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Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. I am sorry, but time is up.

7.38 pm

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North): I begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the very good news that he gave my constituency towards the end of last year on the housing investment programme. Blackpool's HIP allocation, which was £1,866,000 in 1995-96, has risen to £2,734,000 for 1996-97--an increase of 47 per cent. No other local authority has received such a substantial increase, and that is good news for housing in Blackpool and for my constituents.

That contrasted significantly with what the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) said about the Government failing to invest in housing. The hon. Lady has, of course, disappeared--she is no longer in her place. The longer I stay in this place, the more I notice that Liberals tend to be here today, gone tomorrow.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: As far I can see, there is not a single Liberal Democrat Member in the Chamber. Clearly, housing is of no great importance to the Liberal Democrats. Once a Liberal Democrat makes a long-winded speech, that is the lot for the day.

Mr. Elletson: Absolutely. As my hon. Friend says, the hon. Member for Christchurch made an extremely long-winded speech, which means that there is much less time for other hon. Members.

I also take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on the Bill, because much of what it proposes will be welcome news for my constituents. The Bill builds on the Government's record over 17 years of giving people more choice in housing and of enabling more people to own their own home. The Bill's proposals to increase home ownership are good news, and there is also good news for the increasing numbers of council tenants who, during the past 16 years, have been given the right to buy. It is good news also for those who want a real say in how their homes are managed.

I also thank the Minister for the help that the Department of the Environment has given to my constituents in the Queen's Park estate, who have been struggling for the past two years to free themselves from the Stalinist clutches of Blackpool's housing authority.

Mr. Sykes: It is a Labour authority.

Mr. Elletson: As my hon. Friend points out, the housing authority is controlled by Labour. It has not, however, been subject to the recent breath of fresh air of so-called new Labour that has apparently swept through other local authorities. Blackpool is, unfortunately, still a very old-fashioned housing authority. The tenants on Queen's Park estate are seeking to run their own affairs and manage their own estate and, in that regard, they will be given a great deal of valuable help and advice by the tenants' participation advisory service. I was asked to pass on the thanks of the tenants to the Minister.

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Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Elletson: No. I have given way once already, and I have only 10 minutes in which to speak. I should crack on, because I want to make one or two points that are of specific relevance and importance to my constituents.

The two aspects of the Bill that I want deal with have great importance not only for my constituents but for those in seaside resorts throughout the country. First, I shall refer to the provisions in the Bill dealing with houses in multiple occupation. Secondly, I want to say a few brief words about the provisions for dealing with anti-social tenants. Those provisions will make a great difference to the quality of life of a lot of people in my constituency and throughout the country.

The House has heard what a significant problem HMOs, or benefit hostels, are for seaside resorts. It is difficult for hon. Members who do not come from seaside constituencies to understand how damaging such places can be to the tourism industry and to the quality of life of the ordinary people who live in towns such as Blackpool, Morecambe, Scarborough or Bournemouth.

Unfortunately, the tourism industry does not always get the attention it deserves. It is one of the biggest employers in the country, and one of the fastest-growing industries world wide. The industry significantly depends on its seaside element, as about 50 per cent. of all tourism in this country is connected with the seaside. We must not underestimate the importance of dealing with this crucial problem.

The growth in the number of benefit hostels in seaside resorts has been highly damaging to the tourism industry. There are about 2,000 to 3,000 benefit hostels in Blackpool--a staggering figure. There is no way on earth that the people in those hostels come exclusively from Blackpool, the Fylde coast, Manchester, Liverpool, Lancashire or anywhere in the north of England--they come from all over the place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough(Mr. Sykes) has pointed out that thoroughly unscrupulous landlords, who operate the most Rachman-type businesses and often put tenants into the most disgraceful Dickensian conditions, are deliberately advertising for customers to come and claim their benefit by the seaside. That has had an appalling effect.

I shall refer briefly to a number of roads in my constituency to give an example of the sheer scale of the problem. These are roads throughout Blackpool and the surrounding area to the north. In Pleasant street on North Shore, cars have been broken into and cars and local shops have been vandalised. Fights have occurred between groups of residents from the hostels and rubbish has been set alight.

