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Mr. Love : One of the findings of the Barker review was that the previous regional planning guidance on the number of houses needed was much less than really required. As we all know that housing supply issues lead to house price inflation and homelessness, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the figures are the minimum required in each of the regions?

Andrew Selous: My argument is simple—that each local authority area should meet the housing demand in it. That is not complicated and is a reasonable argument. My district council is planning to meet the housing need in south Bedfordshire. What we need is for local authorities to adopt a similarly responsible attitude across the south-east and the whole country to meet needs where they really are, rather than force people to commute vast distances.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman and I are next-door neighbours and I understand the argument that he is making. But does he accept that it is not just Dunstable and South-West Bedfordshire, but the Luton conurbation that needs many more houses? There are 5,000 on the waiting list; 3,000 on the transfer list; and 500 in temporary accommodation in Luton alone. We need more houses in the Luton area, not just in south-west Bedfordshire. I understand the hon. Gentleman's feelings, but he should take that matter into account.

Andrew Selous: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but if he saw the scale of the figures that the Government are proposing, namely, 43,000 houses or enough for some 80,000 people, he would agree that south Bedfordshire is taking overspill housing from London and the whole of the south-east—an area far greater than south Bedfordshire or, indeed, his constituency, which borders mine.

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I welcome many measures in the Bill, particularly those to deal with antisocial behaviour. The proposal to extend introductory tenancies is also welcome, but I would like the Bill to include measures that made housing associations in particular far more responsible for the antisocial behaviour of their tenants. I have become increasingly exasperated in recent months at the incredibly slow pace at which housing associations proceed when confronted with the severe antisocial behaviour of their tenants. It is unacceptably slow and I ask the Minister exactly to whom housing associations are accountable in that regard. In my experience, they often act as if they are a law unto themselves, and they see their first duty as to their tenants with very little regard indeed for the effect on the neighbouring community of the actions of an admittedly small minority of their tenants who indulge in severe antisocial behaviour.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Has my hon. Friend noticed the anomaly in the Bill in respect of the treatment of private landlords and those in the public sector? The private landlord will be branded as a rogue landlord if he does not do something about antisocial behaviour, but that does not apply to the housing association sector. Equally, the registration of houses in multiple occupation applies to the private but not the public sector. Is that not a huge anomaly?

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend makes a fair and valid point. My constituents are not remotely concerned about the tenure of the person who is making their lives a misery; they just want something done about the problem. We were all struck earlier by the description by the hon. Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) of a case in her own constituency. The Government should realise that there is a great need for more independent witnesses in such cases of horrendous antisocial behaviour. Local people and neighbours living around the houses concerned are often simply too scared to give the necessary evidence to the police.

Other welcome measures in the Bill include the proposal to extend disabled facilities grants to people living in caravans, which is excellent. I am sure that many hon. Members will have seen the life-changing developments that can be brought about by those grants helping families care for their members.

Further questions need to be asked about home information packs. During the debate so far, we have had no answers to questions raised about indemnity in respect of insurance matters. That is a very real and serious question, and as a former insurance professional, I can see significant problems arising, unless we get clear answers in respect of this part of the Bill.

I agree with the many Members who said that there are some extremely important issues that this Bill should deal with, but does not; that is to be regretted. The issue of empty homes is particularly close to my own heart. There are some 750,000 empty homes throughout the country, and well in excess of 100,000 empty homes in London and the south-east, where the pressure is certainly the greatest. One type of empty home that is dear to my heart, and about which I would love to see something done, is the flats that one sees above shops in

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every high street and shopping area throughout the country. I would urge a carrot-and-stick approach to such properties. With a little effort, many of them could be made into excellent homes for young people moving to a given area, such as young couples starting out, and families with a first child. Such properties are a hugely wasted asset of this nation. Their use in this way would add greatly to the security of our shopping centres, and bring life back to many of our town centres. It is a pity that the Bill does not consider this issue.

Like many Members, I very much regret that the Bill includes nothing on park homes, which seems to have been a theme running through today's debate. There are many park homes in my constituency, and I must admit that I was shocked to discover from the owner on an early visit to a park home that the residents had no more rights than if they lived in a caravan. In effect, such properties are settled homes, as if they were brick-built structures that had existed for hundreds of years, yet housing law regards them as having no more legal rights than a caravan. That simply does not reflect the reality. Such people are in a similar position to that occupied by leaseholders for many years, and the Government have tried to act on their behalf.

David Wright: I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he agree that, as some other Conservative Members have said, one major problem is that many who live in such homes are elderly people, and that they are put under great pressure by those who often behave extremely unscrupulously?

Andrew Selous: What the hon. Gentleman says is true, and there is another fact about park homes that shocked me. Often, local authorities back up park home owners to ensure that the tenants are living up to the standards expected of them. However, it is not clear that local authorities always ensure that there is fair play so far as the tenants themselves are concerned.

I regret the fact that the Bill does not include a tenancy deposit scheme, and in terms of antisocial behaviour there is one other category of person that it should have taken into account: those who are unable to sell, or to move out of, their homes because there is now a duty to reveal the behaviour of one's neighbours when one sells a property. When one finds that the local housing authority has allocated tenants to the neighbouring properties whose behaviour is such that the area becomes a nightmare to live in, yet one is unable to move from one's property, a huge problem is created so far as housing mobility is concerned. It is very unfair on such people, and in placing antisocial tenants in a given area, local housing authorities should have regard to the effect on those who own their own properties.

