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Housing (London)

Volume 506: debated on Tuesday 2 March 2010

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr. Watts.)

I rise to begin this important debate in the hope that a Minister will join us shortly. Nevertheless, given the importance of the issue, I shall begin and keep my comments as brief as possible to allow my hon. Friends and other hon. Members, who have a greater knowledge of the subject than me, to contribute. I will be grateful not only for their contributions, but for their interventions.

As this is a broad subject, I will give some structure to my contribution by confining myself to the leading issue. I say to the Minister, who is now in his place, that he has not missed a great deal because I have been introducing the subject gently.

The issue to which I wish to confine most of my comments is affordability. In saying that it is the key issue for housing in London, I do not mean to suggest that there are not other serious matters that need to be debated. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), for example, has a debate on the private rented sector in this Chamber later in the week. Moreover, there are issues related to owner-occupation. In particular, there are the problems that owner-occupiers may face during a recession and the steps that the Government have taken to alleviate them, with the consequence that repossessions are running at about 50 per cent. of those in previous recessions.

Those are all important topics, but given the social and economic position of London and, in anecdotal terms, the case load in my surgery and in my postbag—I suspect that the same is true for many other hon. Members here—the issue of access to housing and affordability is chronic in London, and also acute in that we now have a crisis.

I will say a bit about the scale of the problem and a bit about the Government’s response. However, the majority of my remarks will focus on the policy of the Mayor and the boroughs in London, which is going to give serious cause for concern. Such a policy is not alleviating the current problems of affordability, but worsening the situation. I will end my contribution with two specific questions for the Minister.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman’s contribution will tend to be fairly parochial—the same will be true of mine, if I am lucky enough to catch your eye, Mrs. Humble—but will he accept that there is a danger of perhaps being slightly over-partisan, although that does not necessarily come entirely easily to his nature? In commenting on the record of the Mayor, and no doubt that of the administration in Hammersmith and Fulham, will he also give some credence to the campaign being run by the Evening Standard, which somewhat worryingly refers to the lack of activity in this and related areas of poverty over the past decade or more in London and in the UK as a whole?

I welcome the campaign being run by the Standard, and I hope that is in the tradition of crusading social journalism, which is sometimes absent from the modern press. If my comments become parochial or partisan, I will put them in a wider context. What is happening in Hammersmith and Fulham is not simply an issue for my constituents and those who wish to live in affordable housing in the borough, but it is the blueprint for what many other boroughs—and, indeed, the Mayor—are now doing.

I have no qualms whatever in making this political. What is happening in Hammersmith and Fulham is being replicated across the whole of London, not least in my own borough of Camden, and it seems to me that the policies are those of the Conservative party. If they are allowed to run, the damage wreaked on some of the most vulnerable people in our city, not least children, will be astronomical.

I am grateful for that comment, because it puts our discussion into context. I will try to be moderate in my tone and precise in my comments because, at the end of the day, those in housing need or in social housing—either council or housing association housing—are interested not in party political squabbles, but in having a secure and decent home for the future. There is a political divide and it is important that we identify it, but we must do so in forensic rather than emotive terms.

I will briefly run through the statistics, which are probably familiar to many of us. We have 45,000 households in temporary accommodation in London, which is 75 per cent. of the national total. Despite concerted attempts—in some cases, quite unseemly attempts—by councils to discourage people from going on to the waiting list and to prevent people from getting access even to the queue for social housing, some 350,000 people are on that waiting list. London has a third of the overcrowded households in the country. Some 25 per cent. of households in Hammersmith and Fulham live in overcrowded conditions.

As for affordability, on the latest figures, private sector rents on average are £207 for London, compared with £81 for registered social landlords and £76 for local authorities. That factor in boroughs such as Hammersmith and Fulham, which has high land values, rises to a ratio of 1:4 between social rents and private sector rents. The average price for house purchase in London is £315,000. In Hammersmith, the price went down between mid-2008 and mid-2009 from £570,000 to £480,000. It is now rising again and is almost certainly above £500,000.

The ratio between average earnings and the average house price for London is therefore a factor of eight, and for Hammersmith and Fulham a factor of 12. Some 40 per cent. of households in Hammersmith and Fulham have a household income of £20,000 or less. A third of households in London have an income of £30,000 or less. I identified those figures from the many statistics that are available because they show that, for many people and the vast majority of people in housing need, social rented housing is the only option in London. That is not necessarily true in other parts of the country.

I welcome genuine low-cost home ownership when it is accessible to people on moderate incomes or is a way for people in existing social rented housing to get into a form of ownership, thereby freeing up other units. Increasingly and cynically, it is not being used in such a way. The overwhelming demand is for social rented housing.

The previous Mayor had a target of 50 per cent. affordable housing. Within that, 70 per cent.—35 per cent. of the total—was to be social rented housing. When Labour was last in charge in Hammersmith and Fulham four years ago, those figures were running at 40 per cent. social rented, 40 per cent. intermediate and 20 per cent. market housing on good figures for new build, which shows that with a lot of application it is possible, even in boroughs with high land values, to achieve very good levels of affordable social housing and rented housing.

The Greater London authority’s own figures show that the target of 18,000 affordable homes a year should, if we are to meet current need, break down such that 45 per cent. of that is social rented. Against that need, the Mayor’s response has been, first, to abolish targets; secondly, to have a shortfall of 5,000 properties on that target of 18,000; and, thirdly and most bizarrely, to raise the threshold for affordability to an income of £74,000 a year. I do not know by what definition that threshold is affordable.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is going to say that he would like to bid for one of those homes; he is probably in the right income bracket.

The hon. Gentleman may well be right about the income level. I fully appreciate his passion for this subject and I would agree that, in many ways, we have an absurd situation. It is particularly absurd, obviously, given the polarisation here in London. However, does he not accept that the erstwhile Mayor’s targets were providing some very perverse incentives for developers, who were just sitting on their hands waiting for a change in administration or a change in policy?

I fully accept that the current situation is a very undesirable state of affairs. None the less, the erstwhile Mayor’s targets simply were not working, which is why the current Mayor decided to do away with such targets. One of the problems, particularly in central London boroughs, was that, in essence, so little was being built, simply because those targets were unrealistic, given the market conditions.

I can understand the frustration that the hon. Gentleman has experienced over many years, both in this place and wearing a previous hat. None the less, having strict targets simply was not achieving anything, which is the main reason why we have gone for a much more flexible approach that will, I hope, pay certain dividends in the years to come.

The hon. Gentleman is the acceptable face of the Conservative party in London, but on this issue I have to say that I disagree with him absolutely. First, as the figures that I gave earlier show, it is possible to develop high levels of affordable housing. Secondly, if there were consensus between the major parties on providing for people in housing need, as there would have been 30 or 40 years ago, developers would not have the option of waiting for a change in administration or policy. I always found that developers were persuadable and that they would rather have a profit now than the possibility of a larger profit in the future.

