Orders of the Day — Local Government and Housing Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 14th February 1989.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 8:30 pm, 14th February 1989

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) says, that is what we think is so disgraceful.

I do not happen to believe that there is anything wrong in the way in which local authorities have used the existing discretionary powers for contributions to be made for council housing, especially because of the substantial reduction in subsidies for local authority housing since this Government have been in office. To ring fence the housing revenue accounts of authorities in the way set out in the Bill must cause large rent increases. That of course is the major purpose of the exercise.

The change in the funding of rent rebates is equally offensive. Although the Secretary of State tried to deny it, it means in effect that the housing benefit for the poorest council tenants will be paid for by other council tenants through much higher rents. In other words, the relatively poor will subsidise the poorest in the community. It has always been accepted—by Tory Administrations as well—that assistance for the relief of poverty should come from national sources, but under the Bill it will come from council tenants who are not in receipt of benefit. That is certainly wrong. It will undoubtedly cause much hardship to those who have to bear the burden.

There are many other matters in the Bill which cannot be dealt with in a 10 or 12-minute speech on Second Reading. For example, capital receipts will be used for loan purposes, and not, as promised by a previous Secretary of State, for housing.

I cannot deal with all the issues because many other hon. Members still wish to speak, but let me say finally that Britain faces an acute housing crisis. Hundreds of thousands of people are desperate for accommodation. I make no apology for repeating this: just a short distance down the road, five or seven minutes walk away at most, tonight as on previous nights, no matter how cold it is, people are sleeping in cardboard boxes. They are by no means all tramps. Many have come to London to find work. In some cases, although not all, they have found a job but simply cannot find any accommodation, and there is nothing in the Bill that will allow them to do so.

There are many other people, as we know, living with their young children in bed-and-breakfast or hostel accommodation in the most squalid conditions in which no one in a country such as ours should be allowed to live in the 1980s. There are many others, including some of my own constituents, not living in such bad conditions, but living with their parents or in-laws in overcrowded accommodation.

The reason is understandable. We all know it. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) said that most people who come to his constituency surgeries have housing problems, and the same applies to me and my hon. Friends. Those constituents cannot afford a mortgage, even when the mortgage interest rate is not so high. They cannot afford the privately rented sector. They cannot pay market rents. If they could afford them, they would almost certainly be owner-occupiers. Therefore, they are faced with that dilemma of finding adequate accommodation at a rent they can afford.

Earlier, a Conservative Member spoke with pride about the number of council dwellings that have been sold. What about the number of council dwellings that have not been built? This year it is likely that the number of council dwellings completed in England and Wales will be no more than about 12,000. That means tremendous hardship and misery. That is why the Bill has no relevance to Britain's housing crisis; why the Bill is so offensive in all its clauses; why the Bill will bring no relief to the people to whom I have been referring; and why the Opposition have every justification for voting against it.