accepted as homeless. To meet their needs, plus the needs of all the other families who are on council housing waiting lists, to which the Secretary of State referred, last year the Government committed councils to building just 404 council homes. That is one new home for every 301 homeless families. In the last year of the previous Labour Government, councils started to build 54,000 new homes. That means that under Labour they were building 135 new homes for every one that is being built today and that the Tory record on house building for people in need is 135 times worse than that of Labour.

Like repossessions, negative equity and mortgage arrears, homelessness and the lack of new homes are found all over the country. In London, Labour was building 415 new homes for every one that is being built today. We were building 9,128 new homes, while last year the Tories managed 22 in London. That number in a

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whole year would not provide enough space for the people who will sleep in cardboard boxes in the Strand this very night.

Homeless families are not the only people who are looking for homes. To put the Tories' building record into perspective, against the 22 houses that they built, 28,000 families were accepted as homeless in London last year.

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