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Housing and Social Cohesion (Yorkshire)

Volume 457: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2007

I am grateful to you, Lady Winterton, and the House authorities for allowing me to introduce this important debate. I am pleased to speak in the first hour-and-a-half debate that I have secured in 11 years in the House. I am glad that it will take place under your firm but fair chairmanship and that colleagues from Yorkshire are present.

I was wondering how the previous speaker’s last sentence was going to finish, because he had just reached the crucial question. The crucial question in this debate is how the housing market works. There has been much debate about how public service provision ought best to be made. There has been a particular focus on the marketisation or even the privatisation of public services. There is no doubt that there is a place for the market in the distribution of goods and services, because it is an efficient means of distributing services. However, from time to time the market produces inequity, and, in something such as housing, inequity can lead to a breakdown in social cohesion. I want to reflect on how the housing market has worked over the past few years and to suggest that housing is not a good example of a public service that can rely exclusively on the market as a means of distributing public services.

I begin by reflecting on a sentence in a speech made by the Prime Minister last year. He said:

“The USP of New Labour is aspiration and compassion reconciled.”

The USP refers to the unique selling proposition. It is fair to say that the Prime Minister and this Administration have located much of their effort around aspiration. As I shall illustrate, the housing market has enabled many families and others to achieve their aspirations. My right hon. Friend combines aspiration with compassion, which suggests that he is disturbed or worried about the possibility that aspiration alone, or marketisation alone, can lead to social exclusion. That probably explains the latter part of his comment, whereby aspiration is reconciled with compassion.

During this Labour Government’s time in power, families, households and individuals who have owned their houses have done remarkably well. Owning one’s own house has been a route for many not only to security and happiness, but to prosperity and a generally benign life. Let us consider what has happened to house prices since 1996, when the Tories had engineered a most catastrophic collapse in the housing market—we all remember the negative equity and the other problems that the country then faced. House prices across the nation as a whole have increased by 187 per cent. on average. That has contributed to a sense of well-being and to a realisation of many families’ aspirations.

Yorkshire and the Humber has outperformed the nation in the housing market, because the value of houses in the area has doubled. My constituency forms part of the Wakefield area, which has four MPs. Wakefield’s house prices have increased from an average of £58,000 in 2000—imagine that—to today’s heady heights of just under £140,000. In this decade alone, a number of factors, doubtless including the wise stewardship of the economy and a surfeit of demand over supply because of changes in the household structure, have resulted in an increase of about 250 per cent. in the value of the average house in Wakefield. That is a remarkable achievement, and it doubtless explains the benign attitude of many people to new Labour. We should celebrate it, because we all want a home-owning democracy.

The housing market is, to some extent, dysfunctional in places. In those areas, there is both a breakdown in social cohesion and the exclusion of large numbers of people. When I was discussing the possibility of securing this debate, someone told me that we can compare the housing market to a ladder that people can ascend. That is a valuable metaphor, but let us consider it further. The housing ladder, both in my constituency and more generally, has some rungs missing, and some people now find it too hard to mount the bottom rung. The Abbey recently estimated that 17 million of our fellow citizens feel excluded from home ownership.

I received some remarkable figures from my local authority in Wakefield on the amount of money that the average constituent in Hemsworth earns as a percentage of the average cost of a mortgage needed by first-time buyers—people attempting to get on to the bottom rung of the housing market—to buy a starter home. The figures for Yorkshire and the Humber are broadly the same as those for the nation. In the first quarter of 2000, the average monthly mortgage payment as a proportion of the average monthly take-home pay was less than 70 per cent. Obviously, many households would have more than one earner, but let us consider the figures as an indication of how difficult it now is to get on to the first rung of the ladder.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Is part of the problem with the ladder analogy the fact that we always talk about the first rung being the first rung of ownership? There are several rungs beneath that, such as the need for social housing. They allow people to get into a home—to rent it, if not to buy it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making an important point. He has been a long-time acquaintance and colleague of mine. Sitting alongside him is another Leeds Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton). They have both spent their lives committed to the development of steady progress in the housing market in Leeds.

I shall come on to the extreme difficulties faced by the 30 per cent. of the population that does not have access to the bottom rung of the ladder—if a ladder is an appropriate analogy. I was about to compare the 60 per cent. or so of average income that the first-time buyer spent on mortgage payments in 2000 to the current situation. Extraordinarily, the average first-time buyer will now need 111 per cent. of their monthly income to pay the cost of an average mortgage for a starter home in Yorkshire and Humberside. I need not say that the mathematics simply do not work.

Someone wanting to get on the first rung of ownership on the housing ladder will find it impossible to do so, given the average cost and the average wage of people in Yorkshire and the Humber. There has been an increase in the relevant figure of income to mortgage from 2.8 when we came to power to more than four now, and we know that it is not prudent to borrow more than three and a half times one’s salary and that many people are in danger of getting into extended debt. Clearly, it is important that the Government keep a steady hand on the economy so that interest rates do not rise any more. The current situation requires payments of 111 per cent. of average earnings, and the frightening prospect is that first time buyers will find it almost impossible to get on to the housing market at all.

There is a rung missing at the bottom of the ladder for those who want to become home owners. More rungs are missing in my constituency, which is now part of a fancy new notion called the Leeds city region. I come from Leeds and most of my family still live there. I was the leader of Leeds city council and I have nothing bad to say about what is a great European city. However, Wakefield and my constituency are gradually becoming the repository for much of the new house building that is being generated by the Leeds economy because of the additional demand for labour and households’ changing size and character. We are happy about that. People in my constituency showed generosity to outsiders who came into the area during the last century and before as the mining industry grew and subsequently collapsed.

However, the new housing tends to be executive homes, which are priced substantially higher than the terraced houses in the mining villages that I represent. It is almost impossible for a householder in my constituency to sell a house the value of which has increased over the past few years, thanks to the Labour Government, and to borrow enough money to move up to the next step on the ladder and the new housing in the area.

I represent 22—it will shortly be 23—former mining villages. Much of the new executive housing is bog standard in character. It is a visual intrusion into the framework of the villages and does not reflect their architectural character. There is a big step between one and the other. If we are not careful, that will reinforce the feeling that people—former miners—have of exclusion from and inaccessibility to the new economy that Labour is building in the area. It is important to get the architecture and design right, as well as the various rungs on the ladder so that those houses are not inaccessible.

