I beg to move,
That this House
notes that the UK faces an urgent and growing housing crisis;
believes that the Government should bring forward a comprehensive plan to tackle the housing crisis which sets out concrete steps to build more homes, including badly-needed affordable homes, boost home ownership, improve the private rented sector and reduce homelessness and rough sleeping;
and regrets that over the past five years home completions have been at their lowest level in peacetime since the 1920s, that home ownership has fallen to a thirty-year low with a record number of young people living with their parents into their twenties and thirties, that there are 1.4 million families on the waiting list for a social home and that since 2010 homelessness has risen by 31 per cent and rough sleeping by 55 per cent.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have had a promotion since the last time we saw each other. I am now the shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, although we are talking about housing today.
Housing being but one of the hon. Lady’s preoccupations. We welcome her preferment and congratulate her on it.
And I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your re-election. I am delighted that you are in the Chair.
The official Opposition are deeply concerned about the urgent and growing housing crisis, which is why we have chosen it for our first Opposition day debate. Housing has rightly risen up the political agenda in recent months and years, and many of our constituents will say not before time. Our motion calls on the Government to bring forward a comprehensive plan to tackle the housing crisis, which should focus on: building more homes, including badly needed affordable homes; boosting home ownership, allowing people to fulfil their aspirations to buy their own home; improving private renting for the 11 million people now renting from a private landlord; and reducing homelessness and rough sleeping. Let us be clear that the big overarching problem is one of massive under-supply of new homes.
In England, we are building only half the number of homes we need to keep up with demand. It is true that under successive Governments of different political colours there simply have not been enough homes built for decades. It is also the case, however, that in the past five years house building has fallen to its lowest level in peacetime since the 1920s. The Prime Minister likes to maintain that the Conservative party is the party of homeownership, but the truth and the facts fly in the face of his rhetoric. Homeownership has fallen to a 30-year low. It is, as it happens, at its lowest since the last time there was a majority Tory Government.
The average price of a property in my constituency is just shy of £1 million, but it might as well be £10 million because it is simply unaffordable for any normal family—certainly for first-time buyers. We need a comprehensive strategy that looks at releasing public land and attacks these crooked viability studies that developers bring out. Unless that is tackled, we will not build the homes that people need, particularly in areas where there are jobs and where people want to live.
I congratulate Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham council not only on taking over the council a little over a year ago, but on driving up the number of affordable homes through some of the big schemes in my hon. Friend’s constituency. He is absolutely right that many people and families in his and other parts of London have simply given up on buying their own home because the prices are so unaffordable and exorbitant.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the Government’s housing proposals could lead to fewer affordable homes? In Enfield, it would take a couple with one child 20 years to save up a deposit on a house, and the average private rent now consumes 46% of the average weekly wage. This is not affordable for people. Does she agree that the Government’s proposals will not resolve these problems?
I will come on to those proposals in a minute. To pick up on what my right hon. Friend said about rent levels, the previous Housing Minister seemed to suggest in the House only a year and a half ago that rents were going down, whereas we know full well that in many parts of the capital and in many of our other cities they are going up and people are finding it increasingly unaffordable to rent in the private rented sector.
I think that everyone in the House will agree that more houses need to be built. In that spirit, will the hon. Lady agree that the Government’s proposals on brownfield land and for a London land commission are bringing excess public sector, non-operational land into use for housing? That should be welcomed across the House.
Warms words are one thing—we can agree that public sector and brownfield land needs to be built out—but we have heard many warm words over the past five years, and not much has been done. In fact, in my previous position as shadow Housing Minister, I asked the Government what figures they had available on their aim to build 100,000 new homes on public sector land, and answer came there none. They said they were not recording those numbers.
I welcome the hon. Lady to her new post. I had the pleasure of debating against her during the general election campaign. When she was shadow Housing Minister, she was right that rent controls would not work in practice, and her leader was wrong. May I take it that her appointment means that Labour will once and for all abandon this misguided policy, which would drive up rents and choke off investment in the sector?
Given that the hon. Gentleman is such a witty performer in the House, I am sure he can see the distinction between our proposals and 1970s-style rent control, which was never a proposal of the Labour party and which would have meant the state setting the level of rents. I was opposed to that and we never had it in our manifesto or in our plans.
Does my hon. Friend not accept that the crippling level of rents in London is a cause of increasing concern to young Londoners and their families? In every poll and interaction with them, Londoners are demanding a level of rent stabilisation and—yes—workable rent control.
I am sympathetic to the concerns that my hon. Friend expresses, but we take different positions on this issue. I am not in favour of the state setting rent levels.
In January 2014, the hon. Lady’s party placed a motion before the House which was not dissimilar to this one but which claimed that 5 million people were on the waiting list for social homes. In this motion, it claims there are only 1.4 million families on the waiting list. To what does she attribute the reduction?
The Government have tried to manicure the figures, and we have used the Government figures, I am afraid. I think they underestimate the number of families and people on the waiting list. In Wolverhampton, there are 12,000 people on the waiting list for a council or housing association home. We have an affordable homes crisis in our country that the Government are not getting to grips with.
In my constituency, we have seen a reduction in the number of people on the housing waiting list but not in the number of people with housing problems, because the Government have changed the rules. Those people on zero-hours contracts are finding it increasingly difficult to pay the increased rents in my constituency. How can we challenge the Government on this point?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this point. Over the past five years, we have seen a doubling of the number of people in work having to resort to claiming housing benefit to pay their rent. This is simply unacceptable, but again the Government have been complacent about the challenge. This is not just about people struggling to pay their rent; it is about value for money for the taxpayer.
For the first time on record, the rate of homeownership has fallen even below the EU average—so much for the Conservative party being the party of homeownership. In truth, in many parts of the country, wages have not kept up with soaring house prices. The average home now costs 10 times the average salary, and in some parts of the country the ratio is much higher.
I shall come on to that in a minute. We support the principle that people should be able to buy their own homes, but we also think that the Government, weeks into the election campaign, came up with a half-baked proposal that was uncosted and unfunded. They have no plan to replace the homes they will force councils to sell to fund the discount, and they have no plan to replace the homes sold under the scheme.
A number of new builds in my constituency are being bought by foreign buyers, meaning that local people are not getting a look in. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to undertake a review of whether foreign buyers are renting out or occupying the lands they are buying?
I think the Government need to do much more to tackle the problem of empty homes, particularly in the capital. In a number of schemes, glamorous apartments are being built that few local people can afford, and in the evening many of them have no lights on because nobody is at home.
First-time buyers now need to be earning more than ever before, and deposits are 10 times the size of those needed 30 years ago—no wonder that a record number of young people are living at home with their parents into their 20s and 30s. Some get a helping hand from the bank of mum and dad, but others are not so lucky. Many have given up hope of ever being able to buy their own home, and a record 11 million people are now renting from a private landlord, while the shortage of council homes and homes for social rent is pushing up rents and the housing benefit bill. As I just said, the number of people in work and claiming housing benefit has doubled over the past few years, and, most worryingly of all, homelessness and rough sleeping are on the rise.
My hon. Friend is right to point out the increasing numbers of people renting in the private sector. Is she as concerned as I am that a growing amount of my casework is now dealing with housing standards in the private sector? Is it not time we got value for the taxpayer and decent standards for private tenants?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the poor standards in some parts of the private rented sector. The Government need to do more to enable councils to crack down on the worst landlords—the rogue landlords and the “amateur landlords”, as they are politically called in the trade, but who perhaps deserve a more damning name—who do not keep their properties up to standard. That is affecting people’s health, the aspirations of their children and their kids’ ability to get on at school, so this is a very big challenge and my hon. Friend is right to raise it.
