The Bill will only tinker at the edges of a housing crisis that the Government fail or do not wish to recognise. Anything that helps to solve housing problems is welcome, and I am advised by the building societies that the Bill will go a small way to easing problems for them; they do not say that it will ease the problems of my constituents. The lowering of the mortgage interest rate is to be welcomed, but all the comments about that have been made in terms of helping the housing market, not of helping those of my constituents who are homeless.
During my time in local government and central Government I have never known such a housing crisis. About 90 per cent. of the letters in my postbag concern housing. I hold a surgery every Saturday and Sunday somewhere within the constituency, and about 90 per cent. of the complaints that are brought to me involve housing. The Bill will go nowhere to deal with the problems. I have never known circumstances in which young people with children are facing the possibility of going into hostel accommodation because no housing is available. We should be disgusted with ourselves. The Government should be especially disgusted with themselves for allowing such a crisis to develop. Young mothers of 18, 19 and 20 years of age are facing the prospect of hostel accommodation.
What is the reason for this? The answer is that the Government turned their back on local government itself, and on the way in which local government deals with its housing responsibilities. In 1979, when the Government came to power, those of my constituents who placed their name on the local authority housing list had a home within three weeks. A single person who placed his name on the list had a home within 10 weeks. There is not a chance in hell of getting a house in my constituency now because there are none. That is because the local authority has been unable to build houses for the past six years.
The Government stand condemned because they have not provided sufficient money to enable local authorities to get rid of old housing stock that should have been condemned and cleared away. This stock is having to be used because of the Government's housing policy.
The Government stand condemned for many things but especially for the housing crisis that their policies have created. As I have said, the Bill will do nothing to house people. It must be understood that 300 families a week are losing their homes. Those people turn to local authorities and they are being turned away. As a result, those without their own home move in with friends, parents or relatives. The overcrowding should never be tolerated. I thought that we had got rid of it some time ago. Indeed, we did, but because of the Government's ideology on home ownership unacceptable overcrowding has returned.
I agree with the Government about home ownership. There is no finer state within a community—for those who wish to buy. Unfortunately, many people either do not wish to buy or are unable to buy. When there is a 40 per cent. unemployment rate in a constituency, as there is in mine, many people are unable to buy and will be unable to do so for many years. There is not a market to satisfy such a position.
The private rented sector is milking the position; it is all right. There is certainly a market there. When people are turned out of their homes they have to go into rented accommodation. My constituency is a fairly-low-rent area, but people are now having to pay £60 to £70 a week. In fact, they are not having to pay, the DSS has to pay. The people whom the Government talk about—the community charge payer and the taxpayer—have to find the money for that rent. There is a lucrative market in the private rented sector because people have nowhere else to go.
My local authority, which had 16,500 houses, has now sold about 8,000–50 per cent. of its stock. That has left a huge gap because the local authority cannot replace them. However, some of the 8,000 people who bought those houses are now themselves becoming homeless. Why cannot the local authority buy back those houses? Why cannot it be reimbursed for doing so? Those houses could then be put back into the rented sector, which would sort out a great number of problems for a great many people.
Why cannot local authorities return to the position in which they can buy rented and owner-occupied accommodation that is for sale at a competitive price? Why is not the money available for them to do that? Until that happens, all the tinkering at the edges will be to no avail. The Government may think that it will get them off the hook, but the people whom the Government's housing policy has affected will not let them off the hook. They and their families will not forget the misery that that policy has caused.