Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:40 pm on 15th February 1993.

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Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller , Ellesmere Port and Neston 4:40 pm, 15th February 1993

I beg to move, That this House is alarmed by reports from all areas of the United Kingdom regarding the acute shortage of low cost housing available for rent or for purchase under all systems of tenure or ownership; calls on the Government to provide urgently for the release of capital receipts derived from the sale of council property from all previous financial years for housing investment both directly by local authorities and by partnership schemes and for links to be established between agencies providing housing, health and social care to ensure that provision is made for all people in need; and further calls on the Government to ensure that people have the right to decent and appropriate conditions including facilities for the disabled. It is perhaps a pity that such an important debate on matters relating to housing has been delayed due to the farce that we have just seen. If the Government had got their act together, we would have had another 45 minutes to deal with this very important subject.

It is easy to fall into the trap of suggesting that problems in one's own constituency are unique. I had no idea of the scale of the housing crisis facing this country outside my area of the north-west of England until I compared notes with my colleagues. If we want to begin to tackle the problems, we do not need the Government's laid back approach of "It'll be all right on the night"; we need radical action from the Government. I will refer in detail to my constituency to give the House a flavour of the problems in one constituency which is by no means the worst off in the land, but by no means the best off.

My constituency comprises part of the borough of Ellesmere Port and Neston and part of the council area of the city of Chester. Some 10,000 electors live in the latter part. There are 4,500 people on the housing waiting list in the borough of Ellesmere Port and Neston and 5,000 in the city of Chester area.

I want to examine the facts in some detail and I hope that that will demonstrate to the House that the problem lies not with local authorities, private landlords, housing associations or the owner-occupied sector, but right here with the Government. The problem is their failure to recognise the importance of the links between the breakdown in the economy generally and the growing crisis in housing.

In the rural Chester area, the council has undertaken a major survey to determine the extent of rural housing need. The results of two pilot surveys show an under-estimation of need in respect of the housing waiting list. There is a substantial level of requests for rented accommodation in preference to owner-occupation.

In its 1992 report, the Rural Development Commission highlighted the problems and cited Chester as a case study. The report refers to the low average wage of often less than £3 an hour—against a background of the Government wanting to abolish the wages councils—and the average private rent of £63 a week. The report also refers to other difficulties in respect of trying to resolve the problem in rural areas. Thirty seven per cent. of Chester's rural council housing stock has been sold off. With a rural turnover of 6 per cent., which is substantially less than the urban area, there is a real problem.

Since April 1989, there has been a 25 per cent. increase in the housing waiting list in the borough of Ellesmere Port and Neston, from 3,276 to 4,492. As bad as that figure is, it hides the real problem which is the time that people have to wait in order to be housed. I will refer to harsh statistics to illustrate my points and I ask hon. Members, many of whom on the Conservative Benches live in relative opulence, to think carefully about what the figures mean.

With regard to the increase in the housing waiting list from 3,276 to 4,492, in April 1987, a family with one child had to wait just one month in Ellesmere Port and Neston on average to obtain council accommodation. That reflects a well-run Labour-controlled authority of which there are many up and down the land. Regrettably, as a result of the Government's policies, that waiting time has increased to 42 months—