Adjournment (Christmas)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:51 pm on 8th December 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown , Yeovil 5:51 pm, 8th December 1987

No, I do not. I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman's comment that the problem is by no means unique. I hope that, as I draw the attention of the House to it, other hon. Members will recognise that a great deal of this applies to their own constituencies as well. My view on the sale of council houses is that people should be given the right to buy them, but that the decision whether to sell should lie with the local council, which is in a position to judge on the advisability of selling as against the need to solve the problem of homelessness. While I do not deny the right to purchase, I think it is a matter that ought to be considered locally in the context of homelessness. If that is what the hon. Gentleman means, I will go that far with him.

I do not want the House to imagine for one second that the situation in my constituency arises because of a behind-the-times local authority which refuses to think about the future, because that is not true. South Somerset district council has been among the most imaginative in the land in constructing new initiatives to build houses. It has set the tone and, in many cases, blazed a trail which others have followed. Those initiatives include, for instance, new starter units—eight units were available and there were 95 applications from first-time buyers—shared ownership, private sector funding, getting together with parish councils to build on parish council land with shared public-private funding, initiatives launched with the Duchy of Cornwall, barter schemes, housing association schemes, the setting up of a single homeless hostels, a housing advice centre, and so on. The council has been really imaginative in finding new sources of funds and ways of meeting the housing problem.

However, what it has been able to do is but a drop in the ocean compared with the scale of the problem. I cannot describe adequately to the House the sense of anger, frustration, misery and despair which now afflicts those people on the housing list: they desperately need rehousing but they have not the slightest prospect of having that need met in the near future. The despair extends to those who are seeking to assist, to the district council officers, to the district councillors wanting to help with the problem on a catch-as-catch-can basis and, when I see the interminable troop of people coming into my surgeries and asking for assistance that I cannot provide because of the Government's closed mind on this issue, even to me.

The housing crisis in Britain is now reaching epidemic proportions and the Government's dereliction of duty in seeking to block the use of funds that are readily available to cope with the problem is a moral and practical scandal. I beg the Government to do something about it. I do not ask them for their money; I ask them to let us use ours. I do not ask them for their help; I ask them to let us help ourselves. I do not ask them to house our homeless, but to let us tackle the problem of homelessness with the resources available to us. I ask them to recognise that their policy blocks the use of this money. If they do nothing, the responsibility for the problem lies on their head and in their hands. The stain of homelessness and misery caused by their neglect will be a blot upon their record and, I hope especially at this time of the year, on their conscience also.