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8.54 pm

Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South): I wish to be brief because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.

A civilised society is one that creates an environment in which there is adequate housing for its people. What is wrong with the Bill is that the Government have looked only at one type of housing for the past 17 years--owner-occupied. Their policy and dogma have been created around that.

Hon. Members from all parties have said today that housing should be a concern for all of us. We can all quote casework from our surgeries of the number of housing problems that come along. The core of the Bill should have been about increasing social housing provision in the rented sector. The Bill has 181 clauses and 144 pages, and the core of it is the question of waiting lists and how people figure on the waiting lists, not meeting need.

I find it offensive that the Government, who have tried to divide society for the past 17 years in many economic areas, are now trying to divide those in housing need by saying that certain people, and they mention single-parent families, are a problem that has to be resolved. That is very offensive.

There have been 10,000 objectors to the Bill. The Minister will have to reply to them, because they are not people with knee-jerk reactions but professionals in the housing sector, the voluntary sector and other charitable organisations.

The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) mentioned the rough sleepers initiative. It is scandalous that, as we approach the 21st century, we have rough sleepers not just in London but in towns and cities all over the country. That is an absolute disgrace when one considers the resources that the Government have had at their disposal for the past 17 years.

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The Bill is about dogma. The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration has said many times in the House that he does not think that it is appropriate for local authorities to build houses. Why not? That is a legitimate choice for tenants, if they want their local authorities to build houses.

We have seen a move to housing associations. There are many good housing associations, especially those that have coped with special needs in society. However, housing association grants have been cut. The money that was spent by local authorities was moved to housing associations and their grants were cut. That has meant that the smaller associations have been put in jeopardy and have been unable to provide the services that people require. The housing associations are now having to compete for grant, so they have become bigger and moved away from their local areas, where they developed, and have lost local accountability.

I believe that local authorities should be allowed to build houses because that is what people want. Local authorities, through elected members, know the needs of people in their areas.

There is nothing in the Bill to help with the problem of negative equity and mortgage arrears. People have faced the pain of living in a house that is no longer worth what it was when they first bought it and they have got into arrears because of the economic situation. We must look at housing and plan it differently. The job for life is no longer available, and people have to change their job profile up to three times during their career. The 25-year mortgage for those who can afford to buy may not be sustainable. We must consider different housing finance.

We are approaching the 21st century and it is time to consider the problems that we have created. For example, there are problems on large estates where the Government encouraged people to buy their homes. It is interesting to reflect on projects such as city challenge and the regeneration budget. Those who bought their houses were not able to benefit from the regeneration schemes. It was ridiculous that in many areas people were penalised for buying their homes. In some instances, the result was behavioural problems on estates.

I am concerned that tenants' rights in the private sector have been weakened. I am concerned also about women who are the victims of domestic violence. How will they be treated under the new regime? The Bill leaves many questions unanswered. I am sure that we shall take it to pieces in Committee, clause by clause. There are 10,000 objectors and many of the organisations that represent them are not automatically friends of the Labour party, despite what Conservative Members have said. Instead, they are organisations that care about housing. We must ensure that we provide housing to meet the needs of society into the next century.

My hon. Friends have raised many of the matters to which I wished to draw attention. I hope that there will be the opportunity to examine them in more detail. Rightly, we have had a major debate that has focused on the rights of individuals to be properly housed. A Labour Government will be the only vehicle to ensure that people get what they deserve.

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9 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury): I am delighted to be able to speak in this important debate. The Bill is yet another example to prove that the Government still have positive policies for the future. When I asked the hon. Members for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) what their policies were, how many social homes they would provide and how much money they would spend, neither of them--they are Opposition party spokesmen--was able to give me a positive answer.

The Government are making positive decisions. They have introduced a major Bill with many provisions that are designed to improve the plight of all those who want a roof over their head. During the 17 years that a Conservative Government have been in power, we have enabled and empowered people to make choices about their own lives. As a result, 78 per cent. of the population own their own home. That is a creditable achievement. Given a reasonable economic improvement in the housing market, I am sure that we shall see further increases in owner-occupation.

We are concerned also about the private rented sector. I am delighted that there are provisions in the Bill to encourage it still further. During the currency of the Labour Government in the 1970s, they regulated out of existence 400,000 private rented sector homes. Instead, this Conservative Government wish to encourage that sector. I welcome further deregulation, which will encourage more landlords to let their houses.

