Previous Section Index Home Page

In other words, 8 million people—4 million families—would have the security of their home reduced to a two-month notice period.

Dr. Starkey: If I understand correctly, the suggestion by that Tory spokesperson was that the Berlin wall between rent in the private rented sector and the social rented sector should be torn down. Surely if rents in the social sector in London went up to the level of the private rented sector, everybody in council accommodation in London would effectively be unable to work because they would lose their home, as they would lose their housing benefit. Is that really the policy that the Opposition propose?

John Healey: That is the sort of intervention that I would expect from my hon. Friend. She sees very clearly that this is not just a question of removing the rights of tenure and removing security. The question of the Berlin wall between rent levels has profound implications of exactly the nature that she identifies.

It is not just a matter of the Opposition removing the rights to security and the rights of council tenants or housing association tenants. The truth is that they do not believe in social housing in the first place—there is no mention of it in tonight’s motion. That is the case at all levels of the party— [ Interruption. ] They protest, but they have not put it in their motion. This is a debate about housing. If they believed in social housing, they would not be talking about cutting £800 million from the housing budget. They would not be talking about cutting £240 million from the budgets of local authorities. Those are not cuts for the future, but cuts that they would make now if they had the chance in government.

I talked about that being true at all levels of the Conservative party. It is true at a national level, but what about London? What about the Mayor of London? He scrapped the Labour Mayor’s 50 per cent. affordable housing target—a Labour Mayor and a Labour regime that believed in social housing—in favour of what he calls negotiation with the boroughs. I will tell the House what has happened there: he is allowing them to shirk their responsibility to provide housing at levels that people can afford, whether they rent or buy. Members can look across the Tory boroughs at what this new Tory Mayor is allowing them to get away with. I mentioned Hammersmith and Fulham; my hon. Friends know—

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab) rose—

John Healey: I shall give way to my hon. Friend; he knows Hammersmith and Fulham better than anyone else.

Mr. Slaughter: I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, not least because I cannot make the points that I would like to make in this debate, because my voice has gone. I am grateful that he has made the point about Hammersmith and Fulham, but will he bear it in mind that the points about abolishing
9 Jun 2009 : Column 728
security of tenure, market rents and having no responsibility for homelessness are not just ravings committed to paper? They are being implemented on my constituents today, with the demolition of their homes, the sale of their homes and the refusal, on purely ideological grounds, to build a single social rented property. What is happening in Hammersmith and Fulham today is the Tory plan for housing in Britain tomorrow.

John Healey: My hon. Friend talks about Tory ravings; I have another example. It is not just from any old councillor, but from one of the housing advisers at Westminster council. If Members are looking for ravings, then this is an interesting article from Localis, the policy platform. The adviser talks about supporting social housing as an

If these were just ravings and writings, I would not be so concerned, but my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) is right. He has told me about a development in Shepherd’s Bush, on Bloemfontein road in his constituency. It is a £50 million development that, under the Labour Mayor and Labour council, was set to have contained 50 per cent. affordable housing—half for low-cost sale and half for low-cost rent. Under the new regime, now that the Mayor of London has let local councils in London off any responsibility for providing this housing, that will now be only 39 per cent. affordable housing with no provision for rent at all. The truth is that the Conservatives do not understand this type of housing. They do not support it, but they just dare not say so this side of an election.

Ms Buck: My right hon. Friend mentioned the deputy cabinet member for housing in Westminster. Is he aware that in the same article the councillor went on to describe council housing as:

and as a

Does that, to my right hon. Friend, suggest someone who supports providing affordable housing for low-income households?

John Healey: No, but I am glad that my hon. Friend has read the same Localis article as I have.

Mr. Syms: Will the Minister give way?

John Healey: I will—for a second time, I think.

Mr. Syms: The Minister is being very generous in giving way. Of course, his Government are taking 20 per cent. of the rents off my tenants in Poole and whizzing it into central London to Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, Camden, Islington and the other authorities. If they are such lousy authorities in central London, why take £4 million from Poole?

John Healey: You were not in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, when the hon. Gentleman asked me a similar question about the review and the reform of the housing revenue account. I have given him his answer.

9 Jun 2009 : Column 729

Ms Buck: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

John Healey: I will, but then I shall wind up as I know that other people want to speak.

Ms Buck: We have had several recommendations from Opposition Members that contributions to the housing revenue account from their local authorities should be repatriated. Does my right hon. Friend share my suspicion that, were there to be a Conservative Government, unless they pledged additional money for housing investment, tenants in areas such as mine—in Hammersmith and Fulham, in Westminster and so on—would be dramatically worse off?

