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Volume 175: debated on Tuesday 3 July 1990

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Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.23 pm

I beg to move,

That this House condemns the Government's incompetence and indifference in the face of the mounting housing crisis which is evident from growing homelessness, soaring mortgage costs and rents and the lack of affordable accommodation in urban and rural areas of Britain; and notes the failure of the Government's chosen instruments, as evidenced by the financial crisis of the Housing Corporation which is undermining Housing Associations, and the failure of the Housing Act 1988 to achieve its targets on Housing Action Trusts, Tenants' Choice and Assured Tenancies.
Homelessness and unmet housing need may not directly affect as many as are affected by the problems of the national health service or the education service, but the scale of those problems means that homelessness and the housing problem must take their place among the major social issues which Britain faces.

There are various ways of measuring the problem. The first is to look at the Government's homelessness statistics. Those figures, which were running at a high level last year, already show a dramatic increase for the first quarter of 1990. They show that for the year as a whole it is likely that no fewer than 150,000 households will be accepted officially as being homeless. On the usual extrapolation of those figures, that means that about 500,000 people are now regarded as homeless. Of those households, 33,000 are in some form of temporary accommodation and about 12,000 are in unsatisfactory bed and breakfast hotels. Those figures represent an increase of about 500 per cent. since 1982.

In anybody's language, those figures are shocking, but they are only a fraction of the true measure of unmet housing need. Ministers will understand well that the figures do not measure those who applied to be treated as homeless but were not accepted, and that figure in turn is also at a shockingly high level—nearly 300,000 households at an annual rate this year.

That figure does not include those who simply do not fall within the official definition of homeless. In other words, the young single homeless do not appear in the statutory figure and it does not include those who are now widely described as the hidden homeless. A recent survey in London estimated that figure at about 300,000. Those are the people familiar to many hon. Members on both sides of the House, those who present themselves at their surgeries—young couples, perhaps with a young baby, compelled to live apart, each with his and her respective parents and families who are compelled to move from one temporary address to another, begging the charity of friends and relatives. One of my constituents has no address; he simply lives in a car. He, too, does not appear in the homelessness statistics.

The statistics do not tell the full story, but part of that story is told by the evidence of our own eyes. It is told through the evidence of the homelessness which we now see in the streets of our great cities. It is worth making the point in parenthesis that, although we tend to regard homelessness as an urban problem—indeed, as a London problem—the problem of homelessness among young people is rising faster in areas outside London than in the capital city.

The sight of young people sleeping rough, alongside those who are mentally and emotionally incapable of looking after themselves and those who are the victims of changes in the income support rules or who are inadequately provided for in the wake of the care in the community provisions, is truly shocking. It is little wonder that the Government have reluctantly decided that that daily witness to the growing problem of homelessness—the sight of young people begging on our streets by day and sleeping on our streets by night—is too great a blot to be tolerated and that they have to do something about it.

The £15 million measure announced by the Minister for Housing and Planning about 10 days ago at the Institute of Housing, while welcome, is no more than a street cleaning exercise. That is an inadequate response to a problem which demands much more than cosmetic treatment.

We note the way in which the hon. Gentleman has opened his speech. I hope that before he sits down he will set out the sort of money that he would expect to spend if he were on the Government Front Bench.

I hope to meet the hon. Gentleman's points before the end of my remarks.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence for Members of Parliament is that presented to us through our postbags and at the surgeries which most hon. Members hold in their constituencies. I hold regular surgeries, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does in his constituency. In recent years I have noticed a worrying and remorseless rise in the proportion of cases brought to me which involve housing needs. I estimate that perhaps 70 per cent.—sometimes more, but certainly 70 per cent.—of all my constituency cases involve some degree of unmet housing need.

By the end of a long evening—perhaps three or four hours—considering such a range of problems, I feel profoundly depressed. That must be an experience common to hon. Members on both sides of the House, when we not only witness a parade of human misery, which is depressing in itself, but have to acknowledge that we cannot do anything, even in conjunction with a hard-working local authority, to alleviate the problems of most of those people. The all-too-predictable and depressing aspect of the housing crisis is that it hits those who are most vulnerable.

A recent and good Department of the Environment survey showed that only 3 per cent. of the homeless had incomes at or above the national average. In London, a similar survey showed that fewer than 4 per cent. could afford to buy or rent homes in the private sector. We are dealing with people who are at the bottom of the income scale and, in many cases, are already vulnerable because of a physical or mental incapacity that makes it difficult for them to handle their affairs properly. We are often dealing with people who, by reason of membership of a minority, ethnic or otherwise, are likely to be discriminated against and to find themselves at the bottom of the pile. I fear that those groups are strongly represented in the numbers of those who are increasingly finding it difficult to be adequately housed.

Britain is a rich country, still full of resources—at least according to some Conservative Members—and at the end of a decade of prosperity. It has certainly had an unprecedented bonus from North sea oil perhaps £120 billion to £130 billion of North sea wealth that was not previously available. How is it that a country that spends a great deal, perhaps notoriously, of its natural resources on housing and on subsidised housing can fail to provide adequate housing for a substantial minority of the least fortunate citizens in our midst?

The facts that underline the problem can be simply stated. The problem arises, not surprisingly, because there is a shortage of housing at prices that people can afford. That shortage arises primarily because we have not built enough homes. Housing completions for 1989 made a total for that decade that was the lowest peacetime total of housing completions since the first world war. That failure occurred right across the board. If the trend established by the preceding Labour Government had been maintained this Government would have built an additional 600,000 houses. They would have reduced by 200,000 the number of houses that lack one basic amenity. There is a substantial shortfall because of the Government's failure to maintain the record established by the previous Labour Government.

The hon. Gentleman must be a little more than fair. If we compare the past 10 years with the 10 previous years—which is what he was trying to do—surely he would agree that in that first decade many of our cities were just slum clearance areas. They were demolishing old houses and replacing them. There was an agreement between the Conservative and Labour parties in the city of Nottingham that, by the end of the 1970s, it would be out of the replacement era and would no longer be building 2,000 houses a year. It would be a different scene. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is comparing like with like.

I am more than happy to be fair to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that being more than fair is a little more than is called for. I do not think that he can sustain his argument. It would be a valid argument if there was now no unmet housing need. However, we are far from that. The whole point of the problem that I have described is that there is a growing homelessness problem, which cannot be denied. While that is the case, the pressure, the demand, and the need to build more houses remain and grow.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can explain the worst record of his Government in the way that he has attempted to do. The facts are clear. Under the six years of the preceding Labour Government, housing completions averaged 230,000 per year, but during the 10 years of this Government for which we have figures, the average annual total was 170,000. That is a substantial shortfall. It goes a long way towards explaining why there is the degree of unmet housing needs that Britain currently faces.

If there were no slums, and if the number of households was the same, the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) would have validity. However, the rate of household formation has changed, and that must be taken into account. That is what causes part of the pressure of the unmet housing need. The hon. Gentleman ignored that.

My hon. Friend is right. The rate of household formation has risen for a variety of unfortunate reasons, such as marriage breakdown. There is now the relatively new or at least increased phenomenon of evictions and mortgage repossessions. All those factors have increased the need for additional housing, which is why the shortfall becomes so important.

The failure to build houses over that period extends right across the board. The private sector did well for a short time, but, as everybody knows—and it hardly needs reinforcing—it has now fallen victim to the regime of high interest rates and its contribution to the housing scene has been much reduced since mid-1988.

Housing associations, on which the Government pinned such great hopes as the main providers of social housing, have been hard hit—not only by high interest rates, but by the recently discovered problems of the Housing Corporation. No proper explanation has yet been offered about whether those problems are the result of mismanagement, bad luck, or simply having to grapple with the environment created by the Government. What is known is that even if the housing associations were freed from the problem of the difficulties of the Housing Corporation, they could not hope to meet more than a fraction of the shortfall, even at best. We also know that because of the Housing Corporation's difficulties, the Government's forecasts of completions by housing associations for the coming two years are now not worth the paper they are written on. I hope that when the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment replies to the debate he will inform the House, the housing associations, and all who depend on them for social housing of the new forecasts. I suspect that he will have a sorry story to tell—that is, if he is prepared to come clean. We certainly expect him to give us the figures.

If the hon. Gentleman checks the record, he will see that I am not unsympathetic to the points that he made at the beginning of his speech. However, his policy appears to be spend, spend, spend; build, build, build. Does not that ignore the problem of 100,000 empty council properties and over five times that number of empty private properties? Should not we use the resources available at present to solve the problem?

If the hon. Gentleman checks the record, he will know that I take the view that one property empty for no good reason is one too many. I do not dissent from the need to impress on local authorities, private landlords, housing associations, the public sector and, not least, Government Departments that it is a shocking betrayal of the homeless to keep properties unnecessarily empty.

The hon. Gentleman must accept that even if we were to squeeze that figure, and even if we could persuade his right hon. and hon. Friends to do something about the high rate of housing stock kept empty by Government Departments, we would still not have done enough to make good the failure to build the houses that we need.

The picture is at its bleakest in local authorities. The private sector has fallen short, housing associations have been crippled even in respect of the relatively unambitious total set for them, but local authorities—despite all their efforts and against their will have been forced to cut housing provision dramatically.

The figures are shocking. In 1976, local authorities in England completed 105,000 houses. Last year the figure was down to 16,000. It is scheduled—as Ministers will agree—to fall still further in the current year, and if the present Government remain in office much longer, no doubt it will be destined to disappear altogether. That is where the shortfall arises and why, particularly in social housing where the need is felt at its most acute, we are confronted by today's problems. Hon. Members do not face those problems, but they are faced by the homeless.

My hon. Friend has been describing the plight of the homeless, but does he agree that many other people, although not homeless, desperately need adequate rented accommodation? Is not the situation made worse by the lack of local authority building on any significant scale? There has been none in my borough for 11 years. The Government say that housing association provision can take the place of local authority dwellings to some extent. In 1978, under a Labour Government there were nearly 18,000 starts, but in 1989, before the Housing Corporation's present crisis, the figure was only 9,600. Does not that prove that even housing associations are not achieving anything like the number of starts, or providing anything like the accommodation, that they did under a Labour Government?

My hon. Friend is right, and I am grateful to him for that information. We have yet to hear the Minister's predictions for housing association completions over the next two years.

It is a question not just of the shortfall of supply but of the affordability of housing. The impact of high mortgage interest rates on home owners is well known. I suspect that it is felt by a number of hon. Members, who will not need too much persuading of the severe repercussions of that development. Home ownership, so long held up as the great objective not only of Government policies but of all right-thinking people, has become an impossible dream for many—and an impossible nightmare for many more. I refer to the people who find it extremely difficult to maintain mortgage repayments.

Many households and families whose budgets have been totally destroyed by the impact of high interest rates do not figure in any official statistics. At the fringe, there is the small but inexorably growing number of people who are substantially in arrears with their mortgage repayments. The number of those who have arrears of six months is growing all the time, as is the number of repossessions.

It would be a mistake to imagine that the impact of high interest rates has been felt exclusively by owner-occupiers. Rents, too, have risen sharply, across the board. It is difficult to measure the rise in the private sector, but rents of housing associations—on which so many hopes were pinned have also sharply increased, by 24 per cent. Last year alone. That is because those associations are directed increasingly to raise capital on the open market, so they, too, pay high interest rates.

