Orders of the Day — Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:01 pm on 7th May 1996.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley , Stoke-on-Trent North 8:01 pm, 7th May 1996

It is important to recognise that the Bill could well be important for the construction industry, and I am sure that there was a great deal of technical consultation before its presentation. I hope that the legislation will also advantage manufacturers in my constituency who make bricks and who are involved in the sanitary and tableware industries.

My principal concern—which is relevant to how Opposition Members will vote this evening—is whether the Bill addresses the unmet housing need in constituencies across the country. I represent many people who urgently need housing of one kind or another, and my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) made it clear earlier that the Bill does not address that existing need.

We have heard much tonight about the single regeneration budget—the SRB—and how it will benefit those who live in houses that are in need of attention. Although the Government have allocated some resources to the SRB—I refer to the Cobridge SRB in my constituency—that is no substitute for regular maintenance and proper mandatory grants. That funding is necessary in a constituency such as mine where about 7,000 people are owner occupiers and a large proportion of them—63 per cent.—are elderly.

As we move towards the new millennium, we must put on the statute book basic standards for new-build houses. We must address issues such as home safety, energy efficiency, environmental sustainability and housing for the generations. Earlier today, the Government informed us that we must expect to pay for our care in old age—although we thought that our national insurance contributions would meet that cost. It is significant that the Government have said nothing about care in the community. The fact that, as we approach the new millennium, we cannot apply design standards to new-build houses in order to make them fit for habitation by future generations says a lot about the Government's failure to address the country's housing crisis.

That failure is my main concern: the Government cannot get their housing policy right. We are debating the Bill this evening because the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 has failed. It came into effect in July 1990 and it should have provided mandatory grants to those who needed them. Earlier today, my hon. Friend spelled out some basic housing regulations. Many people do not have indoor WCs or wind and watertight roofs over their heads. Is it asking too much for those people to be entitled to mandatory grants?

With the exception of provision for the disabled, the Government have insisted upon moving away from providing decent housing and mandatory grants. I am very alarmed about the direction in which the Government are heading. Many Labour-controlled councils around the country desperately want to help those who need mandatory grants, but they are not able to do so because the Government have not provided the funding. The Government are aware of that problem, but they refuse to allow local councils to award mandatory grants. That is a telling point.

I shall refer briefly to my constituency and to the city of Stoke-on-Trent which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) represent. The Minister kindly visited north Staffordshire recently to see the housing problems at first hand. Following that visit, we were grateful to receive an extra allocation of £, which was made available to deal with housing problems in Stoke-on-Trent. That funding is very helpful, but it does not go far enough.

Stoke-on-Trent city council needs £10 million simply to satisfy the number of outstanding mandatory grants and to meet the needs of 1,000 people who are on the waiting list and who require sums ranging from £1,000 to £20,000. That gives some idea of the extent of the housing problem in my constituency. By terminating the mandatory grants system, the Government have caused a tremor throughout my constituency which is equal to that felt in Burslem when there was an earthquake registering 2.7 on the Richter scale. We are facing a housing crisis, and the removal of mandatory grants will condemn many of my constituents to living in damp and in squalor—the sort of housing that should have vanished with the 19 th century.

For the legislation to deal effectively with housing problems in my constituency, it should include several important provisions. I refer to the situation facing about 33 so-called "ineligible owners" who live on the Galleys Bank estate in Kidsgrove in my constituency. Those people purchased properties, which they later discovered were built using the Schindler construction method, after the cut-off date of 26 April 1984. They did not know then that the properties were defective under housing defects legislation.

I have raised the issue with the Government. It is outrageous that 33 owner-occupiers are unable to find a solution to their problem. It is not simply a matter of liability, as the Minister suggested earlier. The Government must recognise that those people could not have known that their homes were defective. It will not do to say that the matter can be dealt with under the present system of discretionary housing grants as the properties require 90 to 100 per cent. rebuilding grants. When we reach the later stages in our consideration of the Bill, I shall ask the Minister to discuss the matter with Newcastle borough council in order to find a solution to that constituency problem.

As we approach the millennium, we desperately need a housing strategy. Local authorities throughout the country, including the two that I represent—Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle—manage to fulfil their housing responsibilities. The village of Bradeley in my constituency demonstrates how local authorities can be innovative and meet housing needs, but to do that they need more than legislation: sufficient funds need to be made available. Quite simply, the Government have not done that.

I believe that the challenge facing the current Government in respect of this legislation, the next Government—which will certainly be a Labour Government—and local authorities throughout the country is to plan for the millennium and make sure that we have decent housing that can be handed down the generations to our children and grandchildren.