John Healey: My hon. Friend, who understands these things as well as any other Member of the House, is right about those risks and about the dangers in the system. Precisely the same risks and hidden aims can be found in claims that the Opposition want to see localisation of the business rate, as that would drive a coach and horses through their ability to redistribute funding to local areas and local councils from areas that have the capacity and high tax base to raise it to those that have a low tax base but perhaps a high need for it.

Mr. Flello: Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

John Healey: I was about to wind up, but as it is my hon. Friend of course I will.

Mr. Flello: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has been making a superb speech. Will he clarify whether he is saying that under a future Tory Government—heaven forbid—the good folk of Stoke-on-Trent would have less subsidy for council housing in their area?

John Healey: That is easy. What is clear for Stoke-on-Trent is that were the Conservatives to come into Government, the funding for housing would be cut, the funding for local councils would be cut and the people of Stoke-on-Trent, many of whom need that support from central Government, would simply not get it?

Mr. Love: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

John Healey: As my hon. Friend presses me to do so, I will.

Mr. Love: I thank my right hon. Friend for being so generous with his time. I wanted the opportunity, like many others here tonight, to congratulate him on his new role, which he is fulfilling with great promise this evening. The implication of what he said about Conservative party policy is, of course, much greater. The last time the Conservatives deregulated rents, they said, “Let housing benefit take the strain.” The implication for public expenditure of such proposals from a party that says that we have to restrict public expenditure is either that such expenditure will go through the roof or that tenancies will be jeopardised across the country.

John Healey: Spot on. I can see why my hon. Friend serves with such distinction. He is certainly not wasting his time on the Select Committee on the Treasury, and I regret only that that commitment meant that he had to
9 Jun 2009 : Column 730
step down as my Parliamentary Private Secretary. I am grateful for the support he gave me, although I think that the period was too short.

The motion ignores entirely our record of success over the past 12 years, with unprecedented investment in social and affordable housing and unprecedented investment in dealing with a backlog of repairs and homes for 2 million people that simply were not decent enough to live in. It ignores the fact that house building in 2007-08 was at the highest level for 30 years. It ignores the dramatic falls in the levels of homelessness and the changes in the planning system that will make things faster, fairer and more strongly democratic. It also ignores the recent reforms that give tenants stronger rights and a more powerful voice.

The Government’s amendment provides a fuller and fairer picture of our housing policy record. I am proud of much of what we have achieved so far, but I am also clear that we have a great deal more to do. We must do much more to help people get into the homes that they need, and to stay in the homes that they have. In particular, we have a great deal more to do to ensure that the homes that people need in future are built and available for them.

That is my task, as Housing Minister, from tomorrow—from day three.

8.10 pm

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): May I begin by welcoming the Housing Minister and all the new ministerial team to their roles? Obviously, the Minister is not new to the Department, but I am sure that he will find the housing brief the most interesting and challenging part of the Communities and Local Government portfolio. Personally, I am disappointed and sorry to see his predecessor, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), go to his new post as Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and I hope that the Minister will pass on my best wishes to him. It became almost a weekly ritual for us to debate housing in Westminster Hall, and he always made his points with charm and courtesy. I thank him for that.

It is a great frustration for me to debate yet another Conservative motion that has nothing positive to say. The Conservative analysis of Government failures in housing seems largely correct: it is certainly true that the Government’s mortgage support scheme has so far helped just two people, that the facility for zero stamp duty for zero-carbon homes has helped just 18, that Government policies are leading to woefully inadequate numbers of homes being built, and that almost all of them are small flats. It is also a statement of the obvious that the Prime Minister appears to show a careless disregard for his own Housing Ministers, but where are the new ideas in the motion?

The motion is just one long whinge, and I for one find it deeply depressing. We have just lived through probably the most difficult few weeks in politics that I have experienced in my lifetime, and I suspect that most hon. Members will not be able to remember any time as difficult. Faith in representative democracy and in this place is at an all-time low: just one person in three turned out to vote last week, and it is really difficult to persuade people that politics actually matters and can make a difference.

9 Jun 2009 : Column 731

I have spent most of the last few weeks going into schools, and it has been harder than ever to convince young people that being an MP is an amazing and incredible job because one has an opportunity to change not just the life of one person, but whole systems. Yet we are stuck here until 10 o’clock on a Tuesday evening debating an Opposition motion that does not mention a single idea for changing anything at all. It is no wonder that voters are disillusioned—I feel disillusioned too.