In the public sector, as among the private rented sector, tenants have faced substantially increased rents. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has done excellent work in detailing the impact on one local authority area after another. No doubt he will say more about that issue later. It is clear that many local authorities have found it extremely unpleasant to be forced to push up council rents against their own better judgment. It is worth recalling that the west Oxfordshire Tory councillors who resigned the Tory Whip did so not just because of the poll tax but because they resented and were unwilling to comply with the direction to force up council rents to market levels. They pointed to the impact of ring fencing on the housing revenue account, and of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 in directing local authorities to raise rents to market levels.

We know that what is vilified by Labour spokesmen this year will become conventional Labour wisdom next year. Will the hon. Gentleman go through his entire speech, as he did at the Institute of Housing conference, without making one policy suggestion or stating what a future Labour Government might do?

If the hon. Gentleman will contain his impatience and allow me to proceed, I will rapidly reach the point that will satisfy his request.

Inadequate supply and increasing housing costs go some way to explaining the crisis but not why it exists. No Opposition Member supposes that the Government deliberately created it. Rather, it is the consequence of a failure of analysis and the priority given to ideology. The Government have been misled by their own obsessions. As in other areas, it is not the Government but the most vulnerable who are paying the price for the Government's mistakes.

I do not expect to carry Conservative Members with me when I make that assertion, but I hope that they will listen—particularly when I concede, as I have on other occasions, that we, too, have been guilty in the past of approaching housing from too ideological a viewpoint. We used to believe that only local authorities could provide social housing and that the intrinsic merits of public sector rented housing should override individual preferences. We recognised our mistakes, and I hope that the Government will do likewise.

The Government's first mistake was a mirror image of our own. They held, for reasons of ideological obsession, that local authorities had no role to play in housing provision. That is why we saw a shocking decline in new house completions for which local authorities were responsible during the 1980s. That is why local authorities had their allocations cut and why their ability to borrow on the capital market was reduced. That is why they are subjected to the lunatic control that prevents them from spending their own capital receipts on housing provision. That shows how far the Government have been prepared to press their hostility towards local authorities, in an attempt to eliminate them from their essential role in meeting housing need.

The Government's second mistake was excessive reliance on the private sector. No one disputes that it has a role to play, but, as is currently evident, the private sector is vulnerable to volatile market conditions, and is unable to sustain output when interest rates rise. The encouragement of house price inflation that was meant to sustain a boom has produced a bust instead. It was a mistake to assume that the private sector could carry the load by itself.

The private sector itself acknowledges that truth. Unlike the Government, private companies in the construction industry admit that, while they can do a certain amount of work themselves, in many cases the price of success for them is co-operation and partnership with the public sector. They appreciate that, although they have capital and expertise to contribute, that is not enough by itself and that only local authorities in most cases have the land, land assembly powers, powers over planning, development, and most of all the democratic legitimacy—the accountability to their local communities—that allows them to provide and guarantee developments that are in the interests of those local communities.

The Government's third mistake of an ideological nature was the belief that the market can always provide. Given the peculiar and convoluted structure of housing finance, and the structure of land prices and building costs, there is no way that the private market can meet the need for social housing. The Ministers must know that, because a study commissioned by their Department and carried out by Price Waterhouse last year demonstrated that a married man with two children on an income just above housing benefit level could afford a two-bedroomed house for his family and pay a private sector market rent for it in only two cities in Britain—Leicester and Newcastle. Elsewhere, the private sector simply does not provide housing to such a family at a price remotely in relation with its ability to pay.

The Government's fourth mistake is obsession with tenure. They believe that changing tenure is somehow a solution to the problem of housing shortages. Whatever its merits or demerits, selling council houses does not add a single new unit to the housing stock. Indeed, it makes the management of existing stock in the public sector so much more difficult. Again, I suspect that many Conservative Members understand the experience that my local authority has. As family houses have been sold from the housing stock and the local authority has been prevented from replacing those houses, and making good that loss, it has become impossible to pursue the sensible management of the housing stock in the interests of the tenants.

Previously, it was possible to put young, married, childless couples in high rise blocks. When the couple had children, they could be moved down to a flat or maisonette with a garden. As their children grew up the family could be put into a family house. When the children left home and the parents retired, the couple could be put back into a flat, as they wished. That was a sensible progress in the use of the housing stock, but it has ground to a halt because losses have been sustained to the housing stock but nothing has been done to replace the housing lost. The system now condemns young mothers with growing children to a permanent future in a flat at the top of a high rise tower block.

I am aware that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) can hardly contain his impatience, so I shall tell him what I believe is the way forward. It could be embraced by the Government as well as the Opposition. We must approach the provision of housing free from ideological preconceptions. We must use in as flexible and pragmatic a way possible all the instruments that lie to hand. That means that we shall encourage the private sector to make its contribution in what under a Labour Government would clearly be a more stable interest rate and investment climate.

We would encourage the private sector to enter into partnership arrangements with local authorities and housing associations so that each could make their proper contribution to the joint enterprise and provide the houses that are needed. We should extend and encourage the role of housing associations. I hope that we shall be assured this evening that the problems of the Housing Corporation are of short duration and that the Government will come to the aid of their favourite instrument. We shall encourage local authorities to resume their essential role in meeting the need for social housing. We shall begin by progressively relaxing and removing the controls that prevent local authorities from spending their capital receipts. About 8.5 billion is held by local authorities. In many cases they would be willing, indeed keen, to spend a proportion of that money on the provision of housing and, in particular, on a programme to relieve the immediate problem of homelessness.

We calculate that it would be possible to establish—indeed a Labour Government would immediately set in train—a scheme that would produce 50,000 houses at a cost of only a small proportion of the capital receipts held by local authorities. In case anyone asks what that figure is, I should mention that it is £1,850 million. That would be an immediate solution to the homelessness problem. We would then progressively further relax constraints so that local authorities could draw on the skills and resources required to enable them to make a proper contribution.

We should not only approach the matter free from prejudice but encourage a level playing field in terms of subsidy so that people can really choose which type of tenure they prefer. Housing should be free from the imbalance that currently disfigures our housing finance. A huge and growing subsidy is provided to owner-occupiers. Admittedly that is a reflection of high interest rates. That provided a substantial financial incentive until recently to those who were tempted to buy their own homes.

What we intend to do and have committed ourselves to do is to reduce and remove the excessive subsidy to those at the highest level of the income scale who receive tax relief in proportion with the size of their income. The first essential step which should be taken and which will be be useful in restoring the balance that I have described is to reduce mortgage tax relief to the standard rate of tax. We also believe that we should remove the idea which so informs the Government's housing policy, that to rent one's home is somehow an inferior or second-best form of tenure.

I am glad to see that Ministers are avid readers of "Looking to the Future". Many of our proposals are designed to narrow the gap between tenants and owner-occupiers in the control that they have over their housing conditions.

The hon. Gentleman must let me complete this point.

We believe that it is right to increase tenants' control and rights so that they can again choose in accordance with their personal preferences and circumstances the form of tenure that suits them best. They should not be driven by their inadequate rights as tenants and the inadequate subsidy that tenants receive in comparison with owner-occupiers into making arrangements to purchase a house which, for many of them, proves disastrous.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned "Looking to the Future" and referred to ideology. How will the Labour party carry out the following policy described in that document? It says:

"We are also looking at ways of extending the right to buy to private tenants who have rented for many years from a non-resident business landlord."
Would not that finally kill off any incentive for such landlords to provide housing? Does not it prevent any choice in that area of housing for the future?

I cannot understand how the hon. Gentleman can support the right to buy in respect of one group of landlords but deny it in respect of another. As to whether it is right or proper to deter the private landlord, I have no objection whatever to the private sector providing accommodation for rent to those who wish to rent at a market price. However, for the reasons that I gave earlier, the notion that the private landlord can provide housing for those who need social housing—those who cannot pay the market rent—is completely misplaced. If the hon. Gentleman continues to hold that view, that takes us a long way towards unravelling the mystery, which perhaps is not much of a mystery, of why the Government's housing policy is in such disarray and disaster.

Housing provision is not a difficult issue.

It is an issue that is often clouded and made more difficult by putting political labels on it. We should accept that the private sector can help, but that it cannot do everything.

No. Let me complete this point.

There is a role for the public sector and for housing associations as well as for the private sector. We should accept that the market can fix the price of some but by no means all property either for rent or for sale. We should accept that there is and will remain a substantial need for social housing at non-market prices. We should accept that individual preference rather than political prejudice should determine the form of tenure and that, apart from the pattern of subsidy and the restrictions placed on the rights of tenants even for individuals, at different times and in different circumstances during their lives they will want to choose different forms of tenure. We should make that choice as easy and real as possible.

We should recognise that the housing problem affects not only the homeless and those in inadequate housing, but the operation of our economy. In many parts of the economy inadequate housing affects labour mobility and makes it more difficult to attract essential public sector workers such as teachers, nurses, bus drivers, train drivers and so on.

Unless we get to grips with the problem we shall be doing a disservice to the homeless and fatally handicapping our economy and our society. No Government can claim to have served the country well if a minority of its most vulnerable citizens cannot find decent housing. No Government can claim success if the number of homeless continues to grow, as it does. Therefore, I hope that the Minister for Housing and Planning will not claim success on behalf of the Government but will seriously address an issue of great importance and pressing urgency which is a growing blot on the Government's 11-year record.

8 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"congratulates the Government on the success of its housing policies, which have extended the benefits of owner-occupation to two-thirds of all households, achieved better value for money from over £6 billion a year of public expenditure, increasingly focused this assistance on those most in need of it, and greatly widened freedom of choice for tenants in the public and private rented sectors."
The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) began his speech with a reference to the facts and so will I. He referred in particular to statutory homelessness. I shall happily give way to the hon. Gentleman if I am wrong, but I think that I heard him say that there were 500,000 statutory homeless. Last year 132,000 people were accepted into statutory homelessness.

With respect to the Minister, he may be confusing the number of households with the number of individuals. Shelter is very clear that it is permissible and indeed proper to multiply the number of households by a figure of just over three to produce the number of individuals who are homeless. I was referring to the number of individuals.

The one fact about the 132,000 households accepted into statutory homelessness that the hon. Gentleman failed to mention is that they were provided with homes.

Let me put it on record for the sake of those who are trying to follow the debate that the Minister has got off to a most unfortunate start. On the central question of the statistics that tell us the extent of homelessness in Britain—the numbers accepted by local authorities as officially homeless—the Minister simply does not understand his own figures.

I understand the figures perfectly well. I also understand that those 132,000 households were found homes. Of course, we must consider how many people are in temporary accommodation. I totally accept that 40,000 people—not 500,000 people or millions of people as we hear from Opposition Members and their supporters outside the House—are in temporary accommodation and that 12,000 people are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I agree that that is 12,000 too many. That is why we are spending £250 million directed specifically at helping those in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Between 1,000 and a maximum of 3,000 people are sleeping rough on the streets of London and about 2,000 people are sleeping rough outside the metropolis. I concede that there are also a number of people sharing houses and flats unwillingly. The House is addressing itself to the reasons behind those facts.

The hon. Member for Dagenham implied that not many new houses have been built since the Government took office. In the past 10 years 1.6 million new houses have been built—additions to the housing stock—while the population of the country has risen by less than 1 million. The number of houses per head of population has risen quite considerably in the past 10 years. So why is there such pressure?

It is not pathetic to argue that the housing stock per head of population has risen considerably, when an essential element of the Opposition's argument is that the housing stock appears to have deteriorated.

I shall give way in a moment.

When one asks why there is pressure on housing in Britain and throughout the western world, the answer is extremely clear, although the hon. Member for Dagenham skirted around it. There are new social circumstances, particularly as, sadly, many families are breaking up. It is a phenomenon in the western world and cannot be ignored. Whereas in the past a family required one house, now in some cases a family requires two, three or even four houses. Undoubtedly, as a result of families breaking up throughout the western world if the hon. Member for Dagenham has visited other countries he will have found out for himself—there is a growing social change that is creating pressure on housing.