In one particular hostel, the New Beverley hotel on Pleasant street, there have been four drug-related deaths in the past year. One of the victims was a 19-year-old drug addict, who was well known to the police. He had beaten up a pregnant woman and some elderly folk, he burgled homes to feed his drug habit and he had a string of convictions--exactly the sort of character one wants living in the middle of prime tourist accommodation. Just two days before his death, he had been released on bail from Lancaster Farms young offenders unit.

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In Regent road, Blackpool, there are a number of HMOs. The inhabitants bring out their armchairs from the hostels and sit on them on the pavement. They block the footpaths and swear at and abuse the passing public. One of the law-abiding citizens who has to live in this street was recently threatened with a bayonet. The police are called to this road usually every week.

I have received regular complaints that inhabitants in Knowle avenue, further up North Shore, have been sitting on the pavement all day, drinking and verbally abusing the passing public. One young woman wrote to me to describe how she witnessed a young man from a hostel urinating from the second-floor window on to street. Many residents are too frightened to walk past the hostel at any time, day or night.

The complaints that I have heard about Maitland avenue in Cleveleys range from music being played loudly until 2 am every day, to constant loud and foul abusive language, known drug-taking and fights on the premises that usually result in the police and paramedic services being called. In one particular incident, a man wielding a carving knife and shouting a torrent of abuse chased another man down the street. There is a massive amount of theft of property from cars.

How can we deal with that problem? The Government have gone some way in the Bill towards addressing the issue of a registration scheme, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) that the Bill does not go far enough. I was delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had to say about the scale of the powers that he appears to be ready to offer to local authorities to enable them to close down places that are having a significantly deleterious effect on the local community. I believe that the best way of ensuring that that happens is through a proper licensing scheme--possibly self-financing--that allows local authorities to opt in. In any event, we need a licensing scheme. I hope that when the Government table their amendments to the Bill, we shall see the introduction of such a scheme--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order.

7.48 pm

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe): We were not long into the Secretary of State's speech before the difference between what the Government say about housing and what they intend to do about it became apparent. The Secretary of State managed that in his first sentence, when he talked about the right of every family to a decent home. Unfortunately, nothing in the rest of his speech pointed to a single measure in the Bill that will provide any more homes to make that aspiration come true.

It is not that we are spending less on housing now than we were in 1979. It is just that we are spending the money on different things. Judging by the breakdown of total expenditure, we are spending only a quarter of the total housing budget on bricks and mortar. In 1979, we were spending three quarters. The difference is simple. In 1979, 10 per cent. of the total budget was spent on housing benefits and support for rent, but now it is 50 per cent. In their housing standards, the people of Britain are paying for the Government's policy of creating unemployment

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and forcing up rents. The money is there, but it is not being spent on providing houses and improving housing in the way that it was.

Indeed, the target that the Government set for themselves in the White Paper that they issued last year aimed not at increasing the number of homes, but simply at making more of them owner-occupied. The Government's obsession with owner-occupation has been a problem for the past 16 years. Rather than having an obsession with providing decent homes, they have one with trying to make as many homes as possible owner-occupied.

Hon. Members have mentioned people who have bought flats in tower blocks, and face massive charges for them. Of course, if the charges are over-inflated, it is wrong, but during the 1980s, under Conservative Government legislation, the Government urged people to buy the flats, criticising Labour councils that warned them of the difficulties that they would get themselves into. Again, that shows their obsession with owner-occupation and with pushing into owner-occupation people who should never have been encouraged into it in the first place.

Our surgeries show us the real housing problems. Housing is certainly the major issue in my surgeries. In the 1970s, council tenants would have been asking for repairs, but that is not the case now as we have an excellent and responsive repair service in Sheffield. People now come with their rehousing and homelessness problems and because of neighbour disputes. The first two problems can be put down to the fact that we are building half the homes for rent that we were building in 1979. Homelessness has doubled in the country as a whole and, in Sheffield, it is running at six to seven times the rate that it was when we had a Labour Government in power as well as a Labour council.

