Housing Association Grants

Part of Clause 45 – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 14th June 1988.

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Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng , Brent South 9:45 pm, 14th June 1988

I am delighted that at last the hon. Lady has been ungagged, because our experience of the hon. Lady's performance in Committee was that she was very rarely let loose, and when she was she seldom departed from her brief. I do not want to be seen to be ungallant to the hon. Lady, because all hon. Members who were on the Committee, rather than joining in at this late stage and mocking from the middle Benches, will know the high regard in which we hold the hon. Lady. She was our greatest friend in Committee, and whenever she speaks, the clarity of our argument becomes even greater and the wisdom that we have over the months sought to share with Government Members becomes that much clearer. I am sorry to have missed the hon. Lady's speech, but it does not in any way detract from the point that I seek to make about the Minister.

My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield has always maintained that the Minister would go down in the halls of infamy for his role in producing the Bill. I see a chorus of assent from my hon. Friends who were most closely associated with him in Committee. I beg to differ. Hon. Membes on both sides of the House and, I am sure, the Minister of State, will remember Caligula and his horse. Hon. Members should reflect on the fact that there was another person connected with Caligula and his horse whom we tend to forget. That person was the hapless senator whose job it was to introduce Caligula's horse into the chamber of the senate of Rome. We remember Caligula and we remember the horse, just as we will remember the Bill and the Secretary of State, but we do not remember the hapless soul who had to introduce the horse into the chamber of the senate.

10.30 pm

In tabling the Government amendments and, indeed, in introducing the Bill in its entirety, the Minister has all the moral authority and political credibility of the senator who introduced the horse into the senate of Rome, and his fate will be the fate of that senator—obscurity. He will not be remembered. If he sees another summer on the Front Bench as a Minister of State, I will eat the provisions of this amendment with a light cheese sauce.

The Minister has sealed his fate in bringing forward the amendments and the new clause. I want to give the Minister an opportunity to tell us what is in the long-awaited charter for which we have been holding our breath. Will it deal with harassment by the private landlord which is the common experience of all too many Asian and Afro-Caribbean people? Will it provide a means by which that harassment can be avoided? Will it answer the very clear picture presented by the Greater London housing condition survey, by the survey of private tenants in London conducted in 1983 and 1984 and by the London housing survey of 1986 and 1987? The picture which conies from all that work, which is not likely to be dismissed by the Minister, is that the impact of housing deprivation on our city is felt most directly by the Afro-Caribbean and Asian community.

On numerous occasions the Minister has gone out of his way to praise the response of that community to the housing crisis. In his response to this debate I want him to deal with a number of questions about the role of Afro-Caribbean and Asian housing associations if our amendment and new clause are not passed by the House. As the Minister well knows, the impact of the Bill on housing associations that cater for these special needs will be to render them less likely to be able to cater for those needs at acceptable levels of rent.

The Minister knows that, as a proportion of earned income used for rent, the black family is likely to spend about 42·5 per cent., while the white family will spend about 36·5 per cent. He knows also that in London, with 70 per cent. HAG, a couple with two children will pay £45·99 per week rent as a result of the Government's proposals.

The Minister must be able to tell the House that his new clause and amendment, which deal only with housing associations and housing action trusts, will deal with that issue. He must be able to assure the House that housing associations will, in view of their size, be able to raise sufficient private capital to meet the new conditions under which all new associations will be obliged to operate when the Bill is enacted. The Minister must also assure the House that there will not be the loss of revenue to those housing associations that we fear because fewer families will be able to maintain their rent payments at the new level.

We suggested ways in which it might be possible for the Government to acknowledge that it is important that the Housing Corporation and the Secretary of State should consult black housing associations before making financial determinations that affected the special needs that they were established to serve, but answer came there none.

We asked the Minister to consider, but he failed to do so, a means by which it would be possible to ensure that statutory revenue funding to black housing associations would be guaranteed during the first few years of their life, to provide the start that is necessary if they are not to fail. The Minister knows, because his Department has undertaken the research that shows this, that without that start-up support, the survival rate is likely to be unacceptable.

This is not a topic to which the Minister is oblivious or about which he does not care—he does, but he has been nobbled. He knows also that, because of the way in which housing associations conduct themselves, there is no room for complacency. The idea that by applying section 71 to the Housing Corporation one will necessarily enjoy a spin-off effect in terms of the way in which housing associations conduct themselves simply is not on.

I will give the Minister one example from the city of Leeds, showing the impact of the Government's proposals and the beneficial effect that our amendment and new clause would have. Leeds city council conducted a survey of the equal opportunities policy of 18 housing associations in its area, and all credit goes to it for doing so. That survey found that 66 per cent. of management committees gave cause for concern over their black membership. They simply did not have any, or sufficient, black members. Fifty per cent. of the associations needed to ensure that black people had access to their housing, because their existing patterns and systems of regulation worked in such a way as to ensure that that did not happen.

The survey showed also that 44 per cent. of the associations had not even established ethnic record keeping for housing allocations, so they would have no way of determining whether they were meeting any guidelines subsequently laid down by the Housing Corporation or by the Secretary of State. Fifty-five per cent. of them did not keep ethnic employment records, and 50 per cent. needed to monitor records in other areas of particular concern to them. Sixty-six per cent. of the associations did not even produce reports for their management committees, 44 per cent. had not adopted a policy of racial harassment, and 78 per cent. had not taken any action to deal with specific issues and causes of concern in the communities that they were seeking to serve.

Those are the facts, and they were produced with good will and good intentions. Can the Minister really come to the Dispatch Box and tell us in good faith that section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976 should not apply to housing associations? I suspect that he cannot. I suspect that he will find great difficulty in doing so. He is an honest man, so I hope he will recognise that something has to be done. Something must be done about racial harassment, homelessness and the housing associations.

When the Minister looks at the likely impact on the black community of the change in landlord provisions in the Bill, can he say that it will not be necessary to introduce the amendment? He has an opportunity to redeem his reputation. He need not necessarily go down as the third party to that triangle between Caligula and his horse. This is his opportunity. We look forward to hearing what he says. We look forward to seeing his commitment in a practical sense to creating a successful multiracial society in terms of housing provision. We look forward to his demonstrating in a practical way his commitment to ensuring that the real patterns of deprivation and disadvantage in housing are not replicated in the experience of Britain's black community.

We wait for the Minister's answers, but we do not wait with bated breath, because our experience of his previous contributions in this respect is not a happy one. However, the communities that we represent are tired of waiting. They want justice and they sent us here to get it, and justice we shall ensure that they have.