Housing policy has once again become a vote winner for the Labour party. That will be become increasingly clear as the Housing Bill is understood and the Government's record dawns on people the length and breadth of the country; when people on council estates realise that their homes will be sold to the private sector over their heads. Labour is back in harness and winning votes on account of its housing policy. The Tories are losing votes by wanting to hand over housing to the private market, with all that that means.
I listened with care to the Secretary of State for the Environment. With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan, I have produced an ode to the right hon. Gentleman. It is as follows:
I am the very model of a modern Housing Minister; my policies are Conservative, free market, very sinister.
I seek acclaim for all the acts of mine which I deem suitable. But blame all local councils when my mistakes are irrefutable. I baffle all in Parliament with a lengthy documentary,
Ensuring that every syllable gives rise to great controversy. And then if southern Tories are still the victims of perplexity I blame the right hon. Member for Henley, the only thing that makes sense to me.
That was the sum total of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He blamed local authorities for the housing crisis that has been created by the Government's policies. He chose to blame the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) for the disastrous planning policies that the Government have pursued in the south of England.
The Government's record needs careful examination, and the British people understand that. There has been a doubling of homelessness and the creation of the transient homeless youngster because of the Government's changes in social security benefit. There are 2 million who are living in homes that are unfit for human habitation. There are 390,000 concealed households—homeless households who are dependent on relatives and friends. These are the "front-room" families. There has been a 30 per cent. increase in the number of families on local authority waiting lists since 1979. That is not surprising when there has been a 75 per cent. cut in Government money to local authorities to house these people. Local authorities are prevented by the Government from building to replace the dwindling supply of attractive modern council homes. The massive backlog of essential repairs to local authority housing follows in the wake of Government cuts. The Audit Commission estimates that the cost of these repairs is growing at the rate of £900 million a year.
The plight of the public sector pales into insignificance when we consider the state of the private housing sector, where 77 per cent. of unfit dwellings are to be found. Shelter estimates that at the present rate of progress it will take 167 years to eliminate overcrowding for the 1 million who are currently living in multi-occupied housing. It is worth noting that if the pace of house building that prevailed until 1979 had been continued we would have at least 330,000 more homes for 330,000 more families.
We are faced with what amounts to a Government created housing crisis. There is a housing shortage of massive proportions, with an especial shortage of housing to rent. If there is a shortage of a commodity as vital as housing, there must be rationing. If council housing committees, or housing associations, are not controlling the rationing, the market is. Control is inflicted by price. Because the availability of housing to rent and to buy at prices that ordinary people can afford has diminished, families in many parts of the country are stretching themselves to financial breaking point to get on to the ownership ladder. Household debt has consequently increased from slightly less than £51 billion in 1978 to over £204 billion in 1986. Of that sum, £173 billion is accounted for by mortgages. In its wake, repossessions by building societies have increased tenfold between 1979 and 1987. According to the Association of District Councils, 53 per cent. of households in the east of England could not afford to buy their own homes, compared with 15 per cent. only four years ago.Yet the Tories have the audacity to claim to support and assist owner-occupation.