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Dr. Starkey: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hayes: I will, because I said I would.

Dr. Starkey: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether he is saying that the relationship between supply and demand has no effect on house prices? If he is saying that, can he explain why the increases in places such as Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge, where there is a relatively finite housing supply but increasing demand for it and prices are going through the roof, have nothing to do with that relationship?

Mr. Hayes: Of course there is a relationship between supply and demand, but the hon. Lady, who clearly has studied these matters in some detail, will understand that the history of that relationship in this country shows a remarkable insensitivity as between supply and demand. In a textbook economic model, one would expect supply to increase to feed demand. One would expect a close relationship between supply and demand, but, if anything in this country, the most surprising thing about the housing market is the insensitivity between the two, not the closeness that she suggests.

I simply say to the hon. Lady that she has to answer some questions about the 2001 census data, which have been largely ignored by Kate Barker and certainly
 
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ignored by the Minister and the Government, but which reveal that the ratio of dwellings to households is changing. There is an increasing number of dwellings—1 million more—against households. That is 300,000 more than in the previous census, and 900,000 fewer people in this country than previous Government estimates show. I am amazed that Kate Barker did not take that on board. Frankly, the fact that she did not undermines the arguments on which her report is predicated.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Will my hon. Friend confirm that in the last 25 years, while the population of the United Kingdom has increased by 4 million, so has the number of households? Those figures reveal the most startling demographic changes taking place in our society. Any solution of the housing problem must begin by addressing those changes.

Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The real housing crisis involves not the net supply issue, but the relationship between provision and need. Look at building history: far more family homes have been built, typically in greenfield areas, than have houses suitable for single-person households. There are far too few adapted houses, wheelchair-friendly houses and houses for older people. There are far too few opportunities for those who want to downsize. Often, older people want to downsize because it is much more convenient for them to live in a smaller property, but they cannot do so while staying in the community in which they have lived and to which they owe their loyalty.

There are all kinds of supply issues, and all kinds of issues involving the match between provision and need, but those are not taken seriously into account by Kate Barker's report. I have heard nothing from the Government about them either.

Matthew Green (Ludlow) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hayes: I want to end my speech, and I know the hon. Gentleman will make a pithy and powerful speech of his own later; but if he wants me to give way briefly, because I like him so much I will.

Matthew Green: I thank the hon. Gentleman. He pointed out that there were now 1 million more houses than households. That is partly due to the large and increasing number of second homes. Does he accept the principle adopted by us, and indeed the Government, of ending second-home council tax discounts?

Mr. Hayes: As a matter of principle, I try never to support or agree with the Liberal Democrats. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, however. One of the repercussions of what I described as the relative unattractiveness of alternative investment vehicles has been people putting their money into property, and the Government's pension shambles—I know that the Minister is not personally responsible for that, and perhaps he is embarrassed about it—has exacerbated the problem. The hon. Gentleman is right: the explosion in second home ownership and the buy-to-let market should be dealt with. The truth is, however, that if people had felt more secure about other kinds of investment that explosion would not have happened.
 
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The motion calls for a very different approach. As I said earlier, what we need is an urban renaissance. We need to tie housing policy closely to regeneration policy. We need to understand that the only way of regenerating our towns and cities is to reachieve the population mix that will make them vibrant and viable. We do understand that sustainability means having the public services, the employment, the life in our towns and cities that will make people want to live in them and bring up their children in them.

We believe that the Government's policy of seeing housing as separate from those things—as I think they do—is misguided, short-sighted and against the interests of the communities who resent so bitterly what the Government will impose on them by concreting over so many of our green fields. There is a different approach, a new vision. We need policies built on sound foundations. We need to help more people afford homes of their own. We need to ensure that everyone has a warm, safe home built to last—the least advantaged as well as those with good fortune. We need to give local communities control over how they develop. We need to protect and enhance our precious environment. And we need to regenerate urban Britain, building high-quality homes on brownfield sites.

Those are our goals—goals that are at the heart of authentic conservatism. The idea of a home can inform this party, but it can also inform the Government, and it can inform our nation. Homes are a proper symbol of social justice, of security, of private ownership, of independence from intrusive Government, of local identity and of embryonic community life. We need to find homes for people so that they can enjoy all those things. We need to give the people the homes that they want to anchor them for life's journey.

5.3 pm

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

As the House knows, I am a devoted parliamentarian. I relish the opportunity for debate, and it is nice to be so much in demand. I have been here for quite a few Opposition day debates of late.

Of course the Government are fully aware of the importance of housing and regeneration. That is why we pushed it to the top of the political agenda, and why we
 
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are investing a massive £22 billion through our sustainable communities plan over the next three years. Now it seems that after years of silence and inaction, the Opposition have finally woken up to the significance of these issues.

Of course, those of a less charitable disposition than my own might think that today's debate has something to do with the imminent local elections and that there is an element of opportunism, even scaremongering, on the part of the Opposition in raising these issues in the terms that they have today. Use of such vulgarisms as "town cramming" and "concreting over the countryside" is part of that. Indeed, complaining at the same time about too much development in towns and about concreting over the countryside might seem to some like a classic case of trying to have it both ways. Far be it for me to say so.

The fact of the matter is that the Opposition's record speaks louder than their rhetoric—and we have certainly heard plenty of that this afternoon. After all, it was the Conservative party that stood idly by while development gobbled up our countryside. Thousands of little boxes were spread across our land, all at dismally low housing densities, most of them designed for nowhere and built anywhere. When the Conservatives came to office in 1979, less than 5 per cent. of retail turnover was based on stores outside existing town centres. By 2000, it was growing to nearly a third and rising, as the effects of the big out-of-town shopping centres—the Conservative legacy—began to be felt.

In fact, during the 18 years of Tory Government, nearly 13 million sq m of out-of-town shopping floor space was developed—shopping centres, retail parks and superstores—and the consequence was the devastation of our historic town and city centres. I wonder, even now, whether the Opposition have fully woken up to the significance of the legacy of unsustainable sprawl that they left to us.

Let us take one example of that legacy. The motion begins by noting that

Continues from when? Well, let us just consider the facts, using published Government statistics. They show that in 1996, of all the new homes built, 2 per cent. were built in the green belt; and in 2001, 4 per cent. were built in the green belt. Let us be clear: new building does not just happen. It often takes years between the granting of the planning permission and the completion of the development. It often, we think, takes too long, which is why we have brought in our planning reforms to speed up the process.

The plain fact of the matter is that many, if not most, of the planning permissions for this doubling of new build in the green belt in the late 1990s were granted under the last Tory Government. So if the Opposition insist on talking about the despoliation of the green belt, we all know who the guilty party is—them.


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