The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) put his finger on the basic problem—land. My experience in Willesden was the same as his. No land was available in a congested area that was built up at the end of the last century. The only alternative was to build upwards. Twenty years ago, the basic mistake was made in building high-rise blocks because there was little land on which to build. Slum areas were pulled down, and the only way in which people could be rehoused on that piece of land was to build upwards. The Labour Government were the only Government to do anything about the land problem. They introduced the Community Land Act 1975.
The hon. Member for Northfield referred to crummy, jerry-built houses. I remind him that his Government decided to relax the Parker Moms standards, which then permitted even more jerry-building.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) who began by saying that for 18 years he had been trying to win a place in the ballot. He said that had his name come up during that period of time he would have spoken on the same subject. I have trying for 25 years to win a place in the ballot and my name has not come up once. If I had won a place, I too would have chosen the same subject.
The inner city area which I represent, which includes Willesden, Harlesden, Kensal Rise, Kensal Green, Roundwood and Stonebridge, has always experienced acute housing shortages.
My hon. Friends the Members for Norwood and for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) referred to a crisis. Six months ago the local authority in my area declared that the London borough of Brent was an acute housing crisis area, as soon as the waiting list went above 15,000. Those on the list had little hope of obtaining a roof over their heads.
My hon. Friends the Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and for Hammersmith and other constituencies have put forward the real needs that we meet at our surgeries. At my surgery tomorrow morning, I know that I shall hear of tragedy after tragedy. A waiting list of 15,000 is merely a figure, but to Members of Parliament who meet the people affected it means hundreds of tragedies. We must face the despair and disillusionment of people and then say, "I am sorry. We shall do what we can, but there is little hope of you being rehoused in the foreseeable future."
In my area, 1,000 families live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation provided by the council because the authority has a statutory responsibility to house the homeless. This year, the estimate is that Brent ratepayers must pay £2 million because of the failure to provide housing. Brent is on the hit list of rate-capping measures. The Government's housing policy leads to rates increasing by £2 million to meet bed-and-breakfast accommodation costs, while the Government are threatening cuts in social services, housing, health and amenities that would have helped inner city areas.
I guarantee that every Opposition Member and many Conservative Members who undertake surgeries experience similar cases. A few weeks ago, I met a young man who had married. He had nowhere else to live, so he moved in with his wife's family. In my area, three or four families often live under the one roof. After 12 months, a baby arrived. Immediate problems occurred between the in-laws. There was already inadequate room, but problems increase when the family grows. The young people come to visit me. I know that the next time they come I shall advise them to see a marriage guidance counsellor, because their marriage is breaking up, merely because they do not have a place of their own in which to live. They are shut in, and family conflicts become inevitable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith spoke about the problem caused to people on housing waiting lists by the sale of council houses. His area adjoins mine, as does that of the Under-Secretary. I have two large estates in my constituency. One is called Chalkhill and the other Stonebridge. The local council is always anxious about the problem of transfers. They involve the elderly on the 16th floor, who have problems when the lift breaks down, and also families with children. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith said, the houses that are being sold to council tenants are the better type of house with a little garden. The transfer list in Brent has now been blocked. There will be no transfers for six months because there is nowhere to transfer people to. That is a direct result of the Government's policy of selling council houses.
In areas of affluence such as those represented by the hon. Members for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder) and Harlow (Mr. Hayes), where there is plenty of land and houses, perhaps the sale of council houses is a different proposition, but in areas such as Hammersmith, Norwood, Islington and Brent it can only mean deprivation for people with a housing need.
I shall give an example of another personal tragedy. This time it is of an old couple whose family have left. They lived on an upper floor. After the husband was discharged from the Central Middlesex hospital following a coronary thrombosis, there was a real need for them to move to a place where there were no stairs. He continued to suffer from angina. It was not possible to find alternative accommodation, despite the high priority that they were afforded. A few months later the widow came to thank me for the efforts that I had made and told me that the funeral had been held the previous week.
When we give figures of 10,000 or 15,000 on the housing waiting list, we are trying to tell the Government that these contain tragedies which are avoidable and are a direct result of the Government's housing policy.
I pay tribute to the housing associations in my area. It was rather fortunate that last night the Brent People's Housing Association celebrated is 20th anniversary. That housing association has done a terrific job. The Under-Secretary was to have been the guest of honour. I always enjoy meeting the Under-Secretary, because he shares similar problems to mine in his adjoining constituency, and I was disappointed that he could not attend. The Minister for Housing and Construction was there in his place. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North drew attention to the fact that the hon. Gentleman is not present today. The Under-Secretary of State received the sticky end of the exchange.
Last night the Minister for Housing and Construction enjoyed his prawn cocktail, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and his Piesporter and Cote du Rhone wine, and so on, and he expressed the usual congratulations. The hon. Gentleman should have been here this morning and the Under-Secretary should have been enjoying good company last night. They changed places, and the Under-Secretary had the worst of the bargain.