I am worried about a proposed large housing developing in South Elmshall in my constituency because the infrastructure—housing, sewerage, schools and so on—is hardly adequate. We welcome new housing, but the infrastructure, architecture and design must be right, with accessibility to the local market for local people.

Another housing market dysfunction is specific to mining communities, of which there are many in Yorkshire, as you know, Lady Winterton. At the end of the miners’ strike, the Government decided to dispose of all the housing stock. Not everyone here will know that the National Coal Board provided housing for its work force and owned well over 100,000 houses. A precipitous and eventually calamitous decision was made to dispose of all that housing stock with almost immediate effect. After a year on strike, many miners found it impossible to raise the money for a deposit to buy the house that they had rented from the National Coal Board for donkey’s years. Some people managed to buy, but many did not because of the disastrous effect of the strike on household economies, so landlords moved into National Coal Board communities. Many were probably responsible, but some were extremely irresponsible. It was possible to buy a street for a few thousand pounds and houses were sold for very small sums, but the money was not available to the people who lived in those houses and, through no fault of their own, they had a change of landlord. There was pepper-potting in whole communities and some people who had bought their own house were surrounded by private landlords and, occasionally, social landlords.

The landlords bought the houses for next to nothing and were often able to obtain money from the Government’s housing benefit support. They cared little for the communities and knew little about them. I once had a letter from a large landlord in my patch who lived in Hong Kong. He had never been to Yorkshire and had no idea of what was happening in the area. Landlords did not pay much attention to the quality and standards of tenants, nor of the properties that they owned because they had been acquired for next to nothing.

What happened was the most disastrous experience that can be imagined. Over the years I took three Ministers to five estates in my constituency that were being dismantled brick by brick. Local residents simply took flight and houses were left empty. Vandals gradually moved in and began to demolish them by hand from the roof down. That demolition surrounded the houses of people who had bought they own property. They were then unable to sell their homes because the market had collapsed, and a landscape developed that looked like Kosovo in Yorkshire. Ministers were visibly shaken by what they saw, and I am pleased that the Government made money available through the housing market renewal fund to try to help. One estate collapsed almost completely, leaving only the house where Geoff Boycott had been born, and even that was eventually torn down. It is arguable that that saved money for the public purse because the cost of demolition was not high due to the local youth taking care of the demolition. That was a city estate in Fitzwilliam.

In some parts of my constituency, there was wholesale demolition, but in other parts community activists—mainly brave women—refused to admit that their communities were to be destroyed in that way. In Moorthorpe, for example, the women got together and insisted that their Member of Parliament and councillors join them. Together, we worked with Housing Ministers to try to prevent further decay in Moorthorpe. I am proud to say that I think we have succeeded.

Girnhill lane in Featherstone had belonged to the National Coal Board. Other areas had been terraced housing, but Girnhill lane consisted of post-war, system-built housing and could not be remedied. People there today—in Yorkshire, England, in this century and this year—are living in intolerable conditions because they bought their own houses but cannot sell them because there are no buyers. The situation is intolerable.

The Government have made money available—I am grateful to them for that—and they are about to announce more. They have played their part, and the council is doing its part, but a single landlord, who owns probably one third of the properties, has found it difficult to accept the market price for the land value. I am hopeful that a decision will be made shortly to allow us to make progress in Girnhill lane. It is unimaginable that people, and particularly children, should left in such conditions in the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world.

I am sure that my hon. Friend shares my astonishment that there are still 115,000 unfit dwellings in Yorkshire and Humberside. As he said, the Government are doing their bit, and it is usually private landlords who allow properties to fall into disrepair. It must be one of our top priorities to make such dwellings fit for purpose for families and young people.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who has been a sterling fighter and campaigner for the people of her constituency for a long time. No doubt there is a great problem and much housing need in Halifax, too.

I want to make one final point about Girnhill lane in Featherstone before moving on to the rented sector. The three local councillors in the area have attended regular private meetings at which they have been fully briefed on the way in which the council is proceeding and on the difficult and complex issue of land ownership in Girnhill lane. However, as one housing officer explained to me the other day, those three councillors—we can all relax because they are not members of any of our parties—appear to have developed a form of political schizophrenia. They happily indulge in private meetings and make private decisions in a most rational and mature way with officers about the future of Girnhill lane. Then, however, they go to the TV and radio stations and the newspapers to explain that they have no knowledge whatever of what is going on. That is not the right way to proceed. Nor should we run scare stories about people living in the conditions that I have described, but that is what has been happening. That contrasts unfavourably with the quiet, but firm and dignified way in which Featherstone town council, led by Maureen Tenant-King, has operated. It has pressed the Government and the local authority to make money available.

I have spoken about home ownership, which was the aspiration side of the Prime Minister’s comments, but the rented housing situation that the Government inherited was most calamitous. In 1997, 2 million houses did not meet decent standards, and the Government rightly decided to tackle the £19 billion backlog of work first. They established decent standards, and more than 1 million houses have been brought up to decent standards since we were elected. Every hon. Member should be proud of that.

In Wakefield, 20,000 houses that had belonged to the council were below the decent standard—that is the disgraceful legacy that the Labour party inherited. Over the past year or two, Wakefield and District Housing has secured £750 million of funding to bring its housing stock in the Wakefield area alone up to standard. In the past year and a bit, it has managed to raise 6,500 houses to the Wakefield standard, which is actually higher than the national standard. In the current year alone, it is projected to spend £71 million on houses that are below decent standards. That is a great achievement.

However, the rented sector is not large enough to cope with demand. As we have seen, not enough people can move into home ownership, for the reasons that I described, and the waiting lists for rented housing are growing exponentially. Some 250,000 people in Yorkshire and the Humber alone are waiting to get a rented house—a 42 per cent. increase since 1997. Some 18,000 households in Yorkshire and the Humber are homeless, and only 1,000 of them are deliberately or voluntarily so. In 2006, 12,000 people in Wakefield—in fact, it is 12,000 households, so we are talking about even more people—were waiting for a rented house, but only 243 were available. The rented stock in Wakefield had also diminished by 1,000. Throughout the whole of Yorkshire, however, there were only 270 new builds last year, despite the fact that 250,000 people were waiting for a rented property. Fifteen per cent. of the people in the country who are waiting for a rented house live in Yorkshire and the Humber, but only 3.5 per cent. of housing allocation has gone to the area. I wonder whether we have got the proportions right.

