Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Evans: The Minister mentions unemployment. Will he and the Secretary of State work with the Assembly and the WDA to ensure that Pembrokeshire receives inward investment following the collapse of ITV Digital?

Mr. Touhig: The hon. Gentleman can be assured that that will happen. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had discussions with fellow Cabinet Ministers and other members of the Government, with Members of the Assembly and with others to try to overcome the awful problems now being faced in that part of the world.

We heard speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), the hon.

2 May 2002 : Column 1148

Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk), my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams), my hon. Friends the Members for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) and for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), my hon. Friends the Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) and, of course, the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson).

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) made his usual robust contribution, but I thought it negative at first. He rose at 1.47 pm, and it was 2.2 pm before he said anything positive, when he admitted that Wales was a jewel. He went on to make some important points about regional airports. My colleagues in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions will soon publish reports on their investigation of the valley and how we can develop regional airports across the United Kingdom and in Wales in particular. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Atlantic college, which makes an important contribution to education in Wales. I can tell him that Education and Learning Wales has discretion to fund support for scholarships.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South has done a superb job in leading the Welsh Affairs Committee, which produced the report that prompted this debate. He spoke about the problems we experience as a result of stereotyped perceptions of Wales and its people, and helpfully suggested answers to the questions posed by the report. We are indebted to him and his Committee for an excellent job.

My hon. Friend mentioned the importance of exchanges between staff working in the Assembly and Government agencies with those working in our embassies and agencies abroad. That is encouraged by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and a number of colleagues who work in the Assembly are currently on secondment in Brussels. My hon. Friend also mentioned the celebration of St. David's day. The FCO encourages all our embassies to organise events celebrating our national saint.

My hon. Friend referred in particular to the British Tourist Authority's efforts and involvement. The three-year funding agreement with the BTA and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport includes a target for increasing the proportion of additional spend that the BTA delivers through visits outside London.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire was right to stress the importance of selling Wales. He pointed out the successes that other countries have had in promoting their identity, including Estonia. He made some good points about promoting Wales through the performing arts. I hope that, when it is completed, the millennium centre will be a focus for that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley was right to remind us of Wales's important contribution to internationalism. She also reminded us of her childhood and how important it is that we educate ourselves about other countries. That breaks down barriers and fears.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy made a number of important points about ensuring that Wales is promoted as a tourist destination. Recently, I had a meeting with the Wales Tourist Board, and I have offered the use of the House to promote Wales as a tourist destination.

2 May 2002 : Column 1149

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the awful problems that foot and mouth caused the tourism industry and the whole of Wales. Initial indications are that we are overcoming those problems and that tourists are returning. In the next few days, I will write to him about a number of other matters that he raised.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that the Secretary of State and I have made just one trade mission in 22 months. That is true. Our visit to the Czech Republic was a success. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may laugh but companies in his part of the world have benefited from that trade mission. We should not knock that. It is good for Wales and for Welsh business. The Secretary of State has also visited the Republic of Ireland, Brussels and Spain. He has been very active in that regard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gower made an important point about the perception of Wales overseas. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford made a thoughtful contribution, which those on the Conservative Front Bench may benefit from reading. It was useful and important.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd highlighted the importance of the profile of Wales in north America. As we all know, north America was discovered by a Welshman. He spoke of the importance of allowing the language not to divide us, but to unite us. The hon. Member for Caernarfon was right to say that we must speak up for Wales at all times. He referred to the importance of training in tourism. We must ensure that we promote that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore was right to say that we must seek to change people's perception of Wales, a point also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, who reminded us of the strong links between Paul Robeson and Wales.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West referred to Cardiff's bid to become the European city of culture. We all wish the city every success in that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East reminded us of the

2 May 2002 : Column 1150

many famous people who have had links with Wales. It was good that he did that. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside pointed out the importance of north-east Wales as a major area of manufacturing, where companies can meet all the problems that the economy faces. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth brought his knowledge of the Committee's work to bear and said how important it was that we promote Wales abroad.

As I have said, we have heard many important contributions. It has been a very good debate. It has shown that we can make and have made great strides in Wales. The devolution settlement has given new impetus to the way in which we govern ourselves and manage our affairs and key public services.

Wales is making a significant contribution in a European context. It is attracting inward investment and increasing its capacity for international trade. It is developing and promoting its tourism products to appeal to an increasingly wide range of visitors. It is raising its profile around the world in terms of culture, its language and its arts. Indeed, a group of Welsh artists will be exhibiting in Chicago in the coming months.