Mr. Syms: The hon. Lady made a very good point about flats. Does she agree that one of the worst things about an overarching central planning system is that it gives us lots of flats that cannot be sold, when what we need are family homes? Many families are living in very overcrowded conditions, and flats are not the solution.

Sarah Teather: The Conservatives do not have any proposals to address that problem, which I am not sure is governed entirely by planning. I think it is mainly to do with targets and how housing associations are funded, but they do not seem to have any solutions in that regard either.

I accept that the Conservative spokesperson has recently produced a couple of housing policy papers. The first, the so-called “Shapps report”, contained no policy proposals whatsoever, being just a string of graphs that some researcher had downloaded from the DCLG website. His later papers on empty properties and building homes were notable for a much higher quality of graphic design, but that was not enough to distract me from the absence of any promises of new money.

The problem is that abolishing central targets alone will not build any new homes. We agree that it will build different types of homes, but it will not build any more homes. If the Conservative spokesperson is so pleased with the policy papers that he has produced, why on earth did he not put anything of what they contain into the motion that we are debating today? Instead, we have 11 lines of sweet Fanny Adams to discuss.

Anne Main: The hon. Lady is disputing whether we should argue over targets, but I am sure that she will accept that the Liberal Democrat council in St. Albans has successfully defeated the Government’s regional spatial strategy on targets. I welcome that, as local people should decide how many homes there should be and where they should be placed. It is not just a question of having more and more homes: we need to put the infrastructure in place first, and then give local people the power to make decisions. I should have thought that she would welcome that, and not say that we need more houses regardless of what local people want.

Sarah Teather: If the hon. Lady had listened, she would know that I did not dispute the proposal to abolish central targets. What I said was that that alone would not build any new houses.

We attempted to amend the Conservative motion and, although our amendment was not selected for debate, it is on the Order Paper and hon. Members are welcome to read it. They will see that we accept the motion, and then go on to propose some solutions—something lacking from anything put forward by the Conservatives.

9 Jun 2009 : Column 732

I accept the whingeing in the Conservative motion, and the criticism and analysis that it contains, but let us have some sort of solution that would make things better. Without that, why are we here? What were we elected for if we do not have any ideas for making Britain a better place? The motion is just pointless.

Mr. Drew: I hope that I can help the hon. Lady. Nowhere in the Conservative motion or the amendments proposed by the Government and the Liberal Democrats is there any mention of rural housing and the crisis that exists there. I know that hon. Members in all parties know exactly what I am talking about. As the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) knows, I am a great advocate of community land trusts. We have to look at rural areas, as the housing crisis is not confined to urban Britain. Our towns and villages have insufficient housing for people of lesser means, and I hope that the hon. Lady will agree that we have to address that as well.

Sarah Teather: I agree completely with hon. Gentleman, although I point out that my amendment deals only with housing and makes no mention of the words “urban” or “rural” specifically. I also agree with him about community land trusts, which he and I have debated in Westminster Hall. The trusts are very important in Cornwall and many other rural areas, and they may even represent a policy on which we can achieve all-party agreement.

I said that the Conservative motion was vacuous, but the Government amendment reminds me a little of the string quartet that kept playing as the Titanic sank. There is no acceptance of what is happening in the real world: the Government hunker down and comfort themselves by reeling off a list of statistics while closing their ears to the desperate cries of those who have lost their homes, who live in cramped and unacceptable homes or who have no hope whatsoever of getting even that.

Some 1.8 million families are languishing on council lists waiting for a suitable home that they can afford to rent. In London, around one household in 10 is waiting to be rehoused. In my constituency, the figure is even higher, with one household in five stuck on the waiting list for a council or housing association property.

Earlier, the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) mentioned the link with the British National party, and I think that he is right. Some of the areas worst affected in terms of housing are in the old Labour heartlands. The very people who elected this Government are the ones most let down on the issue of housing.

Housing is a powder-keg issue. It ignites rows about race and immigration, and it provokes people to lose faith in the system. It is the very issue that fascist parties rely on to breed resentment and hate. The Leader of the House is correct to say that the Government should take responsibility for the rise of the BNP, and I completely agree. However, if there is to be any hope of tackling that sort of fascist politics, housing is where the Government have to start.

What is needed is a serious investment in affordable housing to rent. The Government invested £12.5 billion in a VAT cut that made little or no difference to people’s lives, when they could have spent that on building tens of thousands of more homes for people to live in.

Next Section Index Home Page