Hammersmith and Fulham council is a very good example—in the past, Wandsworth council would have been a very good example, too—in that it has set out its stall as being “open for business”. What that means is allowing unrestrained development—essentially, saying to developers, “Come here and you can do what you want,” and beyond that, saying, “Actually, you can only do what you want if you also do what we want, and what we want is not to increase but to reduce the amount of social housing.” I will say a little more about that in a moment.

I will be gently critical of the Government and say that I do not believe that, in the first 10 years of the Labour Administration, the provision of new social housing had the same priority as the renewal of existing housing stock under the decent homes programme. That is understandable because the decent homes programme was dealing with existing tenants and leaseholders, because of the scale of the neglect during the previous 18 years, and because there are regional differences. This debate is about London, however, where the problems of affordability and access to housing are greater.

I am pleased to say that, with the change of Prime Minister, we had a change of policy towards housing supply, so I give credit to the Government for the £7.5 billion that they are now putting into affordable housing; the £300 million being put into new council housing, which is very welcome; the £500 million being put into the Kickstart programme, although there are concerns about quality in that programme; and the £1 billion going into housing via RSLs and the housing pledge. Those are all very positive developments. They are only the start, but they give me confidence that a new Labour Government would open a new chapter in the supply of housing and affordable housing in this country. Given what the polls are saying to us, perhaps that is something that we can now look forward to.

There has been an ideological problem. If one goes back to the 1945 Government and later Governments, including even some Conservative Governments, social housing would have been given the same priority in terms of improving people’s quality of life as health and education. Clearly, however, it has slipped down the agenda. I hope that it is now being put back where it should be.

Social housing is not only about the right to a decent home, which the Government have done an extraordinarily good job on, or about how people live; it is about where they live. In Hammersmith and Fulham, 32 per cent. of households are in social housing—either council housing or rented social housing—and that is in an area with the third highest land values in the country. I am very proud of that. I am very proud because it means that, economically, the city works; it means that people on low and moderate incomes who do essential jobs can have decent accommodation in the centre of the city; and it means that we have mixed communities. The great lie now being promulgated by the Conservative party is that getting rid of social housing encourages mixed communities, but the social housing in my constituency houses mixed communities—mixed in terms of tenure, people and income. That job is being done by the market, as well as by people choosing where to live, if they have that choice.

I do not want to put a gloss on that situation. There are big problems of poverty and disrepair and there are poor landlords, many of whom are RSLs and local authorities. At least 50 per cent. of my casework in surgeries relates to housing—mainly problems of overcrowding, disrepair and the like—but when I deal with that work, I always ask people if they like living where they are living. I do not think that one person in five years has said to me, “I don’t like living in Shepherd’s Bush,” or “I don’t like living in Hammersmith.” People want to live in vibrant inner-city areas; they like the fact that communities in those areas are mixed communities.

I fear that the effect of Conservative party policy in London is to create exactly what the Conservatives say they are not trying to create: mono-tenure, wealthy ghettos of the sort that we see in some other European cities, from which the poor are driven out to the outskirts of London or to beyond the M25. My local council leader’s favourite phrase is, “Sweat the asset.” He has a genuine resentment of people on low incomes living in areas with high land values. That is what that policy is about; it is about a raw type of capitalist, Thatcherite policy, which we have not seen in London for a generation.

In Camden—the borough that I jointly represent with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson)—the Conservative council is selling off flats and houses that become vacant. I must say that it is doing so with the enthusiastic support of the Liberal Democrats, with whom the Conservatives are in coalition in Camden. The council is doing that despite the fact that there are 18,000 people on the housing waiting list. To reduce the stock that is available is a bizarre response to a waiting list of 18,000.

I take that personally because when I was the leader of Camden council, we bought up 6,000 properties from the private sector, so that we could give people security of tenure and take other people off the waiting list and put them into the vacant flats. If some people think that being in social housing is unpopular, all I can say is that during the time that I was council leader I did not receive one single communication, by any means, from anyone saying that they did not want to become a council tenant—

Order. I have to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, whose intervention has turned into a speech. I am sure that his hon. Friend understands the point that he is making.

It was indeed. My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to his own creditable record on housing, because exactly the same thing was done in Hammersmith in the 1960s and 1970s. What partly created the mixed communities in Hammersmith is what are called the “acquired properties”. If one walks down any Victorian terraced street in Shepherd’s Bush or Hammersmith, one will probably go past three or four houses and the first will be a housing association property, the second will be a private rented property, the third will be a council house and the fourth may be in owner occupation. One could not create that paradigm if one set out to do so, but that is what exists and I believe that it is now under threat.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I really must respond to the point made by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson). The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that the reason why Camden council has had to sell off properties is because his Government will not fund the council to do up the homes that are still the responsibility of the council. If the Government were prepared to honour the promise to provide decent homes for tenants in Camden, Camden council would not be in the position of having to sell off homes to fund that promise.

My flow is being interrupted, so I will let other hon. Members make their points in their own time.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) is exactly right. If the aim is to destroy affordability in housing, there is a raft of ways to do it. I wish I had an hour to catalogue the crimes, but I will try to end in 10 minutes.

Hammersmith and Fulham council has disposed of 13 homeless hostels, which constitute about 60 good-quality self-contained units of accommodation. Homeless families will now go into privately leased properties outside the borough, which will cost the taxpayer five times as much and destroy communities—but the council has a capital receipt that it can use to pay down debt. The council has sold by auction a number of the acquired properties that I mentioned. It has even gone to the extent of giving itself planning consent to convert large Victorian properties that have been divided into five units into single residential units, which can be sold for a couple of million pounds on the open market, so it is not even catering for the intermediate market, as it says it is. In addition, because it is selling by auction in a recession, it is getting a return of about 25 per cent. less than the taxpayer should get.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and apologise for missing the first part of his speech. Does he acknowledge that by selling off properties and forcing people into the private sector, where rents are very high, the burden is being passed on to the taxpayer through housing benefit? Housing benefit costs for private rented accommodation are roughly three or four times those for rents in the council and housing association sector. That is a monstrous waste of public money.

Absolutely. I will run through six ways in which affordable housing is being damaged in Hammersmith. Each of the examples is echoed across London and each one, as well as the social cost, usually has an economic cost for the taxpayer.

The first is disposal. The second is demolition, which is under way on several small estates. The third is handing back units: 250 newly built social housing units, of which 191 were socially rented units, have been handed back to a developer; the reason given was that there was no demand for them. The fourth is not bidding for available Government funds, whether for new council housing or through the Homes and Communities Agency to assist RSLs to build. Not a penny has been bid for—indeed, money has been sent back.