Devolution means less introspection. It means being more outward looking and having greater confidence in ourselves. The National Assembly, working in partnership with the Government and Parliament, can promote Wales widely around the world. That unity and partnership bring many benefits to Wales, and of course it is beneficial that we are part of the fourth largest economy on the planet. It is important that we provide opportunities for debate, so that we can solve the problems that we face as a country.

We have proved today that Wales in the world is not a bad issue to debate. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley suggested that we might return to it on many other occasions. Perhaps we will. As I said at the start of my speech, the standard of debate today has been very high indeed. It has given us the chance—

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

2 May 2002 : Column 1149

2 May 2002 : Column 1151

Housing (Edmonton)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mrs. McGuire.]

7 pm

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): I am grateful to have secured this evening's Adjournment debate and I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister for keeping her so late on a Thursday.

I raise this as a constituency issue, not on behalf of any individual but on behalf of all 1,849 of my constituents—the most recent estimate that I have—who have raised housing or housing-related issues with me since 1997. Sadly, I have been unable to assist most of them. The difficulties are illustrated by a number of recent cases. I should stress that these are average cases and not the most extreme examples.

Mr. and Mrs. K-W, who have three children, have been living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation since March 2000. Mr. K-W is in a very poor state of health. They have several concerns: they have no privacy because their landlord continues to enter and leave the property as he chooses; they cannot plan for the future as they do not know when they will be rehoused; and they pay £100 a month to keep their furniture in storage and the local authority pays £850 a month for their accommodation. In their case, work would not pay as they then could not afford their current accommodation.

Turning to the private sector, Mr. Campbell, who has an 11-year-old daughter, lives in a one-bedroom flat that is almost uninhabitable, yet if he chooses to leave he will be declared to have made himself intentionally homeless. The environmental health department has tried to assist him in dealing with his landlord, but has had no joy. His daughter, who lives with him, has no privacy and nowhere to study, and her health and education are suffering.

In the council sector, Ms Q lives with her partner and three children in two-bedroom accommodation. Her three children—two boys and a girl, two of whom are in their teens—sleep in the same room. The youngest child, a girl, suffers from severe asthma and often keeps them all up all night. The oldest boy has no privacy and his education is beginning to suffer.

Those are just some of the cases that illustrate the deterioration in housing provision in my constituency. We can look at that in a number of different ways. Let me start with affordability, given the announcement two days ago that we have just had the highest monthly increase in house price inflation since records began, at 3.4 per cent.

Let us consider the average owner-occupier in a flat or maisonette in my constituency. At the beginning of 2001, such a flat would have cost £94,000 and average gross earnings were £26,000. It is simple to work out that, assuming that they could borrow on a multiplier of 2.5 times income, the average owner-occupier in my constituency would require a deposit of some £29,000. Assuming that they could find a sympathetic bank, they would have to borrow about 3.5 times their salary in order to purchase an average flat. Even those at the top 10 per cent. of earnings would require a multiplier of 2.25 times their salary to buy average accommodation in my constituency.

I have taken figures from this week's local press on the private rented sector. A one-bedroom flat costs £140 a week and a three-bedroom terraced house costs nearly

2 May 2002 : Column 1152

£200 a week. A person on average earnings would have to pay one third of their gross weekly income to rent an average two-bedroom flat in my constituency. Even those at the top 10 per cent. of earnings would be paying a fifth of their income in rent.

A recent study carried out by my local authority showed that, of those deemed to be in housing need, 95 per cent. could not afford either to rent in the private sector or to buy a property. That has done two things: first, it has put enormous pressure on the social rented sector; and, secondly and perhaps just as importantly—in some ways even more importantly—it has reduced movement from the social sector into owner-occupation or private renting. Such movement has simply dried up for people in my constituency.

The result of all that has been an explosion since 1997 in the numbers featuring in housing stress statistics. Homelessness acceptance has risen from 550 people to 1,230, and the number of those in temporary accommodation has risen from 1,134 to 2,327. Even the number of those using bed-and-breakfast accommodation has gone up from 122 to 287. That is against a backdrop of an inadequate supply of new accommodation locally. In the three years from 1998 to 2001, 567 new units of accommodation were completed, yet in that same period, 706 properties were sold under the right-to-buy scheme. I do not want to raise that issue in this debate—it is very sensitive—but urgent steps need to be taken to restrain the right to buy. Otherwise, the situation in London and especially in my constituency will continue to deteriorate.

