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19 Nov 2002 : Column 532—continued

David Davis: The right hon. Gentleman is the one who raised the question of the right to buy in areas of housing stress where there are shortages of affordable social housing. Does he deny that had his Government carried on for the past five years at the 1997 rate—we are talking about now, not ancient history—there would be 35,000 more social houses?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I presume that the right hon. Gentleman is arguing that capital receipts might be used to buy houses, and he has a fair point. When we discussed the matter, he said that he was going to send me his plan on that, but it has still not arrived. I look forward to its arrival, as we must have a proper debate on the subject. It is an important issue and we intend to enter into a debate on it. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I will make a fuller statement in January on the community plan and how we will allocate resources to social housing and to housing provision generally. He well knows that the situation is different in different parts of the country. The previous Administration's right-to-buy legislation exempted rural areas where that right could be considered a threat to the provision of housing. The position was not felt to be the same in urban areas, but there is a powerful case to be made for certain areas of London with a housing crisis. I intend to claim for urban areas the rights that have been claimed for rural areas.

The right hon. Gentleman said an awful lot about giving housing associations the right to buy. We shall wait for the plans which he suggested at his party conference were part of a new policy. The proposal is in fact not new—it was proposed by Mrs. Thatcher in 1979 and, I believe, by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). The trouble, however, is implementation. Housing charities have real difficulties with the long-term financing of housing—I am sure we all agree about that. The proposal was good for conference, but there was not much action—it was just about getting conference going.

David Davis: Will the right hon. Gentleman answer my question? There has been a shortfall of 35,000 in the last five years in the creation of new social housing. The right hon. Gentleman has been blaming the right to buy for the fact that his Government have presided over a trebling of the number of people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation to 12,000. The social housing shortfall is three times that number—35,000—so why is he not building enough houses?

The Deputy Prime Minister: That is a good point, and I accept the criticism. I admitted in my last statement in the House that the amount of new social housing continued to fall under Labour Governments as well. Although it does not excuse the fact that we are not building enough houses, there is a fundamental difference: the right hon. Gentleman's Government kept #5 billion in capital receipts from local authorities' sale of houses, but would not allow them to buy more houses. I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman's interesting idea, but if the available capital receipts

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could be used to build more houses, why were capital receipts of more than #5 billion from the sale of houses not used to provide new houses under the Conservative Administration? We dealt with that problem and put an equivalent sum into refurbishing well over 1 million council houses, whereas the right hon. Gentleman refused local authorities the right or resources to improve housing. That is the difference in our approach.

We can argue about differences in our approach to housing, but I shall repeat what I told the Opposition last July. It would be better if Members on both sides of the House got together and agreed that having the right to live in a house—a right that is denied to too many people—is important for communities. Where we have the political will to do better—this applies to all political parties and Governments—we can make fundamental changes. When I make my statement in January, I hope that we can reach agreement about how we will achieve the plan instead of getting into party political business—we can all do that, but it does not build one more house.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the least eligible forms of tenure is ownership of a mobile home? Many park owners have neither the social nor the managerial skills to make a success of it, but have the whip hand over the tenants and can make their lives a misery. Why is there nothing in the Queen's Speech about new contractual arrangements which could bring much relief to those people?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The Queen's Speech, as I shall mention later, does include some powers over landlords, and we are reviewing the position on mobile homes. Without doubt, there is an awful lot to be done, and we shall continue the debate. But to my mind we must deal first with the problem of landlords exploiting rented houses through housing finance, and the legislation contains powers to enable us to begin to do so.

Several hon. Members rose—

The Deputy Prime Minister: Like everyone else, I have had a warning from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have given way to quite a few Members and must get on with my speech.

On 18 July, I made a statement to the House about the need for a step change in the delivery of new sustainable communities in which people are proud to live. The Queen's Speech made it clear that a strong and free society founded on rights and responsibilities is at the heart of the Government's agenda. We believe that a strong society cannot exist without a strong sense of community. As the Prime Minister made clear in his introduction, rights and responsibilities go hand in hand at every level.

Our planning framework, about which the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden said a considerable amount, is now further reformed and has already begun to change our communities, including those aspects to which he referred. We had a target of 60 per cent of all new homes being built on brownfield land. That target has been achieved eight years ahead of time. That is something to be proud of. Thirty thousand hectares have been added to the green belt. That is a

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considerable change and never happened under the previous Administration. We have tougher controls on out-of-town shopping. In 2000, for the first time since the 1980s, we achieved more in-town than out-of-town retail development.

If we compare the number of social houses built in the 1960s with the number built in the 1990s, we can see that year on year, we are building almost 100,000 fewer social houses than we were 30 years ago, as I said earlier.

Mr. Dawson : Does my right hon. Friend accept that a properly regulated park homes system could make a major contribution to the development of affordable housing, particularly in the countryside? Will he agree not to take any lessons about park homes from the Opposition, who left 200,000 people vulnerable by their failure to regulate the sector properly? Will he assure me that he will try to bring forward the excellent work that has been done under this Government—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman is forgetting the advice given to the House yesterday by Mr. Speaker.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) said. I may have a vested interest, as we have one of the biggest producers of caravans in my area, as does the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden in his. I recognise that there is a great need for regulation of the sector.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

The Deputy Prime Minister: No, I must make progress. I may come back to the hon. Gentleman later, if he will give me some time.

As well as providing more resources, we are speeding up the delivery of affordable homes. The Housing Corporation has been given the go-ahead to fast-track 4,400 new homes to be built in London and the south-east; 2,800 of those homes will be for key public sector workers. Together with the approved development programme, the Housing Corporation will deliver more than 22,000 homes in 2003–04, but that is not enough, by any definition. There clearly is a problem, as I have outlined.

In the Queen's Speech it was announced that the housing Bill will be published in draft to allow the Select Committee the opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny. The Bill will improve the standards of management of private rented accommodation, with selective licensing of private landlords in key areas and a reformed housing fitness regime. The Bill will also introduce a compulsory home seller's pack in order to tackle the stress and expense suffered by hundreds of thousands of house buyers each year when home sales fall through or are delayed.

In my statement to the House on 18 July, I outlined my intention to publish the details of our communities programme in the new year. That programme will set out the details: further reform of the planning system; action to tackle the housing shortage in London and the south-east; and plans to revitalise the communities

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suffering low demand in the north and the midlands. That complements the plans of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for a White Paper followed by a Bill to tackle antisocial behaviour. That will require a partnership between national Government, local government and neighbourhoods to stamp out antisocial behaviour. The measures set out in the Queen's Speech will help our communities to grow and flourish.

Fundamental to any community is the quality of public services—schools, health centres and safe and reliable transport. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will speak later about a Bill to create an independent body to deal with safety and investigating accidents. Equally important is the quality of the environment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will introduce measures to promote better management of our waste and our water supply and to combat climate change.

In the previous Parliament, the Government gave the people of Scotland, Wales and London the power to take more decisions for themselves. Interestingly enough, each of those measures was opposed by the Opposition, and interestingly enough, each was accepted and endorsed after it had been introduced. I suspect that they will take exactly the same approach to regional government. I am delighted to tell the House that our Bill on referendums will give the same choice to the people of the English regions, and not before time.

Regions, if their people so choose—hon. Members tell us that we should trust the people—will be given a distinct political voice and a real say over decisions that matter to them. Elected assemblies will take functions from Whitehall and its agencies, not from local authorities. For the first time, regions will have a responsibility to take greater control over things that matter to people—economic development, regeneration, planning, housing, transport, health, culture and the environment. That is what we intend to bring about with our regional proposals.

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