The fifth way in which affordable housing is being damaged in Hammersmith is by allowing planning applications for schemes that include no affordable housing. Developers who already have planning consent that involves an amount of affordable housing are cynically going back to the Conservative council saying, “Look old chap, things are a bit tight at the moment. Would you mind if we built that thing without any affordable housing after all?” The council replies, “No, no, we understand. Go ahead and do that.” I want the Minister to think about that, because it goes outside the guidelines of the Department for Communities and Local Government. If local authorities are giving permissions on the basis of the alleged economic hardship of developers and thereby eliminating affordable housing, the Government should take an interest. The sixth way is through the definition of affordability, which I have mentioned in the context of the Mayor. Deep cynicism is displayed in the fact that what is called affordable is not affordable in practice to any of my constituents in housing need. That is true of every unit that is so classified, and very few of those have been given consent over the past four years.

Those measures would be enough to reverse the good work done in the past to maintain and improve the quantum of affordable housing, but two further things are happening in Hammersmith and Fulham that have implications for the whole of London and beyond. First, there is an extensive programme of estate demolition that could reduce council housing stock by up to 5,000 units—a third of total stock—if all the schemes that have been mooted go ahead in the next few years. Eight estates, ranging in size from 100 to 2,000 units, are named in the local development framework for wholesale redevelopment. Two other schemes that were mooted have not been concluded only, I believe, because the developers approached by the council do not wish to go ahead at present. That shows what a topsy-turvy world we are in. The local authority is approaching developers saying, “We will give you planning consent to do exactly what you want—triple the density, build commercial developments—provided you do what we want, which is to demolish any affordable housing near the site.”

Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the Government’s pathfinder policy under which 16,000 homes in the north have been demolished and fewer than 4,000 built to replace them? Does he think that was a good idea?

I always fear giving way to the hon. Lady because her interventions are so off-beam that she insults the debate. There is nothing wrong with regeneration or rebuilding; I am talking about something very different. I am talking about a deliberate political and economic policy to remove Labour voters from an area, as Shirley Porter did, and to allow the unrestrained development of an area without any regard for the residents who are losing their homes or those who continue to live there—a policy the central objective of which is to reduce the quantum of affordable social housing, so that people on low and moderate incomes can no longer live in an area. That is happening in Hammersmith and Fulham and, no doubt, in Wandsworth. The hon. Lady represents a constituency in a borough that pioneered such policies 20 years ago. All Hammersmith is doing is copying the techniques used by Westminster and Wandsworth in the 1980s. She should apologise for what her party is doing, rather than make fatuous points.

We are discussing housing in London, where there has been an excess of demand over supply for as long as I can remember. The proportions are now critical. When the pathfinder projects started, they were dealing with the problem of excess supply. Many areas were blighted with huge numbers of homes that could not be rented or sold. Although circumstances changed quickly, the pathfinder policy was a rational response to a totally different problem from the one faced in the capital.

As always, I am grateful to my hon. Friend because she has more patience than I. Perhaps she would like to put on a seminar for the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman, so that the hon. Lady can learn about housing policy.

The second thing happening in Hammersmith and Fulham is that the estates being demolished are picked not because they are in disrepair or because of over-supply, but for no other reason than that they sit on valuable plots of land next to existing development sites. Many of the developers I have spoken to say that they do not want to do it—they do not want the bad reputation or the political flak, and they do not want to negotiate with several hundred council leaseholders, or get immersed in the successful campaigns that tenants run to retain their estates. However, the price demanded by a council, which is both the landlord and the local authority, for developers to do what they want is that they destroy people’s homes and lives. That is unprecedented. Hammersmith and Fulham is an extreme case, but it is spreading to Westminster and Kensington and affecting what the Mayor of London does.

If there was any light at the end of the tunnel, one would say that this cannot go on for ever—people have to live somewhere and the state and local authorities have a responsibility to people in housing need. However, one should read the policy platform of Conservatives such as the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council and his acolytes, which was famously discussed about a year ago at a secret meeting, the details of which I obtained under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. They plan to go beyond the destruction of large numbers of individual homes. They plan to end what they would call the socialisation of housing and to achieve the withdrawal of the state from the housing market. There would be no security of tenure; the only form of tenure would be assured shorthold. Rents would rise by up to 400 per cent. to market levels, which would have implications for housing benefit bills in the short term. Capital investment in social housing would end. There would be an end to the local authority’s duty to the homeless.

That is not fantasy. It is spelt out in a document called “Principles for Social Housing Reform” ostensibly written by the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council—he is an important figure in Conservative local government and is head of the innovation unit—and put forward to the Conservative housing spokesman, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), and the chairman of the Conservative party, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), as an example of what a Conservative Government could do. One can see how attractive the destruction of social housing would be. The policy is to retain less than 10 per cent. of stock for those who have physical or mental disabilities and are unable to go out into the market and find their own properties.

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the meeting cannot have been that secret if he was able to obtain the minutes under freedom of information legislation. The document to which he refers is a broad discussion paper on a range of issues. Does he not accept that a key area that is ripe for reform is the idea that security of tenure of a council property can be passed down to the next generation? It seems incredible, not only to those living in social housing but, more importantly, to those who are not able to qualify for social housing, that tenure can be passed down through the generations in the way that the current legislation allows.

No, I do not agree with that. I agree that under-occupation, as it is called, can be addressed in a number of ways, but I do not believe that council tenants and housing association tenants should be treated as second-class citizens in the housing market. I am afraid that is what the hon. Gentleman’s party is proposing.

On that point and the principle at stake, is it not the case that if a tenant inherits tenancy—apart from perhaps a wife inheriting her husband’s tenancy—that tenancy is conditional upon that person moving to a property appropriate to their household’s size? It is important that we do not fall into the trap of assuming that three and four-bedroom houses pass down through the generations, even for households that no longer warrant them.

That is an excellent point. Briefly, I shall make three further points—I would like to go on longer, but I will not. First, despite the measured tone that we have heard from the Conservative Members today—although, of course, that may change—let me remind the House of what was said in the meeting I referred to. To give just a few of the many famous quotes about social housing from that meeting:

“Knock it down and start again.

It’s hard to get rid of.

Social rented housing was seen as a dead end rather than an opportunity to progress.

Only a very few people need some physical form of social housing...possibly less than 10% of national stock.

What is a poor person?

Define what social housing is for – not about giving somebody a £1m home for life.

We need to deal with the level of political risk. Not just people living in White City will vote against you, concerned citizens elsewhere will do so.

Funding is needed for the political problem of management.”

I understand why that meeting was kept secret: it is because those involved were plotting against the poor. It was exposed in the Evening Standard last year, and that is exactly what is happening.

The Conservative party had the opportunity to dissociate itself from that meeting last July, when my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing wrote to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) asking him whether he would dissociate himself from this and deny it. My right hon. Friend has written twice more and has not had a response. We can take that degree of silence as consent to the extreme policies that are being pursued in not just Hammersmith and other boroughs, but London as a whole. That is the blueprint for the Conservative’s policy on the 4 million social homes and the 8 million people who live in social housing in this country.