I will take our record on building affordable homes over the Government’s record at any time. We had the decent homes programme—[Interruption.]
Well, we built over half a million affordable homes in our term in office, and we have seen the number of homes built for social rent under this Government fall to a 20-year low. We have transformed the lives of all the people living in council houses when they were left to rack and ruin after 18 years of a Tory Government.
The scale of the challenge ahead is therefore huge, but are the Government’s policies up to the task? Let us consider them in turn. First, we have the Government’s proposal to deliver 200,000 starter homes at a 20% discount. When questioned earlier this year on where the discount was coming from, Grant Shapps was completely unable to answer—and no wonder. The Government have said that the 20% discount will save the average first-time buyer £43,000. The likely overall cost would therefore be £8.6 billion. They claim that this will be paid for by removing levies for affordable housing and infrastructure, but their own figures suggest that the average cost of affordable housing contributions accounts for only a third of the proposed discounts. How would the rest of the discount be paid for?
This also poses the question of who will pay for the vital infrastructure that we need in new housing development—a topic on which the Minister for Housing and Planning often speaks? After all, when it comes to new development—he and I know this very well—many people are concerned about the pressure on existing roads, schools and other services. When the Secretary of State responds, will he give us proper answers to these questions?
Secondly, there is the proposal to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants. The Labour party is on the side of those who want to buy their own home. We want as many people as possible to fulfil that aspiration, but the Government’s current proposals raise more questions than they answer. The hon. Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), for South Dorset (Richard Drax), for Salisbury (John Glen), for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and Mark Field have all raised concerns about the ramifications of the Government’s proposals.
The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said that the Tory party had pulled a rabbit out of the hat in the final weeks of the election campaign, and needed time
“to iron out its obvious iniquities”.
The hon. Member for South Dorset said only last week:
“There is no doubt that the first generation would be extremely grateful, but what about those who follow?”, and he expressed concerns about the proposals leading to a shortage of affordable homes. The hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip has said that these plans amount to “insanity”—his characteristic turn of phrase—if more council houses are not built in the areas where they are sold. He also expressed concerns about this policy eroding the mixture of socio-economic groups in London.
“absurd attack from a Conservative Government on the property rights of some of the most needed and respected charities in this country”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 2 June 2015; Vol. 762, c. 391.]
The former head of the civil service and permanent secretary from the Secretary of State’s own Department, Lord Kerslake, and Lord Turnbull, the former permanent secretary to the Treasury, have both said that the Government should think again.
Beyond Parliament, other bodies have raised serious concerns. The CBI has said the proposal does nothing to “solve the problem” of the housing crisis, while the Chartered Institute of Housing said the figures “did not stack up”. We have also seen those well-known socialist publications The Economist, The Spectator, The Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard raising concerns.
The Secretary of State thus needs to provide answers to the following questions. How much will this policy cost? The Conservatives refused to answer that question during the election campaign. The Department has also blocked, after an FOI request, the release of a secret document detailing the policy’s costs and economic consequences. How will it be paid for? The Conservatives claimed during the election campaign that they would force councils to sell off their most expensive properties and use the proceeds to pay for the right-to-buy discount. However, the Government have no idea whether these 15,000 properties will become vacant every year, let alone whether £4.5 billion would be raised.
In a response to a recent written parliamentary question, in which I asked the Secretary of State what estimates the Department had made about the value of these homes and the number that would become available each year, the Housing Minister admitted in his response that it simply did not know. Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us how on earth the Government know how much money they will raise if they do not know how many of these properties there are, how many will become available and how much they are worth. Given that there will be a time lag between forcing councils to sell off expensive council properties and funding the discount, will the Treasury step in to fill the gap? What is the plan to replace the homes sold?
The Government have yet again promised a one-for-one replacement on council homes sold—despite the Secretary of State claiming on the “Today” programme only a few weeks ago that no such promise was made in the last Parliament. I hope he has now had a chance to catch up on Tory party policy. It was their policy and it failed badly. For every 10 council homes sold through the right to buy in the last Parliament, only one council home started to be built. The question thus arises of why anyone should believe the Government’s promises now.
Serious questions have also been asked about the impact of the policy on the ability of housing associations to borrow money and build new homes. Moody’s is now the third credit rating agency to warn about this policy’s impact. It said that it could hit the financial viability of housing associations, risking their ability to raise private finance to pay for new house building. Here in our capital, the biggest group of housing associations has plans to build 93,000 new homes, with the vast majority of the funding coming from borrowing against future rental streams, but how many of those new homes will now be put at risk given that the rental streams and assets are so uncertain?
Legal experts have expressed doubts about forcing independent charities to sell off their assets. Some have said these assets are not the state’s to sell. Some will have been donated through their wills by individuals—some in their dying days—who wanted to provide homes for the most vulnerable people, such as those with disabilities, autism and indeed the aged or the homeless. Perhaps the Secretary of State could tell us whether these housing association properties will be included in the scope of the legislation.
Other experts have suggested that this level of Government involvement with the assets of private independent charities will lead to the reclassification of the £70 billion-worth of housing association debt being reclassified as public sector debt. Have the Government assessed that risk? Ultimately, we will have to see what the Government bring forward, but the test for any housing policy of this Government must be whether it eases rather than deepens the housing crisis.
The hon. Lady and the motion talk about us facing a housing crisis. The social landlords are owners of a substantial balance sheet of housing assets. What I want to get clear is whether the hon. Lady is stating the Labour party’s opposition to the extension of the right to buy in principle, or is she criticising on the basis of whether a practical solution could be brought about. It is important to get the best use of all balance sheets of housing, whether they be social tenants or otherwise.
We need short interventions, as I know we want to hear all the maiden speeches today.
As I have said, we support the right to buy, but policies brought to this House must be workable, must be funded and must be costed. Many people have rightly expressed concerns about whether this will lead to a deepening of the housing crisis and perhaps an even greater shortage of council and housing association homes. Labour Members know that many of our constituents are on the waiting lists.
My hon. Friend has done an excellent job in giving us a comprehensive list of concerns about this policy, but may I add two more? First, many councils have sold off their housing stock in a stock transfer. Does that mean that they need contribute nothing towards the cost of the policy? Secondly, the most expensive houses owned by councils that still have stock are generally in the nicest and most expensive areas. Does that mean that, in future, those areas will not be available to anyone who wants to move into a council house, because all the council houses there will have to be sold off?
I will not, because I am about to answer my hon. Friend’s second question.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the policy will
“reduce the availability of social housing in the most expensive areas, thereby creating clearer divisions between areas where richer and poorer households are located”.
I will now give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I am unclear about the premise of the hon. Lady’s argument. Is she ideologically opposed to the policy, or does she think that it will not work? If it is the latter, did she not advance a similar argument about the affordable rent model? She said then that no money would go back into the system to fund the building of new housing, but that has not been the case. Along with organisations providing other forms of tenure, housing associations have built more homes as a result of the affordable rent model, which was pioneered by the last Government.
With respect, I remind the hon. Gentleman that what the last Government did to affordable rent was redefine it completely, and raise it to 80% of the market rent. In many of my, and his, hon. Friends’ constituencies, that level of rent is simply unaffordable for people on low incomes. Indeed, in some parts of our capital and other big cities, it is even unaffordable for people on middle incomes. I think that the hon. Gentleman needs to get a grip on reality.
I will give way in a minute, but I must make a little progress, because I know that many of my hon. Friends want to make speeches today.