7.4 pm

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): I want to begin by reiterating just how important this legislation is. Among other things, it seeks to improve some of Britain's worst housing. As we know, in 1997 we inherited a £19 billion repairs backlog and the Government doubled the money for social housing; indeed, in my constituency it was trebled. But because the situation was so dire, that was not enough, which is why the Deputy Prime Minister announced the £22 billion sustainable communities plan, which marks the

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Government's determination to end the scandal of poor housing and to address the desperate need for new housing. By April this year, we will have reduced the number of non-decent social sector homes by about 1 million. Our target is to make all social housing decent by 2010. That is an exceptionally ambitious target, but housing is an exceptionally important problem. Every week, many of my constituents contact me to explain how their housing is literally ruining their lives.

So what will the Bill do? It complements the actions taken under the sustainable communities plan, the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 and the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, and it also supports the extra investment and new incentives to improve the private rented sector, which has been forgotten for too long. On antisocial behaviour measures, I should be grateful if the Minister would place on the record the Government's thinking on, and decision on, housing benefit sanctions. As we have heard, the private rented sector includes some of the most vulnerable people in the country, who live in houses in multiple occupation. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate my former colleagues on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning and Local Government Committee, particularly the Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett). Their work on HMOs and other issues is a remarkable example of successful pre-legislative scrutiny.

In the time available, I want to deal with four areas: HMOs, the right to buy, the tenancy deposit scheme and overcrowding. The east end is the historical home of the common lodging house, which was the forerunner of HMOs. These days, Tower Hamlets does not have many such houses, but the few that we do have have rarely, if ever, been identified and registered under the council's voluntary scheme. The only way to guarantee their registration, and to guarantee that they meet fire and health and safety regulations, is to require the landlord to license the property. Having said that, I understand why those HMOs that pose the highest risk must be the first priority. That is why the Government should extend the proposed mandatory licensing regime to all HMOs with three or more storeys, irrespective of the number of occupants.

The Government are committed to the principle of right to buy, and I agree with those who said that it is a very good scheme in principle. The problem in Tower Hamlets, at least, was that in practice it had a disastrous impact on the availability of affordable housing, and on the nature of the private sector housing then springing up. So I am very grateful for the fact that the Government are acting to end abuse, and to increase the supply of affordable housing in high-demand areas. I want to thank the Deputy Prime Minister for listening very carefully on the numerous occasions on which I raised with him the issue of the abuse of right to buy in Tower Hamlets, and the resulting reduction in affordable housing. This legislation recognises the need to update right-to-buy provisions.

For those who are exercising their right to buy as a way to move out to the suburbs, there are other schemes that would help them to do so, but which would still maintain their property in the council housing sector, so that someone else in housing need could access it. We must prevent private companies from exploiting the scheme and from asset stripping our public housing in

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areas where it is desperately needed by many thousands of homeless people and families in overcrowded accommodation. I thank the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Ministers and officials who have worked hard to develop the measures in the Bill that will help to end the abuse of right to buy.

I want to raise the issue of the tenancy deposit scheme on behalf of the many constituents who have contacted me about it. Back in 1996, during the passage of the previous housing legislation, the Tories told tenants that statutory protection of their rent deposits was unnecessary. They were reassured that the problem of unreasonably withheld deposits would be addressed by Lord Woolf's report on increasing access to justice through the small claims court. It was not, which is why the pilot voluntary tenancy deposit scheme was set up. That was why, when it became all too clear that landlords were refusing to sign up, Lord Falconer said in the House of Lords that legislation might be necessary. It is now necessary, and I hope that I detected the possibility in the Minister's opening remarks that a Bill might be introduced in the House of Lords.

The only part of the pilot scheme that really needs changing is the replacement of the invitation for landlords to join by a requirement that they do so. What, then, are the objections, as that change surely cannot be too testing? The original objection of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that the costs of a statutory tenancy deposit scheme would outweigh its benefits is surely no longer a problem. We have seen evidence that the costs of independent adjudication would be only a fraction of the £19 million suggested back in June. The only other argument against including the scheme in the Bill seems to be that we would be better off leaving it to another Bill, but it is highly unlikely that there will be another housing Bill in the next Queen's Speech, and even if there were, it might not be agreed before 2005. This Bill provides us with the perfect opportunity to introduce an enabling power to allow the Secretary of State to set up a statutory scheme, and I urge Ministers to take it.

Predictably, I come to overcrowding. One of the Select Committee's recommendations was that the Bill should be used to update the Dickensian statutory definition of household overcrowding. I must say that "Dickensian" is exactly the right description of a standard that was actually introduced not in 1935 but in the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890. I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning for agreeing to my request for further research into the impact and extent of overcrowding. He is well aware of the problem and sympathetic to it. It is unacceptable that people should be expected—officially, so to speak—to sleep in living rooms and even kitchens, not just for a night or a week but for years on end.

The current standard does not even acknowledge the presence of babies until their first birthday, despite the blindingly obvious need for cot space and space to change and wash them. That is further evidence that the standard, like much else in housing legislation, was devised decades, if not centuries, ago by men who would not recognise a nappy if it slapped them in the face. Mothers could not expect much more of legislators in

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1890 but we can surely do a bit better in 2004, not least because the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), is fully aware of what a nappy looks like and has to deal with them regularly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) mentioned to me that clause 115 appears to reduce the room standard. Section 325 of the Housing Act 1985 disregards children aged under 10 who have to share rooms with siblings of a different sex, but clause 115(2)(a) disregards children under 12. I would be disappointed if we were reducing rather than strengthening the standard, but that may not be so and I would be grateful for clarification.

I hope that Ministers will agree to include a new clause enabling the overcrowding standard to be set by secondary legislation at a later date. The Bill is a good one, but like most things in life it could be even better. The Government have demonstrated their willingness to make changes to it. The relatively minor amendments that I have highlighted would ensure that we deliver our extremely ambitious goal of a decent home for all. I implore Ministers to look seriously at those modest, yet crucial, changes.

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