I will end with two questions for my hon. Friend the Minister. I understand that, because he has planning responsibilities, he cannot comment on individual schemes and programmes of regeneration, but will he at least give an undertaking that a Labour Government will protect and defend the rights of social tenants—their security and their rents? Will he ensure that the quality and quantity of social housing is not destroyed as the Conservative party wish it to be, but that it is increased?

Unfortunately, in some cases now, we are unable to offer that protection in Hammersmith and Fulham, so tenants such as those on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates have organised to make use of legislation such as the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 to take over not just the management but the ownership of their homes. Will the Government introduce the regulations, which have not yet been published, under that Act that tenants need to take control of their lives? A mixed community of people who love their homes and the place where they live are threatened with the destruction of their lives by a greedy developer and an unscrupulous council. The remedy is there—it has been provided for them by the Government, with some foresight—but they need that final step to be taken. If that is done, they can take control, as other tenants have in the past, of their own lives and estates. I am sure they will do a much better job than the appalling one that their Conservative council is doing at the moment.

Order. Clearly, several hon. Members wish to speak. I hope to call Front-Bench spokespersons at 10.30 am, so if hon. Members can limit their contributions, I will try to get everyone in.

I will try to do so, Mrs. Humble. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) on initiating the debate. As he will know, I have raised my general concerns regarding housing provision in the capital a number of times over the past year in the House. However, I would be grateful if you allowed me to take a slightly more parochial approach on this occasion, Mrs. Humble.

An important local issue has been brought to my attention, which I wish to raise with the Minister with some urgency. I should add that the matter has profound consequences for the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). A couple of weeks ago, a member of House of Commons staff spoke to me personally about the future of the Millbank estate in my constituency of Pimlico, in which he has lived for many years. The freeholds of Millbank are owned by the Crown Estate, whose Housing Business Group provides about 1,300 homes in London as a whole. Having recently completed a review of its residential housing portfolio, the Crown Estate has decided to consult on the sale of its central London freehold ownership.

The Housing Business Group was historically set up to provide decent homes at an affordable rent in central London, which allows working Londoners to stand on their own two feet without state reliance. For that reason, Millbank houses a significant number of my constituency’s key workers—for example, nurses, teachers, bus drivers and, indeed, a number of parliamentary staff. A local vicar, the Rev. Philip Welsh of St. Stephen’s Rochester Row, has said that

“the current provision of affordable housing for key workers by the Crown Estate is a major contribution to social wellbeing, in maintaining a diverse and lovely local community in this part of central London, among them many long-established local families who give the place a sense of roots”.

The looming fear is that following any sale, rents will inevitably increase. That will push many residents out of their homes and destroy the strong community that has grown up on Millbank. I accept that that applies equally to the estates in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras and other seats.

I raise the issue today because although responsibility for the management of the estate rests with the Crown Estate’s board, the organisation is formally accountable to Parliament, and the Treasury is effectively the principal Government stakeholder. Indeed, the Treasury is kept informed of the Estate’s business plans and strategies. Although the property is, of course, officially owned by Her Majesty, the Crown Estate’s profits—some £227 million—are paid directly to the Treasury.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the chief executive of the Crown Estate, Roger Bright, came before the Treasury Select Committee to be questioned about the value that the Estate delivers to the taxpayer. Mr. Bright has recently had to deal with some hefty challenges, namely the £1 billion that has been wiped off the value of the Estate’s portfolio in the last tax year following the recession. It is thought that the sale of Millbank and its sister estates could raise up to £250 million. Many residents believe it is rather curious that the Crown Estate is proposing to sell Millbank at a time when property prices are well below their peak, but when the Treasury’s cupboard is relatively bare.

Following the discussion with my constituent in the House of Commons, I arranged to meet Paul Clark, the Crown Estate’s director of investment and asset management, to learn more about the Estate’s plans. Mr. Clark was keen to emphasise that no decisions have yet been made on the sale, but said that because of a lack of explicit management expertise in the provision of social housing, the Crown Estate has not been able to benefit from the economies of scale in the same way that London’s larger housing associations can.

The Crown Estate also feels that the returns from that stock over the medium to long term do not fit with its broader financial obligations. Mr. Clark explained that anyone who rented or bought their property under certain contractual arrangements will have those rights carried over. Those whose rents are set under the terms of the Rent Act 1977 will continue to have their rents set by a rent officer, and assured tenants will continue to have full security of tenure and their rents will remain subject to a rental ceiling.

Mr. Clark told me that he feels that the Crown Estate will only do a deal with a potential owner if a housing association is involved and, preferably, takes on an equity stake. He assured me at the meeting that the Crown Estate is going to great lengths to make any sale as smooth as possible for residents and, in doing so, is likely to penalise itself financially. Evidently, it is looking for potential new owners who have a long-term perspective on the sale.

I want to touch on several of the deep local concerns that remain. We will have a reprise of the matter in a little over 48 hours’ time when the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras will discuss it in the main Chamber, so I hope that the Minister will recognise that we are trying to work together across the political divide to represent the interests of our residents and that there is a strong feeling about the matter, which requires resolution.

The chairman of the Millbank residents association, Professor Ben Bowling, told me that many residents believe that the consultation period, which will finish before the end of the month, is little more than a sham. He feels, as do many residents, that the decision on whether to sell has already been made. He rejects the notion that the Crown Estate has no explicit management expertise, given that it has successfully provided residential accommodation for nearly a century. Indeed, until recently, most tenants have had good relations with the landlord, a point to which I can testify, given the absolute dearth of complaints I have received about them in the nine years I have been a Member. It has been stated that the provision of affordable housing is part of the Crown Estate’s core values of integrity, stewardship and sustainability.

There is deep disappointment that the decision to sell the residential estate seems to be driven entirely by financial considerations, with the importance of community and the duty to hard-working Londoners being cast aside. The residents’ suspicions, I fear, have been aroused by Mr. Clark’s history as the person who presided over the Church Commissioners’ sale of their affordable housing only a few years ago. In that case, despite prior assurances that a focused housing provider would provide benefits for tenants, rents rose astronomically after the sale, the key worker scheme ended and flats were then sold off.

The proposals are causing real concern among the excellent team of local Westminster councillors, including Danny Chalkley and Steve Summers of Vincent Square ward and Angela Harvey, Nick Evans and Alan Bradley of Tachbrook ward. They, along with local activist, David Harvey, are united in opposing the sale of the estate, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) will share those sentiments. They fear the damage that might be done to a cohesive local community and the uncertainty and distress being inflicted on individual residents. Until now the Crown Estate has been regarded as a highly valued landlord for its residents, but councillors and other local people are distressed that it is giving such a short consultation period when the uncertainty surrounding the decision will profoundly affect many people’s lives and homes. Local people are demanding some confirmation that no decision has been taken, as they believe that the Crown Estate is being pressed to sell the homes by the Treasury in a desperate attempt to raise money. I have now received a significant number of letters and e-mails from desperately worried constituents.