I noticed the ease with which the Minister moved from numbers of homeless households to discussing population. Of course, the population has increased by only 1 million, but the Minister should be examining household formation. Once in a while a Minister has to make up his mind about whether the Government plan to bring in more restrictive divorce laws. Families have always broken up. Until the late 1960s the law did not prevent families from breaking up but people were forced to continue living together and were unable to start new lives. Will the Tory Government accept modern reality? They will have to make sure that there are more houses or introduce more restrictive divorce laws. Those are the only alternatives to the present difficulties.

I was simply going through the facts. There are increasing numbers of break-ups in families and that is putting pressure on the housing market. Of course, the Government have to respond to that pressure. I shall explain to the House precisely what we propose to do. It will not be the same menu as that of the Labour party; I shall come to that in a few moments.

Undoubtedly, there is a need for massive public spending, and that is happening. We are spending £3 billion subsidising the housing revenue accounts of local authorities. Of £3 billion of capital allocations, more than £1 billion is currently being spent on housing associations through the Housing Corporation. I should tell the hon. Member for Dagenham, in direct reply to the question he asked in his speech, that we are confident that, for a variety of reasons, output will rise to 40,000 in the next two years. That is a considerable amount of subsidised building.

The Minister has given us an important answer. That figure, if it is to be believed, is most encouraging. How soon does the Minister envisage that the Housing Corporation, which has had to put a stop to housing association new investment for the time being, will overcome that problem and resume normal business? My conversations with those involved suggest that there is no early prospect of that happening, which would mean a substantial reduction in the forecast to which the Minister refers.

Labour spokesmen completely ignore the reason why there are reschedulings of allocation at the moment. Completions have speeded up and are happening at a much faster rate than was originally planned. That is good news for people being housed, but of course we have to bring the process under cash control. Completions are coming through at different times under the old and new allocation procedures, but the rate of completion is being maintained, so I have given the hon. Gentleman the reply for which he asked.

A massive amount is spent—this is often ignored by the Labour party—on subsidised housing. There are two principles by which we operate those subsidies. First, we target them on those who need them most. That clearly has implications for our attitude to rents and to housing benefit and support, which we want to be channelled through the ring-fencing mechanism to those who need it.

Secondly, by changing the emphasis through the housing associations and the Housing Corporation we shall attract more private finance. We estimate that three quarters of all new build by the housing associations will attract private finance. Therefore, the taxpayer will get better value for money than with local authority finance.

The Minister has carelessly thrown out figures on the public sector. Will he address the dispute without the Conservative party? Both sides agree that public investment in housing has been cut from 7 per cent. about 10 years ago to 1.5 per cent. That is a pretty dramatic cut. The Conservative-controlled Association of District Councils, the Conservative-controlled London Boroughs Association and many Conservative councillors say that the Government have cut too much in housing, hence the problems in west Oxfordshire that my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) referred to. What is the Government's position? Are they saying that the ADC and the LBA are wrong or right? If they are saying that they are right, where will the additional funds—estimated by the ADC to be between £35 billion and £50 billion—come from?

The Government's massive spending programme must be considered in the context of other policies. We intend to continue with the galvanisation of the private sector, by which we shall ensure increased home ownership.

I am pleased that the Labour party has apologised to the country for the mistake that it made in opposing the right to buy. One wonders whether there are more apologies to come for further mistakes. We are long-suffering about the Labour party, but I thank it for apologising to us and to the rest of the country for being wrong about the right to buy. As it presumably now knows, there are enormous benefits in people owning their home, given the sense of pride and independence that flows from it.

We have raised the percentage of home ownership from under 60 per cent. to almost 70 per cent. That must be good.

I shall continue, otherwise other hon. Members will not be able to speak. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) can reply to my remarks at the end of the debate.

We shall ensure that access to home ownership stretches to those who are on lower incomes. That is one of the reasons why we are considering ideas such as rent to mortgage, extending shared ownership arrangements and part equity. I agree with the hon. Member for Dagenham that under a sound and balanced housing policy there must be a thriving rented market. That is why we intend to revitalise the private rented sector.[Interruption.] Opposition Members look askance, but I shall return to the private rented sector.

As a part of our panoply of policies to meet some of the pressures on the housing market, we are considering planning procedures and intend to introduce a Bill to make them much more efficient, in the interests not only of development and housing but of maintaining the countryside and environment. We want to achieve a balance as efficiently as possible. The hon. Member for Dagenham nodded his head when I mentioned the possibility of a planning Bill. I hope that that means that we shall receive the Opposition's co-operation on it.

Will my hon. Friend undertake to consult hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, about the planning legislation? Conservative Members have considerable experience of planning disputes. We do not wish to see lots more housing or other development on green-field sites in our constituencies.

New planning legislation will ensure that the balance between development and the preservation of the environment is maintained.

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) earlier mentioned the national scandal of the 750,000 empty houses. It is a priority of the Government to ensure that those houses are properly used. My hon. Friend rightly said that 100,000 of those empty houses are in the possession of councils.

Yes, mainly Labour councils. Those housing authorities should be putting those empty houses to good purpose. We intend, when considering subsidies, to take into account how local authorities use their local housing stock, and we certainly will not subsidise empty council houses. We shall assume that they are earning rent when we allocate subsidies.

I agree that we must address the problem of the 600,000 empty houses in the private sector. Overwhelmingly, what lies behind that figure is hostility, which has built up for many years, towards the landlord and the private rented market. That does not exist in other similar countries. In the United States, the private rented share of the market is over 30 per cent.; in France, which is similar, it is over 30 per cent.; and in Germany it is over 40 per cent., but here it is about 7 per cent., although as recently as 1950 it was 50 per cent., and at the turn of the century it was 90 per cent.

Does the Minister accept that the private rented sector does not provide the accommodation that is desperately needed? I looked at the advertisements in today's Evening Standard. It is true that there are places to let, but there are no flats for less than £140 a week. The people who can afford that are able to own their own home and to obtain a mortgage. What use are those advertisements to the people who simply cannot afford to pay £100, or in some cases more than £200, a week in rent?

In a moment, we shall find that the hon. Gentleman has made my point for me. The collapse of the private rented market is especially tragic for single people who have traditionally depended on it for housing. There are signs that the Housing Act 1988 is bringing life back into private renting. I want to speed up that process considerably.

I want, therefore, to announce a six-point plan for reinstating the private rented sector and for giving self-confidence back to the private landlord. First, we shall give the widest possible publicity to the provisions of the Housing Act 1988. It was a well-balanced piece of legislation which introduced tough measures against unscrupulous landlords who bullied their tenants while giving new rights to landlords to set market rents and to repossess their properties. We shall, in the near future, be publishing a easy-to-read booklet on the new rights that have been given to landlords.

Secondly, as from next April, we shall be speeding up the legal procedures by which disputes about rent between landlords and tenants are settled. Thirdly, we shall be discussing with building societies and finance houses any remaining reservations that they may have about the letting of property in which they have an interest. Fourthly, we shall be discussing with housing associations how they can help on a fee-earning basis with the management problems associated with letting property. Those are sometimes perceived to be especially acute by elderly landlords. Fifthly, we shall maintain the pace of our new lodgers initiative, which is making it much easier for people to rent out rooms in their homes. Sixthly, in the context of our single homeless initiative, we shall focus attention—

No, I shall not give way.

In the context of our single homeless initiative, we shall focus attention especially on the better use of space above shops. That will be done with the assistance of the greater help provided by the new renovation grants regime as applied to landlords. As I said, there are signs of life already returning to the private rented sector and this plan will speed up the process.

However, one major problem remains—the blight placed on private rented housing by the Labour party. According to the published document, Labour would once again intervene in fixing rents.

I certainly will read it out. It is good stuff and it makes good reading. On page 26, under the heading "Tenants", the document says:

"Labour will ensure that rents are set at levels which people can afford."
Labour also intends to sequester properties. The document says:
"We are also looking at ways of extending the right to buy to private tenants who have rented for many years from non-resident business landlords."
I shall not read the whole document as those sentences stand for themselves.

The measures of sequestration and of the reintroduction of a form of rent control would probably be enough in themselves to kill off the private rented sector. However, in this matter as in others, it is the secret manifesto that worries one most. The hon. Member for Dagenham has sounded reasonable and balanced, and he has used words such as "flexible" and "pragmatic". However, that is one public face of the present Labour party. Another public face is revealed by a document that I have here, which has been circulated by the Labour research department at Labour headquarters. It contains several proposals. On tenure, the document says:
"All tenants and licensees of non-resident landlords will have the right to full security of tenure…But Labour will go beyond simply restoring succession rights to the pre-1989 position; we will extend them in both the public and private sectors. Any partner of a tenant should have the right to succeed to the tenancy on the tenant's death…If the tenant has no partner, any person who has lived as part of the tenant's household for six months should have succession rights…Labour believes a minimum of two successions should be offered. This would allow, for example, one partner to succeed the other, and, in turn, for one of their children to succeed them."
So much for tenure.

On rent controls, the document says:

"The disastrous deregulation of housing association and private rents will be ended by Labour. Rents will, once again, be set independently of the landlord."
In other words, there will be fixed rents.

On the allocation of tenancies, the document says:
"all non-resident landlords should be obliged to observe the principle of equal opportunities in the allocation of housing on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, age and disability."
On the right to buy, the document says:
"Labour's aim is to extend the principle of the Right to Buy to many private tenants currently denied that right."
There may be doubt about what the Labour party really believes. I suspect that there is considerable confusion and doubt in the mind of the hon. Member for Dagenham. In a recent interview in a magazine called "Roof", which is published by Shelter—not exactly a passionate supporter of the Government—the editor questioned him on some specific issues. The editor asked the hon. Gentleman what the Labour definition of affordable rent will be. The editor writes:
"Gould is coy. 'I don't suppose we'll be putting figures on that, no. We are, I stress, committed to rents people can afford."'
The editor then asks:
"'can we expect Labour to define an affordable rent in the manifesto itself?' Gould laughs: 'I think that's unlikely.'"
The poor old editor tries again and asks:
"'Does Labour have a housing goal?' 'Not in any very specific sense.'"
All that would be funny if it were not rather worrying. We have had a demonstration today of the way in which the hon. Member for Dagenham sounds plausible, flexible and pragmatic—whatever word he may want to use at present. A better example is the submerged part of the iceberg, which is extremely worrying. I do not know what Labour will publish in the near future, or what its official position will be at the next general election. I suspect that Labour will try to hide most of this stuff before the election. However, even its published pronouncements on the private rented sector are blighting the market. That restricts housing, especially for the single homeless. At the same time that the Labour party has the brass neck to table the motion tonight, it is preventing the development of the traditional form of housing for single people. That is outrageous.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister's flow. Is he saying that private landlords are now convinced of the imminence of a Labour Government? Is that his view as well?

Of course not. The consolation prize in all this is that Labour will never get into power. The Labour party is running around the country saying in public how pragmatic it is and how it wishes to match the private with the public sector. It is apologising to the Government for being wrong about the right to buy and saying that it is thinking again about the role of the housing associations. But in the bowels of its engine room, it is churning out consultation papers that represent traditional socialism of the very left kind. That is a strange proposition for the country to be faced with. On the one hand, the Labour party is covering the cracks and, on the other, a fully fledged socialist document is being prepared in its back room.

Speaking from the engine room, I should like to draw to the Minister's attention the fact that over the past six months—there has certainly been a dramatic increase in the past few months—I have had numerous interviews with consultants and private landlords. They agree with my analysis of the decline of the private sector, which they also say has hardly anything to do with the rent Acts and everything to do with the way in which we subsidise housing in Britain. More important, a group of major landlords has gone away to work on proposals that would give private tenants the right to buy. I am pleased about that, because we shall take the good landlords with us. The Tory party can keep the Rachmans.

Methinks the hon. Gentleman protests too much. He is clearly on the defensive, and rightly so because the Labour party is in a very bad position. The Opposition are hitting hardest single people—in particular the single homeless—who have depended traditionally on the private rented sector to rent rooms. Yet, at the same time, the Labour party introduces motions such as the motion that we are debating tonight.

For our part, we accept that there are new housing pressures, which have been brought on in Britain and throughout the western world by rapidly changing social conditions—in particular, by the tragic breakdown of many family ties. But in so far as it is a housing problem, we are treating it with urgency. We are spending vast sums of public money as effectively as we can. We are further galvanising the private sector in respect of home ownership and renting. Most immediately, we are ensuring that we make better use of almost three quarters of a million empty houses. The radical and urgent manner in which we are addressing those matters makes nonsense of the Opposition's motion.

8.32 pm

I found the Minister's speech profoundly depressing. That is especially sad as this is the first housing debate that I have attended since he has been in post. There were several crucial issues regarding the housing crisis on which he did not see fit to touch. I shall come to some of them in a moment. I do not want to speak for too long as this is a short debate, but I want to make a couple of constituency points and a couple of policy points.

The housing crisis is not evenly spread throughout the country. Everyone realises that. In the north, the condition of the stock is the overwhelming contributor to the crisis, whereas in the south it is the sheer shortage of stock. In the midlands, we are piggy in the middle. We suffer from poor quality housing and a shortage of stock, but not to the extremes that are experienced in the north and south. That means that we are left out; we do not make the headlines. Nevertheless, the extent and nature of the housing crisis in the midlands is such that, were we talking about London, it would merit headline space. That point is not made clear in our general housing policy. It is not made clear in the media and it is ignored by those with London-centred attitudes.

I shall refer in a moment to the Housing Corporation, but I want first to refer to Birmingham, part of which I represent. In recent years, we have lost out badly in the housing allocation. We have a massive amount of system-built housing to replace. That housing needs to be cleared; it cannot be renovated. The Boswell houses and the 900 Boot houses in my constituency cannot be salvaged. They will have to be replaced with a variety of mixed tenure housing of varying density and with different financial arrangements. That was par for the course to the Labour party when I was on the Front Bench, and it remains par for the course now. We do not have the financial wherewithal to provide the public money to pull in the private capital that we need to make those changes. That is why I think that the Government have gone too far.

Let me give an example. In the housing needs index and stress area review undertaken by the Housing Corporation, Birmingham lost out more than any other city or district in England. By 1992–93, the Housing Corporation's programme will be worth £1.7 billion—double what it was two or three years ago. By then, Birmingham will be losing out to the tune of £20 million a year because of the changes in the housing needs index and the stress area factors: the city will have lost 1.3 percentage points in that index. The Minister frowns, but he can check those figures and he will find that they are accurate. We shall lose £20 million a year after taking the stress area factors into account.

We must bear in mind the fact that that loss is on top of Birmingham's ever-declining housing investment programme allocation. The Minister talks for all the world as though the housing investment allocations and the housing investment programme are public subsidy. They are not. They merely give the city permission to borrow money, on which the council will have to pay market interest rates. The housing investment allocation is not money doled out to Birmingham city council by the Department of the Environment.

It is money that the city council is permitted to borrow and on which the interest charged is fully subsidised.

It may be fully subsidised over a 60-year period, but Birmingham is not getting the billions of pounds worth of handouts of which the Minister talks. He spoke of the capital allocation, not the interest subsidy, and one must consider the two things separately. The HIP allocation for Birmingham is not money given to Birmingham by the Government. The Government are merely giving Birmingham permission to borrow. As I said, that makes matters even worse because, over the years, our allocation has been cut and it is planned to cut it even further. We are supposed to be the country's second city, yet on the Z scores of the census index we have the largest single concentrated area of deprivation in the country. I am not talking down my city—we have to make a realistic case for the bids—but if similar circumstances applied in London, they would be headline news.

We do not have a cardboard city in Birmingham yet, but it is around the corner. Virtually every hostel in the city is almost full every night. It would take only a slight change now and we would have a cardboard city. A slight shift would also mean families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. To its credit, Birmingham city council has never yet placed a family in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It ill behoves the Minister to castigate the council on the number of empty dwellings, which is less than the national average—less than 2 per cent. There will always be empty properties. Heaven knows, I have criticised Labour and Tory-controlled councils alike for having an excessive number of empty properties which could be available for letting. But in a country with about 20 million dwellings and with millions of people moving around, we shall always have empty dwellings. It stands to reason. Every dwelling cannot be full every night. I understand that, according to the professionals, we need about 4 per cent., and, by and large, that is the private sector figure. The local authority average is only 2.3 per cent. We need 4 per cent. to keep the system going so that people have the chance to move. As I said, Birmingham city council has never yet put a family in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, but we are close to it and to cardboard city.

Boosting the private landlord, as the Minister did in his speech, is not the answer. Being someone else's landlord is not an acceptable way to earn a living. That is a bald, stark statement, but it is not an attack on decent, caring private landlords. I probably should have said "being someone's exploitative landlord". That is the difference between the Opposition and the Tories. We genuinely want a partnership with the private sector—in tenure and money—but not an exploitative private sector. We genuinely want variety and change in finance and tenure, but we will not set up one section of society financially to exploit another.

The Minister talked about opening rooms above shops. The Tories have been talking about that for the past 11 years, but they have done nothing about it, save in one or two areas in which there was some heritage or historical aspect or some extra funny-money funding that they could find to assist. They have not seriously tackled the problem in 11 years. It is no good trotting out that policy now in the twilight of the Government, because it will not wash.

Let me deal briefly with two other points. One relates to the Housing Corporation and the mess that it has got itself into.

The Government have got the Housing Corporation into a mess, with the result that people will be homeless for longer than they would otherwise have been. On 13 December last, the Public Accounts Committee took evidence from the chief executive of the Housing Corporation and the permanent secretary of the Department of the Environment. Question No. 584 on page 15, which was not asked by me, on the Housing Corporation's plans and the housing aspects of the Department of the Environment, states:

"Next year you are going to get even more money. Will you be able to cope physically with the expansion of monies that is involved? I am not talking about labour and materials; I am talking about physically getting the money out to the housing associations who depend on you."
The chief executive of the Housing Corporation, David Edmonds, replied:
"I think so. I have great confidence that the work we have done over the last three or four years in putting into place some really quite sophisticated systems…We are a very highly computerised organisation."
He said further:
"We have a record system and a recording system and an ability to turn round paper which is very much greatly enhanced…We have…new financial systems, internal controls and checks…the volume of our work next year will be easily absorbable by the Housing Corporation."

My hon. Friend asks, "What happened?". Why have I and other hon. Members for some months been on the receiving end of the most desperate pleas from housing associations that did everything that they were asked to do to get ready for the new system? They would have been the first to be on the receiving end of complaints from Ministers if they had not been ready for the new regime, but they were ready. They told the Housing Corporation that they were ready. One assumes that the Housing Corporation told the Government that they were ready. The Public Accounts Committee has not yet reported on that matter. I must assume that the assurances that were given to the Public Accounts Committee last November about the strength and sophistication of financial forecasting have been totally shot to pieces and exposed as false in the past few months. The Housing Corporation—perhaps with the Government's hand on it—has failed to meet its duties and responsibilities of financial management and control.

The end result is that building firms will shed labour and homeless people will not get homes. I give one example, and I make no apology for choosing it, from the city of Birmingham. Birmingham Friendship housing association wants to build four five-person houses on a site in Sparkbrook. It has forged a package deal with a local builder who owns the site. The scheme, just under £300,000, is in the draft Housing Corporation 1990–91 programme, but, like many other housing associations, Birmingham Friendship does not know whether it will get an allocation for work this year. Meanwhile, the builder, who has held his price for the scheme since last year, is anxious to get on with the work. A small scheme, nevertheless, sums up the hardships and disappointments suffered on the ground because of the cash crisis. Homes for local Asian families will be lost. Work in an area of high unemployment will be lost to a firm of multi-ethnic builders which has held its costs for a year, waiting on the promise that it was in the draft Housing Corporation programme.

That is just one example—four houses for five families—and it can be repeated in virtually every urban area in the country. It is all because of financial mismanagement on the part of the Housing Corporation because the Government either did not listen or took no account of the information that they received. I emphasise that that is happening in every urban area in the country.

One word that I did not hear fall from the Minister's lips was "rural". Not once did he refer to the problems of rural dwellers and the housing crisis. It is no good his pointing to the Secretary of State for the Environment, who must be one of the most disappointed Secretaries of State ever to see successive Ministers of State come and go in his own Department. If he is to refer to rural areas, that is fine. My remark was not meant personally. I have great respect for the Under-Secretary of State. He has been badly treated by the Prime Minister.

I now raise a couple of issues about rural problems. I make no apology for that. I am an urban dweller and an urban representative, but someone must make the case for rural dwellers Tory—Members do not do it. The problem is constantly left to Opposition Members.

My record is quite good. I had an Adjournment debate on the problems of rural communities. If the Minister's minders want to look it up, it was on 5 April of this year and is reported at column 1394 of Hansard. I raised the whole gamut of the problems of rural dwellers. I referred to the difficulties of housing and gave some examples, but at column 1399 the Minister talked about increasing investment in rural areas through housing associations and referred to the programme, which had been announced, of schemes for communities with fewer than 1,000 people. He referred also to providing low-cost homes. He said that, when the scheme was in place, it would provide 1,500 homes for rent in small villages and 350 homes a year for local sales. He talked about a scheme of repurchasing former shared-ownership dwellings when the occupiers move on.

What has happened to that scheme? I understand that it has not been possible to put the scheme together in a way in which, according to lawyers, it will work. I should like an update on what has happened to the scheme to provide more low-cost, low-rent and affordable homes in rural areas. The Government made great play of the scheme when it was announced. When will bricks be placed on the mortar and when will the houses come into being?

I referred also to the remarks of the chairman of the Rural Development Commission, Lord Vinson, who is certainly not a supporter of our party—he is not a member of it. He said, and I agreed, that, on average, we need only a handful of homes in every sizeable village, but they must be affordable homes.

When I was the Opposition spokesman on housing, I suggested geographically rounding off communities. Like most other people, I do not want urban sprawl, and I do not want to destroy the countryside. I do not regard the countryside as a jigsaw puzzle or the lid on a chocolate box, which classy marketeers tell us it is all about. That is not the reality of life in rural areas when youngsters are forced to move away from villages and small towns and away from their families and jobs because they cannot possibly afford the massive prices for very small dwellings because of the dislocation of prices in rural areas. That problem must be met. I do not see action on the ground. On 5 April, the Minister made it clear to me that work was in hand. I still do not see the difficulty, and if the Minister introduces a planning Bill he will get my support.

Smaller developments in smaller villages and towns can be achieved—there is much academic work to prove that. One would not face the problem of Foxley Wood and the like, although there may be occasions when new small towns should be developed.

I believe that the concept that I have outlined is sustainable politically and financially. Unless something like that is developed, the problems of rural dwellers will get even worse. Ministers must come to terms with that because they have ignored the problem of rural dwellers for too long.

Order. I let the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) get away with it, but I now appeal for brevity. As so many hon. Members wish to speak, voluntary restraint would be helpful.

