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John Cummings (in the Chair): Quite a few Members want to make speeches this afternoon. If contributions can be kept to around 10 minutes, I am sure that everyone can be accommodated.

2.30 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr. Cummings. I welcome the Minister, whom I like and respect in equal measure, to his role. His elevation was overdue and well deserved, and I am delighted that he will be responding. I am grateful to the other Members present for coming, and for deciding to participate in a debate on a subject that is rising rapidly towards the top of the political agenda. That was shown at an early stage by the new Prime Minister’s announcement that the Minister for Housing would attend Cabinet, which demonstrates that this is now one of the biggest political issues in the country.

There is no doubt that there is a big problem with housing provision in this country. The subject of this debate is fairly wide-ranging, and I intend to touch on a number of issues, to which I hope the Minister can respond. First, we should set out some of the problems that we face. A typical first-time buyer is now unable to afford a mortgage in 93 per cent. of towns in the UK. Given recent interest rate rises and future ones to come, it appears that that situation will only get worse. We should be very concerned about that.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the debate. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that part of the reason for the unaffordability of homes for first-time buyers is the lack of housing supply over the longer term, and that one of the major bugbears is the failure of local communities to recognise the need for more house building?

Philip Davies: I will come to that in a few moments. There is no doubt that we need to build more houses of all types. We undoubtedly need more private housing and it seems increasingly clear that we need more social housing provision, too. However, my concern and the focus of my contribution today is not so much the supply side, which the Government appear to be concentrating solely on, but the demand side.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising an important and topical issue. Although he is focusing on the demand side, does he accept that since I came into Parliament, the total number of immigrants to this country each year has increased by 300,000, that that is causing a massive increase in demand, and that it is one of the factors that we should take into account? I am not denigrating the immigrants themselves—this is a matter of public policy that has not been considered by the Government.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is entirely right and he is certainly on to something. One issue that I want to focus on is the impact of immigration on housing provision.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): There is no doubt that internal migration within the country and external migration into the country are
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factors—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read my Select Committee’s excellent report, which sets out all the figures, so they are hardly a secret—but will the hon. Gentleman consider demography? The happy fact that we are living longer is responsible for about 40 per cent. of the extra demand.

Philip Davies: The hon. Lady is right, and I shall certainly not be suggesting that immigration is the only reason that we need more houses. A number of factors come into play, and my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) rightly pointed out that immigration is one. We should not ignore it. The problem is that the Government have made some 17 statements—either oral or written—on housing, and yet not one has mentioned the effect that immigration is having on housing provision in this country. It is such an important factor that it surely cannot be right that of those 17 different statements, not one has touched on the impact of immigration.

Houses are becoming unaffordable for first-time buyers. Last year, we had the lowest annual total of first-time buyers since 1980—just 315,000. To strike a contrast, back in 1997 there were 503,000 first-time buyers. That shows the scale of the problem that we face. Fewer people are getting on to the housing ladder, and last year saw one of the first falls in the number of owner-occupied houses in this country. The Government should be ashamed of that and anxious to do something about it.

On affordability, the National Housing Federation states that in my local authority area—I would have thought that Bradford was one of the most affordable places in the country, not one of the least—the average house price is about £123,000. The average annual income needed for a mortgage to cover that figure is more than £33,000; however, the average income in Bradford is just over £19,000. Couples might just about be able to afford to buy a house, but in many cases they might not. Single people who want to get on the housing ladder when they leave university or school or enter work for the first time have little chance of getting into the housing market, even in Bradford. I am sure that that problem must be even worse in other parts of the country. We have a big problem.

The Government have decided that the answer is to build 3 million new homes over the next 20 years. My concern is that the focus seems to be entirely on supply. We are just accepting what is happening—and so we need to build 3 million new homes. There must be some mileage in considering the demand side of the equation, as well as the supply side. We are a small island—we cannot get away from our geographical nature—and surely we cannot just keep building more new houses in to the future. Surely someone will say, “That’s it. We’re not prepared to give up any more green fields, green belt, gardens or land.” I am not entirely sure when that point will come, or when the Government think that it will come. Surely it is not sustainable to build 3 million houses every 20 years. At some point, that will have to come to an end.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Is it not deeply disingenuous of the hon. Gentleman, despite his earlier protestations, to make the case that the need for additional housing is
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primarily or even largely driven by immigration? As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) said, the increased longevity of Britons is a key factor. In addition, a fundamental driver is household change. The real demand has come because families are no longer living together in the numbers that they used to. Those two factors are overwhelmingly driving the increase in demand. It is disgraceful of him to place that burden on immigration.

