Homes for All: Five-year Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 24th January 2005.

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Photo of John Prescott John Prescott Deputy Prime Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Local Government and the Regions, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 3:30 pm, 24th January 2005

It is a great pity that Mrs. Spelman does not do the research to substantiate her allegations. As for a housing crisis, I do not think that anyone doubted that there was one in 1997 when we came to office. There was negative equity, the public sector had been robbed of 1.8 million houses—[Interruption.] Can you shut up for a second while I explain the position? [Interruption.] I am talking to the hon. Member for Meriden.

When we fought the election in 1997, one of the major concerns was the crisis in housing caused largely by boom and bust in the economy. Housing paid the price. Housing investment in the last five years of the previous Administration was slashed by half; it has doubled under ours. The lowest amount of house building for decades occurred at that time. Please do not tell me that there was not a housing crisis and a problem of credibility.

The hon. Lady talks about the council tax and says that we increased it by 30 per cent. in real terms and that, in the four years before we came in, they had cut it by 7 per cent. That is just untrue. Those are some of the facts that she must consider before making accusations in the way that she has.

The hon. Lady talked about building on brownfield land. We have increased that from 57 to 67 per cent., whereas the previous Administration argued whether they could go to 60 per cent., as anybody who remembers the debates in 1997 will know. We have done very well.

On housing density, if the hon. Lady is concerned about the south-east, surely the Conservatives should have raised the density levels required in the south-east in the way that I did—from 25 to 30 per hectare, and it is has now gone up to 35. Therefore, the extra 200,000 houses in our programme can be built on the same amount of land as she planned for 900,000. Using land more efficiently and using brownfield is the way to proceed, and that is exactly what the previous Administration did not do.

On the housing association capital receipts that the hon. Lady mentioned, the housing associations will receive, as they did before, the full receipts. In fact, I have gone a little further. It has always been a common complaint that local authorities are not treated the same as housing associations in regard to capital receipts returns from the sale of homes. On this occasion, we are now giving the returns to the local authorities so that they, like housing associations, can have the full receipts from the sale of homes. That creates the level playing field that I have constantly been asked for.

The hon. Lady will know that council receipts are something like £2 billion this year. According to the Conservative party's policy document, that will be used in all other housing investment areas. She should talk to the shadow Chancellor, because he presumes that the £2 billion that is used at present will be available to him when he calculates the costs. Again, the figures do not add up.

The hon. Lady has a cheek to talk about capital receipts, because the previous Government held back capital receipts. They did not even allow local authorities to replace the housing that was being taken out of the public stock. Indeed, one of the first things that I did when I came to office was to get hold of those capital receipts and begin to improve the stock of all the 2 million houses that were not of a decent standard. In those circumstances, she should look at the consequences of her policies, least of all now that the James report seems to suggest that the Conservatives will slash another £500 million out of the housing programme. When they launched their programme in November, they probably did not tell her that the James report was coming out in January and would effectively slash her proposals in the new housing document.

I thought it was quite offensive when the hon. Lady talked about key worker ghettos. [Interruption.] Did the hon. Lady say that? Did she say that? We introduced a key worker policy when there was not one under the previous Administration, and I have seen an example of it today in Ealing. It is a tremendous development built by both the public and private sectors, and I talked to one of the ladies there. She was absolutely delighted, because she could not have paid the full price. Some 40 per cent. of tenants and key workers in that area are in that position and no one would describe it as a ghetto. I suggest that the hon. Lady go out and have a look at it. The record of the previous Administration was deplorable. They created the crisis and now she is saying that, although everybody agrees that we need more houses, we do not want them in the "nimby" south-east. People in that area do want houses and we will provide precisely what is wanted.