8.50 pm

It is unfortunate in a debate lasting just two and a half hours that some one and a half hours has been taken up by contributions by the Front Benches. My comment does not, however, reflect on the content of those speeches. Accordingly, I shall try to set an example by being brief.

I declare at the outset that, as all the House knows, I have been a board member of Shelter since 1983. That fact is occasionally used by each side of the House in support of their argument and I assume on that basis that they are fairly balanced. I should also declare, as recorded in the Register of Members' Interests, that I am director of a group of companies that rent out properties.

There is a seductive glamour about the use of capital receipts and it was especially prevalent when I was wearing my local government hat. The Government's stance has been attacked, but, in truth, the issue is simple. If one believes that housing needs broadly approximate to the arising of capital housing receipts, one has an argument. I believe that there is virtually no connection between housing needs and the arising of receipts. Therefore, some system akin to that used now by the Government for allocating permission to borrow to local authorities with lower receipts is essential. That practice would be followed by any Government—no post-war Government have introduced controls on capital borrowing.

There is understandable dismay on both sides of the Chamber at the sight of people living rough in our major cities. The Daily Telegraph was right when it said in June:
"In a civilised society it is unacceptable to have people sleeping on the streets because they have nowhere to go."
Similar scenes are repeated in other western countries, but that does not reduce our concern, although it may temper the more extreme political comments made. The Minister and the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) set out some of the circumstances and social background to the problem. I judge that it is the responsibility of Government, local authorities and the various agencies connected with them to deal with this problem. Other than personal choice, there should be no reason for people to live rough in the streets or under cardboard.

The Government have launched a sustained and welcome series of initiatives. Tonight my hon. Friend outlined another six, but time does not allow me to comment on them in detail. One initiative relates to people with surplus property or rooms who do not want to be involved in what they see as the palaver of renting and engaging tenants. The initiative will enable those people to engage housing associations to do it for them. Those associations will guarantee them a rate of return. Anything that encourages such people is welcome. All the initiatives are welcome, though overdue, and form part of the solution for which we seek.

I also welcome—I would, wouldn't I?—the £2 million initiative announced a few months ago by my hon. Friend the Minister. That initiative will enable the development of a nationwide framework of advice centres, essentially run by Shelter and the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux—NACAB. That initiative wisely draws on Shelter's knowledge and expertise and it is designed to encourage young people, where possible, to remain in their local area rather than to drift into the big cities, with all the attendant difficulties that that causes.

Tonight little mention has been made of the problem of the mentally handicapped. Many have now been released into the community, but in some instances they are inadequate, unable to house themselves and perhaps institutionalised. I am aware that the Department of Health will launch an initiative on that in the near future. However, the problems of the mentally ill are extremely pressing as they form a significant part of those who are currently homeless. We owe it to them to announce that initiative as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for Dagenham is one of the acceptable faces of the Labour party. His acceptance of guilt and past ideological sins was touching, but had he studied the faces behind him, let alone left the Chamber and spoken to many Labour party councillors, he would have discovered a less than equivalent atonement.

The Labour party and those who run the large council housing empires have welcomed the advent of housing associations in their much enhanced role with all the enthusiasm of people eating sheep's eyes for the first time. When the Labour party considers the rest of the private-rented sector, it does not like or understand it. The Labour party has forgotten that every extra right for a tenant is an extra responsibility or loss to a putative landlord.

I agree with the Minister that the Labour party wants to turn the clock back because it is wedded to the public sector and the belief that it knows better. I do not know why, as the housing record of far too many Labour authorities is too depressing whether judged on the number of properties empty, the size of rent arrears or their practice of opposing by every reasonable legal way people wanting to exercise their right to buy. I cannot believe that that record can act as an example to the Labour party as, whichever way one looks at it, the picture is grim.

Last week there was a fascinating editorial in The Sunday Times on a wide range of issues of which housing was but a part. That editorial was not uncritical of the Government and the gist of it was that more public spending was not the solution to most of our problems. It noted:

"Overall spending on public services was 15 per cent. higher in 1989–90 than it was during the last year of the last Labour government. So much for the 'vicious cuts of the brutal Thatcher regime' … The idea that Britain can be cleansed of public squalor by spending more money on public services is a widely believed nonsense. What nearly every public service needs is not more money, but more competition."
Nothing would increase the standard of rented property more than to have several would-be landlords clamouring for one tenant—that has been demonstrated in other areas of necessity such as food and clothing. Instead the landlord has been frightened away by the fear of a possible future Labour Government—not lessened by tonight's contributions. All housing reforms should be judged on the acid test: will they increase the supply of rented property efficiently? The article concluded:
"At least the government realises what needs to be done. Labour prefers the soft option of simply promising to spend much more on monopoly public services, which on present evidence most often makes them worse."
For those and other reasons, I oppose the Labour motion.

8.58 pm

The Government may well claim that never have so many people owned their own houses, and that that is, of course, because of Government policies. But they must also claim that never have so many people been homeless, sleeping rough on the streets, in derelict buildings, in substandard lodgings, hostels or bed-and-breakfast accommodation. That is also a direct result of Government policy. There is no doubt that in the past 10 years there has been a sharp increase in the number of homeless, well above any expected trend. A report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree memorial trust, "Homeless in Britain", shows that every day an average 1,000 households apply to local councils for help and that during the past 10 years, more than 1 million households have been registered as homeless by local authorities.

The problem is no longer a phenomenon of our largest cities. People are sleeping on our streets, in unused buildings, temporary accommodation and other unsuitable places right across this land of ours. My own area of Southport, in Sefton, north-west England, has a homeless problem, which has been growing for the past few years as the local authority finds its hands tied with restrictions on housing finance, and social services departments find it increasingly difficult, because of their restricted resources, to assist people who are homeless through no fault of their own. Such people have been turned out of hospitals and other institutions as a result of the Government's policy of closing down such homes without providing an alternative means of care or an alternative place to live.

Such short-term measures as that announced by the Minister for Housing and Planning on 22 June to provide £15 million for additional subsidies and subsidised accommodation for the single homeless, may give some small relief. However, I fear that it may create more problems than it will solve. Until we recognise the underlying causes of homelessness and instigate a programme to combat them, the long-term prospects for Britain's homeless are bleak.

Another problem that I fear such short-term measures may create is to put pressure on the police force to use the Vagrancy Act 1824 and other laws to move people off the streets. To give people who are already down and out a criminal record as well will do little to enhance their prospects of finding permanent housing. If there is any form of compulsion attached to the programme, it is likely to be defeated before it gets off the ground. Young people may rebel against it, particularly if they can be compelled to enter an institutionalised system, of which many of them have had experience and are trying to avoid.

There will also be a problem finding buildings with long-term leases at a reasonable cost. That will not be an easy task in the south-east. There will be problems in finding the staff and volunteers to run such centres. Many of the young people on our streets are vulnerable. What safeguards will there be to ensure that someone placed in a position of trust can be trusted? I fear that short-term measures will serve only to paper over the cracks in time for the general election. Once the young people who sleep on our streets are safely hidden in hostels and dormatories, the issue of Britain's homeless will be put on the back burner.

Those are the problems that arise from short-term measures, but I must not spend any more time on that subject because it will deter from the main argument, which is to identify solutions for the causes of homelessness. There is no dispute—or should not be—that the single, most important cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing units. The blame for that can be laid directly at the feet of the Government. Due to the Government's policy to reduce public spending, their dislike of local government and their utter contempt for anything that might be seen as public service, the provision of social services and social housing by local government has been virtually destroyed.

The right-to-buy policy is not, in itself, a mistake, and the principle behind it is to be welcomed. Encouragement should be given to the voluntary and, in some cases, private sector to increase their contribution to the provision of housing, particularly affordable housing units. What is wrong is the way in which the Government have approached and administered that policy. The Government have failed to recognise—or perhaps chosen to ignore—the fact that in any society there will always be a need for social housing and housing at affordable rents and prices.

The right-to-buy programme, when coupled with restrictions on the use of capital receipts, has resulted in a critical shortage of such housing. In 1979, the number of new council houses built was 79,009. In 1989, that figure dropped to a mere 14,925. At the same time, the numbers on waiting lists requiring accommodation had increased from 741,000 in 1983 to 1,268,000 in 1988. That is the scale of the problem. The Government's attempts to move the emphasis of the provision of social housing to the voluntary and private sectors have failed, because they do not understand the nature of the matter with which they are dealing, and because they have not enabled the individual to acquire the means to obtain access to affordable housing.

The pressure on housing associations to take up the slack, accompanied by a reduction in central Government funds, has meant that they have had to bridge the gap between public and private sector funding through the raising of rents. In effect, they have had to move up market. The purpose of housing associations was originally to provide for the more vulnerable groups—those on low incomes, and the elderly. However, Government pressure has forced them into the business of catering for the conventional household and those more able to pay, rather than those in need. Consequently, access to permanent affordable housing for the traditional clients of housing associations has been further reduced. The sorry saga surrounding the administration and funding of the Housing Corporation is now undermining confidence in housing associations in general, and provision of all types of homes by that process is consequently under threat.

Women have possibly been the hardest hit by current housing policy. I recommend to the Government—and to all parties—the excellent Shelter publication, "Women Losing Out", which points out that housing policies are based on assumptions about the family, and about women's role within families. The policy is designed on the assumption that the nuclear family is the norm, whereas it accounts for only 28 per cent. of households. One-parent families with one young child represent 40 per cent. of the homeless. More than 50,000 one-parent households in Britain become homeless in a year, according to the Joseph Rowntree report. In an era that promotes home ownership at the expense of public housing, women's housing options have been drastically reduced. Their traditionally low incomes and employment prospects create vast inequalities in access to housing between men and women.

The Government's housing policy is now based on the ability to pay rather than on need. The housing Acts of 1988 and 1989 have increased the difficulties of those who are unable to buy. They have reduced security of tenure, introduced higher rents and reduced benefits, owing to the system of assessment of what it is reasonable to pay rather than what the tenant is paying for. Despite all their efforts, the Government have failed to attract the private sector back to rented accommodation. The measures about which we have heard tonight will not affect that either. The private sector still accounts for only 10 per cent. of rented provision, and much of that is to students and single professionals rather than to families.

I was interested to read in the Observer last Sunday that, owing to the high cost of living in the south and south-east, northern universities are expecting 50,000 extra students in September and landlords are already preparing their welcome with plans to increase rents by 15 to 20 per cent. and an insistence on 12-month contracts, although the academic year is only 32 weeks long. Students and some other young people increasingly find that they are in a no-win situation, with rents payable in advance. For students whose grants are payable term by term and for young people on social security which is paid in arrears, the chance of finding a permanent roof over their head is slim.

The housing crisis in Britain will get worse as high mortgage rates and ever-increasing rents push people into arrears. In 1979 there were 2,530 repossessions; in 1989, there were 13,780. That figure is bound to climb, as will the number of evictions from rented property.

I am intrigued to know how the Government intend to square the conflict in their advice. Perhaps the Minister will answer that question. As inflation bites and unemployment rises, their philosophy demands that they encourage young and old alike to get on their bike and look for a job. As the housing crisis deepens and homelessness is rampant, the Government's advice appears to be to stay put, as the pavements of London and other large cities are not paved with gold. Indeed, they are more likely to be paved with Britain's homeless. Because of the housing crisis in rural and urban areas alike, such advice is useless.