I noted measures in the Gracious Speech relating to development on brownfield land and the right to build, but what is proposed is hardly equal to the scale of the challenge that we face. Where are the measures that will increase competition in the house building industry? Where are the measures that will help small builders? Where are the measures that will provide a new generation of garden cities? Such measures would not only tackle the housing crisis, but help our economy to grow. The house building industry already makes a huge contribution to our economy, but building another 100,000 homes a year would create 230,000 jobs and thousands of apprenticeships.
We must not forget the impact of the housing shortage on business. The CBI and many other business organisations have expressed concern about the lack of affordable homes for their employees. They fear that a failure to build such homes will restrict—and is already restricting—labour mobility and our economic competitiveness. Again, we see a disappointing lack of focus on the Government’s part
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the impact on the building industry. Representatives of Wienerberger, a brick manufacturer in my constituency, have told me umpteen times that, over the past few years, uncertainty about the amount of house building going through the system has caused them an incredible number of problems. Must we not ensure that the supply side of the industry is looked after as well?
That is an important point, which I hope has been heard by Conservative Members. It may be easy for some of the bigger house builders to secure a supply of bricks because they have the necessary leverage, but we are concerned about small house builders. The last time we were building 200,000 homes a year was 25 years ago, when small builders built two thirds of new homes. Now they build barely a third, and they face the problems to which my hon. Friend has referred.
I have spent the last 21 years in the building industry, in a construction firm. The things that you are talking about, the brick shortages and so on, are a direct result of the lack of certainty and the appalling way in which the events of 2008 decimated our industries. We are just returning to those levels. Now, you can talk all you like about—
Order. The hon. Lady must resume her seat.
Let me try to help the House. A great many Members wish to speak for the first time, and I want to try to accommodate them all. We need very short interventions, not statements or speeches, so we now need to move on rather quickly.
Jo Churchill is new to the House, and I do not mind her calling me “you”. That is not the convention, but I am sure that we all sympathise with her. When we first arrived here, it seemed rather strange always to be using the third person. Members who have been here much longer still make the same mistake.
There was a deep recession, caused by the global financial crash, and—I hope James Cartlidge will let the hon. Lady listen to my answer—there were severe problems for the housing industry, including firms on the supply side, such as brick manufacturers. Many builders suffered greatly—not just small builders, but big builders as well. We know that housing starts to recover when there is a general recovery, but our point is that we are not building even half the number of homes that we need to build in order to keep up with demand. The Government need a plan, and a bigger vision, to drive and boost the number of homes being built, but that is not what we are seeing. Over the last five years, we saw piecemeal efforts, and a hyperactive first Housing Minister who made announcements more often than he delivered on any of the promises that he had made at the start of the last Government.
I want to make a little progress. I intended to speak for only about 20 or 25 minutes. However, I may give way towards the end of my speech if I am feeling generous.
The number of affordable homes provided last year was the lowest for nine years, and the number of homes built for social rent hit a 20-year low. However, there seems, again, to be a complete absence of Government proposals for addressing the crisis in affordable housing. The Secretary of State’s predecessor and the current Housing Minister reduced investment in affordable homes to a 14-year low, and watered down all manner of requirements for developers to build affordable homes in new developments. It is incumbent on the Secretary of State to adopt a fresh approach, and we hope that he will do so. He should also look at the definition of affordable homes, which has been totally skewed. Homes are simply unaffordable for many people on low incomes, and the impact on the housing benefit bill has been disastrous, which is also bad news for the taxpayer.
Let me now say a little about the 11 million people who rent from private landlords. There are some excellent private landlords out there, who provide decent homes for their tenants, but too many tenants have to deal with poor standards and great insecurity. Many people—individuals, couples, and families with children—are now settling in the private rented sector, either because they cannot obtain a council or housing association home, or because they cannot get on to the housing ladder. However, there was no mention of private renters in either the Conservative manifesto or the Queen’s Speech. Will the Secretary of State tell us what the Government will do to give that growing group of people the security and stability that they want? Will he also tell us how he will tackle the growing problem of homelessness and rough sleeping?
In the years before he became Prime Minister, the then Leader of the Opposition appeared to take a great interest in homelessness. Along with the former Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, he set up the Conservative Homelessness Foundation. However, we hear little about that foundation now, and, indeed, we near little about these issues. Might that be because homelessness has risen by 31% since 2010, and rough sleeping has risen by 55%? Homelessness and rough sleeping have a devastating impact on the lives of, in particular, those who find themselves in such a position at a very young age. What does the Secretary of State intend to do about this urgent and pressing problem?
The issue of homelessness is clearly absolutely devastating. One only has to walk around the streets of London to see how many people are sleeping rough and begging. They are there for a reason, or rather for several reasons: the lack of council housing, the lack of affordable housing in the private sector, and the fact that properties are deliberately kept empty so that they can be land-banked for the future. Do we not need some really tough regulation to provide housing for all?
This is a serious issue and the Government need to do something about increasing the number of affordable homes. The statistics for our country and other European countries show that the level of homelessness and rough-sleeping directly correlate to the percentage and availability of affordable housing. It is not rocket science: in our country and some other countries where there is a lack of affordable housing, we see an increase in the number of people having to sleep rough on the streets or being referred by their local authorities to what is often called bed-and-breakfast accommodation but which looks nothing like bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the Government need to get a grip on this issue. We are talking about some of the most vulnerable people in our country who are being made to live in temporary accommodation week after week, month after month, and individuals who are not considered to be a priority in law or statute by local authorities and who are simply left sleeping on the streets with all the dangers that entails. They are more vulnerable to being attacked, to violent crime and to dying at a very early age.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the origins of the difficulties in today’s housing market are to be found not in the last Parliament but in the Parliament before that and the Parliament before that and the Parliament before that?
I know the hon. Gentleman is new to this place but all I would say is that that is like a tired old record: this Government cannot keep blaming the last Labour Government. The hon. Gentleman’s people have been in power for the last five years and they have not got a grip on this housing crisis. They have made it worse and they have particularly made it worse for people on low incomes and, in some parts of the country, for people on middle incomes. I am proud of the record we had in Government, but it is the case that there have not been enough homes built for quite some time—for decades—and I will not take lessons from the Conservative party.
The case for a comprehensive plan to tackle the housing crisis is overwhelming. Indeed, at the homes for Britain rally in March the then Conservative party chairman—who is keen on making commitments—committed his party to publishing such a plan within a year of taking office. I am afraid that we have seen nothing of that so far, however. We will need to judge the Government on the test of whether they tackle the housing crisis in a serious way. That is why we have called for a comprehensive plan today. If the Government want to increase home ownership, not manage its decline, if they want to help private renters, not just ignore them, if they want to build more affordable homes and reduce homelessness and not just talk about it while affordable housing supply plummets and homelessness soars, and if they want to drive the wider economic benefits of building more homes too, they must set out a comprehensive, long-term plan to tackle the housing crisis, as we have put forward in our motion today. That is why I commend this motion to the House.
I welcome Emma Reynolds to the Dispatch Box. I had noticed that she had changed jobs, and let me say from the outset that she is absolutely right to raise this issue of huge importance to our country: making sure that people can get a home of their own. It is entirely right that this should be one of the first of our debates. However, in the light of the experience of the past few weeks and the tone that the interim leader of her party took, I was surprised that the hon. Lady was not a bit more rueful about her party’s contribution to the record that this Government are tackling. She herself has admitted in the past that when Labour was in office it built too few homes, so I was surprised at her response to the intervention by my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake. Many Members have made that point, including the former Chairman of the Select Committee, Mr Betts, who was here in the Chamber but who has gone; he said that the Government that he supported did not build enough homes. So I would have expected a bit more humility from the beginning of the hon. Lady’s remarks.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post. I know from my own experience that he will be an excellent, top-class Secretary of State.
