Orders of the Day — Housing and Urban Development Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 3rd November 1992.

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Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 9:30 pm, 3rd November 1992

I can quite understand why Conservative Members want to drown my words.

The fanciful claims made on behalf of the valleys initiative have now been attacked by the Public Accounts Committee in a report published last week. It said: We consider it unsatisfactory that, despite the Welsh Office's undertaking in 1988, to improve the accuracy of the figures provided by the database for regional selective assistance, inaccuracies subsequently remained uncorrected". Now, the man who failed to regenerate the valleys of south Wales is planning to regenerate the inner cities of England, with no new ideas, no new money but plenty of hype. Like the grand old Duke of York, he has 10,000 men: "He'll march them up to the top of the hill and march them down again. And when they are up they are up, and when they are down they are down, and when they are only halfway up they are neither up nor down." That is precisely how the people of Wales view the efforts of the former Secretary of State for Wales.

The United Kingdom faces a huge housing crisis. The Department of the Environment has just released figures showing that more than 100,000 people, including thousands of children, are living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. In other parts of the country the situation is just as bad. Figures do not tell the whole story. They do not include single people, childless couples or those turned away for other reasons. People are sleeping rough on the streets of London and in many other towns and cities. They are a too familiar sight on the streets of Britain.

London is the worst area in the country for repossessions. The 1992 total will be little changed. Mortgage rescue schemes have flopped while the Government are preoccupied with trying to save their political skin. Thousands of families are trapped because their homes are worth less than their mortgages. More than 24,000 families are on council waiting lists; more than 110,000 tenants want a transfer. Housing conditions, especially in the private sector, are worsening.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) for his work on housing over many years and I regret that he has chosen to return to the Back Benches. He pointed out that the Bill fails to deal with all these issues, because the Government do not care about meeting housing needs or ensuring that people live in decent homes. Although the Secretary of State would have us believe otherwise, the Government do not believe in choice, standards or opportunities.

We support the extension of leaseholders' rights and the independent assessment of the value of leases, but we believe that the proposals do not go far enough. Will landlords make windfall gains, or will market valuations deter leaseholders? Will disputes be settled quickly through the leasehold valuation tribunal?

What about the future of private rented flats in the same building? We welcome the Secretary of State's renewed promise to introduce commonhold—that enjoys enthusiastic support on both sides of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) asked why it was necessary, to qualify to buy the freehold, that two thirds of properties should be long leaseholds and that two thirds of occupants should have to apply. Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us. We are not opposed to ideas enabling people to become home owners, but we think it bizarre that the Government should encourage a scheme to promote home ownership for low-income households at a time of record numbers of repossessions and when 300,000 families are having problems paying their mortgages.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) described the serious danger of tempting people into rent-to-mortgage arrangements. They are likely to be the most vulnerable people on the lowest incomes. What is needed is more investment in affordable, rentable accommodation. We all know that pilot rent-to-mortgage projects have all but failed, and I am sure that the Secretary of State for Wales can confirm that under the scheme run by the Development Board of Rural Wales only 52 sales had been achieved by 3 February this year.

Given the state of the housing market, why are the Government pressing ahead with further measures to tempt tenants into home ownership? Given the evidence that the cost of administration will be disproportionately high in relation to the numbers of successful applicants, why are the Government hell-bent on the scheme? Why do they not listen to my hon. Friends the Members for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and for Stockport (Ms. Coffey), for example, and introduce instead an effective mortgage-to-rent scheme? It would be much more appropriate.

The decision to amend tenants' rights to consultation in the context of compulsory tendering has proved highly unpopular with housing organisations and tenants' bodies. Why do the Government not recognise that they have no mandate for CCT from those who are living in the homes that will be affected by their proposals?

On right to repair—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] Conservative Members must take full responsibility for interrupting my speech and causing me to be longer than I intended. We support efforts to improve local authorities' repair services. The Association of District Councils and others are doubtful, however, whether the new right-to-repair scheme will produce an improvement. The idea that a modified right to repair could be introduced by local authorities at no extra cost is not realistic. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a series of cost implications for local authorities and that some of the extra costs will fall upon tenants through higher rents?

Nowhere is the housing crisis greater than in Wales. Shelter estimates that as many as 60,000 people are homeless in Wales alone. Government policies have led to the sale of 60,000 homes. In 1975, 8,000 council houses were built. Only 900 were built in 1987. In 1990, not one house was started by local authorities in the valleys area. Yet in the decade to 1991 the valleys councils received £384 million in capital receipts from the sale of council houses. Why are they still not allowed to build? Why will the Secretary of State not pledge to release capital receipts so that councils can build houses to rent?

Yet again the Government have invested much political capital in Housing for Wales. It is another quango that does not have one local authority representative on its board. That shows yet again the contempt in which the Government hold local authorities. They devalue and denigrate the important role that the authorities have played and could play in housing policy. The Bill is marginal and not relevant to Britain's housing problems. It is yet another tragically missed opportunity.