I need only quote those figures, which are matters of fact—I got them from the Library and the Wakefield local authority. They suggest that we are not building enough council housing to relieve the pressure on us, and social cohesion is threatened as a consequence. Every day, people come to my constituency office looking for houses, and I guess that that is true for every other hon. Member. Yesterday, a single mother came to my office. She was going blind and was unable to read words on a computer or, indeed, very much at all. We now have the lettings-based system, and she was desperate for a house. Such people come to see us every day. Distress is being caused.

There is a widespread perception—it is no doubt untrue, but it needs to be set out—that the decision to open our doors to migrant labour as a result of developments in the European Union has led significant numbers of people from eastern Europe to come to our country. My constituents have always welcomed such people. When the Kosovans came to some of our poorest areas, they were made to feel welcome by constituents and contributed massively to civic society—the football clubs, youth clubs, churches and the rest. However, there is now a perception that people cannot get houses in local villages for their families because of migrant labour. The truth, however, is that it is because of the inadequate way in which the housing market is working. It is important that we say that migrants are not responsible, but the fact is that people look for simple explanations.

I conclude by pressing the Minister on three matters, on which she may be able to respond now. First, will she ensure that the Department takes a careful look at the problem of former National Coal Board housing and pepper-potting, because what used to be vibrant communities, which were loyal to this country and created its wealth, are being destroyed? In particular, will she look at the issue of Girnhill lane in Featherstone and ensure that the Government have done all that they can? I believe that they have, but if there is more that can be done, will she please do it? Secondly, will the Department join the current spending review to see whether more money can be made available for more social housing? Shelter says that we need 20,000 homes a year, although I do not know whether that is just for Yorkshire—I think that Shelter means the nation, but we could do with those homes in Yorkshire. Finally, I press the Minister to look carefully to see whether Yorkshire and Humberside are getting their fair share of the housing cake.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) on securing the debate. This is an important time to have such a debate because, as all Members will know, housing is one of the mainstays of an MP’s casework. As former members of city councils or local authorities, many of us will know that the issue of housing—often, its inadequacies—was raised in every advice surgery and almost every letter that we received.

We have now had 10 years of a Labour Government who have tried to redress the balance in public housing in relation to what my hon. Friend called the bottom rung of the ladder, if that is the appropriate metaphor. As he clearly pointed out, people still suffer every day because they have either inadequate housing or no housing at all. The severe shortage of public housing available for rent at reasonable cost causes tremendous suffering to the people whom we represent. It is clear from what he said that Yorkshire and the Humber, and especially many of the former mining communities, suffer more than most. Housing was a major issue with which he had to contend when he led Leeds city council 11 years ago.

I want to draw attention this morning to issues in my constituency of Leeds, North-East that are also relevant to the situation in Leeds city council and the local authority area. I understand that there are now more than 30,000 names on the Leeds city council waiting list, and 2,500 of those, under the current bidding system, have what is called priority extra. That is for people who, whether medically or socially or because they have no housing at all, are at the top of the list; they get priority in any bidding process. Yet the number remains constant.

After the Conservative Governments of 1979 to 1997 introduced the right to buy, many homes that were formerly for rent in the social housing sector were bought. Many people have made them into very nice homes, which will be homes for life. However, as we know, during the 1990s the money that was generated by those sales was not made available to local authorities for the building of new homes. I fear that, in spite of the Labour Government’s commitment in the past 10 years, the extra investment and the fact that much of that cash has been made available to replace some of the homes, we are now reaping the effect of selling off houses at that time without building new ones.

In some estates in my constituency, such as the Queenshill estate near my constituency office in the Moortown area of Leeds, up to 80 per cent. of the properties that were formerly in the social sector—corporation houses to rent at a reasonable rate—are now privately owned. Those houses have not yet been replaced. In fact, in parts of the constituency, such as the Queenshill and King Alfred’s estates, it is necessary to wait for someone to die before a house becomes available to rent. They are very desirable homes, so there is still a huge problem with the people who have been given priority extra but cannot be housed.

On the rare occasion, for example, that a three-bedroomed property on the Queenshill estate becomes available, 300 people will bid for it. That leaves 299 of them very disappointed. It is essential that the local authority should be able to build more affordable housing for rent, because we must solve that increasing problem. I am afraid that there has been no progress in the past nearly three years of control by a coalition of Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and the Green party on Leeds city council.

I do not want to stray on to my former territory, but when I examined the reasons for Wakefield’s not getting more money for housing expenditure, I was told that, over the past two years at least, Leeds city council, led by the Tories, Liberals and Greens, underspent its housing allocation but failed to pass that money across to neighbouring areas. What does my hon. Friend make of that?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that, for nearly three years, Leeds has been under the political leadership of that strange rainbow coalition, which has not used even the allocations that have been given to it to try to resolve the problem of homelessness and inadequate housing. That is reprehensible.

I want to draw hon. Members’ attention to specific cases. The individuals concerned have agreed to their situation being used to illustrate a wider problem. Carmel Flynn is living in a camper van with her 16-year-old daughter. I cannot imagine a mother and daughter, especially a teenager of 16, living so closely in a camper van. Every time she bids for a property, she is refused because someone else has a higher priority. She has priority extra, but it is clearly not extra enough. She has bid, I believe, for 36 houses in the past 12 months, and she has been turned down each time. She is on medication for stress, and her daughter has gone to live with another member of the family; she cannot stand being in a camper van with her mother.

The front-page headline of the Yorkshire Evening Post a few weeks ago was about Daniella Prestwich and Duncan Haigh, a couple with a 12-year-old daughter, Hayley. They have been homeless since May 2006 and have been sleeping in a car. Leeds is one of the leading cities in Europe, as my hon. Friend pointed out, and one of the wealthiest cities in the country. Yet a couple and their 12-year-old are sleeping in a car.

When the executive member of Leeds city council with responsibility for the matter, Councillor Les Carter, found out about it, he was furious—not because of the appalling situation of the family, but because they had, after all, been offered a home. What he did not know, or what he was not told—I am being charitable—was that the house was so inadequate and needed so much work, for which the council had the money, although it had not spent it on the property, that the family quite naturally refused to take up the tenancy. Besides that, the property was in an area of the city that they did not know, far from their relatives and other family members. They were right to refuse it. It happened on two occasions.