Is it not extraordinary that Emma Reynolds said just now that she was proud of the Labour party’s record, when under Labour waiting lists went up from 1 million to 1.8 million and the number of social homes available for rent declined by 420,000?
What is more extraordinary is that the hon. Lady was frank enough to say that she was not proud of that record and that Labour should have built more homes, yet immediately after the election, which might be a time for candour and reflection given that she is supporting one of the candidates for the leadership who wants to change things, she has changed position and become wholly defensive.
It is right to make sure that all homes, including social homes, are in a good state. I served as a trustee of a housing association and we worked very hard to do that. No one is going to gainsay the importance of having decent homes.
Let me make some progress and remind the House of the situation that we inherited from when Labour was last in government, because the electorate clearly has not forgotten. In fact the previous Government’s record led at the end of their time in office to the lowest level of house building since the 1920s. The banks were not lending, the builders were not building, and working people were being denied the opportunity of home ownership. There was a dysfunctional, top-down planning system based on regional strategies. Does everyone remember them? They were very good at producing paperwork and resentment but not very good at producing homes. The stock of affordable homes—
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Under the previous Government, the stock of affordable homes had fallen by 420,000 since 1997, with 1.8 million families languishing on social housing waiting lists. I say that because it is right to be candid about the inheritance if we want to go on and build, across both sides of the House, a strong case for improvement.
I accept part of what the Secretary of State says. The previous Labour Government did not build enough houses and I said so at the time, but this Government came in and poured petrol on the fire. There was the lowest level of house building since the 1920s; they scrapped the biggest council house building programme for 20 years; and last year only 27,000 social houses and only 1,000 council houses were built. That is a disgraceful record.
We must have short interventions if we are going to get other Members in to speak.
I have the figures in front of me and the low point for dwellings started was actually in 2008-09, under the previous Labour Government, when it was 88,000.
My right hon. Friend mentions the regional statistics. Some 24,000 new homes have been made available in the south-west since 2010, and in Somerset specifically between 1997 and 2010 there were only 440 homes per annum, whereas there have been 900 homes per annum since 2010.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
The point I wanted to make is not that we have built all the homes that were needed—it would be absurd to say that—but that we have turned around a situation that was proving ruinous and was destroying the aspirations of people up and down the country.
I will make some progress but then of course I will give way to the hon. Lady.
I think it is fair to reflect at the beginning of this Parliament on the situation we inherited and that that had gone wrong under the previous Government. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East and other hon. Members, including Clive Efford, have been good enough to admit that not enough was done under that previous Government, but as for the solutions that Labour has suggested, the hon. Lady should again reflect on the fact that she was the shadow Housing Minister in the period running up to the election campaign, and I again might have expected her to be a little more self-deprecating about her own record of promoting solutions to the problems of getting homes built.
Yesterday, one of the hon. Lady’s close colleagues, Yvette Cooper, cited Labour’s failure on housing policy as one of the reasons that Labour lost the election. She said that her party’s plans for housing at the election “lacked ambition” and that they failed to explain to the voters how they would help first-time buyers. The prescription that she offered the British people just four weeks ago included a mansion tax, rent controls and restrictions on home ownership. Does she still agree with those policies? Are they still party policy? They would have been a disaster for the people of this country, and that is not just my view; it is the view of the electorate and also of the acting leader of the Labour party.
The verdict on the hon. Lady’s proposals at the election was delivered very comprehensively.
I mentioned the interim leader of the Labour party. She commissioned polling on why Labour did not win the election and said that it
“uncovered a feeling of relief among Labour voters that the party had not won”.
She also said:
“It doesn’t matter how many leaflets you deliver if the message is not right.”
Even senior Labour Members have reflected on the fact that their housing policies at the election were not adequate for the task. I concede that there is one exception, however. Andy Burnham, who I gather is running for office, has said very boldly that the last election manifesto was
“the best manifesto I have stood on in four general elections for Labour”.
That gives us an insight into the future of the party’s prospects. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East agrees that it was a manifesto worth fighting on.
The Secretary of State seems to have an awful lot to say about the record and policies of the last Labour Government but, surprisingly, a lot less to say about his own Government’s record over the past five years. Will he explain why the number of homes built for social rent has fallen to a 20-year low?
I have been indulgent in answering Labour Members’ questions, but I am nevertheless keen to explain the different approach that we took at the beginning of the last Parliament.
I want to make some progress and answer the hon. Lady’s question.
Housing starts, and the number of first-time buyers, have doubled since their low point under Labour, and they are continuing to rise. In the shadow Minister’s city of Wolverhampton—a place that I know well—the number of housing starts has more than tripled since 2010, and 200,000 households have been helped to buy a home of their own by Government schemes such as Help to Buy. We were the first Government since the 1980s to finish with a larger stock of affordable homes than when we came to office. Homelessness is an important issue. I am a former trustee of a hostel for homeless women, and this has been a great passion of mine for many years. Homelessness obviously still needs to be tackled, but it has been at half the level that it was under the previous Government, and it is now lower than in 26 of the last 30 years. Our manifesto committed us to build on that progress, supporting the aspirations of home buyers and building more homes.
There are now 11 million people living in the private rented sector, and many of them want more stability and security. Will the Secretary of State explain why there was no mention of private renters in the Queen’s Speech and no proposals to improve private renting?
I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. Not everything needs primary legislation to enable us to take action. Today, the Minister for Housing and Planning, my hon. Friend Brandon Lewis, allocated a fund to help to improve standards in the private rented sector, and it is important to drive those up. One of the features of the city deals that I was responsible for negotiating in the last Parliament was the investment in very high quality private rented sector accommodation, and I am glad that the hon. Lady shares the aspiration to ensure that private renters can enjoy high quality accommodation.
I represent a constituency in a borough in which nearly 20,000 people need housing, private rents are around £350 a week and a small flat costs around £400,000 to buy. What policies is the Minister putting forward to ameliorate the housing crisis that people are facing in high-cost inner-London areas?
Housing zones are being implemented right across London. I was with the Mayor yesterday at City Hall, where on the ground floor there is a great map of London which I invite Members to visit. Emblazoned on that map are emblems for all the housing zones right across London, with images of the plans that are being implemented to provide accommodation. That is an important step in the right direction, and it will be important for the people of Islington.
I very much support the Government’s plans for more affordable housing, but does the Secretary of State acknowledge that it is important to implement the neighbourhood planning process that was introduced in the Localism Act 2011 so that people are able to form local plans to increase affordable housing?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was not surprised to discover that when we replace top-down imposition at regional level, which the Localism Act got rid of, and allow local communities to embrace the need to provide for their own future, they do so with alacrity. My hon. Friend is right to point out that where neighbourhood plans have been adopted up and down the country, the number of homes has increased. Heidi Alexander served on the Localism Bill Committee, where we debated this matter at great length. It is gratifying to see that the measures are now working.
In effect, the choice at the general election was the same as that set out by Churchill before the 1951 election. He said that
“we are for the ladder, and they are for the queue”.
The judgment of the public was clear in this year’s election. They chose the ladder and said no to the queue. To be the Secretary of State responsible for housing is a big responsibility, and I intend to discharge it vigorously and effectively. In 1951, Harold Macmillan was handed the housing post, along with the task of building 300,000 homes a year by 1955. On appointing him, Churchill added the helpful reminder that his actions would make or mar him. I will not reveal anything that the Prime Minister said to me, except to say that his admiration for Macmillan runs extremely deep.