I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that everyone was suspicious that the Treasury was behind that in some way, but will he not confirm that the minutes obtained from the Crown Estate through the freedom of information request show that it has never even informed the Treasury of its intentions?

There have been too many references to secret minutes obtained through FOI requests, but I take on board the right hon. Gentleman’s point. I have heard from many concerned residents. Eileen Terry, a Crown Estate tenant since 1979, recently retired and is now on a fixed income, so large rent rises would force her to find another home. Angela Reape and her husband both work as nurses for the local NHS trust and so are vital key workers in the vicinity. Their three children, who were all born in the flat, attend local schools and the family has always said that it feels part of a close-knit community. They fear that their nurses’ salaries will not cover the rent for a home big enough for their children in Pimlico. Vincent Minney’s family have lived in Crown Estate property since 1945. His brother lives around the corner from him and he would not be able to afford market rents in the community in which he has lived all his life. As he says,

“not everything can be measured in pounds, shillings and pence”.

I started school in 1970, so I am as young as one can be to remember what that means—my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) is entirely oblivious to the notion of there being 240 pence in a pound. Perhaps we would all rather like that now, as it might make the financial situation rather easier.

The hon. Gentleman must forgive me, as I was just coming to the close of my speech.

What I have said chimes with a recurrent theme in other speeches I have made in the House on social housing. Too often social housing goes to people who have no real connection with an area, and I should hate that to happen in Millbank. I call on the Government to look at the proposed sale as a matter of urgency. Alongside hard-working local councillors, I am joining cross-party efforts to look at the matter. I know that the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras is deeply committed and is doing fantastically effective work in his constituency, and the same applies to the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch. I hope that we can all work together to ensure that the residents’ voices are properly heard on that matter.

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate under your chairmanship, Mrs. Humble. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) on securing this important debate. To allow other Members to speak, I will curtail my comments and not give them the benefit of my full contribution.

My hon. Friend said that he welcomes the change in the Government’s approach to social housing, as do I. Some of us have been campaigning on the need to get local authorities building houses again for a long time. The fact that we are investing £300 million in building council housing again and starting the biggest building programme for 20 years is extremely welcome. The economic downturn and its impact on the housing market make social housing even more important for many of our constituents. When I talk to people in my constituency, or to those in some of the larger houses who are now home owners, I find that the vast majority of them started out in social rented accommodation when they were young, either as family members or as tenants themselves, so the idea that being in socially rented accommodation is a dead end and is somehow a barrack of the poor, as it is referred to in some Conservative quarters, is completely wrong.

The housing market has changed and we will no longer see 100 per cent. mortgages, or even 125 per cent. mortgages, on the value of properties, so it will be even more essential that we have affordable rented accommodation for people to live in while they are saving the deposit that they will need to buy a house, which will take a considerable time in this housing market.

There is no lack of ambition to be a home owner and to make that choice; the issue is about choosing whether to remain a tenant or move on. That opportunity should be there for future generations, and I think that all parties have failed in that endeavour in the past, so I am delighted that that has changed. The Prime Minister has clearly indicated that he wants more social housing and has put the money in to make that happen. It is essential that that continues.

We have seen the documents from Hammersmith and Fulham council, and I will focus on that issue briefly to allow other Members to speak. We have been highlighting to council tenants in my constituency the threat that the document from Localis poses. It would take away secure tenancies and move rents to market levels. Tenants are extremely alarmed by that policy.

I draw attention to the two letters from the Minister for Housing, who wrote to the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), in July and again in September, asking him to distance himself from the policy and to state that it is not national Conservative party policy. The only response that we have had from him so far came during a visit to Hammersmith and Fulham on 5 January, when he stated:

“I believe in strong local government. It’s not my job to run Hammersmith and Fulham but when I look at this borough I’m very proud of what they have done.”

That is the only response to a challenge to distance himself from a policy that says to 8 million tenants up and down the country that they face market rents and losing their secure tenancies.

During a debate last week in the Greenwich council chamber, Tory councillors challenged the Labour party on scaremongering in respect of council tenants, yet all they were able to say was, “This is not the policy of Greenwich Conservatives.” They were not able to say that the policy is not national Conservative party policy. We have a group of Conservatives in Greenwich who are distancing themselves from their national party and their leader because they are so embarrassed by the policy.

In Greenwich, tenants have the third lowest rents in London—the average is around £80—but they would nearly triple to £225 if we were to impose market rents. It is not some maverick group of Conservatives that has come up with the policies, but the leader of the Conservatives’ innovation unit. The document was drawn up following a meeting at which virtually every leading exponent of housing policy for the Tories was present. The leader of the Conservatives has failed to distance himself from it and to deny that it is Conservative party policy.

On behalf of the tenants in my borough, I want to hear from the Minister today that they will have secure tenancies under a future Labour Government, that we will not go down the path of the folly of moving towards market rents and impoverishing 8 million tenants up and down the country and that we will make that a policy in the next general election and that tenants will hear it loud and clear.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) on securing this debate and on an excellent and wide-ranging speech. I also congratulate my Westminster colleague, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field). In many ways, he made the same speech and, despite his earlier intervention about security of tenure, his contribution, which I substantially agreed with, echoed exactly the themes that were drawn out by my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush and for Eltham (Clive Efford), who stressed the importance of maintaining affordable, decent social housing in all areas of London, and how such accommodation can sustain and maintain communities and, of course, underpin the economy by enabling people to live and work in central London.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster and others were absolutely right to raise concerns about the Crown Estate and the way in which it is proceeding. I and other colleagues who may not be present have similar concerns about the behaviour of the Church Commissioners. When they sold their estates a few years ago, they sold an estate in Maida Vale—Dibdin House—to a housing association that was partnered with a private development company. Maida Vale, which is a ward in Westminster that is generally fairly prosperous, has some social housing.

I took the view then, and still hold it, that if we are serious about maintaining mixed tenure in all areas, and if we do not want our social housing to be solely and exclusively concentrated in poor areas, we need to maintain homes at affordable rents in places such as Maida Vale and, indeed, Millbank. Therefore, it is deeply disappointing that properties formerly held by the Church Commissioners are now being sold and let at market rents that are way out of the reach of the people and families who lived in them when they were held by the commissioners. The mixed tenure that was in Maida Vale has been eroded.

It is completely extraordinary that people who seriously advocate mixed tenure on our large housing estates, which is something that we would all support, cannot apply the same logic to the wards or even the boroughs that are grossly under-provisioned with affordable housing for rent, whether they are the outer London boroughs that failed to provide social housing, even when the previous Mayor was encouraging them to do so—they are certainly failing to do so now—or more local areas.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush said, I am not at all uncritical of this Government’s housing policy. I applaud the decent homes initiative and the investment that went into it. Tens of thousands of tenants are grateful for the new kitchens and bathrooms and general upgrades to their accommodation, but we came too late to the issue of supply. It was only in the early years of the former Mayor’s leadership of London that we really began to turn around the supply in London, and that is carrying through because of the investment that was made in the early years of the current Mayor. We will have to see what happens in future.