Councillor Carter was quoted in the press as saying that they were offered adequate accommodation and that they chose to live in a car. Madam Deputy Speaker, no one chooses to live in a car unless the option of living in a car is better than some of the unsavoury homes being offered.

Order. May I just mention that the title of Deputy Speaker in Westminster Hall was done away with some time ago? We are bog standard members of the Chairmen’s Panel, so the hon. Gentleman should call me by my name.

There is nothing bog standard about you, Lady Winterton, but thank you for putting me right.

The appalling case that I just outlined was one in which the need, sadly, to use the local press and media to draw attention to the plight of a family resulted in their eventually being adequately housed; it had a nice ending. However, it also drew attention to the plight of many other families who are inadequately housed and sleeping in camper vans or vehicles. That is unacceptable in this day and age and in a city such as Leeds.

There are other examples. Daniella Bastow lives with her mother but sleeps on the sofa. Of course that causes her mother a lot of stress; her mother suffers from kidney disease. Daniella is now suffering from depression, and despite letters from her GP, again, more than 30 bids for one of the houses were turned down within 12 months, even under priority extra. There are many similar cases, such as that of Mrs. Deborah Maskill, who is currently residing with her grandmother, having been violently abused by her husband. She desperately needs rehousing. She has been attacked by her husband since she has been at her grandmother’s house. The police have been involved and an injunction has been served, but still she is unsuccessful because, clearly, her priority is not high enough and there is a terrible shortage of appropriate housing.

The figure of 20,000 houses that my hon. Friend mentioned would barely be adequate for Yorkshire and the Humber. In fact, it would be barely adequate for the city of Leeds. We need more housing at an affordable rent, and more social housing. Yes, of course, it is good if, after people are established, they want to move on to the first rung of the ladder of housing that they will buy with a mortgage. However, they must have a roof over their heads before that happens.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has obtained this debate today. The timing is very appropriate because housing is an issue that is often swept under the carpet, and ignored by the press and media, except when there is a case such as that of the couple living in the car. We deal with such cases day in, day out, and we deal with the appalling distress that they bring to families and to individuals, but housing is not at the top of our public policy agenda. It should be, we need more homes with affordable rent, and I hope that the Minister can offer us more investment on top of the investment that this Labour Government have already made.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) and for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton). My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth painted a panoramic picture of the housing need and the types of tenure that must be satisfied in Leeds and Wakefield, and in Yorkshire and Humberside in general. I shall follow my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East by concentrating on the importance of the social rented housing sector.

I declare something of an interest as a product of a council estate. Indeed, my mum and brother still live in the same council house that the family moved into 58 years ago. They are happy to be tenants; they want to continue to be tenants, and they have no aspirations to ownership.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth prevailed upon me to contribute to this important debate, I took the precaution of consulting my Leeds city council colleague, Councillor Richard Lewis, an excellent former Labour housing committee chairman and a councillor in Pudsey. He started off by extolling the virtues of the Government’s decent homes initiative. He told me that about £400 million will have gone into Leeds for that purpose in the decade to 2010.

My hon. Friend rightly said that such investment came on the back of an appalling inheritance from the previous Conservative Government, an inheritance in which investment in public housing was reduced by about 50 per cent. in real terms, and in which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East said, right-to-buy receipts could be reinvested neither to provide more housing nor to bring the remaining stock up to a decent standard.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the record of the previous Conservative Government, comparing it with the record of the present Labour Government. Will he tell us a single year during this Labour Government’s period in power when they have managed to preside over a number of completions in the social rented sector higher than that of any year in which the Conservatives were in power?

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman raised that question. We are used to the Tories locally and nationally trying to construct a specious amulet, because it conceals the point that the lack of investment led to the decay of the remaining stock, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth graphically described. I shall not debate the rights and wrongs of right to buy, but it left a residue of property that was in the worst state of repair, and which this Government rightly tried to address. I am afraid that the magic amulet does not dispel any criticisms that I and others will continue to have of the previous Conservative Government’s appalling housing record.

One comment that Councillor Lewis made sums up what I have just said. He said:

“We were never allowed to transform anything under the Conservative Government, but now we can.”

He is right. Thousands of homes have been transferred with remedial work such as no-fines system-built housing, new windows, kitchens and bathrooms, re-roofing and new heating and insulation—a range of measures that are crucial to improving the quality of people’s accommodation.

The important point that I make to my constituents is that such investment transforms not only the individual properties and the living conditions of tenants, but the surrounding community, whether it comprises rented or owner-occupied housing. My two hon. Friends have pointed out extremely well the problem that we do not have sufficient rented property in Leeds or beyond. That is why fellow Leeds MPs and I support the Leeds Tenants Federation’s right to rent campaign. I am grateful to the federation for providing me with some information to put to the Minister.

The campaign’s aims are to obtain acceptance of three principal views:

“An affordable homes policy needs a healthy social rented sector to provide a full range of housing options. The growth of the Leeds economy depends on increasing the provision of social rented housing. Social rented housing is a tenure of choice for many people”—

I referred to my own family earlier—

“and not just a tenure of last resort,”

as it is so often seen and portrayed. The federation is pressing Leeds city council on two points: first, to

“develop a land bank that can be transferred to housing associations at nil or low cost for the development of social homes.”

I must give credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth. Under his leadership, and that of his predecessors, the council entered into a productive arrangement with social housing organisations, the Leeds Homes Partnership, through which it made land available at less than market value to build housing for rent. He may correct me, but I think that it provided about 4,000 accommodation units.

It is true that under my stewardship in Leeds, we set up Leeds Partnership Homes, the objective of which was to create a land bank that would take surpluses from house building in north Leeds and use it to subsidise rented and social housing elsewhere. We actually built 5,000 houses under Thatcher and Major in Leeds alone.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his amplification of the point and for correcting the number of properties that the initiative generated.

The second element of the federation’s campaign is to have the city council

“set a target of developing 1,500 social rented homes a year through Section 106 planning agreements and supporting housing association new build programmes.”

As my hon. Friend remarked, Shelter recommends a minimum of about 20,000 properties for rent per year, which equates to just under 1,200 for Yorkshire and Humberside.

I shall provide a background to housing need in Leeds. I am grateful to the federation for providing me with the information. In 1981, there were more than 100,000 social rented homes in Leeds; by 2006 the number had fallen to just over 74,000. More than 36,000 council homes have been lost through right to buy or demolition and only 9,800 housing association homes have been built. The net loss has been almost 27,000 affordable rented homes. In recent years, housing association new build has slowed to a point at which fewer than 200 new homes are developed each year.