John Cummings (in the Chair): Order. Interventions should be brief.

Philip Davies: I understand the hon. Lady’s reluctance to get into a debate about immigration and its impact on housing. That is part of the problem with which we have been dealing: nobody will address the issues. She is absolutely right. I said earlier that there are many factors at play, and that immigration is only one. Family breakdown is certainly another, and it is a subject that I shall also mention. I have not even come to the numbers yet, so the hon. Lady is not aware of the extent to which I am claiming that immigration plays a role.

Bob Spink: My hon. Friend may have seen in the Hansard for 17 July that the party colleague of the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), said:

Those figures may help my hon. Friend to judge the level of housing demand that flows from immigration. He will know that if the House does not address this issue, we will leave a vacuum into which the fundamentalist parties will come, which will be bad for immigrants and for our democracy.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right and I shall come to the figures. In passing, I pay tribute to Sir Andrew Green of Migrationwatch UK, who has used Government figures—not his own—to highlight the problem that we face. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), who secured an informative and good debate yesterday on immigration and touched on the issue of housing, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), who has done a great deal of work in this field. He has published a pamphlet called, “Too Much of a Good Thing? — Towards a balanced approach to immigration”. I think that it is available in all good bookshops, and I urge Members to have a look at it and to read yesterday’s debate, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex made some pertinent points.

According to the Government’s own figures, 31 per cent. of the new houses built are needed to deal with immigration. That means that of the 3 million houses that the Government have said need to be built, by their own admission 1 million are needed to deal with future migration into this country. They are needed to deal not with the current level of immigration, but with the Government’s projection of future migration, accepting
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their estimate that there will be a 30 per cent. drop in immigration, and factoring in their figures. That is how much immigration affects the amount of housing required. It is no good our trying to pretend that those figures are not there—they are the Government’s own and we cannot sweep them under the carpet.

The number of asylum seekers granted permission to stay in the UK has exceeded the number of new social houses built by nearly 40,000 in the 10 years since 1997. The number of grants of asylum and extended leave to remain has totalled more than 228,000, compared with the 188,000 additional social and local authority homes built in the period. That is clearly unsustainable. The Government cannot allow it to continue, and then wonder why there is such a shortage of housing at local authority level and for first-time buyers.

Currently, one migrant a minute is coming into this country—the equivalent in population terms of a city the size of Birmingham every three years or so. That level of immigration is completely unsustainable, and unless the Government get to grips with the issue and we have a controlled and sustainable level of immigration, we will not solve the housing crisis that we face.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Would the hon. Gentleman care to say how many people are leaving the country because they are emigrating? Would he also care to say, since he is so keen on the subject, why successive Governments, particularly those of his own party, built so few social houses and encouraged the sale of existing social stock?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point made clear the net level of immigration. People are leaving the country, but far more people are coming in—that was my hon. Friend’s point. The shortage of social housing is largely fuelled by the increase in the number of people coming into the country through immigration, as the hon. Gentleman will find if he speaks to his colleagues in parts of the east end of London, where this issue is significant.

Dr. Starkey: The hon. Gentleman has made a serious suggestion—I shall not use the word “allegation”, as it is a bit pejorative. Would he like to set out exactly what his evidence is? May I suggest that he should not argue about one area of the country and then generalise from it, as he has just done? The figures clearly show that most migrants to this country go to London. Just as 800,000 people, largely young families, are leaving London every year for the wider south-east, 800,000 migrants from abroad are coming into London to fill the employment gaps left. The hon. Gentleman should not suggest that that is happening across the country and that migration is therefore causing the pressure on social housing. The pressure is everywhere, whether or not there are migrants there.

Philip Davies: The hon. Lady makes a fair point, but I was referring to my part of the world—that was the purpose of my seeking the debate. There has been a big increase in the amount of migration into Bradford over many years and particularly in recent years. The point that I was making to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) is that there is a severe shortage of social housing in certain parts of London, caused by immigration.

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Ms Buck: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Philip Davies: I shall make some progress. I know that others wish to speak, and we could get bogged down for a very long time on this one issue.

