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Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East): My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the needs of inner-city families, especially those on housing estates. Does he agree that the Secretary of State is in danger of being labelled as the King Canute of housing, because he will be overwhelmed by the rising tide of crime in such estates, and problem families? He and his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary have done nothing about that, but Labour has produced a policy on those problems, which we have had in Coventry.

Mr. Dobson: I fear that my hon. Friend may be giving the Secretary of State more credit than he deserves. As I understand the story, King Canute attempted to demonstrate to creepy courtiers that he could not turn back the tide. I rather suspect that the Secretary of State thinks that he can.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury): We have exceeded our manifesto commitment to build 150,000 houses since being elected. Will the hon. Gentleman say precisely whether he would build more or fewer than that, and by how much he would subsidise public housing?

Mr. Dobson: The Government have not built them. [Interruption.] Under the Government, the combined construction of houses by councils and housing associations--which I think some Conservative Members believe has entirely made up for the cut in council house building--is half what it was in 1979. The Government have halved building and doubled homelessness, and some of us think that there is a connection between the two.

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman has been asked whether he would spend more or less on house building, whether he would provide more or less money to aid those with negative equity and whether he would spend more or less on tax relief for mortgage payments. He has failed to answer any of those questions. If he wishes to criticise the Government, he must tell us whether he would spend more in each of those areas. If he will not, then he must shut up.

Mr. Dobson: When we put our manifesto to the people before the general election, those matters will be spelt out. We do not like making promises that would be broken--unlike Conservative Members who made promises about tax and housing and then threw them away, pretending that they had not been made. I shall give the right hon. Gentleman more detailed figures. In the last five years of the previous Labour Government, the building of what some people call social housing averaged 134,000 houses a year. Under this Government, the total built by housing associations, local authorities and new towns is 34,000. That means that, on average, there are 100,000 a year fewer over a five-year period.

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

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Mr. Dobson: No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have told him that, so he might as well sit down.

Mr. Ashby rose--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The House is well aware of the convention on giving way.

Mr. Dobson: I have told the hon. Gentleman that I will not give way at the moment. If he behaves himself and is civil, I might give way to him later.

In Yorkshire, under a Labour Government 6,300 new council homes were being built. The latest figure is just 24--not 24,000, just 24 houses. More than 11,000 people are homeless in Yorkshire. In the north-west, Labour was building 8,600 homes, but under the Tories the total is just three houses for the whole of Yorkshire to meet the needs of the massive total of 18,000 homeless people.

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

Mr. Dobson: No. I have explained to the hon. Gentleman that if he behaves in a civil manner, he might get a look in.

Mr. Ashby rose--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman knows the rules and he must abide by them.

Mr. Dobson: In the south-east outside London, 11,000 homes were being built under Labour. Last year, the Tories managed just 47. There are 18,000 homeless families in the south-east.

Dr. Lynne Jones: The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked about subsidies for social rented housing. Housing revenue accounts are ring-fenced, and by and large the only subsidy for council housing is housing benefit. The average council rent is £36 a week and the total housing benefit bill for tenants, who make up 30 per cent. of the population, is £5.3 billion. By contrast, the Government are spending £3.6 billion, paying an average of £69 a week to the private rented sector--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Lady will not catch my eye if she refuses to accept that when I stand, she must sit down.Her conduct is not good enough.

Dr. Jones: I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Dobson: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. As I have said, under this regime, shall we say, over a five-year period, the cost to the taxpayer of housing benefit has gone up from £4 billion to £10 billion. That is the wrong way to go about it. Faced with record numbers of homeless families and other families who want to rent somewhere decent to live, a Government with any common sense would build some houses for them. That would be good for people who would be able to move in and good for building workers and the people who supply the building industry. For instance, it would be good for

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people who make bricks in Bedfordshire, and for those who make carpets in Kidderminster, central heating boilers in Belper and electrical fittings in Basildon. But we cannot really expect common sense from the Government and instead there is in the Bill Tory mean-mindedness and a lurch to the right.