Sales and clearance is predicted to reduce further the total number of council homes in Leeds to about 50,000 by 2016. The federation calculates the scale of the problem to be such that at current levels of building, it will take 83 years to return to the level of social housing available in 1995. Even with a new build programme of 1,200 new social homes a year, which is six times the current rate, by 2010 we would still be back only to the numbers of affordable rented homes available in 2003.

The number of empty council homes has reduced from 2,500 in 1995 to its lowest point of 1,190 today, for which we pay tribute to Leeds city council. The number of social rented homes available to let has also nose-dived from 9,700 in 1995 to 7,600 today. The dwindling supply of social rented homes is increasing competition and frustration about rationing decisions—it is rationing, and both my hon. Friends have referred to it.

Some 31,000 people are looking for social rented housing through the Leeds homes register, and again, to amplify a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East made, on average, between 50 and 142 bids are made for each home that becomes available under choice-based lettings. In fact, there was a great deal of publicity just a few weeks ago when 462 people bid for the same three-bedroomed property in Kirkstall. That gives some indication of just how desperate people are.

To amplify a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth, private rents are comparable to the level of mortgages in this fast growing sector. A three-bedroomed private rented house will cost about £120 a week, compared with £50 to £70 for a comparable home in the social rented sector. Home ownership is out of reach for most households on low incomes. It is estimated that a single income of £44,700 would be needed to afford the average house price in Leeds, which at the moment costs about £156,000 and is rising steeply.

I am familiar with back-to-back properties, as I am sure the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) is, because I used to represent an area that largely comprised terraced accommodation and many back-to-backs. To buy the cheapest of those properties in Leeds, a couple have to be on a dual income of over £22,000, whereas the average dual income for the bottom 10 per cent. of wage earners in Leeds is only £19,000 a year. The projections for the Leeds economy show that the main growth will be in the low-paid, private sector—exactly the sort of people requiring growth in the provision of accommodation.

I shall just quote another example that Richard Lewis cited in my conversation with him. He tells me that people on average incomes can only afford to buy in something like four out of 102 postcode areas in Leeds. That is a dreadful state of affairs. Organisations such as the Leeds Tenants Federation and Shelter understand, as do the Government, the aspiration for home ownership and that there is a sustained need for an increase in the supply of housing for sale on the open market, which my hon. Friend touched upon. However, it is clear that, although the supply in market housing has remained relatively constant during the past 30 years, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of social and rented homes being built for the very reasons that we have rehearsed today.

In contrast with the progress that has been made in tackling the most acute cases of homelessness—although I accept that those continue to be a source of concern—very little progress has been made in easing overcrowding, and I shall give a few examples of that in my constituency. They are not headline-grabbing. In many respects, they are quite mundane and unexceptional, except for the many hundreds, if not thousands, of families living in such circumstances. These examples demonstrate the common, daily grind that many people face in coping with temporary and usually overcrowded accommodation. They are all anonymised because I did not feel it appropriate to use names.

A young family is living on the upper floor of a two-storey block, with no access to a garden, and experiencing the obvious difficulties struggling up and down stairs with prams and young children. They live above an elderly couple who, despite their patience, find the natural movements of young children—as we might call them—extremely distressing and disturbing.

There is a family with a baby, and a teenage son and daughter, living in a two-bedroomed flat, with no privacy for the daughter and no space for her brother to study for his GCSEs. Lack of privacy is particularly hard on teenage girls who are forced to share bedrooms with their brothers. Overcrowding makes it difficult to find a quiet space to read, to do homework or to study for exams, and sleep is often disrupted by other members as they arrive home and move around in the limited confines of the sort of property that we are talking about.

We all have numerous families in our constituencies living with relatives, especially parents, where overcrowding and tensions cause great stress, and in some cases, severe stress-related illness. Such people are essentially homeless, but not recognised as such. The only way in which they can really amplify their priority is by working the system and getting their relatives to write a letter saying, “Right, you’re out. We don’t want you any more.” That causes increasing tension within families.

Research undertaken by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, when it still existed, showed the link between overcrowding and ill health, particularly respiratory and other infectious diseases. The stress of sharing bedrooms and inadequate cooking, washing and toilet facilities is well documented as a cause of tension between family members, leaving many parents suffering from anxiety and depression. A fairly recent survey by Shelter showed that 90 per cent. of overcrowded families felt that overcrowding was damaging their children’s health and 80 per cent. felt that that living in overcrowded conditions was damaging their children’s educational prospects.

There is the case of the family forced to leave insecure and unaffordable private rented accommodation, who were temporarily rehoused by the council on the far side of the city from where they previously lived—away from supportive family networks and requiring a two-hour round trip to maintain the continuity of their children’s education. It is anyone’s guess when a property will become available in the area in which they are seeking to re-establish themselves. There are young people unable to find accommodation in the area where their families have lived for generations because of soaring house prices, high private rents and a dearth of social rented housing.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest a few bullet points outlining the issues that need to be addressed to tackle the sort of need that my hon. Friends are trying to impress upon the Minister. Planning policy statement 3 is welcome in my area because we have seen numerous developments based on profiteering and not on meeting the housing needs of families, older people or those with special housing needs. We hope that councils like Leeds will grasp that measure with both hands and use it to prevent high-density and totally over-intensive and unnecessary profiteering developments. As was said earlier, we need to respond to the moderate challenge of Shelter—it is not over the top—that was backed by the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government. Shelter stated that 20,000 more social homes need to be built a year.

We need a better balance between the focus on low-cost home ownership schemes and investment in social rented homes. We do not want one to be shutting out the other, which happens in practice to some extent. We need to examine and learn the lessons of changes to the right-to-buy discount, which have had some good effects on the housing market. We need to consider the concerns expressed about negative subsidy. I know that we could have, and have had, whole debates on that issue. We must be more inventive and innovative in the promotion of self-build schemes and in looking at council properties, and perhaps, as we have seen in my constituency, the turning of unwanted bedsits into family accommodation.

We need to ensure that the planning gain through section 106 agreements secures more social housing and that the planning gain supplement does not interfere with that aim. In my area—I am sure that this is also true of others—developers become very good at explaining why it is not financially feasible to include the required proportion of affordable housing. One of their favourite reasons is that the land is contaminated so that the cost of redevelopment is excessive. We need to build on the regulation of houses in multiple occupation introduced through the very welcome Housing Act 2004. I urge the Minister and her colleagues to extend its operation to smaller HMOs and impose better standards on private rented accommodation.

