Part of STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS, &c. – in the House of Commons at 3:47 pm on 26th January 1994.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Environment) 3:47 pm, 26th January 1994

I beg to move, That this House, noting that investment in housing has more than halved since 1979, whilst housing benefit costs have rocketed, that homelessness has trebled, that for the one million who face negative equity the dream of home ownership has turned into a nightmare, and that half a million building workers are on the dole, condemns the failure of the housing policies of Her Majesty's Government, the latest proposals to remove the basic right of the homeless to a permanent home, and the mean and nasty consequence of government policies which led Westminster City Council to spend millions on designated sales schemes which have harmed tenants and owner occupiers alike; and calls for policies to secure real choice between tenures, which revive housebuilding through the phased release of capital receipts, which make more effective use of a socially responsible private rented sector, deal humanely with the homeless, and provide better advice and protection for home purchasers. Britain faces a housing crisis unparalleled for four decades. In the past 18 months, the Labour party has published five separate documents setting out its proposals to tackle that crisis. If the Government had any sense, they would adopt them today. Those documents set out a clear strategy and a call for action to deal with that housing crisis.

The right to a decent home is fundamental in a civilised democracy. Without that basic entitlement, it is almost impossible to exercise all the other rights that we all take for granted. We now are faced with a Government, however, who see themselves as having little responsibility for ensuring that every one of our citizens has a proper home. We have a Government who, in the face of such a crisis, have decided to slash still further their pitiable capital investment budget.

The biggest problem is the lack of adequate housing supply. What makes the Government's response even worse is the fact that the resources are there to make a start on tackling that crisis. They exist in the form of more than £5,500 million of accumulated capital receipts, which are currently locked away in council bank accounts by order of the Government. We believe that those receipts should be used to buy up empty and repossessed homes and to build new homes. With the number of housing starts down by 100,000 on the level achieved by the Labour Government, before 1979, that emergency house building programme is desperately needed.

Only absurd Treasury dogma stops those receipts from being invested in housing now. How can the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction explain to the young couple who want to set up a home before starting a family that they may have to wait indefinitely, because his Government will not let their local council build homes with money which it already has, but which is locked in the bank by Government order?

It was difficult enough for the Government to justify their refusal to allow local authorities to spend their capital receipts before the 1992 autumn statement; it is virtually impossible now. In the 1992 autumn statement, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer—the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont)—conceded the exact principle for which we have argued: that councils should be able to use all their current capital receipts to rebuild houses and rehouse people. If the receipts could be unfrozen for 13 months, why could they not be unfrozen for another year? If current receipts could be reinvested in housing, why could not the same apply to accumulated receipts?