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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Yvette Cooper): We are investing £1.5 billion over two years to provide more than 21,000 affordable homes in London, of which 10,000 will be social rented, with 7,000 for key workers and 4,000 for low-cost home ownership. London will also share in the additional £430 million of investment in new social rented homes by 200708.
I welcome any new housing for people in London on low incomes or in desperate
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housing need. Does the Minister recognise that in inner London, especially, there is an absolute crisis due to the falling supply of council housing because of the right to buy and the small number of housing association properties being built? Many children live in disgracefully overcrowded conditions, but the only alternative that people are given by councils is to go away from London, and thus away from families, jobs and education. Does she realise that there is a crying need to invest in homes for rent for people in desperate housing need so that they can remain in their local communities rather than being forced out by wealthy, upwardly mobile people coming in?
Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right that there is a need for additional investment in social housing in London. That is an extremely important issue, which I why I am surprised that there are only four Conservative Back Benchers in the Chamber for our discussion of it.
My hon. Friend referred to the need to provide affordable housing. We are increasing the rate of new social house building throughout the country by 50 per cent. over the next few years and we will shortly announce what that will mean for London. He is right that we also need to provide assistance for key workers and we are doing that to support our public services.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Is it not the case that all housing in London is now less accessible and affordable than ever, thanks in no small part to the Labour Government's property taxes? Does the Minister realise that, since 1997, average stamp duty in London has risen from £1,280 to £9,296? What plans does she have to end that blatant discrimination against those who live in our capital city?
Yvette Cooper: I am intrigued that the hon. Gentleman is suddenly worried about housing in London, given that his party wants to cut the housing budget by £1 billion. When we accused the Conservatives of wanting to cut the budget by £400 million, they denied it, but that was because they actually wanted to cut it by £1 billion, as the James review says. The Conservative Front Bench must realise that houses cost money and we must invest in new houses. It would be utter madness to make the cuts that they propose.
The Minister for Local and Regional Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford): The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will be providing 75,000 new social rented homes over the next three years to 200708. Of those, we estimate that more than 3,000 will be provided by local authorities.
I am grateful to the Minister, because the 3,000 council houses that he announced will match the 3,000 that new Labour has built in the past eight years, which is in stark contrast to the 350,000 that the Thatcher Government built over an eight-year period.
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Bearing in mind the success of the Attlee, Callaghan and Wilson Governments in building hundreds of thousands of family council houses, why is new Labour hostile to council houses through its systems of management, ownership and new build?
Mr. Raynsford: We are not. I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman did not refer to the Government's considerable investment in improving the stock in his area. We have invested £35 million to support the arm's length management organisation in Colchester, which will bring all the council houses in the area up to a decent standard by 2007. He would better serve his constituents if he argued the case for improving the condition of existing homes. He has forgotten that the Government inherited 2 million council homes in poor condition and one of our proudest achievements is bringing 1 million of them up to a decent standard.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that we must not only build more affordable houses, but protect the affordable housing stock? Does he accept that the housing market has changed significantly in the past few years in areas such as Sheffield? As house prices have risen dramatically, more people have tried to rent and more have bought their council houses. The number of right to buys has gone up from about 400 in 1997 to more than 2,000 last year, which has created much longer waiting times. Will he consider extending the discount limits on the right to buy that apply to certain areas of the south to parts of the north in which there are real housing market pressures?
Mr. Raynsford: I had an agreeable visit to Sheffield recently and was delighted to see the impressive progress that is being made in renovating the existing stock and learn about the successful ALMO. I was also told about the opportunities for helping tenants to get an appropriate home through the choice-based letting scheme. My hon. Friend will know that people now want a range of choices and it is right that we should provide for people seeking good quality homes to rent, for those seeking homes to buy and for those seeking equity shares.
On right-to-buy discounts, my hon. Friend knows that the Government have taken steps to ensure that people should be able to acquire a home if they want to with a discount, but we also need to ensure that that is value for money, and that remains our objective.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I think that the Minister may be able to anticipate my question, which is straightforward. Does he believe that local housing authoritiesthat is, those that manage council housing, such as Macclesfield borough council, which by the way is debt-freeshould be treated on exactly the same basis as registered social landlords? At the moment, they are not. Macclesfield is being forced to transfer its housing stock because the Government will not allow it to retain adequate revenue to keep to the decent housing standard. Will he look at this request, because I believe that council housing is important?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that council housing is important, but equally important is
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ensuring that housing is brought up to a reasonable standard. That is why we have required all housing authorities to carry out an option appraisal to look at the best way of ensuring that their housing is brought up to the decent homes standard in a reasonable period. I should have thought that he, like other Members, would want to support proposals that would achieve the decent homes standard in the quickest way, whether that is through retention by the local authority or a stock transfer to a registered social landlord. [Interruption.]
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning recently visited North Wingfield in my constituency, in connection with its pathfinder scheme, which hopefully is making progress. Would one of the Ministers on the Front Bench like to revisit North-East Derbyshire? There is a place called Clay Cross, which has a great deal of experience of council housing and we would really like to get into detail with Ministers about the future of council housing and the role it should play in Government policy.
Mr. Raynsford: I apologise for the fact that my hon. Friend is getting an answer from me rather than from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, but I paid a visit to Derbyshire early in the lifetime of this Government and saw the terrible consequences of the dereliction by the previous Government, particularly in a number of former mining areas which had been abandoned and were disgracefully run-down. This Government have been investing not just in improving the quality of housing but in regenerating many of those former mining areas, including north Derbyshire, and I am proud of the record of trying to improve the conditions and prospects for people in such areas.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): If this Government's housing policy was not so tragic it would be funny. It combines dictating where people should live with the provision of low-value prefabs, like a mixture of Chairman Mao and Maplin's holiday camp. But what is not funny is that the Government are building half as many social houses as the last Conservative Government did and, under Labour, 100,000 people are stuck in temporary accommodation. Does the Minister understand that his Government's failure to build social housing deprives desperate people of the homes that they long for and that their only hope is his and his colleagues' swift and enforced return to the Opposition Benches?
What a risible contribution from a party with a disgraceful housing record and a current policy of cutting £1 billion out of housing investment while pretending that it can somehow offer more, even though it opposes the Government's actions to ensure that housing needs are met and has done nothing to support the improvement of the appallingly substandard council housing that it left as our inheritance. The Conservatives would serve the country better by a period of silence on this subject.
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