We have failed to update the definition of overcrowding; we have failed to put overcrowded housing at the centre of housing policy, despite its critical importance; and we have failed to uphold the code of practice on placing homeless households with a local connection in the local area. That has caused enormous distress to families with long connections to Westminster who are commuting from east London and bringing their children into school every day because the local connection was overridden.

However, as my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush and for Eltham said, that is as nothing compared with, in some cases, lazy thinking on the part of some housing professionals, and, in other cases, poisonous ideological thinking that has emerged from some of the think-tanks and local authorities around issues such as ending security of tenure. It is easy to say that there is not enough social housing to go around and that one of the ways to deal with that is to end secured tenure to try to make stock available. Similarly, a parallel position emerged in a Westminster council document on overcrowding in London, which called for legislation to end the duty of local authorities in respect of homelessness, so that homeless households can be discharged into the private rented sector. Both those parallel policies fail to deal with some important related points.

Where do people in housing need with low incomes go? By definition, they cannot afford to pay or to buy; otherwise, they would not be in their position. Of the two catastrophes coming down the line, the first is cost, which has been mentioned. If homeless people are moved into the private rented sector—they are already being diverted by the Government’s homelessness strategy, which is an error that would be even more deeply ingrained by the policy in question—the public purse would have to pay for properties costing £400, £500, £600 or £700 a week when in some cases the property next door in a council block would be rented for £100 a week by someone with security of tenure. The cost would be burdensome at a time when, strangely, people will be looking at the housing benefit budget for cuts. Those two things cannot be squared.

However, even more worrying is the sheer damage that is done to families who are left to fend for themselves in the private rented sector. It is worth reminding ourselves that housing associations began precisely as a response to the failure of the private rented sector to provide affordable, decent accommodation. It is sad that a few of the housing association professionals are now advocating almost a return to the circumstances that brought housing associations about in the first place.

Finally, let me make one quick point: we have mixed tenure on many of our estates, and it is because of leasehold. My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of how much lobbying I have done for a better deal for leaseholders on local authority estates who face large major works bills. I ask him again, please, can we do something to assist households such as those on the Little Venice estate who will shortly be receiving bills for up to £55,000? Those are the people who we encouraged to buy. In many cases, they are working families or pensioners, and we have to do something to recognise the difficult situation that they are in.

Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush on this debate. It shows just how clear the divide is between our side, for all the faults in our housing delivery, and those who are advocating market rents and an end to security of tenure.

May I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) on securing this debate? It is good to see that it is so well attended. It is a great a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), who always makes a knowledgeable, thoughtful contribution to debates on housing. I have attended many such debates over the past 18 months to two years and she has attended almost all of those on London issues.

I agree with the hon. Lady’s point, which was picked up by many other hon. Members, about the threat to security of tenure. I was greatly alarmed to hear one of the housing associations advocate this policy at a fringe meeting at my party’s conference: it was roundly jumped on by almost everybody in the room. I wonder who supports that policy, beyond a couple of isolated housing associations and perhaps one Tory council. Perhaps the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), the Conservative party spokesperson, will tell us what her party’s policy is on the threat to security of tenure. There are not many other voices supporting that.

We had to hack into a website to get them, so it was quite difficult.

Among those who attended were David Cowans, the chief executive of Places for People, Anu Vedi, the chief executive of Genesis, and Kate Davies, the chief executive of Notting Hill Housing—three large associations operating probably in the hon. Lady’s constituency as well as mine. Frankly, these people should be ashamed of what they are doing to housing in London. They are all now advisers to the Tory party on exactly the policies that have been denounced in this debate. The housing association movement should remember what it is there for.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. One of his colleagues mentioned earlier what happens when people move away from affordable rented housing into the private sector: inevitably they have to claim housing benefit to pay their rent. Over the past couple of months, as we have seen, the scandal of the cost of housing benefit to the public purse inevitably results in a knee-jerk reaction from the Government and their capping the limit on housing benefit, rather than concentrating on increasing the amount of affordable housing. So we go round in a circle and never get anywhere.

Many people in my constituency say to me, “Look, I really want to work and want to be able to afford to go to work. I want to provide for my children. I’m qualified to work and have been offered a job but I cannot afford to work, because if I went to work I would lose my housing benefit and could not afford my rent.” This is not a sensible way to get people to contribute to the community.

I largely agree with what the hon. Lady is saying. Would she and her party support the principle of moving to a much tighter form of private sector rent control and increased security of tenure for tenants in the private sector? That is the fastest-growing sector in London at present and the greatest source of insecurity there.

I do not support such a policy, but I will say something about the private sector towards the end of my speech, if I have time.

Other hon. Members who have attended debates in which I have spoken will know that I feel strongly about housing, not just because it is my role in my party but because in my constituency 20,000 families are on the housing waiting list to get into affordable housing to rent. That number does not include the people who are already in such housing, although it may be unsuitable, on the wrong floor or overcrowded. A large percentage of people in my constituency are in housing misery. One in 10 children in my constituency are in temporary accommodation.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) mentioned the Evening Standard campaign. I wish that it had begun this campaign sooner, but I am delighted that it is campaigning on this issue in the run-up to the election. It is ironic that the Government spend a lot of money picking up the pieces of broken housing policy with regard to antisocial behaviour, education, health and employment. If they addressed the issue of affordable housing, they would not need to spend as much on other things to deal with the crisis caused by their failure to tackle the problem. We desperately need more affordable housing. We also need more housing in London: this is a basic supply and demand issue.

A number of hon. Members spoke about the Mayor’s targets, which are part of the issue, but it is also to do with the problems relating to section 106 not working well at a time when the economy is less buoyant, and with a failure of courage on the part of many councils. I have taken an interest in the Brent Cross Cricklewood planning development, which is not in my constituency but is on the edge of it and will have a big impact on the Cricklewood area. I was shocked that Barnet council approved that development with only 13 per cent. affordable housing. In fact, it is leaving that agreement to be renegotiated every year. I fear that the percentage of affordable housing will go down rather than up. Such multi-million pound developments really should contain a higher proportion of affordable housing.

While there is enormous housing need, there are also 100,000 empty properties in London. I do not want to run through all Liberal Democrat policy in the next three minutes—[Interruption.] We have so much housing policy that I would be here until around half-past 11, and I need to allow other hon. Members to speak.

I want to mention a couple of further points: the private sector, which the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush mentioned, and empty properties. We know that the economy will be tight and there will be huge restrictions on public sector spending over the next five to 10 years, whoever is in government. It is particularly sensible at this time to focus on getting more affordable housing, and more housing overall, back into the system in as economic a way as possible. I am baffled that we are prepared to leave so many properties empty, particularly in London, when so many people are in housing need. That is why we are pledging to put £1.4 billion into a mixed loans and grants scheme to bring 250,000 empty properties back into use. That will not solve the entire housing problem in London—nobody is suggesting that it will—but it is a commitment to invest and it will make a difference to those families who need a place to live and to streets with empty properties that blight the local community. It will also make a significant difference to the construction industry.

