I am pleased to follow the assured, pithy speech made by the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), although I would take issue with some of his criticisms.
I thought that the Minister of State's speech, opening the debate, was a milestone in local government history and a significant advance in the history of the Labour party in Parliament. On the other hand, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), a former Minister of great technical expertise, was untypically ungenerous and pernickety in his response. I regretted that.
There is nothing quite like a general election campaign to show candidates the true state of local housing stock, which is why I wanted to speak today. The Bill is certainly welcome. It is a practical measure which will improve the lives of hundreds of my poorest, least fortunate, most hard-pressed constituents. Without a shadow of doubt, local government throughout Wales will welcome the Bill.
The Principality is the seat of some of the most difficult housing problems in the UK, but I am certain that the Bill will help. When houses have been modernised by my hard-working local council, by installing central heating, double-glazed units and new doors, residents have told me of their delight. I have concluded that the quality of their lives has been greatly enhanced.
Once houses are restored, they become healthy to live in, free of damp and worthy of the description "civilised housing". In the townships of Shotton, Saltney, Buckley, Hope, Connah's Quay and Aston, the plea is still: repair and modernise; give us central heating, replace the windows, change the doors. These are not outrageous requests at the end of the 20th century. Modernisation will help young children with asthma who live in sub-standard homes. It will also help the arthritic elderly.
Modernisation will certainly create jobs, in my constituency and throughout Wales, for painters and decorators, joiners, glaziers, brickies, plumbers and local hauliers. Even on disputed figures, at least 1,600 people remain unemployed in the Deeside area. I believe that the Bill will help the unemployed into training and genuine work—work that will benefit their fellow citizens.
My council, Flintshire, estimates that it needs about £16 million over the next five years for capital expenditure on housing. In the first year of the new Flintshire council, following the reorganisation of local government, its credit approval was cut to £1.7 million; the year after that it was cut to £1.4 million. That amounted to an horrendous cut of 45 per cent. over two years—very debilitating for the whole area.
My council has 6,900 families on the housing waiting list. Usually, the families are young, extremely stressed and poverty stricken and, as I have discovered from my surgeries, they are increasingly desperate. All they ask for is a home as a basic foundation for their family. I should like to think that this measure will speed the delivery of something that will enhance my constituents' lives. This Government, thank heaven, are prepared to help some of the more unfortunate constituents in my area.
The current new affordable rented housing programme in Flintshire is laughable. It is a monument to previous Administrations. As of today, just 30 starts by several housing associations are under way. That will not meet the problem that confronts us.
The former Alyn and Deeside district council, which is now subsumed in the new Flintshire county council, passed about £7 million of sales receipts into the treasury of the new Flintshire county council. I make this request of Ministers: I want those receipts recycled now into estates on Deeside. That is the principal plea of my local councillors and it is what residents of those estates seek.
There are in my constituency many large, post-war, aging council estates in urgent need of modernisation. They need repairs and an urgent boost in their environmental quality. Some of our largest decaying estates are frequently the seat of our gravest social problems. Unemployment and decay appear to spawn crime, vandalism, drug abuse and frequent break-ins. The Bill, by enhancing the quality of life on those aging estates, may well help us to tackle the alarming and emerging problems of what is now called the British underclass. I hope that it does.
The Bill is a response to a manifesto commitment worth keeping. It was an important humanitarian promise, which I believe is well kept as it is encompassed in the Bill. The Bill creates jobs. It will improve public health. It will create happiness and satisfaction. It is a simple, eminently justifiable measure. It represents social justice. I support it whole-heartedly and believe that it will probably be the most practical, worthwhile measure that the Government will enact.