Greater London Authority Bill

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 8:08 pm on 12th December 2006.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 8:08 pm, 12th December 2006

The hon. Gentleman is right—but the Tories went on to abolish the GLC, because they did not like who was in charge at the time and what it was doing. That thread runs through the whole thing.

I will support the Bill this evening, although I have one or two reservations, which I hope will be seriously addressed in Committee, because we are dealing with the important issues of what London will be like in the future and how it will develop.

What I find slightly disturbing about the Bill is the large number of reserved powers held by the Secretary of State over London government. To an extent, there have always been reserved powers, but they are still considerable. If, for example, one reads through the clauses on housing, most of the proposals must be made by the Mayor to the Secretary of State before being put out to a form of consultation. I would be much happier if the Government showed far greater trust in the people of London to elect a London authority, which would then be able to do what it believed to be right for the people of London rather than having the Secretary of State hold all those reserved powers. The same degree of reserved powers do not apply in Scotland or Wales, and they were not envisaged in the regional proposals for London, either. That point needs to be considered.

Many hon. Members have already mentioned the housing needs of the people of London. We are in a massive housing crisis in London. My borough is a typical inner-city borough—it is crowded, densely populated, multicultural and multi-ethnic—and 80 per cent. of the population have no prospect whatsoever of being able to buy a property within it, unless they inherit money or win the lottery. The housing choices of those people are therefore limited to either getting on the council list and being nominated for a council or housing association place, or renting privately.

If people are put into private renting by the local authority, they find that they are forced to pay £200 or £300 a week—I have heard about rents of £400 a week—for houses or flats in my area. If the family is in housing need, most of that rent is paid for by housing benefit, so such people are terrified of getting a job, because then they would lose their housing benefit. We have created a perverse benefit trap through the shortage of social housing in London, and we must take seriously the housing needs of the people whom we have been elected to represent.

I shall give the House another example of the problems. The requirement to make a proportion of all housing sites available for social housing or council rented housing is very important. Until recently, my borough limited that requirement to new sites containing 14 units or more. Miraculously, all the building sites came in at 13 units, to make sure that the developers did not have to fulfil any social obligation whatever. The council has now reduced that figure to 10 units or more, which is a slight improvement. Nevertheless, a remarkable number of sites come in at eight or nine units in order to avoid the social obligation.

The result has been that in the past five years only 13 per cent. of all new developments in my borough have been for housing association social rented housing. In other words, 87 per cent. of all the new property has gone either to people who can afford to buy or, in some cases, to shared ownership schemes, which are "affordable". Affordable for whom? If one looks at the prices, it is head teachers and above who can afford to buy into those places. We should end the use of the word "affordable" and start talking about the housing needs of people who are in a desperate situation.

I support any increase in housing powers for the Mayor. The Mayor should have the power to require development sites to be used for social housing or affordable rented housing, which should be provided by either the council or housing associations. That would enable us to start to tackle the desperate housing problem. If we do not tackle the problem, London will become more and more of a divided city. The city will be divided between people who are desperate enough, who have large enough families or sufficiently severe medical conditions, to be rehoused through the local authority system, those who are forced into private accommodation in which they can barely afford to stay, and those who are forced to leave London or move further away.

We will end up with a small number of poor people who live in social rented housing in inner London surrounded by people who are trying to pay huge mortgages in order to stay in the area, but who have much larger incomes. We are creating an increasingly divided city. I want to see really tough powers, to allow the Mayor to insist that 50 per cent. of all development sites, however small they may be, must be for those in desperate social housing need. We must be aware of that important issue.

Opposition Members have been going on about the problems of the developers. Developers in London are making shedloads of money out of the housing shortage. Those organisations are very rich, and the idea that a site should suddenly become "unviable" because we insist on meeting the needs of people who cannot afford to buy is simply unacceptable. It is up to us to do something about the housing crisis.