I thank the Minister for advance sight of the Green Paper, although as I had 55 minutes to read 128 pages I am sure that I will have missed some of the detailed nuances of policy. I have a few points on which I request clarification.
I want, first, to welcome the intent of the Green Paper. At last, after 10 years, the Government recognise the scale of the housing crisis over which they have presided: with 71 per cent. home ownership—the highest rate in Europe—our market is under-supplied with land and houses and overheated in terms of demand and reckless mortgage lending. We approach the dangers of another wave of negative equity, such as we experienced in the '80s and early '90s. Mortgage debt is up 150 per cent., people are falling behind on mortgages at a rate double that of last year, and repossessions have trebled since last year. That is just the start: 2 million people on fixed-term mortgages with low interest rates will experience a hike in rates in the next 18 months. First-time buyers and key workers cannot get on to the housing ladder in 93 per cent. of urban areas. The Minister spoke of the highest rate of building for 17 years, but she failed to point out that that is from a record low base, with the 2001 rate one of the lowest on record.
If the ownership crisis was due to Government neglect, the rented housing crisis is directly due to dogmatic Government policy. In the past 10 years, the Government have ended council house building and starved councils of funds, despite tenants' choice to stay with the council. Housing associations have managed to build only half the stock that is needed to replace right-to-buy losses, and only about a third of what the Barker review says is needed. The result is that waiting lists have soared from 1 million to 1.6 million.
We welcome the Green Paper's proposed increases in social housing, but will the Minister confirm that despite all the media trailing by her and by the Prime Minister, the small print means more of the same for the 140 councils whose tenants have democratically chosen to stay with them? Will she confirm that the small print says that any extra money will go to housing associations and 60 arm's length management organisations, and that just a small number of councils will be able to launch partnerships with the private sector on the basis of special Government selection? Will she confirm that it is still proposed to rob the 140 councils that have retained their housing stock of 75 per cent. of right-to-buy money, and that most of those councils will lose up to an average of 25 per cent. of their council rents, whereas a housing association taking over that stock would be allowed to keep the entire sum? The housing and regeneration Bill is supposed to put tenants at the heart of social housing; why, then, in the Green Paper, is the Minister ignoring and punishing those very tenants for exercising their democratic choice to stay with the council as landlord?
The Barker review said that 56,000 new social houses a year would be needed if we were to make any impact on the growing waiting list for social housing. Currently, housing associations have managed an average of about 25,000 houses a year. The Green Paper proposes an increase, by 2011, to only 45,000. Will the Minister explain such poverty of ambition after all the hype, in the face of desperate housing need?
Hon. Members: Come on.
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