The homelessness provisions in the Bill and the way in which the Government intend to deal with homeless families will cause me to vote against it tonight. Several Conservative Members, including Ministers, have said that they have not read the Bill, as published. I have read it several times and the more I read it, the less I like it. No one will pretend that there are not some difficulties with the administration of the present homelessness legislation. Of course, there are conflicts when there is a shortage of housing--conflicts between the homeless and those in housing need. Occasionally, people use the homelessness route to queue-jump, but that is not a reason for tearing up the legislation and throwing away the rights of every homeless family. Local authorities are under pressure because of unsatisfactory and insufficient housing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said, it is a problem of rationing. There are too few houses to go round.

Hon. Members cite examples of queue jumping and, of course, there may be some truth in some of them. In others, what is meant by queue jumping is the fact that, in the early 1980s, families could have expected to get a family home through the waiting list after two or three years and would have waited with their parents or in-laws, but as the waits have increased to 10 years for the same properties in my city, family pressures become so great that people cannot manage to live together any longer. That is why many young couples end up homeless and at the local authority's door. They are forced there by the intolerable pressures that the Government and their

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housing polices are putting on family life. That is not queue jumping, but the failure of Government policy, and that is what needs to be rectified.

Ministers have said over and over again that homeless families may still get secure accommodation, but they will have no right to it. In some circumstances, they may be fortunate enough to get it. If the Minister intends to deal with the problem in his reply, he must explain how the legislation will work. My understanding is that a right to interim accommodation comes under clause 147. Clause 151 provides a statutory duty to provide temporary accommodation, which may not be applied if other accommodation in the area is available--clause 155--and if the temporary housing offer is in local authority housing, a family can stay only for a maximum of two years in three. In the meantime, under clause 151, the family might become eligible for a local authority property through the housing list, according to the allocation policies in the consultation document.

There is no certainty that a family that is given a two-year temporary tenancy, which is subject to periodic review--possibly every year--will be eligible for that property at the end of, or during, the two years and no certainty that it will be offered any local authority tenancy during that period. At the end of the two years, the family, which has been accepted as unintentionally homeless and in priority need, could be forced on to the streets, or into a hostel or a property that the local authority has temporarily leased. Even if the family gets a local authority tenancy because of its position on the housing list and according to the allocation criteria on which the Minister is consulting, it could be a different property from the temporary property. The family will therefore be faced with upheaval, not merely of its home life, but of its social life and its children's education. That is not good enough. It is not acceptable and we shall fight as vigorously as we can against it, today and in Committee.

If the Minister thinks that I am wrong and that he has a correct understanding of the Bill, I hope that he will respond. I will even give up my time now for him to explain precisely how I am wrong. If he does not explain it, I shall take it that I have given an accurate description of the Bill and that it takes away the right to secure and permanent accommodation. That is why we shall oppose it.

Neighbour nuisance is now a significant problem. We welcome some of the measures as far as they go, but I am concerned that we should not treat all council tenants as potential problems. I am worried about introductory and probationary tenancies because they stigmatise every tenant before they do anything wrong.

Secondly, it is not only tenants who create problems of neighbour nuisance. Some of the worst cases that I have come across have involved owner-occupiers. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) proposed a community safety order, which could apply to anyone, not merely to tenants. I hope that the Government will consider that idea, because we have to be even-handed when dealing with the problem.

Finally, on houses in multiple occupation, we need a licensing system. All the responses to the Government's consultation exercise showed that the organisations concerned with housing believed that that was the right way to proceed.

There is a further difficulty. The Government must define what a house in multiple occupation is. Last year, in a difficult court case involving Sheffield city council,

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because some students in a house happened to share certain domestic activities, such as eating, the courts found that what everyone thought was a house in multiple occupation was not classified in law as such. That is worrying. It is a loophole about which I have written to Ministers. I hope that they will define what is a house in multiple occupation and conclude that the law needs changing.

In conclusion, the Bill is a missed opportunity at best. At worst, it does damage to those people in greatest housing need, and we shall vigorously oppose those elements of it that do so, particularly the removal of the right of homeless families to secure and permanent accommodation.

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