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Without opportunity, security and democracy, there is no community; the hon. Member for Meriden and I would agree on that. In the last eight years, the Government have worked to put those foundations of community in place. The opportunity to work has been extended to more than 2 million people; the opportunity of home ownership has been extended to more than 1 million; the opportunity to make up for failed
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education has been extended to 750,000 people without basic skills. The security that comes from a local police team has been extended by 13,000 extra police officers. The security of decent housing has been extended to 1 million social housing tenants. The security of effective local services has been extended by investment and reform of local public services.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, in eight years of Labour government, fewer than 3,000 council houses have been built, whereas in the first eight years of the Thatcher Government, 350,000 council houses were built?
Mr. Miliband: I would be happy to go into the situation in detail with the hon. Gentleman, but my understanding of the situation is that the receipts from council house sales have been put into upgrading existing properties, which in large part explains why house building has not been as high as the hon. Gentleman might expect. However, house building levels this year are higher than at any stage since 1991. I hope that we can find common cause at least on that issue. The fact that the social housing budget is doubling to £2 billion is something on which the hon. Gentleman should congratulate the Government, rather than condemn us.
The democracy that comes from clear leadership of local government, and from locally elected mayors and the cabinet system, about which we heard today, and the democracy that is enhancedhere I agree with the hon. Member for Meridenby the devolution of power from town hall to neighbourhoods, as well as from Government to the town hall; all of this is happening around out country.
Several hon. Members mentioned housing. The needs are indeed diverse. Rough sleeping is down by 70 per cent. and interest rates have been halved from the levels of the 1980s, and house building numbers in 2004 are higher than at any stage since 1991. But we recognise the challenges, too; notably for first-time buyers trying to get into the housing market and for council tenants wanting home improvements. I believe that there is room for serious discussion in this House about how to help these diverse groups.
But I say in all candour to Opposition Members that they cannot complain about the lack of affordable housing while denouncing plans for new building as the end of civilisation as we know it. The hon. Member for Meriden said that she opposed house building in the south-east but the Tory election manifesto for London says that they will continue to support the Thames gateway elements of the sustainable communities plan. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Meriden will contain her enthusiasm, I will explain why I raised this point.
The hon. Lady also said that she wanted to shift the burden of house building to the midlands, where she is a representative. However, her election leaflet has four cases of when she will oppose house building in her constituency. I urge her to practise consistency on these issues.
I made it clear that we support the Thames Gateway project because 80 per cent. of it is on
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brownfield sites. I made the case in my election leaflet for brownfield redevelopment, of which there is plenty in the midlands to be going along with.
Mr. Miliband: I look forward to these debates because I have comments from the hon. Lady who said that the Thames Gateway project is not sustainable and promised that there was no question of it going ahead under the Conservatives.
The Minister mentioned various aspects of tackling the housing crisis, but when will the Government introduce the secondary legislation promised in the Housing Act 2004 to deal with the problem of empty homes? There are an estimated 700,000 such properties. They are a blight on our communities, and we are trying to deal with regeneration. Not only that, however, they are a scandal when so many people, who are desperate to be housed, are languishing on council lists in complete misery.
Mr. Miliband: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that and congratulate her on getting into the debate even though she did not get the chance to make a full speech. She mentions the importance of the council housing stock in respect of empty homes. I think she will agree that 550,000 of the 700,000 empty homes are not in the council sector, but in the private sector. The problem involves complex issues. I am happy to take them up with her, but it is not as simple as saying that 700,000 council homes are empty.
I hope we can agree that we need to increase the supply of housing as well as help those who are trying to get on the housing ladder. The recommendations of the Barker review laid out a clear economic and social agenda in respect of housing supply. We will respond to that report in the course of the year.
The plans for four growth areas are in full swing, and I am pleased if we have the support of the Opposition Front-Bench team on that. The programme to release public sector land for housing is under way. Planning reform is delivering faster decisions. We are determined to move the housing debate forward, not just on the supply side, but on the demand side, too.
For first-time buyers, for key workers in our public services and for those on modest incomes renting from a council or the housing association sector, we believe that it is right to make home ownership more affordable. That is why in January my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister set out in his five-year plan for housing the benefit of shared equity schemes. In April, we published a major consultation paper "HomeBuyexpanding the opportunity to own", which set out detailed proposals to extend the scheme. It also outlined the outcome of discussions with the Council of Mortgage Lenders on exciting proposals for those private mortgage lenders to extend equity loans to first-time buyers buying on the open market. We want to explore with the CML extending the scheme to new build homes, which would allow us to help more people into home ownership. I would have thought that that would have support on both sides of the House.
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On regeneration, Labour believes that good housing and social regeneration must go together. It is people, not houses, who make communities. That is why the Government are committed, in every part of the country, to extend the drive to tackle anti-social behaviour[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden is welcome to intervene. Measures include neighbourhood policing teams, closed circuit television, neighbourhood wardens, which are making an outstanding contribution to safety in our communities, the determination to close crack houses and to crack down on drug dealing, and clear powers for local authorities in respect of neighbourly behaviour. We should be looking for Conservative support for licensing legislation and the powers that it will give local councils to take account of local views on such issues. However, as several hon. Members said, there is another side of the coin. The commitment to high-quality youth services, the commitment to sports, leisure and arts facilities, the after-school clubs and voluntary sports leagues, and the employment measures to tackle worklessness are essential to make a difference to young and sometimes aimless lives.
In 88 of the most disadvantaged local authority districts, the Government have a specific programme to send a clear message. We will extend rights through investment, but we want to promote responsibility, too. Eight years ago, social exclusion was not recognised on the Floor of the House. Now, employment rates and educational standards are rising faster in those 88 neighbourhood renewal areas than the national averages. Eight years on, I hope that the whole House can commit fully to ensure that we never again have a minority of the country that is cut off from the mainstream, with disadvantages in housing, employment, education and income piled on top of each other, creating misery from one generation to the next.
Simon Hughes : The Minister said that he supported the youth service. Will he also pick up the idea, which was put forward today by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) and is widely supported, that if young people are to do positive things, sport facilities have to be affordable for them, which in many parts of Britain they are not?
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