Instead of helping the victims of their policies, the Government are blaming them. Faced with enormous queues for council and housing association homes, the Government are not trying to shorten the queues by building more homes. Instead they propose just to rearrange the queues and hope that, by that process, the people who are affected will start blaming one another and that attention might also be distracted from the Tory record.

Mr. Ashby: The hon. Gentleman keeps on quoting the new houses built under Labour in 1979. I was one of the chairmen of housing on the Greater London council. May I give the hon. Gentleman an example of the new housing that he is talking about? There were 300 perfectly good houses knocked down and 303 houses built--an extra three houses, not 303 houses. His figures are completely and utterly wrong. We saw social manipulation, not extra houses.

Mr. Dobson: If that was the quality of thought brought to the Tory side of housing on the GLC, no wonder the Tories were slung out.

Instead of finding families somewhere decent to live, the Government propose to force them to live in perpetual insecurity; to live for ever in sub-standard temporary homes, badgered and bullied by bureaucrats and landlords. That is what the so-called party of the family intends for thousands of families. What will that do for the health of families, for the job prospects of the parents, for the relationships between the parents and between the parents and their children, and for the education prospects of the children?

Ministers claim that their housing policies have worked and that their benefit policies have worked, but it is not true; it is not like that. If one wants to find something that epitomises all that is worst about the Government, one need go no further than Westminster. I should make it clear that the Tories must take the blame for whatever happens in Westminster. Like the rest of the country, Westminster has a Tory Government, with Tory housing policies and Tory benefit policies, but unlike almost all of the rest of the country, it has a Tory council, with a Tory housing policy and a Tory environmental health policy.

What do we find in that demi-paradise? We find the Clarendon Court hotel, which used to be a luxury hotel. Now it is rotten, rundown, insanitary, and a bed-and-breakfast hotel for homeless families. It is occupied by 158 households, and they are living in squalor. The landlords will not be living in squalor. They are being paid £750,000--£14,000 of taxpayers' money a week--in Tory Government housing benefit by Tory Westminster council. The company that owns the hotel cannot be traced. It is believed to be a foreign company, so for all I know, it might be one of those foreign companies that make secret donations to the Tory party.

Living in that insecure and insanitary dump are158 households. They each live in a bedsitting room and share kitchen facilities. A professional report says that a

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typical bedsitter in the place is infested with cockroaches and the windows are dangerous. The occupants have to use an electric plug at floor level for the kettle. They share the use of a communal kitchen 40 yd away from their bedsitter, and they share it with the occupants of 47 other bedsitters. The 48 have access to just three electric cookers, with a total of 12 electric rings. Only six of the rings are working--six rings for cooking, for the residents of 48 rooms. The kitchen, like the bedsitter, is infested with cockroaches. The surfaces are worn, damaged, chipped and insanitary.

That is the place--what about the people? I shall briefly describe just one family who have been forced by the Tory Government and the Tory council to live in such squalor. The family consists of a father, a mother, a son aged four and a daughter aged three. Those of us who have children should remember the circumstances in which we were living when our children were toddlers of four and three years old. The father has had a serious operation on his head--[Laughter.] What a funny chap he is to some Conservative Members. Doctors say that the father needs a clean atmosphere, free from dust and dirt. He will never get that at the Clarendon Court hotel.

It is not hard for Labour Members--even some Conservative Members--to imagine the effects of such squalor on the people who live in that hotel. In case some people find it difficult to understand, however--it is clear that one or two hon. Members do--I shall read from two medical reports that describe what it is like to live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The first report says:


clearly, the Clarendon Court hotel is not--


A further medical report spelled out the consequences of such squalor. It said:


Those reports refer to circumstances about two and a half miles away from the House. It is shameful.

Faced with the likely consequences of the squalor of the Clarendon Court hotel, Westminster council has done next to nothing to help--except hand over housing benefit to the tune of £14,000 a week. It is not the fault of the Labour party, the trade unions or anybody else; it is the responsibility of a Tory Government, a Tory council, and in all probability a Tory landlord.

The Housing Bill does not propose to do anything to improve the living conditions of those families. Nor does it propose anything to help them get somewhere better to

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live--quite the reverse. The Bill is likely to force them to stay there longer. That is because the Government are lurching to the right.


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