Finally, one very clear message emerges from the whole debate, particularly those parts relating to the need for more social rented housing. No housing strategy for this nation, or any part of it, is complete without recognition of the importance of the social rented sector or the action to boost it to the levels necessary to meet the needs that my colleagues and I have described in our constituencies, our region and throughout the UK.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) on securing the debate. It covers a very important and topical subject for all of us who represent Yorkshire, and indeed for us all nationally. I have visited his constituency, but only to watch rugby league, yet we would all agree that he painted a powerful picture of some of the specific and general issues that his constituents face.

There is no question but that social cohesion is important and that it is most certainly related to housing, as we would all agree. It comes from income, occupation, ethnic background, life chances, aspirations and having balanced and sustainable communities in every part of Yorkshire and nationally. We would all hope that housing policy was geared towards achieving that. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the average house price in Yorkshire and the Humber is £139,965, which is clearly out of the reach of many people. To echo many of the comments that have been made, particularly those of my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), social housing is essential if we are to have socially cohesive communities. I agree that social housing must no longer be seen as second best to owner occupancy.

We face a social housing crisis in Yorkshire and nationally. My constituency neighbour on the other side, the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton), discussed some of the cases in his constituency. Few MPs in Yorkshire or nationally, including rural as well as urban MPs, will not have been contacted by large numbers of constituents about similar housing cases. I have been contacted by people living on friends’ floors, mothers with two or more children living in a single room, and families with teenage children who have been forced to share rooms with teenage siblings of the opposite sex and, often, also their parents. I have also had some extraordinary cases that echo the hon. Gentleman’s experience, including one involving a family living in a caravan on a friend’s drive and another involving a family living in a tent in a back garden—hard to imagine in one of the fastest-growing cities and regions in the country.

As well as the problem of people registered with local authorities—those cases that we are generally talking about—there is the problem of the hidden homeless. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s opinion on that. Crisis estimates that as many as 400,000 people might be unregistered and living in hostels, squats and bed and breakfasts, and sofa surfing. We are talking about social cohesion, and they are among the most socially excluded in society. Altogether, the increasing number of those listed in temporary accommodation in local authorities, those in unsuitable accommodation and the hidden homeless are creating a dramatic social divide and a section of society, comprising people without a decent home to call their own, in which they can raise their children and pursue their careers.

The simple reality, as borne out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s research, is that we are not building enough homes for either owner occupiers or social housing. That will inevitably lead to a degree of breakdown in social cohesion. The hon. Member for Hemsworth mentioned that that leads to division, as the various groups in our society might perceive unfairness in the allocation system. I am sure that that has been reflected in the experience of my Leeds colleagues.

Does the hon. Gentleman fear, as I do, that extremist political parties might seek to scapegoat minorities, without explaining adequately that everybody is treated fairly? The simple problem is that there are not enough houses for people to have access to, which creates the unfavourable conditions in which extremist parties may grow.

I could not agree more. The issue is vital for many of us in the region and nationally, and I note that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) made similar comments recently. We must take the issue seriously. However, if we do not have adequate housing, we cannot address those problems or the need for more social cohesion on economic and aspirational lines. It should also be pointed out that, as the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East mentioned, without those social houses being replaced, the right-to-buy policy has been a disaster for the social housing network in this country. It led to a generation of children living for periods in entirely unsuitable accommodation. We have heard many examples of that.

The figures are quite damning. I was disappointed with the party political points that the hon. Gentleman made. It is extraordinary political logic to point the finger at councils whose hands are so clearly tied by a Government who will not give them the opportunity to build more social housing. The problem is a failure of Government policy. Since 1997, 449,807 social homes have been sold in England alone under the right-to-buy legislation, but in the same period only 151,255 social homes have been built in England, while 500,000 extra households are now on council waiting lists. That is the legacy of a failure of Government policy.

I am delighted, however, that the hon. Gentleman supports Liberal Democrat policy, which would finally allow councils to use the right-to-buy receipts for those currently without a place to call home. That would lead to £1.5 billion nationally, which would be a healthy sum to start the process, as I am sure he agrees. I also echo the comments about the Tory Government who created a social housing crisis, but they have been replaced by a Labour Government who have failed to address it in any meaningful way.

All of us, in all political parties, need to have a much bolder vision of housing. That applies to allowing people to get on to the property ladder, but also means considering how we treat social housing. The issue is not just about supply. We often get bogged down with supply, particularly when it comes to homes to buy and own. We also need to look at the kind of supply. We need more mixed-income communities, not only more housing per se.

For example, Liberal Democrat-run South Shropshire district council has taken an interesting approach, specifying that 25 per cent. of the homes in any private development must be affordable homes and that 25 per cent. of the homes must be social homes to rent. Crucially, however, those homes must be of the same sort as the private homes being built, so if the homes for sale are four-bedroomed family homes, the social and affordable homes must also be four-bedroomed family homes. What tends to happen otherwise is that, even when private developers are obliged to provide social and affordable housing, they often stick it in the corner of developments, as a token gesture. Such homes are often much smaller properties, so that there is still division of the sort that we are surely trying to avoid.

We need a bolder approach, as we should all accept, but the issue goes back to the biggest problem, which is the crisis in social housing. I echo the comments that the hon. Member for Pudsey made. The drive for people to own their homes and get on that first rung of the property ladder is a laudable aim with which we would all agree, but social housing is not a rung below that. We must not allow the laudable drive to enable people to get on the property ladder to come at the expense of those who, realistically, cannot afford to do so, and in some cases will never be able to afford to do so. It is time we stopped seeing social housing as second best.

I conclude by quoting Michael Hall, the chair of the Leeds Tenants Federation. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the high-profile right to rent campaign in Leeds, which we all support. Mr. Hall said:

“The stigma surrounding social housing had been created by successive governments that have treated the sector as little more than a welfare safety-net. These policies have led us to the housing crisis we now face…where the scarcity of affordable rented homes is causing misery for thousands who need a decent place to live.”

He added:

“We want social housing to be available to everyone no matter what their needs. Social housing should be a main-stream choice, up there alongside home ownership or private renting as an option for everyone in this booming city.”

