Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:42 pm on 28th April 1987.

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Photo of Mr William Shelton Mr William Shelton , Streatham 5:42 pm, 28th April 1987

I must first say how much I agree with the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) and I shall follow him by speaking briefly to one point only. Reference has already been made to the matter of empty properties on both the private side and the council side. I intend to talk about the council side because I think that the empty properties on the private side are empty through the fault of the House, because of the Rent Acts.

In May of last year I was talking to a constituent in Hambalt road, in Clapham, about some problem she had, and she said that she wished that her daughter could move into the flat next door, which had been empty for 10 years and was owned by the council. I wrote to Lambeth council and asked if it was true that the flat had been empty for 10 years. I had no reply, but two weeks later a team moved in and put in central heating and did the flat up. I checked again last month, March, and the flat was still empty. The constituent who told me about it said that it had been empty for 10 years and the lady downstairs said that it had been empty for 8½ years. There was a slight difference there, but certainly it was empty for more than 9 years. Somebody has now moved in because I created such a row in the local press.

I think that it must have fallen off the local council books in some way. I do not believe that even Lambeth council would have left it empty deliberately for so long. It bought it some 10 years ago and it remained empty all that time.

I think that the Government must take some responsibility for collecting figures from local councils in a more co-ordinated and comprehensible way. I started looking to see what was available in terms of statistics on empty properties, waiting lists and so on, and here are a few of the figures. They come from different sources and they contradict each other. As I say, there is a need for some correlation.

First, the council house waiting list in inner London, in March 1985, was 142,500. So there were very nearly 150,000 people waiting, of which it was said that 128,000 were "in need", whatever that definition may mean. That point has been raised already.

Secondly, bed-and-breakfast homeless in inner London in March 1986 amounted to about 3,500 families, and the cost, according to the Association of London Authorities, had risen from £3 million in 1981–82 to £11 million in 1984–85. It also said that the number would be up to about 12,000 by 1989 unless the policies were changed. So everyone must agree that there is a massive problem here.

Looking at the supply side, according to the same association, those councils, which are basically the inner London councils, have some 20,000 empty properties between them. That is a far higher percentage than an average management estate would have. To be honest, I do not know what percentage it is, but it is very high. I could not, however, get a breakdown. Nowhere did it say how long the properties had been empty or why they were empty.

I then looked at Lambeth and Wandsworth, where I had direct access to more specific figures. I need hardly tell the House that Wandsworth is Conservative-controlled and well managed and Lambeth is Labour-controlled and badly managed.