Homelessness and Mortgages

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 16th November 1992.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:45 pm, 16th November 1992

The hon. Gentleman touches on the important problem of how to render equal treatment to local authorities, given that the right to buy is exercised much more in areas where there are more houses than high-rise flats. He cites a good example because my authority has about 60,000 properties, the largest number of any London authority. They are mainly flats, and many of them are high-rise flats which do not sell as well as traditional council housing.

The subject is complicated and I shall not do the hon. Gentleman the injustice of pretending that it is simple. There are various ways to account for public expenditure capital receipts and to attribute the money to the accounting budget in terms of either the Government planning total or the public expenditure borrowing requirement. It is, however, possible to arrange the collection of receipts and the distribution of local authority rights to borrow to give a fair distribution that responds to the needs of local authorities.

My hon. Friends and I, whether we represent urban or rural constituencies, argue for a formula that will fairly distribute for housing renovation or repair the money that is currently locked in local authority coffers or banks. Of course, some of that money may already have been spent. It is quite possible to do that without exceeding the Government's public expenditure total of £45 billion. The Minister and I and others have had long debates about that. I shall give the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) an example. We could retrospectively legislate to allow receipts prior to this financial year to be counted outside the public expenditure total. It would have no effect on the Government total for the current year or on their projections for the year ahead. The issue is complicated, but there is a solution and the Government should find it.

The Government have given £750 million to housing associations to buy empty and repossessed properties and it is reckoned that about 20,000 such properties will be bought. However, the con is that, although the Government previously promised the Housing Corporation £1·92 billion for 1993–94, that sum has now been reduced by £133 million. For the following year, they previously promised the Housing Corporation £1·77 billion, but that has now been reduced by £190 million as well. There is money to bring back 20,000 properties into use, but it has been found at the expense of meeting the housing needs of Britain in 1993 and the years to come. If that is not a con, what is? It is also sad that the rough sleepers initiative, which was supposed to meet the needs of those at the acute end of the housing crisis, has also been cut as a result of the autumn statement.

My party has argued a consistent case for many years. It is that the only way for Britain to be adequately housed is for us to invest in it, led from the public purse by those in charge of the Exchequer and Ministers in spending Departments. We repeat that call today. Let me put it simply, because the arguments have been well made.

There should be a large increase in public expenditure, specifically to fund house building and house repairs. It is good value for money, and it not a foolish way to conduct public accounts. We should cut the uniform business rate as that will allow some businesses to put money into housing as well. We should have a stable interest rate policy so that people feel encouraged to buy, in the knowledge that they will not be penalised in the years ahead. We should invest in training and in keeping people in work so that the construction industry can recover.

Perhaps most acutely now, there should be a new element of public finance, a subsidy that would allow people in difficulty to keep their homes or perhaps convert from mortgages to rents. It is entirely possible—and we have put out figures to show this—to start turning the corner of Britain's housing crisis. Our indictment of the Government is that, over the past 13 years—and they cannot blame anybody else because they have been told over and over again—they have, worse than not listening and failing to act, condemned millions of people in a rich and civilised country to conditions that are not only unsatisfactory but often inhumane.

Of all elements of policy, it is this policy and record of which the Government should be most ashamed. I am sad that they have so far given no adequate answers. I hope that now they are at least embarrassed enough to do something about the crisis before many other people suffer as all too many have already done.