That is the right approach for Leeds, the rest of Yorkshire and the whole country, if we are to have a more socially cohesive Britain.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) on securing the debate, which he opened with customary grace and passion. I shall turn to one or two of his substantial points and try to explain where I agree and respectfully disagree with him, before putting one or two challenges to the Minister.

I am the first and, I suspect—given that the Minister represents a Sheffield constituency—the only Member not from Yorkshire who is participating in the debate. For that I can only apologise. As one might guess from my accent, where I was brought up we considered Yorkshire to be part of the soft south. I recognise the specific concerns, not least those outlined by the hon. Member for Hemsworth, that affect the housing market and social cohesion in Yorkshire. However, many of the issues acutely delineated in his speech also affect the country more broadly.

The hon. Gentleman was particularly moving in his account of what happened to the mining communities that he so well represents. It is appropriate for all of us to look back at that period of the 1980s and consider where the Government might have gone wrong, where their tread was too heavy and where, in their desire to revitalise the economy, they behaved insensitively to communities that had contributed a huge amount to the country. However, it is also appropriate to recognise that the conflict of the miners’ strike was in part due to the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers at that time. Although it is appropriate for him to point out that the then Conservative Government made mistakes, it is also appropriate that we draw certain lessons about where irresponsible trade union leadership can take good men and women.

The hon. Members for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton) and for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) drew our attention to a number of moving and important individual cases and illuminated the problem of hidden homelessness, to which the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) also pointed. It is no reflection on them as Members, but their speeches—certainly the details that they enumerated—could have been presented to this Chamber by many Members of every party. The problem that they describe not only weighs heavily on their consciences and in their postbags, but reflects the concerns of many of us as constituency Members of Parliament.

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West emphasised that for all of us, the link between housing and community cohesion is important. We recognise that unless housing policy is geared to promote genuine, sustainable communities, we shall all suffer—not only the communities that we represent, but the nation as a whole.

The hon. Member for Hemsworth pointed out the significant increase in house prices in his constituency. Again, although Yorkshire and the Humber have outperformed the national average of house price increases, all of us have had to face house price inflation rises significantly above the level of inflation in the rest of the economy during the past 10—in fact, probably 14—years. Although that has been a bonanza for property owners, it has contributed to a social divide across our country. The nature of that divide has been described by the Minister for Housing and Planning, who has pointed out that if a person is on one of the rungs of the property ladder, or their parents are, they have access to an asset that means that their wealth will increase faster than that of those without such an asset. That means that those with access to the bank of mum and dad can get on the property ladder—or, more accurately, the property escalator—to greater wealth, while those who do not are locked out.

When it comes to property ownership, I depart from the criticisms of the right to buy made by some hon. Members. Spreading the ownership of assets as widely as possible is a matter of social justice. That is why the Minister for Housing and Planning was right to have drawn attention to that growing social divide and why the former Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), has been absolutely right to say that future housing policy should be geared towards spreading asset ownership as widely as possible and allowing more people an equity share in their own home.

I was not suggesting for one minute that the right to buy was not beneficial, as the hon. Gentleman suggests. However, if it had run in parallel with a policy that allowed social housing replacement, it would not have caused the crisis that it has.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is well made. However, although all hon. Members acknowledged the importance of home ownership, all so far have tended to concentrate on the negative side of the balance sheet when discussing the right to buy. I have no idea what this Minister will say, but I want to put on record the positive side to the right to buy.

I was rude enough to intervene on the hon. Member for Pudsey and ask him about housing completions in the social sector. It might have seemed as if I was making a shallow partisan point—perhaps I was—but I wanted to illuminate the fact that as the Conservative Government introduced right to buy and encouraged wider home ownership, they were also engaged in presiding over a house building programme that puts this Government to shame. Every year that the Conservatives were in power, the number of housing completions in both the private, market sector and the social sector was higher than during the 10 years or so that Labour has been in power.

That brings me to my fundamental criticism of the Government’s position. I want to mention Bill Clinton. Those who remember working with that US President often used to remark that he liked nothing more at the end of an evening than putting his feet up, pouring himself a can of Pepsi and saying, “Well, if I were President, I’d do this and that and that”, until an aide eventually cut through the flow and said, “But Mr. President—you are the President.”

When I listen to the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Minister for Housing and Planning saying, “We need a massive extension in home building and a significant increase in the number of people taking advantage of low-cost home-ownership schemes,” I ask myself about who has been in power for the past 10 years and what has happened in that period. As the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West pointed out, has there been any relaxation in the rules that allow receipts to be spent on new building? Has there been a significant increase in new construction or any real dynamism in the low-cost home-ownership programme? Reluctantly, we are forced to conclude that there has not.

One of the statistics to which I always return in debates on home ownership is the take-up of social home buy. The Government’s own low-cost home ownership scheme has cost hundreds of thousands of pounds but has so far had a take-up only in the low 20s. I shall not delay the Chamber with the variety of detailed reasons why I believe social home buy has failed, but the Government, in their anxiety to press on us how vital it is to embrace low-cost home ownership, should first consider their own poor record and explain why they have failed before, as they so often do, either revisiting the 1980s and talking about the problems of right to buy then, or blaming Conservative local authorities for somehow standing in the way of people’s aspirations. We all know that some individuals in local government may not always take the most enlightened view of the national interest, but they come from all parties. One of the things that I find difficult to take is how Ministers continually demonise Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and sometimes Labour, local authorities, when the fundamental responsibility, given the centralised nature of so much planning power and the role of the Treasury, rests with the Government and their failure.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the legacy in 1997 was 2 million houses of a below decent standard? Does he accept that in the past 10 years, Labour has made them a priority? Some 1 million houses that were not up to a decent standard in 1997 now are. Is that not a justifiable priority?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point. I am always ready to acknowledge that the decent homes standard has contributed to an improvement in the quality of stock and that it was a legitimate Government priority. My specific concern is that the Government, understandably, are trying to take credit for that while saying that we also need a massive expansion in house building. We might have had significantly more expansion in house building if the Government had targeted that as well. They made a tough choice by privileging decent home standards over supporting the expansion of supply, but, having made that choice, they are attempting to take credit in both areas. The Minister is attempting to have her cake and eat it, and in the next 10 minutes she might explain precisely how she can manage that feat.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) on securing this important debate. I have the privilege of knowing his constituency well. I am not the only Member of Parliament in this Chamber who previously worked for Wakefield council, and I visited the constituency on many occasions and know from personal experience the kind of conditions and homes that he discussed. The issues that he raised are important because they have an impact on social cohesion, and the Government understand and share his concerns. I shall set out what we are doing, both in a national and regional context.

