Housing accommodation

Part of Orders of the Day — Local Government and Housing Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 8th November 1989.

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Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith 8:45 pm, 8th November 1989

If the right hon. Gentleman wants the stronger position recommended by Members of the House of Lords from all parties—including the Conservative party—he will vote with us. It is as simple as that. If the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale is going to have a crusade on this issue—I agree that it deserves one—could he widen it to join the crusade on housing in general? If there is a problem with housing in rural areas in terms of shared ownership, by God there is a problem with rented accommodation in all areas.

There is also a desperate problem for those people who are trying to buy. In the Conservative heartlands such as east Sussex—one of the richest areas in the country—67 per cent. of the people who do not own their own homes◦ at present cannot afford to buy property there. There is a similar percentage—just over 60 per cent.—in Hampshire. In other counties in that area, over 50 per cent. of those who do not already own their own home cannot afford to buy. Furthermore, they cannot afford to rent, for all the reasons that I spelled out earlier.

The Minister attempted to sell to his hon. Friends the idea that somehow or other the changes that he is making —although less effective than those suggested by the Lords —will considerably help the shared ownership schemes in rural areas. I accept that they will help at the margins, but I do not accept that the Minister has faced up to the problem in both the rented and purchase sectors that I put to him earlier. Until the Minister does something about the housing finance mess that the Government have got themselves into, housing associations will never be able to provide the necessary number of homes in rural areas that are affordable either for renting or shared ownership because they will not have the necessary resources.

9 pm

The Government are in difficulties on this point for two reasons. First, they want the housing association movement to use more private sector money and are therefore squeezing Government grants. The House will remember that the Government went through some uncertainty a couple of years ago about whether housing associations were or were not in the public sector. My view is that they are clearly in the public sector, but that does not rule out the possibility that they can, or indeed should, look for private money. I have no objection to that. However, we should not kid ourselves that the housing associations are anything other than in the public sector.

If we are to enable housing associations to provide for the difference that was lost because of the cuts made in the council sector, we must increase the amount of money available to them and reform housing finance. What one must not do—the Government are busy doing this—is to make housing associations take over existing council housing. When a housing association in a rural area—especially in the south where this practice is now becoming quite common—seeks to take over council housing, usually at the request of a Conservative-controlled council, not one single house is added to the rented or purchase stock. It simply changes the management. However, the cost and the bureaucratic problems involved mean that housing associations spend less time on shared ownership schemes, on providing affordable housing or on doing the land deals that are necessary if they are to get some low-cost land, and that in turn compounds the Government's problem.

Housing associations are still unable to provide the necessary accommodation. That is why Conservative Members such as the hon. Members for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) and for Taunton—the latter of whom I shall try to tempt back on board although he has had the audacity to try to bite the hand that feeds him—are getting into trouble. I advise them that this is the tip of the iceberg. I am aware that that phrase is unfortunate in view of recent history, but this really is the tip of the iceberg.

Unless the Government deliver a housing policy that provides affordable accommodation in the areas represented by Conservative Members, messing around with shared ownership schemes such as this will not help to solve their problems. Conservative Members will still find many of their constituents knocking on their doors, saying, "Where is my son or daughter going to live? Where are the local workers going to live?" I advise those hon. Members that that will continue.

Finally, I am struck by a headline that I have seen this evening, which reads Thatcher's plan to save the world". Apparently the Prime Minister addressed the United Nations with two people standing by wearing white coats. I wish that she had first directed her attention to the housing crisis that she has created here. If she wants to ignore the homeless kids on our streets and the problems in the inner cities, okay, but she should at least address herself to the Conservative areas where people can no longer afford either to rent or to buy.

Many of the homeless kids on the streets of London, Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow have come from rural areas. They are not necessarily inner-city kids. According to the Centrepoint study, about 40 per cent. come from outside London. Many come from areas represented by Conservative Members who, sadly, do not meet such people. Although Conservative Members had an opportunity to do so today, to the best of my knowledge only one Conservative Member went, but all credit to him for doing so. I wish that Conservative Members would talk to those kids, because many of them come from their areas. They have moved to London and to other cities because their local housing associations cannot deliver.

This vote is important for the rural areas. There is much more about which I would dearly love to have spoken, but I have had to leave those topics out because the Government have chosen not to allow us to do so. That is their choice. On this vote, more than any other, Conservative Members should be in the Lobby with us rather than helping to water down the famous crusade that has been discovered suddenly by the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

There is nothing convincing about a crusade when its leaders presumably whip up the troops for action, then, when they are ready to go, turn around and say, "Okay, sit down again, fellas. We have decided not to sail for the Holy Land today; we shall sail in a couple of years when we have seen what the Government have delivered". That is some crusade. It is not convincing and I do not think it will convince the electorate in the rural areas.