We have wasted no time in unveiling an important set of measures, including a new housing Bill in the Queen’s Speech. We will help more people across the country to buy their own home, and build more homes right across Britain. On house building, 275,000 extra affordable homes will be built with £38 billion of public and private investment, achieving the fastest rate of delivery for 20 years, and 95,000 new homes will be built in brownfield housing zones by 2020. A new brownfield register will be created, with 90% of suitable sites granted planning permission by 2020. A London land commission will co-ordinate development of land in the capital.
The acceleration in the pace of affordable house building is happening right across the country, and it is our intention to put further fuel in that engine.
I find the Secretary of State’s complacency absolutely breathtaking. As my hon. Friend Heidi Alexander has said, the building of affordable homes is at a 20-year low. In my constituency, people are living in cars as a result of that and of benefit changes. Does the right hon. Gentleman find that acceptable?
I think that the Opposition were complacent about the record that they left and the poor quality of the policies that they proposed. In relation to Oldham and to Greater Manchester, I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the Greater Manchester agreement and the city deal, which has explicitly created a housing fund for the area reflecting the principles of localism that my hon. Friend Dr Murrison mentioned. This will allow the leaders of Manchester to invest in more homes for Greater Manchester. That is a big step in the right direction.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his new job. I wish him well. I cannot, however, believe that he compared the current Prime Minister to Winston Churchill.
One of the reasons why London is better than Paris and New York is that our inner cities are diverse. Families of all different backgrounds live there. Does the Secretary of State recognise that if councils are forced to sell a third of the most expensive council properties, inner cities will be hollowed out, which will lead to social cleansing?
I certainly respect and celebrate the diversity of our cities. It is an essential part of their character. In the requirements that we make, we will ensure that the replacement is within the communities from which something has been taken. It is important to preserve that. I was on the board of an inner-city housing association in central London, and that made an important contribution to the city centre.
My hon. Friend Dr Murrison mentioned neighbourhood planning. He is absolutely right that that has made a big contribution. We will simplify neighbourhood planning and provide extra funding for councils so that communities can get on and accelerate such plans.
The Secretary of State mentioned the standard of private rented accommodation. Does he agree that if local authorities were allowed to use council tax application forms to ask tenants to give information about their landlords, it would help to root out rogue landlords, illegal sub-letting and the illegal development of houses in multiple occupation, which sadly are below standard?
I am interested in my hon. Friend’s idea. I have not heard that suggestion before, but I will take it seriously. I say to all hon. Members that, for all our debates, there is a unity of purpose across the House in the desire not only to build more homes, but to improve the standards of homes available to people in the rental sector. I encourage everyone, as she has done, to join in ensuring that we can make a big difference in this Parliament to the level of house building.
I will make some progress, if I may, because a lot of people want to speak.
So far, we have debated statistics, targets and timelines, which tends to happen in the House of Commons. We should, however, also reflect that when we are talking about homes, we are talking about some of people’s most fundamental aspirations, which go to the heart of the security that they feel in their lives, giving them a place in which they can bring up their families.
One of my abiding memories of the election campaign was being with my hon. Friend David Mowat—I do not know whether he is present in the Chamber—on that beautiful bank holiday weekend. We were in a new housing estate, Edgewater Park in Latchford, near Warrington. That weekend, simultaneously, many couples and young families were moving into the new homes built on that estate. Just to be there then was a moment of huge excitement and thrill.
For many people, it was their first ever home and many had bought under Help to Buy. They were meeting their neighbours for the first time, establishing friendships in those moments that in many cases will last a lifetime. We could taste the buoyant mood in the air as families crossed the thresholds of their new home for the first time. It was joyful, confident and optimistic. In all of our debates about statistics, we should be clear that underneath the statistics are real people, people whose aspirations we are supporting. They want to own their own home and we will hold out that opportunity—the chance of a ladder, not a queue.
I want to make some progress. That is why we support Help to Buy, with more than 100,000 households—on present trends—going through the scheme. Our manifesto has committed us to extend Help to Buy with the equity loan scheme until 2020. We will introduce a Help to Buy individual savings account scheme to add 25% to savings for the deposit that people need to invest in their own home.
Does the Secretary of State accept that under a Labour Government there were 2 million more homes, 500,000 more affordable homes and 1 million more homeowners? Does he also accept that the dream of homeownership for millions has now been put beyond them and that we have seen homeownership under his Government fall to a 30-year low?
I have high regard for the hon. Gentleman, but the number of homeowners, as a result of policies such as Help to Buy, has turned the corner. We now have more first-time buyers than we have had for many years. However, he is right to say that we have a deficit from those years when, I am afraid to say, his party was in government and house building collapsed. It is not sufficient only to build the number of homes for new families that are being created; we need to correct the deficit that occurred because of the collapse in house building that started under the previous Government.
That is why we are investing in our proposals to extend the Help to Buy ISA. It is important for people to be able to get on to the housing ladder for the first time if they do not have a deposit. That is why we will offer more than 1 million housing association tenants the option to buy their own home. The aspiration is not an unusual one for them. Most people, in all parts of the country, consistently aspire to own their own homes. There is no difference between people in different tenures; they want to own their own home. That has been remarkably consistent over the decades.
I will make some progress, then of course I will give way.
Twenty years ago, 85% of people said that they would choose to buy their own property if they could. In 2010, five years ago, that figure was almost unchanged at 86%. As has been correctly observed, however, our country faces a dilemma. Over recent years the aspiration for and the reality of homeownership have drifted apart. The number of first-time buyers, as I said, is at a seven-year high—it was 264,000 last year, compared with 130,000 in 2009. That is why we helped 200,000 households to buy their home during the previous
Parliament, but of course we have further to go. One of the problems is that the 1.3 million tenants in housing association properties have received little or no assistance.
On the question of forcing housing associations to sell their properties, does the Secretary of State not have even a flicker of guilt about trying to bribe the electorate with assets that the Government do not own?
Order. The Minister has spoken for nearly 30 minutes and I am bothered about the amount of time remaining as we still have another Front Bencher.
I will proceed, but all I would say to the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington is that when most people aspire to own their own home, we should not say to them that they may not aspire—it was Lord Prescott, I am afraid to say, who said of aspiration:
“What the hell does that mean?”
Both Government and Opposition should be finding ways to allow people to own their own home. Housing association tenants are not different from the rest of the population. They live in the same streets, their kids go to the same schools, they share the same ambitions for their families as anyone else, but they do not benefit from the same opportunities. Clearly, that is unfair. Aspiration is not determined by the organisation that happens to manage one’s home and it should not be limited by that organisation, especially if it is ultimately funded by the taxpayer. That is why we will ensure that housing association tenants have the same right to buy as council tenants. Our position is clear.
I will not, given what Mr Deputy Speaker had to say.
Our position is clear, but we have had no such clarity from the Labour party. What is its position? Should tenants have the option to buy their own home, or do we tell them that if they sign a social tenancy, they have signed up to remain renters for life? We are building on the legacy of previous Conservative Governments, and I am delighted to see Lord Heseltine in the Public Gallery. He was instrumental in introducing the original right to buy policy.
Our pledge will build on our strong record during the previous Parliament, when twice as many council homes were built between 2010 and 2015 as were built during the entire 13 years of the previous Labour Government. We will also support the desire of local communities for homes to be built in the right places. We will emphasise brownfield sites, as has been made clear in my response to earlier interventions. Our planning reforms, which were resisted or given only a guarded welcome by Dr Blackman-Woods when we first introduced them, have been successful, as she would now concede. The plans coming forward under the national planning policy framework are providing for 23% more homes than those they replaced. Neighbourhood planning is making a big contribution, right across the country.
