Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:40 pm on 5th May 2004.

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Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 12:40 pm, 5th May 2004

I beg to move,

That this House
regrets the Government's failure effectively to address the worsening problems of housing affordability, homelessness, sustainable development and house price inflation;
laments the failure to diagnose correctly the underlying causes of house price inflation, including the insecurity of savings under the present Government;
notes the Council of Mortgage Lenders' survey which found that 81 per cent. of the population aspire to home ownership and believes that key workers should not be penalized by high property prices;
further regrets the rising numbers of vulnerable people living in temporary accommodation;
urges the Government to explore new options for accessing empty homes to meet demand for social housing, as well as enabling people to move from social housing to owning their own homes;
further notes that there was no ministerial statement or debate in Government time in response to the Barker Review which itself fails to provide acceptable solutions to these acute problems and poses a serious threat to the nation's green fields, to sustainable communities and to robust local democracy by its recommendation that housing targets be set at a regional level.

When I entered the House in 1997, I made my maiden speech on saving the green belt known as the Meriden gap, which lies between Coventry and Birmingham, but never did I envisage the scale of the assault on that green lung. The Government's changes to planning have led to back gardens being ripped up for executive homes and to neighbour being set against neighbour, making housing almost the hottest issue in areas such as mine. Neither did I expect to stand here facing a Labour Government to lament a rise in homelessness and a decline in affordable housing.

Difficult as it must be, the Government should first and foremost admit that something has gone seriously wrong. The public will not accept that the blame lies elsewhere. Seven years is a long time to be without a proper home. No one can be in any doubt about the seriousness of the housing crisis in this country. Only last week a front-page newspaper headline referred to house price inflation of 19 per cent. Most of us will know someone, usually a young person, who is struggling to get a foot on the property ladder. As MPs, we see constituency cases involving more and more people living in temporary accommodation.

To their credit, the Government have conducted a review—the Barker review of housing, published on 17 March. I say that the Government have conducted a review, but it would be more accurate to say that the Treasury has conducted the review. I have to say that the Barker report bears all the hallmarks of Treasury-focused assessment rather than those of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister or of an environment-based body of work.

The Chancellor waxed enthusiastic on Budget day about the publication of the report, and we all know from his pre-Budget statement in November that he believes that the way to solve the housing crisis is simply to build more houses. There will always be house building, but using it as the key instrument for dealing with affordability is both misguided and na-ve. To believe that mass house building will solve the housing crisis is to misunderstand the nature of the problem. The pattern of misdiagnosing the nature of the problem and prescribing the wrong solution is common under this Government. It appears that their approach to housing is no exception.

There are currently two separate but related problems. It is true that, as a country, we need to increase our housing stock, but there is another problem—house price inflation. The reality is that house price inflation—an economic trend that is snatching the property ladder away from so many people—is in large part a consequence of the Government's own failings. I accept that housing shortages play a part in inflating prices, but even that gives rise to the question of what the Government have been doing for the past seven years to bring about such a decline in house building, bringing us to a position in which fewer new homes were built last year than at any time since 1924. That takes some doing.