What can we do about the problem? We must start from the premise that the country believes that the Government have a duty to ensure that everyone has access to affordable housing. I urge the Government to start towards achieving that aim by removing many of the restrictions that they have placed on local authorities. The top priority must be the release of capital receipts to enable local authorities to replenish stock, by providing houses themselves, by allowing housing associations to cater for the more traditional client, or through partnership with the private sector.

Another priority is to bring existing stock up to standard. Where necessary, there should be powers to purchase homes or to carry out repairs to empty private sector homes whose owners have refused to bring them up to a habitable standard. It is a tragedy and a sin that so many properties are empty. In May 1988 there were 23,000 such homes in the public sector, of which only 4,100 were available for rent. According to the Minister for Housing and Planning in an article in the Municipal Journal on 15 June, there were 600,000 vacant properties in the private sector.

I should like to see the Housing Corporation retained, at least in principle, and it should be given more funds. I should welcome changes to the way in which we define "homeless" and changes to the social security system to prevent the policy working against the young and the single homeless and especially against women who, because of our present system, remain trapped in unbearable situations that are often dangerous.

We need to change the housing benefit system so that it reflects the true cost of rents. That could be combined with the introduction of housing cost relief, a policy advocated by my party in our policy document "Housing, a time for Action", and it would apply to home buyers and people who rent. Affordable housing for all is more than the provision of bricks and mortar. Among other things, it is about the economy, our tax system, our communities, planning and the environment. Our policy document contains innovative ideas for the provision of decent housing. I commend it to the Minister and to Conservative Members.

9.11 pm

Many hon. Members have spoken about the release of capital receipts, and I think that the Minister also mentioned it. I hope that he will be able to assure us that that matter has a high priority. At a time when the nation has a housing crisis it is utterly ridiculous to sit on millions of pounds that could be put to good use. The money was raised by local authorities on the understanding that they would be able to reinvest it. That has not happened and the freezing of the funds is causing considerable distress. The money is there for a purpose for which it is not being used.

I wish to speak about the people who are at the bottom of the pile. I have the pleasure of being chairman of Stonham housing association. Most hon. Members attend their surgeries on Saturday mornings. At one time that was a fairly relaxed affair. However, every surgery that I attend becomes harder and more distressing. People come to me with the seemingly insoluble problem of having nowhere to go. I am sure that all hon. Members have met such people in their surgeries. Women about to go into hospital to have a baby do not have the slightest idea where they will go when they come out. What greater stress could one impose upon a person?

In general, the Stonham housing association picks up the debris of the nation, those who are at the bottom of the pile. We provide accommodation for about 10,500 people a day and we provide for all those whom Christians in every street sympathise about but do not want to do anything to help.

I have been in the House for some years, and in housing debate after housing debate I have heard Ministers from both parties say we should be doing various things. For example, they have said that they will ensure that houses belonging to the services—the armed forces and the police—are brought into occupation, as we do not need so many empty houses. I am sorry to say that nothing much has happened.

I hope that the thoughts that the Minister shared with us tonight will bring about some fundamental changes. Unless they do, organisations such as Stonham, the Salvation Army and many others that take care of the sad people in the community will close.

My organisation is satisfied that our finances will just about get us through another year. But unless there is some improvement in the complicated and nonsensical bureaucracy that has crept into the housing system, we expect that many organisations will have to close because there will be no money.

In London there are 75,000 single homeless people, and there is cardboard city. One does not have to go far from here to see the homeless. When I am on my way home I find old ladies sleeping in the bushes just down the road. It is sickening, and no hon. Member could find any funny feature in it, as it is horrifying.

The problem is not entirely caused by lack of money; we have to care about what happens to these people. If the various types of empty accommodation that hon. Members from both sides of the House have mentioned were used, we would not have a housing list, We would not have the misery that exists at present. We would not have people shuddering because a hostel might be put next door to them, and they are worried that it would not be attractive for their street, or that it might affect the value of their property.

Even in my constituency, in Cheltenham, there are many empty properties. I am not making a political point, but the town is under the control of the Liberals. People come to my advice bureau and tell me that they walk round the town and see empty houses and flats owned by the local authority.

Local authorities have much to answer for. They are so dilatory about carrying out the repairs and maintenance which would enable properties to be occupied that absurd situations arise. Young people with three children are put on the top floor of a 10-storey block. The mix of people in such blocks of flats sometimes causes indescribable trouble. Anti-social behaviour between neighbours increases week by week and sadly it often ends up with someone going to prison.

A lot can be done without the investment of vast sums of money, because we have already allocated millions of pounds for housing which could be better invested than it has been in the past.

Stonham, other similar organisations and thousands of voluntary workers give their time to nurse the mentally ill, who would otherwise go to prison because the hospitals that used to accommodate them are no longer available. All those people are being looked after by volunteers and a splendid professional team which has a right to expect to be paid. Unless we and my hon. Friend the Minister can find some better way of caring for people and paying the bill, there will be nowhere for even the sick to go.

9.19 pm

When the history of the 1980s comes to be written, one of the Government's real and unforgivable failures will be their lack of a comprehensive and cohesive housing policy. That failure has condemned millions or our citizens to live in inadequate homes and thousands to be without accommodation altogether.

Almost immediately upon taking office, the Government began to cut the housing improvement programme which the Labour Government had developed extensively in the 1970s and which raised to modern standards the amenities of many hundreds of inter-war council houses. Pre-1919 terraced housing, with outside toilets and sub-standard kitchens and bathrooms, cried out for improvement and major internal and external repairs were needed to prevent them from falling down.

The Government's response has been to drip feed that sector with small and completely unrealistic funds, leading to the outrageous situation in the 1990s of much decrepit and unhygienic housing in all our major towns and cities. Had the level of funding in real terms under the previous Labour Government been continued, many of those houses would now have been improved and many thousands of families would be living in more pleasant and environmentally acceptable conditions.

Equally worrying is the way in which the Government have, at every opportunity, sought to weaken and frustrate the role of public housing authorities in planning and servicing local housing provision within their communities. All manner of devices have been invented in order to remove local government from that important social policy area of human need.

Legislation has directed powers and finance to housing associations through the Housing Corporation with all the attendant difficulties and demarcation problems. There is great pressure on some housing associations to take on more responsibility in housing than they are capable of dealing with.

The Labour party recognises that housing associations have a positive role to play, but they should work in partnership with local government, the special needs housing sector and the important and emerging co-operative housing sector.

Much more devious has been the Government's promotion of the private sector. Insurance and property development companies have been encouraged to move into the private housing sector and to buy up housing estates and parcels of council houses, all complete with sitting tenants, in order to deprive local authorities of their historic and accepted housing role.

The Government have been unable to resist the attractive prospect of giving their friends in the City major capital gains through long-term property values and the ability to make huge financial gains by imposing massive rent increases on the poor tenants involved. High powered propaganda accompanied the Government's ideological separation from fairness and common sense. Thank goodness council tenants in Britain have dispatched that crazy notion to the dustbin of history by voting overwhelmingly against housing action trusts for their estates.

Once again, there is an absence of compassion in the Government's treatment of the thousands of elderly and handicapped citizens who are condemned to live their lives in accommodation wholly unsuited to their special needs. Bungalows and specially adapted accommodation for the elderly and the handicapped are at a premium in almost all areas. In my locality, it was recorded recently that about 2,500 elderly and disabled people were competing for the 50 bungalows available for letting. On that basis, many will die without having benefited from the well-being that such accommodation can bestow.

In addition, there is the misery and degradation of homelessness for many thousands of people in the Prime Minister's caring society; the uphill struggle for millions of people trying to meet record mortgage and rent payments; and, as we are now witnessing, the collapse of the private housing sector. In this debate, we are again presented with a classic picture of Tory indifference in the midst of irrefutable evidence of a major social need in housing which continues to go unmet.

9.27 pm

Unlike the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner), I believe that the Government have had considerable housing achievements to their credit during the past decade. The outstanding achievement has been the enormous stimulus to owner-occupation through the introduction of the right to buy, but in other respects also our housing stock is clearly better. It is interesting to note that, even during the past few years, there has been a marked improvement in the quality of local authority housing, certainly in my constituency. That is largely a product of the fact that capital receipts could not be spent on new building—or only a limited amount—and as a result a great deal of money has been available for improving council stock, and there have been substantial improvements.

The focus of the debate is, rightly, not on owner-occupation, but on the problems for those who cannot afford to buy houses and therefore have to look for low-cost rented housing. That is now the real priority in housing policy, and I hope that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will accept that. As we have heard from a number of hon. Members, the problem has been made worse by the increase in family breakdowns and the increased number of one-parent families. I do not share the view that that is a trend about which nothing can be done. However, I recognise that it is putting pressure on local authority and low-cost housing.

Aylesbury Vale, in my constituency—and I am happy to talk about this after what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said—spans both rural and urban housing. There has been a steady rate of council building until recently, and currently there is a genuine waiting list that can be measured in hundreds, certainly not in thousands.

I am concerned that there may be real trouble ahead. I listened to what my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Sir C. Irving) said about what was happening in his advice bureau. I would not phrase it as dramatically as he did, but I am aware of an increasing pressure from less-well-off people who are trying to find somewhere to live. Constituencies such as mine will be in significant trouble during the next decade or two unless further action is taken because council building will virtually come to an end. It has almost no housing investment programme allocation in the current year, although it had and still has a fairly steady rate of building. It appears that, by next year, only about 16 buildings will be erected by the council within the Aylesbury Vale area. We are disappointed that we have no allocation for the kind of equity sharing programmes that, in principle, have much to commend them.

The sharp drop in council building would be fine if we could be confident that the increased demand would be taken up by housing association construction. Local authorities in my constituency have been active in pursuing that option, and Chiltern local authority has successfully converted the whole of its housing stock to a housing association. In Aylesbury, where the pressure is greater, we have encouraged housing associations, and they have shown interest—recognising that even fairly affluent places such as Buckinghamshire have housing needs.

However, when it comes to the crunch, associations find it difficult to build the houses that local authorities cannot provide. That partly has to do with the drying up of Housing Corporation funding. No doubt that is a problem brought about by its success—and I accept the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister in that respect—but the difficulty remains that it takes time for housing associations that move into an area where there has been very little general purpose association activity to get off the mark.

If the Government are to rely on the Housing Corporation as the main instrument of providing low-cost housing, it is important to my constituency and others that resources are made available to the Housing Corporation for it to do its job. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary winds up he will say more about that aspect than did my hon. Friend the Minister.

The private rented sector has also featured in this debate. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister about new means of encouraging the private rented sector. It is difficult in areas like mine to do a great deal very rapidly because they do not have large numbers of Victorian houses available for conversion into private rented housing. That is not the nature of property in my constituency, and it is a problem elsewhere also.

Can new construction for private renting be encouraged? I do not share the horror of some Opposition Members of private money being invested in housing and making a profit. That is a perfectly desirable activity, and I am all for encouraging it. There was certainly some evidence of ambivalence among Opposition Members on that issue. The real problem is providing an adequate economic return on the investment necessary to develop low-cost private rented housing.

We need social housing and to give backing to the Housing Corporation, but I still believe that there is scope for new council housing. One of its merits is that it provides an avenue into owner-occupation in a way that housing association property does not. Many people in my constituency have moved on from renting new local authority housing to buying those properties, and have turned them into good owner-occupied houses. It would be a pity if that process were to end.

The question of council rents has not featured greatly in today's debate. Clearly they should be reasonable. It is true that they are backed, by and large, by a fairly generous housing benefit system, but it was a mistake to press for a £4.50 rent increase in areas such as mine in April. That was not really necessary, and it is particularly unfortunate that it coincided with the introduction of the community charge and higher water charges. I hope that when next year the question of the assumed rent increases expected by the Department of the Environment arises, my hon. Friend the Minister will do all that he can to contain them within very reasonable limits.

Although there is an underlying assumption that rents in the council sector should move more towards market levels, which has an element of wisdom, many people in constituencies such as mine, which are fairly prosperous, nevertheless do not have higher incomes than their counterparts in the north of England or other areas, where the cost of housing is deemed to be lower. If someone happens to work in the health service or in local government on relatively low pay, the pay is exactly the same as it is for someone who works in Lancashire, Northumberland or elsewhere. It is not reasonable to expect people on the same level of pay in other parts of the country to pay higher local authority council rents.

Housing for the less-well-off is of considerable importance. It is important politically. I am sure that my hon. Friends are aware of that. It is also important for the well-being of our people. I hope that we can bring to its conclusion the drive, energy and success that we have shown in tackling the question of owner-occupation.

9.35 pm

Initially I was reluctant to speak in this debate because the motion, with its references to the Housing Act 1988 and to urban and rural areas in Britain, seemed more a Great Britain than a United Kingdom motion. After I made my maiden speech, one Conservative Member said to me that he hoped that I would speak in United Kingdom debates and not limit myself to Northern Ireland matters. However, if I am to contribute to United Kingdom debates, United Kingdom debates must be held.

The motion refers mainly to the Housing Act 1988. I have heard rumours that that Act may be extended shortly to Northern Ireland. That would be worth examining. I welcome the extension of home ownership, which has been one of the chief achievements of the Government. I am also glad that they realise that the extension of home ownership will go only so far and that it is also necessary to maintain the rented sector, both public and private. The public sector should not be limited.

We need to expand and help the private rented sector. The chief measure in the 1988 Act was to bring rents up to market levels in the hope that such rents would increase supply. As I said to the Minister the other week, the experience at home is quite the opposite. We have had no rent control on new-build properties for 30 years but there has not been a significant increase in the supply. It could be argued that market rents should be introduced independently because it is slightly unfair to expect the private landlord to subsidise people and we should not deprive them of the income that their property would otherwise command. However, moving to market rents is not enough to solve the problem. We must consider other matters.

Obviously, an increase in supply is desirable. I was glad to hear that changes will be made on the planning side and that planning controls will be relaxed. That should not be a matter of rushing off into green field sites to build. One should look to urban areas where much land could be made available. Moreover, planning difficulties are not always the fault of public corporations and local authorities. It is often the fault of the planning authorities, which take far too long to arrive at decisions. I hope that the Minister will tackle that matter.

Several hon. Members mentioned empty housing. I noted with interest that the Minister hinted at financial penalties for public authorities which have empty houses on their hands. I did not hear him suggest any equivalent financial penalty when private property remains empty. Perhaps he will think about that. Such a penalty might go some way to increasing supply. However, an increase in supply may not be sufficient. Even with an increased supply, some people will not be able to enter the market. We must consider ways of assisting people into the market. The watchword must be that we must subsidise people, not property. I should like to see a much broader approach to helping people to enter the market. Together with some increase on the supply side, that might bring housing within people's range.

Within the Minister's six-point plan to tackle those problems, I noted his reference to speeding up legal procedures. I hope that that will not deprive people of their rights to proceedings in court. The existing procedures for getting orders for possession are fair and should not be changed. However, the enforcement of orders that have been granted needs to be examined as delays occur far too often.

Because of lack of time, I shall curtail my comments, but I should like to make a couple of points about the change of landlord provisions in the 1988 Act. Let me sound a warning against the extension of any of those procedures to Northern Ireland as that would open up considerable dangers. Paramilitary groups might apply to acquire public authority estates, and one could not be sure that the Northern Ireland Office would be sufficiently astute to catch them out and stop them. Other bodies such as insurance companies and building societies might seek to take over estates. The danger is that they would be softer targets than the public authorities for pressure from paramilitary groups, although the record of the Housing Executive is pretty bad. But that is another matter.

Housing associations make a valuable contribution and have done a considerable amount to increase the supply of housing. They provide an alternative to public authority housing and they should be encouraged, as competition is a good thing. The housing associations are mostly controlled by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive—the public authority to which they should be providing an alternative. With the best will in the world, the Housing Executive often hampers those authorities, although it is not consciously hostile to them, so a different regime is required, and had time permitted perhaps I would have elaborated on that.

9.41 pm

The Government are charged with incompetence in their housing policy and with a callous disregard for the welfare of the people of Britain. It is not true that the debate concerns only the rented sector, as the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said. It is very much about the lack of affordable accommodation to rent or for sale in rural and urban areas. Let the Government make no mistake about it: if they simply try to mop up some of the homelessness in London by providing a few extra night shelters, they will find that the pot continues to fill up, not least from areas such as Aylesbury.

The growing pressure on housing in rural areas is forcing people out of those areas to the seaside towns and other cities. They move into temporary accommodation, often holiday lets, and become homeless when the accommodation is required.

The desperate folly of the Government's policy was to attempt to end council housing without putting anything in its place. I understand that the Government do not like council housing. I think that they are wrong, as do the people who occupy council housing. The people who desperately want to get out of the private sector also think they are wrong. That is why Tory and Labour Members speak to far more people asking for a council house or a housing association house than wishing to move into the private sector.

The right hon. Member for Aylesbury was totally and utterly wrong to say that the housing stock is improving. It is decaying fast. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If he will not take it from me, I implore him to ask the Association of District Councils. According to that Conservative-controlled organisation, between £35 billion and £50 billion is needed in housing investment. It is said that the housing stock needs to last for 1,000 years if we are to avoid further decline. Previously the figure was 200 years, and that worries the housing experts. The Government's analysis is desperately and seriously wrong.

Several times, the Minister and Conservative Members said that they want to revive the private rented sector. I do not object to that; as long as there are good landlords, I am not fussed. However, the Minister, with his pathetic list of six things, which included issuing documents, is trying to revive a dead parrot. The reason why it is dead is nothing to do with the rent Acts but everything to do with housing finance. That is why, to their credit, the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who was previously the Secretary of State for the Environment and is not normally regarded as a logical man, wanted to end mortgage income tax relief. They wanted to end the subsidy to the buying sector because they knew that either the subsidy to the rented sector had to be increased to make market rents affordable or the subsidy to those who were buying had to be stopped.

Labour Members argue that until the Government reform housing finance they cannot get away from the fact that the housing purchase sector and the rented sector must be subsidised. No matter how much the Conservative party wants to get rid of mortgage income tax relief to revive the rented sector, it will not succeed until it makes it almost impossible for increasing numbers of people to buy, even if interest rates come down significantly. That is why house purchase is beyond the reach of between 50 and 60 per cent. of families in southern England. Until they address and understand that problem, it will only get worse.

Much of the thinking of the Tory party can be gleaned from the press releases issued by the Minister. He said:
"The Government are determined that there should be no excuse for sleeping-out on the streets."
The image is of thousands of people tucked up nice and warm in their beds at night thinking, "Isn't it a nuisance; the Government will not give me an excuse to sleep on the streets." People do not want to sleep on the streets. The Government may try to turn these people into scapegoats and to portray them as wanting to sleep on the streets, but why is it that in all western countries, except in those that follow housing policies similar to ours, such as the United States, the problem is nowhere near as severe, and in most cases does not exist?

As I have told the Minister, the big difference between today and 1979 is that when I was a probation officer in the worst areas of London around King's Cross, if a homeless person said to me "I want accommodation", I could obtain it for him, whereas today I could not. People must queue for cardboard boxes. That shows the success of the Tory party's housing policy. [Interruption.] It is true and I can prove it to Conservative Members. There is a queue also for bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and some people have been in such accommodation for two or three years.

The Tory party promised that local authorities would be able to use their capital receipts to invest in housing, but that was not allowed. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Sir C. Irving) was absolutely right: local authorities could use that money well. It is a tragedy that they are not being allowed to do so.

What do the Government intend to do about the crisis in the Housing Corporation? They said:
"It is proposed that in future an increasing proportion of new development by housing associations should be funded by a mixture of grant and private finance. Not only will this make the available public resources stretch further but the injection of market disciplines will itself lead to greater efficiency and make associations more independent and more responsible for the quality and effectiveness of their investment decisions and the competence of their management."
I can only echo the Conservative chair of the housing committee in Plymouth: if local authorities had behaved as the Housing Corporation has behaved, they would be drummed out.

The problem is the Government's problem, and we know that the figures in the Department of the Environment's White Paper on public expenditure plans are wrong and misleading. I want to know from the Minister not wild guesses or his invention of 40,000 houses but what the approvals will be for 1990–91 to 1992–93.

We need to know whether the Minister is prepared to see the Housing Corporation being examined again by the Public Accounts Committee. Anyone who knows anything about the matter knows that the Public Accounts Committee was deeply worried about the Housing Corporation and knows that its report, which will be out soon, will be of no comfort to the corporation. The tragedy is that the Government, not the Housing Corporation, are truly responsible because the Government created the scheme.

The Government say, once again, that they will punish local authorities for keeping properties empty. I am opposed to properties, whether public or private, being kept empty. However, we know that, on average, 2.1 per cent of local authority stock, 3.1 per cent. of housing association stock and 4.5 per cent. of private sector stock is empty. No less than 18 per cent. of Government property is empty. Much of it is in London and includes police officers' houses, prison officers' houses and Ministry of Defence houses, which have been empty for up to 10 years. Will the Government penalise themselves for keeping literally thousands of houses empty? They will not. The Minister may look at his feet and then gaze up at the ceiling; he is responsible for those empty properties. If he penalises local authorities which, on the whole, are good, all he will do is to aggravate the problem.

The Minister should say what the Labour party says. Where we have examples of bad landlordism, whether by councils, by housing associations or by the Government, we should use one of the other sectors to get those houses into use. We shall say to the private sector what I have been saying to it, successfully, for a long time. There are successful partnerships, but if the Minister believes that he will encourage the letting of flats above shops simply by making it easier to get people out again, he is wrong. The person who has a shop needs the confidence of knowing that if he has a bad tenant who, for example, ruins his stock pouring water through the ceiling, he can get him out, not in six months, but the next day. There is only one way in which to do that without throwing people on to the street and that is to use lease-hack. If the Government would release some of the controls on lease-back, one could achieve that.

The Opposition object to the way in which the Government have squeezed the private rented sector out of existence. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) is right to say that in Northern Ireland 25 per cent. of the rented stock was private in 1957; now it is only 5 per cent. Yet no one has threatened the reintroduction of rent controls in Northern Ireland. The Government's plans do not add up to a sensible policy, as anyone who knows anything about housing knows. If one wants to bring areas into use, one should use sensible lease-back schemes and begin to reform housing finance. One could then deliver the policies that this country needs.

We cannot continue with a disgrace that is unique to the western world, with the exception of the United States. We have teenage children—I emphasise the word "children" —begging in our streets. It is wrong and we know that it is wrong. It is unnecessary and comes about as a result of an incompetent Government who do not know one end of the housing market from the other.

9.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. Christopher Chope)

By now, the Opposition must be regretting that they decided to debate the issue of housing today. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) treated us to a low-key contribution even by his standards. It was free from ideology, but it was also free from ideas. It was seductively bland and, as one of my hon. Friends quipped, no cliche was left untouched.

By contrast, my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning responded with a devastating critique of—[Interruption.] He did. He made a devastating critique of Labour's hidden manifesto. The Opposition know that they have been found out, which is why they resort to derisive laughter. My hon. Friend showed how the Labour party's basic hostility to the private rented sector had not changed one iota. Only those hon. Members who were in the Chamber witnessed the derision and contempt that my hon. Friend's ideas to promote the private sector received from the Opposition.

