Housing

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:25 pm on 23rd May 1988.

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Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng , Brent South 6:25 pm, 23rd May 1988

The Minister of State has had the bare-faced gall to come to the House and accuse Opposition Members of a so-called dearth of housing policy. That is obviously nonsense. I can tell the Minister that we shall restore the level of public spending on housing which, under the present Government, has been cut from £6·7 billion to £2·7 billion. That cut lies at the heart of the Government's failure to tackle the housing crisis.

The means by which the Minister chooses to attack this side of the House is by reference to a magazine, which he produced and showed us all, called the New Statesman—an organ that makes an intellectual contribution to the Labour party, and a very welcome one. I shall tell the Minister of a magazine that was recently drawn to my attention. It is a glossy publication which is surprisingly well written. It deals with the fads, the fancies and the foibles of the parvenus and parasites who make up the core of the Conservative party. Lo and behold—what did I see as I sifted through that publication, between the adverts for houses which are a snip at £375,000, and for bijou flats in Wandsworth for £160,000? I saw an article about the golden boy of the Thatcherite housing policy—none other than the Minister of State himself.

When I heard the line the Minister was taking in this debate, I asked those working with me to obtain a copy of that magazine. I even provided them with a plain brown envelope so that they could do so. However, my secretary has written me a note saying, "Sorry, couldn't get one." They are sold out. So interested is the world in the Minister of State's utterances that my assistant could not obtain a single copy of that publication, which I can now name as the Tatler, within one square mile of this Palace of Westminster.

At the heart of that article, the Minister of State comments on the need for community and how housing must serve the community. Anyone hearing what he and other Conservative Members said during the course of this debate, and anyone who had to sit through hour after hour of the Housing Bill, as we had to do, knows only too well that the Government's housing policy has destroyed the sense of community in all of the constituencies we represent, and that the bed-and-breakfast population have had any possibility of a community life removed from them. In my constituency, more than 900 families are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and mine is a constituency that has been praised by the Minister of State and his chief acolyte for the advances it has made in coping with its housing crisis. The other day the Minister of State talked about us in glowing terms. That is unusual for my borough.

Despite all the work that we have done for those in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, however, our housing allocation has been viciously cut by some 20 per cent. in real terms in the space of a year. Having asked for £82 million, we were given £19·25 million. That is the priority that the present Government give to housing. The result is a destruction of the community and a grouping in our society of people who have no opportunity to obtain public housing, and no opportunity to buy houses either.

We have heard cheers of delight from Conservative Members about the defeat of the Lords' amendment in the other place. They should reflect that that in itself will cause a massive spiral of inflation in house prices, particularly in the south-east, as a direct result of the poll tax. It will do nothing to help the housing crisis, any more than the measures so far proposed by the Government will dent that crisis.

We have heard talk today about the Bangladeshis. It is as if they, through no fault of their own, had contributed to the housing crisis in some parts of our country. That is not the case; the crisis was there long before they came. I can, however, name one person from the Indian sub-continent who has made a contribution to solving the housing crisis, Mother Teresa. That the day should ever come when she should have to leave the streets of Calcutta to point the finger of reproach at us in our capital city, and when Members of Parliament making their way home at night see people sleeping in boxes, is a reproach that Conservative Members must face.

The odour of sanctity clings to Mother Teresa as it has never clung to the Prime Minister, and we need to listen to what she says to us about housing. She says that we should care more, that we should devote more resources to housing and that we should put strategy in the place of rhetoric. That is the challenge that Mother Teresa presents to the House, and I only wish that Conservative Members were up to it.