A sector that should be especially encouraged is homes over shops. There have been several initiatives to do so. In every small market town--there are many in my constituency--there are homes that could be let by the private rented sector. They are not let because of fear of Labour Government regulation. At the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s the Labour Government introduced a penal regime. A future Labour Government might return to it, so we should not become complacent. Rental income was classed as unearned income and taxed at a staggering 98 per cent. If the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) is proud of that record, what else is he proud of? That penal regime was a disgrace. That is why 400,000 houses were regulated out of the market.

Mrs. Maddock: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I have less than 10 minutes now, but I shall let the hon. Lady intervene briefly. After that, I shall not give way.

Mrs. Maddock: How many flats over shops would the hon. Gentleman like to see come into use? How much money would he like to see the Government make available for such a scheme?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: As I said, I shall not give way again because I have only a short time available to me.

The answer to the hon. Lady's question is that not every issue can be addressed by money. There must be confidence in the private rented sector. Liberal and Labour Members are not doing much to bring that about by their speeches.

There are many parts of the Bill that I welcome, including the formation of a housing investment trust. It will be an excellent vehicle to enable the Government to

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lever in money in addition to the £18 billion a year that they are spending in the housing market. I am delighted that the private sector is playing its part. I do not know why the hon. Member for Greenwich laughs, because I thought that the Labour party would be even more pleased to provide more homes and to let the private--

Mr. Raynsford rose--

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am not giving way, as I have only 10 minutes.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman would be pleased that the private rented sector would be spending more and more on providing social housing. I wish that the Government would go further and allow, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith), the private sector to take part in the housing investment programme grants, so that it could take some of the risk of producing social housing as well. I urge the Government to go further and faster in that respect.

There are many other areas of the Bill that I warmly welcome. As has been said many times, we all have surgery cases involving obnoxious next-door neighbours who cannot be evicted by the council or the housing association. I warmly welcome the fact that the Government are acting in that respect. If those obnoxious neighbours are given a temporary house, I urge that if they misbehave still further, they should end up with lower and lower-quality housing. That is what they deserve.

The Evening Standard ran a campaign on bad landlords. Nobody would support bad landlords under the leasehold system, and I warmly welcome measures in the Bill that will clarify some of the misunderstood provisions in the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, particularly in relation to the scam that has been perpetrated by a small minority of leaseholders who have been creating flying freeholds. It is a disgrace that they have used loopholes to get round the provisions of the Act, although I do not particularly approve of it. I welcome the fact that the Government, through the Bill, have filled those loopholes.

As a chartered surveyor, I warmly welcome the valuation provisions that the Bill includes in relation to the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act, because they will clarify the role of the valuer and precisely how he is to value marriage value and so on. It is wrong that we have not had an ombudsman who could cover housing trusts. The fact that he will be given powers to decide difficult cases must be warmly welcomed.

The Government are courageous to introduce the Bill. The major area of contention, as has been mentioned this evening, is that of the allocation of housing lists. For too long, it has been politically incorrect to talk about the categories of people who are entitled to be housed in local authority housing.

I shall give the House an idea of the gift that we give people in public sector housing. Let me quote some figures that I unearthed today. A typical rent for a one-bedroom house in the Cotswold district council area today is £45 per week. I went to a leading building society to obtain a mortgage cost to cover £40,000, and found that a typical repayment mortgage over 25 years was £67 a week. If one had to buy an annuity after tax, the difference would be a staggering £18,000. So in effect every single housing association and local authority that

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allows a tenant to come into a one-bedroom house, built at a cost of £40,000 of taxpayers' money, is getting a capital gift of £18,000. That is why it must be right, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove(Mr. Thomason) said, that where there is a finite amount of public sector housing, we should encourage greater mobility in that sector. I asked the council how many tenants it encouraged last year, because of declining requirements in their older age, to move into a smaller house. I was told that the answer was six--three of whom have written to me--so we are not getting the mobility in the public sector that we deserve.

I warmly welcome the Bill. The paucity of policies that both Opposition parties displayed this evening is a disgrace. Every single person should be reminded of that time and again until we discover how much the Opposition parties will spend on their housing policies. Will it be more than the £18 billion that we are currently spending? If so, by how much? The Opposition parties can laugh, but the people are entitled to know the answer to that question as soon as possible.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity.


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