I hope that the Government will indicate what effect they feel immigration has had on the amount of new housing required and what they intend to do about it. Do they accept that we need a limit on immigration to this country, and does the Minister accept the figure that I gave—that one third of new housing is needed to deal with immigration?

To pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), according to Government figures a lot of the growth in housing need is due to the increase in one-person households. Part of the problem is demographic—nobody would dispute that—but it is also partly caused by family breakdown. A charity based in my constituency called Nightstop UK does a fantastic job in dealing with homeless people between the ages of 16 and 24. I highlight it because it does a superb job across the country in helping young homeless people to find homes.

When homeless people come to Nightstop UK, it does a survey and asks them what the factors relating to their homelessness are. Between 2001 and 2006, 44 per cent.—the single biggest figure—of young people who went to it said that family breakdown was the biggest reason for their homelessness; only 3 per cent. said that it was a lack of accommodation. Family breakdown in one form or another was driving their homelessness. I therefore encourage Members to examine carefully the recommendations made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and his social justice policy review group. He made some brave and intelligent observations about what can be done to tackle family breakdown, which causes a great deal of misery to a lot of young people, not just in Shipley but across the country. We need to consider what we can do to tackle that problem.

Despite what I have said, I accept that we need more housing. If the Government were to tackle some of the issues driving the demand for housing, we would not need as much housing as they claim, but I accept that more houses need to be built. One issue to consider is where we are going to build them. I would not like them to be built on green belt land. The amount of housing built on such land has been one of my concerns in the past few years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) promoted a private Member’s Bill last year that would have introduced a rule whereby, once land had been allocated as green belt, it would be green belt for ever. If it is green belt land today, it should surely be green belt land tomorrow; that should not change. The Government will say, “There is as much green belt land now as there was in 1997.” [Hon. Members: “More.”] Indeed, but the issue is that it is not the same green belt land and it is not of the same quality. The Government build houses on some of the most beautiful parts of the country and replace those areas with land that most people would not consider green belt, and which is not of the same quality. To me, that is an erosion of the green belt, whether or not it is so in numbers terms.

Between 1997 and 2004, the Government allowed 162 planning applications for developments on green belt
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land, although they had the power to stop them. The aviation White Paper proposes aviation expansion resulting in the loss of 700 hectares of green belt land, and about 10,000 acres of green belt are at risk from proposals in draft Government regional plans, including land in Luton, Harlow, Bath, Bristol, Birmingham, Coventry, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Bournemouth, Poole and Nottingham. I urge the Minister to consider seriously the impact of allowing developments on green belt land, and then trying to cover that up by replacing it with land that is not of the same nature or quality, and pretending that there has been no erosion of the green belt under this Government. It is clear that there has been.

That is a particular problem in my region of Yorkshire and Humber, where 17 per cent. of the land within 1997 designated green belt areas has changed to residential use. That strikes me as an incredibly high figure—the national average in England is 12 per cent. Five per cent. of new dwellings built between 1992 and 2001 were built in 1997 designated green belt areas. I find that unacceptable, and I seriously hope that the Minister will reconsider the protection that we give to green belt land, and not just replace it with other land.

I also hope that the Government will reflect on building on floodplains. We have seen the devastating consequences, particularly in parts of Yorkshire, of building houses on floodplains. This is also a big issue in the Yorkshire and Humber region. The amount of land changing to residential use and the percentage of new dwellings being built in 2002 flood-risk areas is 16 per cent. It is no good allowing and encouraging houses to be built on floodplains and then saying how sorry we are when many of them get flooded, particularly if the response is as inadequate as it has been in many areas, but that is a topic for a different occasion. I hope that if one positive thing comes out of the tragedy experienced in many parts of the country, but particularly in parts of Yorkshire, in the past few weeks, it will be that the Government think again about the sense of building lots of houses on floodplains. All that that does is cause a great deal of misery to many people.

Dr. Starkey: I assume that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the new planning guidance that the Government introduced about a year ago—I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I have got the date wrong—which very much strengthens Environment Agency guidance to local authorities, and enables the agency to call in an application if the council goes ahead and refuses to listen to it. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman supports that Government measure, which will deal with the problem that he identifies.

Philip Davies: The hon. Lady must consider the measure as a whole. In a few minutes, I shall discuss some of the pressures that local authorities face in finding places to build houses. Those pressures are driven by the Government’s policy on targets, and if she will bear with me, I will come to that issue shortly. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the problems of building houses on floodplains.

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