It is always tempting to spar with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), but many important points have been raised by my hon. Friends about issues in Yorkshire and Humberside, and I shall concentrate on responding to them.

Let me first set out what we have achieved in housing. We have sustained an unprecedented period of economic growth, coupled with mortgage rates at their lowest since the 1950s. On average, £4,000 a year has been cut off mortgages. Home ownership has continued to flourish, with 1.8 million new home owners since 1997.

We have also reversed the legacy of decades of underinvestment. We are tackling the £19 billion backlog of repairs to social housing that we inherited in 1997. In Yorkshire and the Humber region, the number of non-decent homes has fallen by some 150,000 since 1997. That not only improves living conditions but helps build social cohesion and contributes to sustainable communities.

We are also tackling areas of decline and abandonment through the housing market renewal programme. My hon. Friend specifically mentioned Girnhill lane in Featherstone. As he said, it was a National Coal Board estate. It has 174 properties in mixed ownership and suffers from extensive abandonment. Negotiations with the sole private landlord, a major landholder, have been somewhat protracted, although the local authority is now more optimistic that a settlement can be reached soon without the need to use a compulsory purchase order.

A funding agreement with English Partnerships, which is progressing well, will enable the local authority to buy up further properties and land from the private landlord. It is seen as a major step forward for the project, which has stalled in recent years due to lack of funding and/or unwillingness to co-operate on the part of the landlord. The area is the subject of a master planning exercise that will be crucial to getting the local community on board in respect of future developments. The acquisition of owner-occupied properties is continuing, and there are plans for some demolition work that will be funded by the West Yorkshire housing market renewal project and other complementary funding from the regional housing board.

I am grateful for those comments about Girnhill lane. They show the Government’s depth of understanding about this particularly acute problem. Will my hon. Friend the Minister give me an assurance that the Department will continue to support local people in ensuring that progress is much faster than it has been in the past, and that it will keep a finger on the pulse?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance.

On the wider issues of housing market renewal, homelessness has fallen to a 23-year low. We have also ended the use of long-term bed and breakfast for families, which was so detrimental to their quality of life.

The main housing challenge is to build more homes. Our ambition is to increase the rate of building additional homes to more than 200,000 per year during the next decade. New homes in Yorkshire and the Humber will be part of that. The figures reflect growth in the number of households, which is at its highest for more than 10 years because of changing household size.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of migration. Continued international migration, including increased numbers of economic migrants from the European Union accession states since 2004, is a contributory factor. More than 90,000 new migrants have registered for national insurance numbers since 2001 in Yorkshire and the Humber, with 21,500 in 2005-06 alone. Local economies have benefited from the influx of migrant workers, who are meeting demand for staff and skills not previously satisfied by local people. They are filling unpopular low-paid, temporary or shift-work jobs.

There is currently uncertainty about the future housing needs of migrants, as it is difficult to forecast how many will come and how many will stay. There is anecdotal evidence that many are young and travelling without dependants. They are living in private rented accommodation, which is often overcrowded. Such conditions can underpin the speculative buy-to-let market, causing unsustainable price rises in some areas, and prop up poor-quality and poorly managed properties. Public sector agencies must do more to understand better the impact of migrant workers on communities. Effective planning, engagement and communication are essential, especially if migrants settle for longer periods with their families.

The region needs to build more homes, and a better mix of homes, to meet the demands of increased migration as well as changing household size, which is an important driver of the number of homes that are required. As has been pointed out, increasing problems of affordability undermine social cohesion. Local people find it increasingly difficult to enter the housing market near their work, and subsequently are locked out of the nation’s growing prosperity. Consequently, more affordable housing is a priority.

The Government are creating a range of options aimed at tackling the situation. We are already helping thousands of people to get on the housing ladder. For example, 120,000 households are being helped to buy a share of a home and get a first step on that ladder. But home ownership, even on a shared basis, is not the right option for everyone. For some, it is simply unaffordable. For others, renting is a better option because it provides flexibility.

Falling investment under previous Governments created a shortage of social housing in many parts of the country. We have had significant success in reducing homelessness, but there are still too many households living in overcrowded or temporary accommodation. We will increase the supply of new social homes. We are on track for a 50 per cent. increase in new social rented homes in the three years between 2005 and 2008—30,000 homes by 2008. Nearly 3,000 affordable homes are planned for the Yorkshire and the Humber region between 2006 and 2008, including more than 400 in rural areas. We recognise that that will not meet all newly arising need, and we have pledged to make increasing the supply a priority in the 2007 comprehensive spending review.

Local authorities and their partners can do more to deliver more affordable housing, including exploiting capacity through the planning system to meet needs, and making effective use of assets and private sector leverage. Today is important not only because this debate is taking place but because it is the day on which the Government will receive John Hills’ report on the future role of social housing in England. The report provides an objective and comprehensive platform from which we can develop options for future policy within the wider housing reform agenda and debate.

I am afraid that I do not have time.

The report deals with precisely the points that the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton) raised about social housing being an area of choice for people, and being important for the general cohesion of areas.

As well as addressing supply and additional affordable housing, we must tackle problems in those areas that are suffering from low or changing demand. That will help to take the pressure off current high-demand areas and help to create attractive towns and cities that will support future economic growth, and the health and quality of life of the whole region.

Places such as Hull and parts of south and west Yorkshire that have been hardest hit by the decline of the region’s traditional industries are benefiting from the Government’s housing market renewal programme. The Yorkshire and Humber regional housing board is also providing wider housing regeneration investment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth asked about Yorkshire and the Humber’s share of regional housing pot allocations. I can tell him that in 2007-08 it was comparable with that of adjoining regions, and we have just concluded a consultation exercise on the indicators to be used to inform the next round of investment from 2008-09 through to 2010-11.

The Government are committed to improving access to decent, affordable housing in Yorkshire and the Humber, and to helping to transform towns and cities, which should be places where people want to live, work and invest. As I said, we have provided several policy options, indicated the direction of travel and significantly increased housing resources since 1997, but we cannot work alone. Strong partnerships and good innovative ideas are needed to meet the challenges that the region faces, including developing and building social cohesion.