Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:35 am on 2nd March 1984.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 10:35 am, 2nd March 1984

I could take up the time of the House by reading it out. I have it with me, but I shall not read all of it. The Minister wrote: Within their total allocation it is, of course, up to the local authority how the money available is to be spent. In outlining their proposals for 1984/85 Walsall have placed great emphasis on renovation of their existing housing stock, in particular their Block Improvement Scheme, the success of which they are seeking to continue. The Government also remains committed to the repair and improvement of existing houses and expenditure". The Government may be committed, but that only underlines my point that my local authority believes that it has not got the means to carry out the modernisation and repair work that is so essential.

The letter sent to me by the local authority was not sent for fun or to make party political propaganda out of the situation. The letter arose from a realistic understanding of what needs to be done. Of course, I could read out the whole of the Minister's reply, but the part that I read illustrates only too well this Government's attitude towards the formidable difficulties facing local authorities such as mine.

I do not believe that there is any possibility of a revival in the privately rented sector. We have not heard much about that from Conservative Members, but perhaps we shall hear something later. The schemes introduced by the Government have not amounted to much. I believe that there is no way in which the privately rented sector will revive. All the signs are that it will continue to decline. My view, which is no doubt shared by a good number of my right hon. and hon. Friends, is that it would be better for many of the privately rented dwellings either to be sold off to the tenants, or to be taken over by the local authority or by genuine housing associations. That form of social ownership is more likely to ensure that such accommodation remains in the rented sector.

There is cause for concern about the way in which, as a result of the housing crisis, some landlords are making unscrupulous profits out of bed and breakfast accommodation. On 21 February, The Standard carried the headline Making Fortunes out of Misery. It reported that Camden council estimated that it would spend £6 million in the next two years on providing temporary bed and breakfast accommodation for its homeless. The chairman of Camden's social services committee is reported as saying: It would be cheaper for us to house homeless families in top class hotels in London. The report goes on to refer to the way in which some landlords are taking the opportunity to squeeze the maximum amount of money possible out of such so-called bed and breakfast accommodation.

Again, that illustrates the acute housing problems that exist. Why is there a need for bed and breakfast accommodation? The explanation is simple and comes down to what my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood and I have been saying today—that local authorities are not in a position to build on anywhere near the scale necessary to provide the accommodation for those in need.

Ordinary people need, above all, two things: a job, and somewhere decent to live, whether it is their own place, owner-occupied or adequate rented accommodation. However, the Government have substantially undermined the possibility of people having such jobs or decent accommodation. Too many people are in the dole queue. Far too many families live in the worst possible conditions, because their local authorities are unable, because of Government policy, to provide the accommodation required. Instead of doing the job that they should be doing, far too many building workers are forced to spend their lives in the dole queue drawing unemployment pay and supplementary benefit, when they could be earning their livings, and when that public expenditure could be providing the accommodation that so many people need. Until Government policy is reversed, the situation will only worsen.

The plea that we make today from these Benches is that the Government should at least modify, if not change, their housing policy. They should allow local authorities to build again according to the number of dwellings needed, and should allow them the finance to modernise and repair the dwellings in their existing housing stocks. That is the cry that we make today from the Labour Benches.