Social Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 18th July 1994.

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Photo of John Battle John Battle , Leeds West 3:31 pm, 18th July 1994

Does the Minister not understand that that is an unworthy, mean-spirited statement, whose intention is still to change primary statutory homeless legislation, "as soon as parliamentary time admits"? The statement represents an attack on the basic rights to housing provision that not even Mrs. Thatcher, as Prime Minister, was prepared to contemplate. Does the Minister not understand that the policy will further scapegoat the homeless, that it will not provide a single new home for anyone, and that it will waste millions of pounds of public money?

Will the Minister now confirm—contrary to his claims about the lack of flexibility of the current provisions—that, as his Department made clear in 1989, the homeless with children have no automatic right to housing at present?

Does not the Minister understand that, under the current legislation, a council's task is to assess people's needs and then, if satisfied that they genuinely need accommodation, to help them secure it, and that under the present regulations, that can be in council, housing association or private rented stock?

Does the Minister also recall that a thorough review of homelessness legislation was held between 1988 and late 1989, under Mrs. Thatcher as Prime Minister, and Nicholas Ridley and Chris Patten as Secretaries of State? Was not Chris Patten correct to conclude that the present Act remains important and strikes a reasonable balance between the interests of the genuinely homeless and others in housing need"? He said: We do not intend therefore to change the law".—[Official Report, 15 November 1989; Vol. 160, c. 243] Is the Minister aware that, throughout the months of the new review, he was unable to produce a shred of evidence to show what has changed since that Ridley and Patten review? Where is the detailed evidence to back up the logic of his objectives, which he claims remain unchallenged? Which council or voluntary organisation ever called for that review, apart from Westminster and Wandsworth—and we know about their strategic housing objectives? Which organisation fully supports the consultative document? How many of those 10,000 respondents were in favour of, and welcomed, all his consultative proposals?

Will the Minister confirm that even the Secretary of State for the Environment's local Tory council, Suffolk Coastal, says that his January proposals were totally unworkable? Will the Minister now say a little bit more to the House about the costs and consequences of the new policy? When can we expect to see the primary legislation which he claims many of his proposals need? When will it be brought before the House? When will he confirm to the House that housing the homeless in private rented accommodation is often twice as costly to public funds as council or housing association accommodation—sometimes four times as costly?

How can the right hon. Gentleman square the idea of a six-month private assured shorthold tenancy with the new minimum period of one year that he has announced this afternoon? Will landlords now be forced to give extensions after the six-month period? Was not the whole point of the Housing Act 1988 to introduce a six-month assured shorthold tenancy that people would not have the right to extend? What will happen to people at the end of the one-year period that he has announced?

Why is the right hon. Gentleman placing blind ideological dogma above practical common sense and value for money? Does he not understand that, if councils were simply able to lease empty homes, many more on the housing waiting lists throughout the country could be housed and at a lower cost to the Exchequer than at present?

How much more could be done if councils were allowed to spend their capital receipts—a policy that this Minister used to espouse from the Dispatch Box? Why does not he have the guts to admit that this whole tawdry exercise has nothing to do with housing need and everything to do with the "back to basics" fiasco of last October's Tory party conference?

After all these months, what are we left with but a ragbag of proposals with legislative details yet to come? Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that even his fellow Ministers have been appalled by his approach? Does he not remember the words of his hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, who said that he had not yet met a single mother who had deliberately become pregnant to gain housing or financial advantage?

When Chris Patten explicitly rejected the Minister's approach, was he not right to tell the House that the real and long-term remedies for the levels of homelessness are to be found in an effective housing strategy, based on the contributions of the private and public sectors".—[Official Report, 15 November 1989; Vol. 160, c. 244.] Does not the Minister realise that it is his abject failure to secure such a strategy that lies behind the worst housing crisis this country has seen for decades, with the numbers of homeless having doubled since 1979, 850 families thrown on to the streets each week through repossessions, half a million building workers on the dole and a complete collapse in the council house building programme?

The policies announced today will only add to human misery and make that crisis worse. Instead of manipulating waiting lists, would it not be more positive to get back to building homes to rent for people who so desperately need them?