Affordable Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:05 pm on 22nd October 2002.

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Photo of Adrian Sanders Adrian Sanders Liberal Democrat, Torbay 7:05 pm, 22nd October 2002

This has been an interesting and sometimes passionate debate, and it is long overdue. My hon. Friend Mr. Foster opened the debate and laid out the case for action. He highlighted the effect of rising house prices on low-income groups. He argued against centralised housing targets and in favour of more powers for local authorities. He committed me to answering the question of Mr. Clifton-Brown about land value taxation, which I shall gladly do.

Mr. Steen is absolutely right. The question is one of supply and the lack of supply of affordable housing. The second problem is that money is relatively cheap to borrow and that cheap money is chasing that lack of supply. It is increasing house prices and raising the entry point to home ownership for lots of moderate and lower income families.

The sale of stock during the 1980s without properly replacing it has exacerbated the existing housing crisis. It is not due to a shortage of land, as some people say, although every hon. Member present will point to a shortage within their constituency. We need a mechanism that will release land—a mechanism that will end speculative windfalls from land that has been kept from the market while the price has risen, that will encourage the most efficient use of space, and that will help to bring empty homes back into use. That mechanism is land value taxation, which is sometimes called site value rating. It is our alternative policy to the uniform business rate. It is not an extra tax but a replacement tax.

The Minister recognised that housing markets vary dramatically across the country. That is important when considering this issue. There is not a single solution that will solve the crisis in every housing market. She mentioned the circumstances that the Government had inherited, but she did not explain why we had to endure three further years of neglect. Only now are additional sums of money are being found for housing.The Minister rightly said that housing should not be seen in isolation. It is certainly our view that it has to be considered alongside all other regeneration, transport, health, social services and planning policies—the whole gambit of Government policy needs to be brought in when considering housing.

The lack of supply is causing immense difficulties for many families. Inadequate or inappropriate housing leads to additional social costs. The lack of social housing is of itself a social cost. There is a link between low educational attainment and poor accommodation. It is more likely that a family in poor, overcrowded accommodation will have a greater demand on social or health services. There is a link between crime and poor housing—so the social cost of not having enough social affordable housing is great.

The hon. Member for Cotswold gave us all the statistics and some of the reasons for the problem. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Totnes was not present for his speech. Perhaps he was watching it on a monitor outside, but I do not remember seeing him here until the very end. [Hon. Members: XHe was here!"] He was not here at the beginning of the debate. [Hon. Members: XWithdraw!"] I will withdraw that accusation if the hon. Gentleman was here for the speech of the hon. Member for Cotswold. He was certainly not here for that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bath, which is probably why he made that attack on the Liberal Democrats, in absentia.

The hon. Member for Cotswold rightly set out all the statistics and explained why we need to do something to increase the supply of affordable housing. He then tried to explain Conservative policies. He talked about the pump priming of brownfield land, but he did not explain how he would do that, or what would be cut from public expenditure or which taxes would be raised to support the policy. The hon. Gentleman wants more homes above shops, but, again, he did not say how that is to happen. He wants to encourage more private sector investment—again, answer came there none as to how that would be achieved.

We then heard about the extension of the right to buy. The Liberal Democrat view is simple: we believe in property ownership and we support the aspirations of tenants who want to become owner-occupiers, but we do not support the rundown in social housing stock that has led to so many of the consequences raised by the Minister, by the hon. Member for Cotswold and by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath.