Duty to Keep Housing Revenue Account

Part of Clause 71 – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 7th November 1989.

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Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith 5:45 pm, 7th November 1989

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. I am not saying that the problem occurs only in the south, but the picture is more extreme in the south because house price inflation has had a much more dramatic effect there, for many reasons of which we are all aware. But the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that in some areas of Yorkshire the figures are similar to those in the south, and that must apply to many other areas.

In addition to that general pain is something that I never thought I would live to see in my own country—teenage children sitting in our streets with cardboard signs saying, "Homeless and hungry". They are under 18 and they have nowhere to go. To have a Minister, whether or not he is responsible for housing, who is so blind to that appalling problem that he can introduce a Bill that not only does nothing about it, but because of certain conditions will prevent local authorities from doing something about it, is absolutely disgraceful. I cannot face seeing many more youngsters sitting homeless and hungry in the street.

There was a time when one did not give money to people who were begging because one knew that there was a support system. One could stop and talk to them and persuade them to go to their local DSS office or to emergency night shelters. During the last years of the Labour Government and in the early 1980s, even in London one could always get someone a roof over their head. Nowadays one cannot do that. That is why increasing numbers of the public, myself included, give money without asking questions because the housing crisis is so desperate. It is one of the worst examples of the typical Tory picture of private affluence and public squalor. Sadly, that public squalor is endured by the most vulnerable people. The Centre Point report shows that about one third of those youngsters have come out of care—the care that we operate in the Dickensian Conservative 1980s where apparently it is all right to leave kids out in the streets when they are no longer the responsibility of the local authority. They drift around and are likely to be drawn into crime, drug abuse and alcohol abuse which are strongly associated with homelessness.

Rent levels are central to much of our debate. The Government should face many of the problems concerning rent. They admit that they are trying to push up council rents, although they argue about how fast and how far. However, they rarely recognise or admit that they have dramatically pushed up housing association and private sector rents, so there is no escape. Some Conservative and other councils consider that if they transfer council housing to housing associations or private landlords somehow people will be safeguarded from rent increases. That is not true. Last year housing association rents increased by an average of 24 per cent. Market rents in the private sector are leaping ahead to such an extent that it is difficult to predict how high they will rise. My judgment is that the market rate will approximate towards what the property would fetch if it were sold and the owner invested the money and took a return on it. The interest rate that they would get would be roughly the market rent. That is why market rents are going through the roof.

Just to make that appalling picture worse, the Government have introduced capital value rents. On 1 April 1990 the Government will bring in a new system of calculating rates based on the capital value of the property. The Ministers occasionally say that Labour's alternative to the poll tax includes an element of capital values. Our system would be fully rebatable, but there is no rebate on the capital value basis that they are using to set rent levels.