We are paying a very high price for the problem. We are paying it economically, with the mismatch of skills and jobs—everyone is well aware of the problem of key workers; we are also paying the price socially, in terms of education. I have spoken about some of the problems of my younger constituents—the impact on their health of living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and the family breakdown that regularly results from housing stress. We must therefore take such issues extremely seriously. I should like to suggest a number of ways in which they can be addressed.

I believe—I know that the Government support this—that we must end the scandal of bed-and-breakfast and bed-and-breakfast annexe accommodation. Therefore, I welcome the setting up of the bed-and-breakfast unit. I recognise the need to co-ordinate action across the capital to disseminate the best information and best practice available. However, for the unit to be successful—I note that it will exist only until the end of 2003—we must set it ambitious targets. I should like to hear the Minister's comments on that.

I recognise that the provision of permanent accommodation will not improve significantly in the very near future, so reducing the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation will mean substituting other temporary accommodation. I commend the Shelter scheme on developing private sector leasing, under which it suggests that we could increase the number of private sector, leased temporary accommodation units by 10,000. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment positively on providing the necessary support, which will of course significantly reduce local authorities' rental costs.

The second issue that I want to consider is that of maximising the amount of new, affordable accommodation through the planning system. My local

2 May 2002 : Column 1153

authority, like many others, has a target of 25 per cent. of affordable accommodation in any new housing development. I note that the Government are consulting on a Green Paper on planning obligations and have suggested introducing tariffs. I welcome that suggestion for a number of reasons.

I accept that we needed to extend the tariff regime not only to housing development but to commercial development, and I am pleased that that has happened. I welcome the fact that it can take the form of either cash or kind, but I want to express just a little concern—it is expressed by many—about our willingness and ability to continue to achieve mixed communities as a result.

The most important point that I want to raise about the consultation is twofold. First, it is important that the tariff be allowed on any size of development; there should not be a minimum size. Secondly, when the tariffs have been introduced, it is critical that they are adequately monitored to ensure that we achieve increases in the amount of affordable accommodation, especially in the capital.

We must also use innovative ways of increasing the amount of new affordable accommodation. I commend to the Minister the scheme initiated by my own local authority—the comprehensive development initiative—which, over the next couple of years, will develop some 2,000 new units of accommodation on existing council-owned lands. It uses several mechanisms to achieve that, including proper consultation with its tenants and ensuring a positive aspect for everyone involved in the development. It will require a contribution to the approved development programme from partners in the housing association movement.

That brings me to my final and most important point, which is critical to the future of my constituency. We desperately need to increase the supply of affordable accommodation to address the acute shortages that exist in my local authority, which is probably the worst affected in outer London, and throughout the capital. I welcome the funding for that purpose in the current round of the comprehensive spending review. This year, some £500 million has been allocated for new accommodation in London, and I welcome that. Indeed, my local authority has been able to double its programme this year. I recognise and welcome the fact that, in the three years of that plan, 100,000 new affordable units will be built.

I also welcome the fact that next year will see an even more significant increase in the funding available for new accommodation. However, because of the bleakness of the situation in my constituency and across London, I question whether that amount will address the real needs and stop any further increase in housing stress against the backdrop of escalating construction costs. We all know about the skill shortages and the capacity constraints that are beginning to emerge, and we recognise that it is becoming increasingly expensive to build in the capital.

I have read the estimates that various academics and others have produced about the housing need in Greater London and in high-demand areas throughout the country. However, we must address housing stress, which will take up resources. I have a few suggestions. First, we should maintain the programme in the comprehensive spending review in 2003–04 and, if possible, increase that level of funding in the future. That is the only way in which we will begin to address the housing need. Secondly, the Minister should look carefully at the share of the housing

2 May 2002 : Column 1154

investment programme that comes to the capital. We all know about the controversy surrounding the index of local deprivation, which has meant that the proportion of the HIP going to high-demand areas of the capital has not increased. Indeed, it may have decreased. If we are to deal with the great pressures on housing in the capital, that must be reviewed as a priority.

My constituents should, and will, demand nothing less. Otherwise, they will continue to languish in appalling bed-and-breakfast accommodation, inadequate private sector accommodation or even overcrowded social housing. They recognise that the Government have set priorities in health and education, and they know that other parts of the country have housing problems.

I welcome the recent report from the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions on empty homes, which exposed a real scandal. I also welcome the important investigation into affordable accommodation that is about to be undertaken by the Select Committee. I think that it will show the acute need that exists in my area, and across the capital. Addressing such matters must be a priority for the Government. Otherwise, I shall remain impotent when faced with my constituents' housing problems.

Next Section

IndexHome Page