One problem during this recession is the huge loss of jobs in the construction industry. Even when we come out of recession and are able to begin building again, we will have no chance of meeting the need that is there because of the loss of skills in that trade. If we invested in bringing empty properties back into use now, that would create some 50,000 jobs in the construction industry, which would maintain that capacity. Therefore, as we came out of recession, we would have a chance of meeting the housing need in London.

It is crucial that we raise standards in the private sector, so that people at either end of the market have as much choice as possible. We will never be able to provide as much affordable housing as London needs, but there would be less need if the standard in the private sector were greater, if people felt that they had better choice and if those on benefits did not have access only to housing at the bottom of the heap. We need to create incentives for landlords to improve their property, which is why we have argued for a cut on VAT for renovation and rebuild and for landlords to be able to claim the tax back on the work that they do on the property against their income, rather than only being able to claim it back later when they sell the property. We should give them that incentive to hold on to the property and to be more professional and to invest in their property, so that the standards are higher.

It is also about giving people on benefits access to different properties. Any constituency Member of Parliament knows that most landlords will not take people on local housing allowance or housing benefit. A scheme called “Fast track” has been operating with great success in pilot studies in the south-east. That scheme is a mixture of advice and insurance, giving people access to much higher-quality private sector accommodation and giving families real choice, providing an alternative to the race to the bottom that we see at the moment.

I appreciate the time constraints on the hon. Lady, but will she acknowledge that phenomenal profits are being made from renting out former council properties, often at four times the rent that councils charged? It is not incentives that private landlords need; they need controls on them.

I am not in favour of rent controls because the distorting effect on the market would be immense. Perhaps the real issue is giving councils greater ability to control the freedoms on the right to buy, so that not so many properties—especially in areas such as London, where we are in dire need of affordable housing—are sold off and then used in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

I wish that housing were a greater political issue during the election. I am grateful for Shelter’s campaign ahead of the election to raise awareness of the issue, but encouraging people who are in deep housing need and misery to vote is perhaps the most important thing that it can do. The Government have failed significantly to provide affordable housing for my constituents, and I have no faith in the Conservative party’s ability to provide for them. I desperately wish that people in housing need would shout louder now. Prospective Governments might then listen to them in the run-up to the election when they are looking for votes.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) on securing the debate. As London MPs, we all recognise how important housing is in London—not just in our own communities, but throughout the city. Housing is one of the most important aspects of people’s everyday lives, whether they are families stuck on a social housing waiting list, communities living in run-down areas that desperately need regeneration or young couples struggling to get on the property ladder. Housing concerns are relevant to everyone in the city, and increasingly so in recent years, unfortunately.

In some respects, there has been more consensus in the Chamber than I expected. I agree with many of the Labour MPs who have spoken that we have been let down during the years of the Labour Government. As has been said, there has been a lack of national political leadership from the Government for many years and, unfortunately, far too often and increasingly at local level.

I shall comment briefly on Hammersmith and Fulham, because the hon. Gentleman mentioned it, and then talk about the broader London housing issues and some specific aspects of waiting lists and empty properties. The reality is that Hammersmith and Fulham council has given a commitment to provide quality housing for council tenants, and has pledged to build at least 6,500 new homes by 2021, which is nearly one third more than the level set by the former Labour Mayor of London in his London plan. Of those extra homes, 50 per cent. will be affordable housing. There is a desire to ensure that there is additional housing in Hammersmith and Fulham for the people who need it most.

I would like to make progress.

It is ironic that today’s debate has in part focused on demolition when, as I said in an intervention, the housing market renewal pathfinder areas have lost 16,000 homes in the midlands and the north, including Victorian terraces. They are often demolished with little more thought than an inspector’s 10-minute visual inspection.

So far, just 3,734 new homes have been built as replacements, making the housing shortage even worse in those areas. In fact, far from helping to regenerate them, that demolition programme has increased deprivation in many of the targeted areas, and some social landlords seem to have deliberately managed areas down into decline to make the benefits of redevelopment from the programme more attractive. When the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions considered that major demolition programme, it said that it risks destroying

“the heritage of areas and”


“to replace it with neighbourhoods of lasting value.”

I will, Mrs. Humble, but I realise that I have touched a nerve. It is a scandal that 16,000 homes have been demolished and only 4,000 have been rebuilt to replace them when there is such desperate need for housing—not just in London, but throughout the country. That is relevant, and it shows the contradiction of the Government’s policies. House building nationally has fallen to its lowest since the second world war, with just 118,000 completions in England last year.

Under this Government, 250,000 fewer social homes have been built than would have been the case if we had maintained at the same level the run rate of social housing being built under the Conservative Administration. In fact, less social housing has been built every year under Labour than under the Conservative Government. Warm words in a debate are not enough. The reality is that there have been fewer social housing starts and completions, and that is unacceptable.

In London, action is being taken to address the problem, but figures released last week confirm that in England the statistics on net supply of housing produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government show that eight of the nine English regions saw a decrease in the number of net additional dwellings supplied in 2008-09. The only region to experience an annual increase in net housing supply was London, where the increase was 3 per cent. Indeed, the housing stock is also receiving a boost from the Mayor of London’s actions to bring empty homes back into use. Investment in that project has been trebled to £60 million, with 1,000 empty homes brought back into use in 2008-09.

The development of GLA-owned sites for housing provision has the potential to deliver up to 36,000 more homes, which we all agree would be welcome. Nationally, we need proposals to build more homes to benefit families in London and throughout the country, which is why we have discussed new initiatives. We believe that for six years a Conservative Government should match extra council tax generated by councils building new homes to encourage them to build more homes, especially affordable homes. That would provide 125 per cent. of council tax matching.

As we have heard, not only are fewer affordable houses being built under this Government, but people are increasingly struggling to afford those that exist, and the Government’s own advisory panel cited the increase in the deposit required from first-time buyers, which has shot from 16 per cent. of annual income in 2000 to 64 per cent. in 2009. Under the social homebuy scheme to enable tenants to own or part-own their rented property, sales have been far short of the predicted levels. The scheme was designed to help 5,000 households a year, but at the end of September 2009 only 328 sales had been completed. Its performance has been woeful, compared with the original hopes for it.

The feedback from many constituencies is that the various homebuy schemes on offer are complicated and people do not understand which one is right for them. There is a real need to streamline the system and to make clearer the path that people may take to get on the housing ladder through part-ownership.