This Government are on the side of the working people of this country. We are for the ladder, not the queue. We are for the housing association tenant who aspires to buy their home, for the young family who want to sign up for a starter home, and for the couple who have always dreamed of owning their own home—with Help to Buy, we are helping them with their aspirations. We will support their aspirations. We will build more homes in every part of the country, so that Britain is a country of opportunity, where everyone who works hard can realise their dream of home ownership. That is the proud Conservative legacy, stretching back generations, from Disraeli to Macmillan, from Thatcher to Cameron. We are for the many, not the few, for the ladder, not the queue.
Order. I just want to say that after the next Front-Bench speech we will have a six-minute limit, but that does not apply to Dr Eilidh Whiteford.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I say how refreshing it is to be called so early in the debate? I can assure you that that novelty will not wear off quickly.
I begin by welcoming both the Secretary of State and Emma Reynolds to their new roles. I also commend the official Opposition for dedicating their first Opposition day to housing, where the crisis is “urgent and growing”, as they so aptly put it. I trust they will not think I am making too barbed a comment when I say that I hope that reflects a change and a new prioritisation of housing on their part. As others have said, it is hard to avoid the inconvenient truth that this crisis goes back decades and reflects chronic underinvestment in social housing by successive UK Governments, Labour as well as Tory.
That is one key issue that needs to be clearly stated today. The other is the deceptively simple point about supply and demand: there is a critical shortage of affordable housing in almost every part of the UK. In some ways, that is so obvious as to be self-evident. If it is not evident to Members of this House yet, it will be after the first round of constituency surgeries. I repeat that simple point because that shortage—that lack of supply of affordable homes—is the problem from which almost all the other issues stem. Unless we bite the bullet and start building affordable homes at scale, we will make limited headway and we just will not address the housing crisis.
I can assure the House that housing is a priority for the SNP, and I hope I can look forward to hearing contributions from one or two of my new colleagues who will be seeking to catch your eye to make their maiden speeches in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. Although much of housing policy in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, we cannot forget that the financial framework in which it operates is determined here at Westminster. When we consider the need for investment in affordable housing, particularly housing for social rent, we need to take account of the ongoing impact that austerity is having on the ability of social landlords to invest in new housing stock, and of the impact of cuts in capital expenditure on the ability of devolved and local governments to meet housing need. Scotland has had a 25% real-terms cut to its capital budget since 2010, and ongoing austerity will restrict the ability of future Governments to respond adequately to a growing shortage of affordable housing.
The priority the SNP attaches to housing is underlined by the fact that despite the austerity cuts, the Scottish Government are on track to invest more than £1.7 billion in housing and deliver 30,000 new affordable homes by the end of their Parliament next year. They are already more than 90% of the way there. That track record compares very favourably with every other part of the UK and, indeed, with previous Administrations in Scotland. Perhaps the most illuminating measure to illustrate the relative performance of the Government’s delivery of social housing across Great Britain is the ratio of completions per 100,000 of population. Last year the figure in Scotland was 65.3, which compares with only 44.7 in England and 24.6 in Wales. It is worth noting that since 2007 Scotland’s ratio of completions has outperformed the rest of the UK for all types of housing, not just social housing, although those rates are still below pre-recession levels and the construction sector is still facing very challenging times.
Although the Government have made much of their plans to extend right to buy to housing associations—a move that will compound rather than address the under-supply of affordable housing—we have gone down a different route in Scotland and ended the right to buy. That will enable us to keep up to 15,000 precious homes in the social sector over the next decade, and will protect the public investment that has been made in affordable housing. With nearly 200,000 people on the list for a council house in Scotland, we simply cannot afford to be depleting the stock further, and ending the right to buy is giving social landlords greater confidence to invest in new builds.
Although I am making a case for investment in social housing, I want also to make clear the essential and valuable role that the private rented sector plays in our housing market. I want a thriving private rented sector that is an attractive and affordable option for tenants, and I am pleased that the Scottish Government established a strategy back in 2013 to enable growth and investment in the sector, to help improve the overall housing supply, and to improve consistency in the quality of management and the condition of property for rent. Measures such as the tenancy deposit scheme, the introduction of first-tier tribunals for disputes and the plans for further legislation to introduce a statutory code of conduct for letting agents are beneficial to landlords and tenants alike.
But social housing remains a foundational piece of the housing jigsaw, possibly more so now than ever, as the spiralling property prices of recent decades have made home ownership increasingly unattainable for people on ordinary incomes. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East said, the average house price in some parts of the country is 10 times the average salary. In Scotland, it is seven times the average salary, and that is simply not sustainable. The days when people could borrow only three times their salary are long gone, but I remember that when I got my first mortgage I was advised not to borrow that much because I would have to live, sustaining myself on what was left. Many people on good wages now cannot even think about buying a house. We have had exceptionally low interest rates in recent years, but I have real concerns about the level of debt many people are taking on just to house themselves and their families. I worry very much about how many of those people, who are mortgaged up to the hilt, will manage to service their debts when interest rates start to rise, as they inevitably must, given the floor they are on at the moment.
That is the context in which home ownership has hit its 30-year low. Demand for rented accommodation in both the private and social sectors has soared, driving up rents to eye-watering levels in some places, not least here. For those on lower incomes, market rents in the current environment are just not realistic, and so demand for social housing is at unprecedented levels, too. Selling off housing association homes is not going to address that underlying problem; it just makes the problem worse because it fails to create any new supply to meet the demand that is growing in the market.
It is worth making explicit the negative impact that this housing market failure is having on our social security system and our public spending. Housing benefit is one of the biggest-ticket items in the Department for Work and Pensions budget. As Ministers never tire of pointing out, the housing benefit bill has escalated substantially, and quite disproportionately, in recent years: there has been a 54% real-terms increase across Great Britain over the past decade. It is important that the House understands why that is happening, because to a very large extent those increases in the housing benefits bill are being driven by increases in private sector rents in areas of high demand and low supply of affordable housing. Almost a third of the increase is attributable to London alone—although there are other hotspots—but the Government do not want to accept that rents in this city are out of control and increasingly outwith the means of people earning normal wages. We are not even talking about low-paid people; we are talking about people with well-paid jobs who simply cannot afford a market rent. I hope the Government will take their head out of the sand and confront that issue.
By contrast, in those parts of the UK where the housing pressures are not quite so acute, increases in housing benefit have been much more manageable and sustainable. In Scotland, for example, the inflation-adjusted increase in housing benefits for those in the social housing sector was only 6% over the same decade, which does not sound unmanageable. In Scotland—this is a key point—the ratio of housing benefit expenditure to GDP in the social rented sector was lower in 2012 than it was in 1997. That should give the Government and the Opposition Front Bench real food for thought.
It would be very wrong to debate the housing crisis without mentioning the bedroom tax. In Scotland, around 70,000 households are liable for the bedroom tax, and 80% of them—much higher than in the rest of the UK—are the home of a disabled adult. Those are the people who already have the least choice in where they live. They are staying in the cheapest homes, and those homes have been allocated to them on the basis of their social need, not their household size. Given the depletion of the most modern social housing stock, thanks to the right-to-buy scheme, most of our extant council houses were built in an age when people had much bigger families, so we have a serious mismatch between the size of the available houses and the needs of today’s tenants. If 60% of tenants need a one-bedroom property, but only 30% of the housing stock is that size, it does not take a maths genius to identify the underlying structural problem.
Although the Scottish Government have provided money to ensure that everyone affected by the bedroom tax in Scotland can get a discretionary housing payment, that legislation remains on the statute book and tenants remain legally liable. I hope that the Scotland Bill currently going through the House will devolve the power to repeal that legislation in Scotland. I appeal to Ministers to look again at the punitive impact that the bedroom tax is having on some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in our communities right across the UK, and recognise that it is simply not addressing the systemic issues underlying the housing crisis, namely chronic under-supply, under-investment and rents that have spiralled out of control.