Shortly after my hon. Friend sat down, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) revealed in his own words the prejudice that we know that the Labour party still has. The hon. Gentleman said that being somebody else's landlord was not an acceptable way of earning a living. If it is acceptable to make a profit out of producing and supplying food and clothing, why is not it acceptable to make a profit out of supplying housing? If it is acceptable to earn a living providing rented housing in Germany or France, why is not it acceptable in this country?

Before the Minister goes too far with that argument, may I ask him whether there is one aspect of the Housing Act 1988 that he would claim has been successful?

Certainly, there has been a lot of success under the Housing Act 1988. Take tenants' choice, for example. Tenants' choice has shaken to the core the complacency of Labour housing authorities. As a result, even the worst Labour housing authorities now realise that, because there is a choice, they must buck up their standards, otherwise tenants will opt out.

The Conservative party believes in freeing up the market. We believe in supply side measures. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) called for more competition and showed decisively how more competition is needed, rather than more control and restriction, for which the Opposition argue.

We believe that supply side measures will bring more empty properties back into use. That is true not just in the private sector, but in the public sector, where the introduction of the ring-fenced housing revenue account is already having an impact. Tenants of inefficient councils throughout the country now realise that they will have to pay more in rent or suffer lower standards of service if their council landlords cannot turn round their properties more quickly and make better use of their housing stock.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Sir C. Irving) made an impassioned plea for more of the proceeds of sales to be released for use by the councils. I have to tell my hon. Friend that the local authorities' outstanding debt is about £40 billion. That is a massive debt burden. We think that it is reasonable that, if a council sells an asset, it should use part of the proceeds of the sale to pay back some of its debt. My hon. Friend's own council, Cheltenham, had outstanding debts worth £54 million at 31 March 1989. That is a substantial sum and it is reasonable that, if the council sells some of its assets, it should use some of the proceeds of the sale to repay part of its debt.

It is the Labour party's policy to borrow and borrow and to saddle future generations with massive burdens. That policy has been referred to again this evening by Opposition Members. It is the policy of Conservative Members to encourage the sale of surplus assets and allow part of those proceeds to be reinvested.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said that, even in areas such as Aylesbury Vale, families had problems in trying to find housing. I know that that is true. But it is fair to say that in the first quarter of this year only three families in Aylesbury Vale were in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. In Cheltenham, there were no families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and no one in a hostel. The relative housing needs of those areas have to be compared with the much greater housing needs of the inner cities. Having said that, I should point out that the Housing Corporation's special rural programme is not affected by any legal problem—as the hon. Member for Perry Barr suggested—and, as we know, that programme will provide 1,500 new units per annum for rent and 350 for sale, to be concentrated in villages with a population of less than 1,000. That programme is being brought into effect as we speak. There are still some detailed legal arrangements to be sorted out, but there is no fundamental problem.

The debate has shown that the Opposition are still clinging to the failed socialist culture of the 1960s and 1970s. They are in favour of curbing the market, stifling enterprise and undermining initiative. This month's copy of "Roof" has a swingeing attack on Labour's housing policies. Albeit reluctantly and with disappointment, "Roof" accepts that the Government and Opposition Members—

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 217, Noes 280.

Division No. 282]

[10 pm


Abbott, Ms DianeBradley, Keith
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Allen, GrahamBrown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Alton, DavidBrown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Anderson, DonaldBruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBuckley, George J.
Armstrong, HilaryCaborn, Richard
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyCallaghan, Jim
Ashley, Rt Hon JackCampbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Ashton, JoeCampbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Canavan, Dennis
Beckett, MargaretCarlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Beith, A. J.Carr, Michael
Bell, StuartCartwright, John
Benn, Rt Hon TonyClark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bermingham, GeraldClay, Bob
Bidwell, SydneyClelland, David
Blair, TonyClwyd, Mrs Ann
Blunkett, DavidCohen, Harry
Boateng, PaulColeman, Donald
Boyes, RolandCook, Frank (Stockton N)

Cook, Robin (Livingston)Loyden, Eddie
Corbett, RobinMcAllion, John
Corbyn, JeremyMcAvoy, Thomas
Cousins, JimMcCartney, Ian
Cox, TomMacdonald, Calum A.
Crowther, StanMcFall, John
Cryer, BobMcKelvey, William
Cummings, JohnMcLeish, Henry
Cunliffe, LawrenceMcNamara, Kevin
Cunningham, Dr JohnMcWilliam, John
Dalyell, TamMahon, Mrs Alice
Darling, AlistairMarek, Dr John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Dewar, DonaldMartin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Dixon, DonMartlew, Eric
Dobson, FrankMaxton, John
Doran, FrankMeacher, Michael
Dunnachie, JimmyMeale, Alan
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethMichael, Alun
Eastham, KenMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Fatchett, DerekMoonie, Dr Lewis
Faulds, AndrewMorgan, Rhodri
Fearn, RonaldMorley, Elliot
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fisher, MarkMowlam, Marjorie
Flannery, MartinMullin, Chris
Flynn, PaulMurphy, Paul
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelNellist, Dave
Foster, DerekOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Foulkes, GeorgeO'Brien, William
Fraser, JohnO'Neill, Martin
Fyfe, MariaOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Galloway, GeorgeOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Garrett, John (Norwich South)Parry, Robert
George, BrucePatchett, Terry
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Godman, Dr Norman A.Prescott, John
Golding, Mrs LlinPrimarolo, Dawn
Gould, BryanQuin, Ms Joyce
Graham, ThomasRadice, Giles
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Randall, Stuart
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Redmond, Martin
Grocott, BruceRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Harman, Ms HarrietReid, Dr John
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyRichardson, Jo
Heal, Mrs SylviaRobinson, Geoffrey
Healey, Rt Hon DenisRogers, Allan
Henderson, DougRooker, Jeff
Hinchliffe, DavidRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)Rowlands, Ted
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Ruddock, Joan
Home Robertson, JohnSalmond, Alex
Hood, JimmySedgemore, Brian
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Sheerman, Barry
Howells, GeraintSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hoyle, DougShore, Rt Hon Peter
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Short, Clare
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Illsley, EricSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Janner, GrevilleSmith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Snape, Peter
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Soley, Clive
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Spearing, Nigel
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
Lambie, DavidStott, Roger
Lamond, JamesStrang, Gavin
Leadbitter, TedStraw, Jack
Leighton, RonTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lewis, TerryTurner, Dennis
Litherland, RobertVaz, Keith
Livingstone, KenWallace, James
Livsey, RichardWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Lofthouse, GeoffreyWareing, Robert N.

Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)Worthington, Tony
Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)Wray, Jimmy
Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)Young, David (Bolton SE)
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Wilson, Brian

Mr. Frank Haynes and

Winnick, David

Mr. Allen McKay.

Wise, Mrs Audrey


Aitken, JonathanDover, Den
Alexander, RichardDunn, Bob
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelDurant, Tony
Allason, RupertDykes, Hugh
Amess, DavidEggar, Tim
Amos, AlanEmery, Sir Peter
Arbuthnot, JamesEvans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Evennett, David
Ashby, DavidFairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Aspinwall, JackFallon, Michael
Atkins, RobertFavell, Tony
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Baldry, TonyFishburn, John Dudley
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Fookes, Dame Janet
Batiste, SpencerForman, Nigel
Bellingham, HenryForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Forth, Eric
Benyon, W.Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bevan, David GilroyFox, Sir Marcus
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFranks, Cecil
Bonsor, Sir NicholasFrench, Douglas
Boscawen, Hon RobertFry, Peter
Boswell, TimGale, Roger
Bottomley, PeterGardiner, George
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaGarel-Jones, Tristan
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Gill, Christopher
Bowis, JohnGilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesGlyn, Dr Sir Alan
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardGoodlad, Alastair
Brandon-Bravo, MartinGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brazier, JulianGorman, Mrs Teresa
Bright, GrahamGow, Ian
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Browne, John (Winchester)Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon AlickGregory, Conal
Buck, Sir AntonyGriffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Budgen, NicholasGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Burns, SimonGround, Patrick
Burt, AlistairGrylls, Michael
Butcher, JohnGummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Butterfill, JohnHague, William
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carrington, MatthewHampson, Dr Keith
Carttiss, MichaelHanley, Jeremy
Cash, WilliamHannam, John
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs LyndaHargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Chapman, SydneyHarris, David
Chope, ChristopherHaselhurst, Alan
Churchill, MrHayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Hayward, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Colvin, MichaelHind, Kenneth
Conway, DerekHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Hordern, Sir Peter
Cormack, PatrickHoward, Rt Hon Michael
Couchman, JamesHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Cran, JamesHowarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaHowell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Davis, David (Boothferry)Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Day, StephenHunt, David (Wirral W)
Devlin, TimHunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Dicks, TerryIrvine, Michael
Dorrell, StephenIrving, Sir Charles
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesJack, Michael

Jackson, RobertRifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Janman, TimRoberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy)
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyRost, Peter
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Rowe, Andrew
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelRumbold, Mrs Angela
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineRyder, Richard
Key, RobertSackville, Hon Tom
Kilfedder, JamesSainsbury, Hon Tim
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Shaw, David (Dover)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knight, Greg (Derby North)Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Knowles, MichaelShelton, Sir William
Knox, DavidShephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lamont, Rt Hon NormanShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lang, IanShersby, Michael
Lawrence, IvanSmith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkSoames, Hon Nicholas
Lightbown, DavidSpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Lilley, PeterSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)Squire, Robin
Lord, MichaelStanbrook, Ivor
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnSteen, Anthony
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)Stern, Michael
McLoughlin, PatrickStevens, Lewis
Madel, DavidStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Marlow, TonyStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Mates, MichaelStokes, Sir John
Maude, Hon FrancisStradling Thomas, Sir John
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickSumberg, David
Meyer, Sir AnthonySummerson, Hugo
Miller, Sir HalTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Mills, IainTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Miscampbell, NormanTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Temple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, Sir DavidThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Moate, RogerThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Monro, Sir HectorThorne, Neil
Montgomery, Sir FergusThornton, Malcolm
Moore, Rt Hon JohnThurnham, Peter
Morris, M (N'hampton S)Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Morrison, Sir CharlesTrippier, David
Moss, MalcolmTrotter, Neville
Mudd, DavidTwinn, Dr Ian
Neale, GerrardVaughan, Sir Gerard
Needham, RichardWalden, George
Nelson, AnthonyWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Neubert, MichaelWaller, Gary
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Warren, Kenneth
Norris, SteveWatts, John
Onslow, Rt Hon CranleyWells, Bowen
Oppenheim, PhillipWheeler, Sir John
Paice, JamesWhitney, Ray
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)Widdecombe, Ann
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWiggin, Jerry
Pawsey, JamesWilkinson, John
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWilshire, David
Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Porter, David (Waveney)Winterton, Nicholas
Portillo, MichaelWolfson, Mark
Powell, William (Corby)Wood, Timothy
Raffan, KeithWoodcock, Dr. Mike
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyYeo, Tim
Redwood, JohnYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Renton, Rt Hon TimYounger, Rt Hon George
Rhodes James, Robert
Riddick, Graham

Tellers for the Noes:

Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas

Mr. Nicholas Baker and

Ridsdale, Sir Julian

Mr. Irvine Patnick.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House congratulates the Government on the success of its housing policies, which have extended the benefits of owner-occupation to two-thirds of all households, achieved better value for money from over £6 billion a year of public expenditure, increasingly focused this assistance on the most in need of it, and greatly widened freedom of choice for tenants in the public and private rented sectors.