Housing

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 27th June 1995.

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Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 3:31 pm, 27th June 1995

From that statement, one would never guess the scale of the housing crisis now harming the lives of families in every part of the country, whether they are owner-occupiers, whether they are renting or whether they are simply trying to get somewhere decent to live. After 16 years in office, the Government have produced a White Paper that neither addresses the immediate problems that millions of people face nor spells out a vision for a future in which everyone in Britain has a decent home.

The White Paper is the product of a Government who have run out of ideas, and who now appear to be living in a world of their own. They have now started ignoring problems in the hope that people will not notice what has gone wrong or who is to blame. The White Paper does nothing to restore faith in the mortgage market, and little or nothing to end the crisis in housing investment. It does nothing to help the homeless or people living in overcrowded accommodation. Indeed, it is all too likely to make matters worse.

As the White Paper has not dealt with many of the problems that people face, I shall put the following specific questions to the Secretary of State. First, will he confirm that despite the one and a quarter million families in negative equity, the half a million families in mortgage arrears and the one third of a million families whose homes have been repossessed in the past five years, his statement did not mention the word "repossession", and the White Paper mentions it only once—and certainly does not come up with any answers?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also confirm that despite the Tory general election promise to retain mortgage tax relief, that too has been cut, and that even the promises announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer are current only this side of the next general election? Will he confirm that, for every family with serious mortgage arrears in 1982, there are now 21 families with serious arrears, and that for every family whose home was repossessed in 1979, 16 families had their homes repossessed last year?

Is not the Secretary of State ashamed that the number of homes being built for rent by housing associations and councils this year is less than 20,000—the lowest since the second world war? Is it not the case that, for every home being built for rent this year, seven were being built under the previous Labour Government and that, under this Government, rents are rising at four or five times the rate of inflation? Will he confirm that, despite a record number of houses in disrepair, he proposes to end families' rights to renovation grants? Will he explain where he expects the homeless to go when their temporary right to accommodation runs out, especially as fewer homes are available for rent? How will making it easier for private landlords to evict tenants reduce homelessness? Why does he think that a licensing scheme to improve the safety of homes in multiple occupation would amount to "over-regulation and bureaucracy", as stated in the White Paper?

If, as the Secretary of State intends, council housing is to be transferred to private companies, how does he intend to keep rents down, and who will meet the cost of keeping rents down? Why does he refuse to allow councils to start investing in new homes the takings from the right-to-buy sale of council houses?

Finally, will the Secretary of State confirm that, despite anything that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said at his press conference this morning, when the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for Wales, he approved every word of this housing White Paper, which means that both candidates for the Conservative party leadership are totally responsible for this feeble and useless document?