Before I conclude, I wish to say a few words about homelessness, because the motion specifically alludes to a rise in homelessness and rough sleeping. I have no doubt that recent changes to social security, delays and mistakes in the benefit system and the new sanctions regime are major contributory factors in those sharp increases, but on tackling homeless, it is important to put it on the record that in the past five years, the number of homeless applications in Scotland has fallen by 36%, and last year applications were down 8% on the previous year. That is not accidental. It is a consequence of progressive legislation that ensures that anyone who is assessed by the local authority as unintentionally homeless has a legal right to settled accommodation. That legislation has been recognised internationally as world leading and has been commended by the UN.
It has not been easy to deliver those achievements. I pay tribute to the local authorities that have been working closely with the Scottish Government to reduce those figures. They have done that mostly by focusing efforts on prevention—preventing the most vulnerable from becoming homeless in the first place—and, crucially, by building many more houses in the affordable sector.
We have made progress, but more needs to be done. I hope the Secretary of State will look seriously at how Scotland has reduced the rate of homelessness, and consider what might be emulated in a different context.
The housing crisis cannot be fixed overnight, but the first step is to acknowledge the roots of the problem. It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that under-investment in social housing by successive UK Governments has been a costly oversight and a big mistake. It is important that this Government acknowledge that their approach has been short-sighted and short term and that it has short-changed us all. Selling off the housing stock will not solve the problem, nor will pushing disabled tenants into the private sector.
Sorry, I will not give way as I am winding up. Such schemes avoid the real challenge, which is a need for a step change in investment in social housing. If the Government really want to house people and give them a decent place in which to live, they should understand that it is about security of tenure and having a place that people can call their home. I fear that until we are prepared to put money into building social housing, which incidentally would boost our economy and help our struggling construction industry, we will be back here repeatedly debating these issues over the next five years.
As this is the first housing debate in which I have spoken in this Parliament, I will take the opportunity to draw Members’ attention to my declaration of interests as a landlord and a solicitor in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I also take the opportunity to welcome the shadow Secretary of State and our new Secretary of State to their places. I look forward over the coming months to debating many issues around housing here in this Chamber.
I support the Government’s new right-to-buy policy of extending home ownership to 1.3 million housing association tenants. As a flagship policy of the last general election, the policy demonstrates the Conservative party’s commitment to home ownership and helping people achieve their aspiration of owning their own home. I hope that, through debate in this Chamber, this excellent policy will be improved. There are two areas on which I wish to focus today, although I do understand that the policy is still being developed.
Rural exception sites, as set out by the National Planning Policy Framework, are often owned and managed by housing associations. Members will probably be aware of such sites in their own constituencies. They are often outside a village boundary, and always outside existing planning policy. They are built in locations where market housing would not be acceptable because of local planning constraints. The local community may come forward with a site, but those sites can be brought forward only where there is proven and demonstrable need for affordable housing. I am talking here about areas such as the Lake district, Dingle’s Way in Cornwall, which I have visited, and local areas in my constituency.
If such rural exception sites were to become subject to the right to buy, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to see how they could be replaced. The Government have made a commitment for a one-to-one replacement following exercise of the right to buy policy in the local area—that was in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s own guidance. That is not possible with rural exception sites. They are by their very nature exceptional and there is not the land available to replace that needed affordable housing. Will the Minister confirm that, as he develops the new extension to the right-to-buy policy as it affects housing associations, he will consider exempting rural exception sites from the policy, and inform the House what assessment he has made of the impact of this policy on social housing, particularly in national parks?
The second point on which I wish to focus is the discount available to housing association tenants. The discount is significant and will, I think, attract housing association tenants who want to own their own home. But will the Government consider doing that by way of equity loan rather than a straight discount?
We have seen the equity loan scheme used to great success as part of the hugely popular Help to Buy scheme. The reason why I propose an equity loan rather than a straight discount is that the interest rate will be payable after five years and, crucially, the Government will keep an equity stake in those houses as property prices increase. That will ensure a better return for the taxpayer and will enable the Government to benefit on a long-term bat on the property market, especially in areas of high demand, such as central London. This policy has, as its aspiration, a one-for-one replacement. It may be that an equity loan scheme, which will see more money coming back to the Government when the property is subsequently disposed of, will enable us to aim for a one-to-one-and-a-quarter replacement, or a one-to-one-and-a-half replacement as the policy matures over the years.
It is clear to me that an equity loan, as opposed to a straight discount, would not be a clog on the sales of right-to-buy properties. As I have said, the scheme has been used very successfully in Help to Buy. Crucially, it creates a level playing field between those in the social sector who are looking to exercise their right to buy with the help of the Government and those in the private sector looking to exercise Help to Buy with the help of the Government. I hope that, as the Government develop this policy, they will consider those two points. I look forward to working with Ministers over the course of the legislation to see whether those ideas can be incorporated.
Finally, let me touch briefly on the private rented sector. All of us who hold constituency surgeries will know that the British housing journey has changed. Traditionally, people would expect to be in private rented accommodation for a couple of years and then move into a house that they own. Now, people live in the private rented sector for up to 10 years or more. The assured shorthold tenancy has failed to change as the British housing journey has changed and is often not fit for purpose for people who are going to be in the private rented sector for a long period. That is why I support the work the Government have done on promoting family-friendly tenancy. I hope the Minister will be able to give us details of the uptake of such tenancies and, crucially, what stage he has reached in negotiations with lenders to ensure that, when lending to buy-to-let landlords, they have removed from their facility agreements some of the preclusions on granting tenancies in excess of one year.
I will not be supporting the Opposition’s motion, but I look forward to taking part in more debates in this Parliament.
I am absolutely delighted that our first Opposition day debate of this Parliament is about housing, because very few issues are more important to the economic and social life of the country. As is often the case, it is important to look at the particular, rather than the general, in order to get a proper understanding both of the Government’s proposals and of the nature of the problems we face, and I want to talk about London in that context.
London faces unique challenges and has done for many years, but that is even more the case at present. We are now the second most expensive city in the world in terms of house prices. To buy a home in London, one needs nine times the average salary, which is a record figure. It is no coincidence that home ownership has become less feasible for Londoners. The number of homeowners has shrunk: fewer than half of all London households are now in home ownership, and in my constituency just three out of 10 households own their own homes.
Social housing supply is also shrinking—we have already heard about some of the consequences of that—so demand inexorably turns to the private rented sector, pushing up rents, but also pushing up state subsidy in the form of housing benefit. It now costs the taxpayer £9 billion a year to subsidise private housing alone. Between 2010 and 2014, the Government spent £115 billion subsidising housing demand through home ownership support and housing benefit. I believe very strongly that there are better ways than that and the Government’s latest proposals to spend that money.
I do not think it is feasible for everyone to own their own home, but I very much support methods of encouraging home ownership for those for whom it is feasible. I regret—this is a particular problem in London—that the shared-ownership model of supporting home ownership for people on low incomes is broken. We need to put fresh life into it and I believe that that is probably a better way of supporting an increase in home ownership in higher-cost areas.
The simple fact is that the Government’s proposal for the right to buy housing association properties is massively expensive and we do not have answers from them as to how it will be properly funded. The National Housing Federation estimates that it will cost £11.6 billion, and Boris Johnson, in his capacity as the Mayor of London, described it before the election as a crazy measure that would require “massive subsidies.”
My hon. Friend will be aware that, for every 10 council properties sold, only one new property is built, and the concern about extending the right to buy to housing association properties is that it will reduce the already finite stock. If the Government proceed with their proposal and I table an amendment proposing that there should be a legal obligation to replace sold properties in the local area on a like-for-like basis, would my hon. Friend support that amendment?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend that the issue with right to buy is replacement, as has been the case for some years. I will come to that in a moment.