In London, the lack of affordable housing has been particularly acute. Investment in affordable homes has been lowered with £350 million cut from the city’s top-up to the affordable homes fund, despite having 48,000 households in temporary housing. The Mayor is taking action and has pledged to build 50,000 new affordable homes throughout London by 2012. That will be the highest number of affordable homes ever delivered in one mayoral term, and it is set against the backdrop of the worst recession for decades.

To date, 20,000 of those homes have been built since the Mayor was elected in 2008. That project, I hope, remains on track to meet the 2012 target. In his first year in office, the Conservative Mayor built more affordable homes than the previous Labour Mayor managed in his final term.

Finally, I want to talk about waiting lists and overcrowding, which are a real concern across London and issues that I hear about in my surgery. The provision of sufficient and suitable social housing has been incredibly poor under this Government. The lack of social housing supply combined with the rising number of people in need of social housing has, as we have heard, led to a soaring number of households being on local authority waiting lists—up from 1.1 million people in 1996 to a staggering 1.8 million in 2009.

I sense crocodile tears. If that is so, will the hon. Lady condemn her colleague from Hammersmith and Fulham, who says that there are

“already too many socially rented homes in the area… We want to attract people who are very rich… We must stop our borough becoming a ghetto for… the urban poor”,

and that the long-term future for housing estates is to turn them into “decent neighbourhoods”? That is the real rhetoric of the Tory party, not the crocodile tears being shed here today.

I find it hard to disagree with the statement that the long-term objective is to ensure that council homes are in decent neighbourhoods. We would all agree with that, but the hon. Gentleman seems to be sensationalising it, which is counter-productive to a genuine political debate about what those decent neighbourhoods should look like and how to ensure that they function properly.

To finish my comments on overcrowding, the reality is that, in London, nearly 7 per cent. of households are in overcrowded accommodation. That is the legacy that we have after 13 years of the Labour Government. Nearly 7 per cent. of families in London live in overcrowded accommodation, and the problem is even more severe in social rented housing, where nearly 13 per cent. of families live in overcrowded conditions. That is up from just over 10 per cent. in 1995, and is a real indictment of the lack of building of social housing during Labour’s term of office, which I hope is coming to an end.

The Mayor has promised to halve severe overcrowding in social housing over this decade, with a move towards building larger and better designed family-sized homes. We believe that that is a better way to ensure that families have the space that they need.

In summary, a number of Labour Members have been highly critical of their Conservative councils, but they have been equally critical—rightly so—of their Labour Government. We need regeneration and redevelopment to help those communities, and we must have more social housing than we have had over the past decade and a half under a Labour Government. Unfortunately, we will get that only with a change of Government, when the Prime Minister finally has the nerve to call an election.

I am still laughing at the final point made by the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening).

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) on securing the debate. He is a fantastic advocate for his community, based on a foundation of 25 years’ service, hard work and delivery for the people he represents. We hope that that will continue for a long time.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) asked a series of questions about the Crown Estate and mentioned the work that he has been doing with my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson). As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the Treasury is taking the lead on that issue; we have received a number of representations and are in discussions with the Treasury. I am happy to talk to him about that in more detail, if he would like.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) is an acknowledged expert on these matters, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham on the commitment he has made to housing policy during his work with the Department for Communities and Local Government, and I am happy to assure him that we will not impoverish 8 million tenants.

Like my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), I want housing to be a bigger issue than ever before at the next election, so that we can win a mandate for more investment in social housing in the future.

It is always a pleasure to debate with the hon. Member for Putney, but she has disappointed me today. I was hoping to get an answer to the letter that was sent to the Leader of the Opposition about her party’s housing policies and the points that were made on security of tenure. Perhaps I will have to write to the hon. Lady directly about those matters to get an answer.

I want to pick up on one thing that the hon. Lady said, because the points that she made about pathfinders are complete nonsense. If she had visited—as I have—Stoke, Sandwell, Birmingham, Hull and Liverpool, she would have seen the work that is being done to assemble land in those areas and know the time that it takes to deal with owners and developers and to get developments under way. She would also see the huge contribution that the pathfinder programme makes to employment in the construction trade, the provision of skills and work in the community.

What is worse about what the hon. Lady said is the fact that it is completely the opposite of what the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) told a pathfinders conference that he spoke at in Manchester. If there is one big lesson that the Conservative party must learn, it is that it cannot say one thing to a bunch of stakeholders and another somewhere else—it will be found out.

From the hon. Lady’s comments today, we take it that the Tory party is not committed to continuing with this programme and that if, God forbid, it wins the election, the programme will be abolished. That would drive a nail into any hopes of rebuilding support for the Conservative party in those cities.

Let me pick up on some of the points that have been raised. All hon. Members who have spoken today mentioned the long-standing lack of social housing in London and other parts of the country, which has resulted in problems such as long waiting lists, lack of mobility and overcrowding. We have been working to address that in recent years, but the economic crisis has brought some of those problems into even sharper relief, with consequences for home owners, house builders and prospective buyers.

I will summarise some of the statistics that illustrate the scale of the problem. In September last year, there were 43,490 households in temporary accommodation in London, some 76 per cent. of the total in England. On 1 April last year, there were 354,000 households on the waiting list for social housing in the capital. There is concern in many parts of London about the options on offer once people are in social housing and need to move home, perhaps because their family has grown.

I am well aware of families who live in cramped and overcrowded conditions, and the impact that that has on their quality of life. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North that, like her, I want to see a solution to the problems that leaseholders in her constituency are facing. We are in discussions about that, and I look forward to meeting her again to discuss such matters.

The need for additional housing in the city, including affordable housing, is well documented. The GLA’s recent strategic housing market assessment estimated housing need at 32,580 homes per year. It also showed a need for 18,200 affordable homes per year in the capital, and within that, evidence points to an 80:20 split between social renting and intermediate housing. Put simply, the only way to resolve the underlying problem of housing in London is to increase supply, particularly the supply of affordable housing.

As hon. Members will be aware, the Homes and Communities Agency has been in operation for just over a year, with responsibility for housing and regeneration funding. By bringing those programmes together, the HCA is discussing regeneration and housing needs with each of the London boroughs, and it will be able to deliver better and more focused outcomes for places and communities.

We have responded to these problems. The Government are committed to investing £7.5 billion over two years—a commitment not matched by the Opposition—to deliver up to 112,000 affordable homes and about 15,000 private homes.

I am pleased with the money that was allocated, and I understand that the application on this round was grossly oversubscribed. Will the Minister give an indication of how much money will be available in the next round for new council house building?

I cannot give my hon. Friend that assurance today, but I can tell him that London is the biggest recipient in relation to the £7.5 billion that we have allocated and is receiving £2.8 billion of that money, which is 37 per cent. of the total. That funding includes the £1.5 billion housing pledge announced last year, which, as my hon. Friend says, is expanding the role of local authorities to deliver new homes.

A series of points has been raised, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush, and I will write to him in detail to answer those points. In conclusion, there is clearly a commitment by the Government on the need for more housing, particularly affordable housing in London—