The Government tell us that, in order to fund the cost of the discount for housing association sales, the replacement of properties and the investment in brownfield regeneration, they intend to force local authorities to sell high-value stock. We are not yet clear about whether they propose a regional solution whereby a third of properties would be sold by region, or whether they will require each individual local authority to sell those properties. As my right hon. Friend has said, it will be extremely difficult to replace properties.
What will be the consequences of forcing local authorities to sell off their stock? Put simply, they will not be able to meet their housing obligations, carry out tenant transfers, relieve overcrowding, assist people with high medical priorities or assist homeless households. In London, it is estimated that, in my local authority, which is one of the high-value areas that will be most affected, the proposal will end lettings. We have roughly 400 lettings a year from void stocks—there will be no more. How are such consequences meant to respond to constituents’ housing needs?
That is another London problem and it also very much a problem for the cash flow of housing providers, including housing associations, about which the Government have no answers.
Forcing London local authorities to sell higher-value properties will reduce our stock by up to two thirds. That means that there will be no provision in those London areas and housing need will be displaced into other local authorities.
I am not going to give way again, because other Members want to speak.
The proposal will also result in further costs for the housing benefit bill. People who would have been housed in relatively row rent local authority stock will now have to be placed in the private rented sector, where the properties are much more expensive.
As my hon. Friend Emma Reynolds has said, Lord Kerslake from the other place has estimated that the proposal will also result in the loss of £5 billion-worth of housing investment in London. I do not know how Londoners approaching an election next year are going to feel about the fact that, despite the incredibly high pressure on housing in the capital, they are going to lose £5 billion-worth of housing stock.
There are a number of unanswered questions about how this is all going to work, some of which have been asked by my hon. Friend. I would have loved to have gone through them, but, because time is pressing, I will not do so. We will return to them in the Bill. The Government have, however, failed to answer one critical point, and I think that is deliberate. They are talking about a one-for-one replacement. There have been no guarantees, but they are not talking about a like-for-like replacement. We know perfectly well that properties sold from the local authority stock tended to be of better quality and provided family-sized accommodation, but there is no guarantee that replacement properties under this proposal will provide such accommodation.
This is a fundamentally flawed scheme in many important respects. We have heard this week that Conservatives returned in the election have finally—and too late—begun to make clear their concerns about the bedroom tax. Would it not be wonderful if for once the Government could recognise the flaws in a scheme before they implemented it rather than afterwards?
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. Let me also take the opportunity to wish you a very happy birthday today, although I do not wish to blot my copybook by mentioning which birthday it is. It is a particular pleasure to follow Ms Buck, who has, I know, taken a long-standing interest in housing issues.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. Sir Richard Ottaway. He was an officer in the Royal Navy before he came to this place, he served as Michael Heseltine’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, he served on the Front Bench in opposition and he served in the Whips Office in John Major’s Government—a fairly challenging task, but one that we hope will not need to be repeated during the course of this Parliament, judging by the size of last night’s majority.
Sir Richard served with great distinction as Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and in that capacity was banned by the Chinese from entering Hong Kong—a sure sign that he must be doing something right. There was, however, one biting disappointment late in Sir Richard’s career. I refer, of course, to the Westminster dog of the year event, in which his beloved spaniel Roxy was beaten by an Alsatian from Stoke-on-Trent South and a poodle from Surrey Heath. Fortunately, I can report that Sir Richard has now recovered from the abject humiliation of being beaten by the Justice Secretary’s poodle and I know that hon. Members will want to join me in wishing Sir Richard, Lady Ottaway and their spaniel Roxy well in their life after Parliament.
Croydon South is a fantastic constituency with diverse communities ranging from Coulsdon through Purley, Kenley, Selsdon, Sanderstead and Waddon to Croham. I shall try to be of service to everybody in the constituency, regardless of their background. Some people think of Croydon South as having sprung up in the 1920s and 1930s, but let me correct them. The earliest constituents in Croydon South turned up in Neolithic times, on my doorstep at a beautiful place called Farthing Downs in Coulsdon, in the year 10,000 BC. I lay claim to Croydon South being the longest continuously inhabited constituency in the country.
Urbanisation came with the arrival of the railway in 1841, if Members will forgive me for skipping over the intervening 12,000 years in the interests of the time limit. I can see that you approve of that, Mr Deputy Speaker. Many of us today rely on the railway to get into London, but I am sorry to say that Southern has not been performing well recently. It has been terrible. But I am pleased to report that the Rail Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Claire Perry, whom we met the week before last, has promised personally to get to grips with this serious problem.
Kenley airfield in the constituency was in the front line of this country’s defence during the battle of Britain. The extraordinary feats accomplished in that summer, 75 years ago, serve to remind us of what this nation can achieve when we pull together as one United Kingdom.
My father’s family has lived in south London for generations. I well remember my first Crystal Palace game at Selhurst Park 24 years ago on Boxing Day 1991, against Wimbledon. The score was one all, if anyone was wondering. I was brought up in the area and went to a local grammar school and I firmly believe that grammar schools give children from ordinary backgrounds like mine the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
People in Croydon South believe that hard work and enterprise are the best ways of combating poverty and promoting prosperity. Businesses such as the Wing Yip Chinese supermarket on Purley Way and BSW Heating in Kenley are the lifeblood not just of our economy but of our society. I share those values. Over the past 15 years, I have set up and run my own businesses in this country and overseas. I set up my first business when I was 24. I started by driving the delivery van myself, and eventually floated that company on the stock market. My grandfather also drove a delivery van and he grew up in Peckham. I think he would be very proud, if he were still with us, to see his grandson speaking on the Floor of the House today.
I am pleased to be speaking in a debate on housing, in which I should quickly declare an interest as a business I set up is involved in this area. It is vital that we secure more housing for young people. Home ownership is a fundamentally good thing, which is why I fully support the extension of the right to buy. I am pleased to report that in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend Gavin Barwell, housing starts increased by 251% from 593 in 2013 to 2,084 in 2014. That has been made possible by developing suitable brownfield sites and I fully support the Government’s plans to use surplus public sector land to develop more housing as well as getting local development orders in place on 90% of brownfield sites by 2020 to ensure that the increase in housing supply that is so essential continues.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today and I wish good luck to other new Members who are doing the same today.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker—and birthday boy—for allowing me the privilege of delivering my maiden speech to the hon. Members of this House in such an important debate. All this week, I have listened to a variety of maiden speeches, which have come in as many shapes, sizes and colours as the Members who sit in this House. Such diversity of speeches and Members is to be warmly welcomed. Outside this Chamber, our country is equally if not more diverse and it is right and proper that this place should reflect that reality.
As Norwich’s—and indeed Norfolk’s—first-ever black MP, I like to think that I am making my own small personal contribution to that challenge. Half Grenadian, half English, I am proud of the rich heritage I have inherited from both sides of my working-class family. On my Grenadian side it was my father’s passion for trade unions and socialism that, it could be argued, ultimately led me to this place. On my mother’s English side, listening to the tales of my grandfather, a paratrooper who fought fascism in Normandy in the second world war, I developed an interest in the military—an interest that would ultimately lead me to become a reservist infantry officer, culminating in a tour of Afghanistan in 2009. But let me advise the House and any would-be armchair generals listening that it would be a grave error to mistake my service for a guarantee of support for future military adventurism. It is not. Better the House should see me as a pragmatic dove, sadder and wiser for my experience with the limitations of firepower when it comes to achieving our long-term security.
Let me tell the House a little more about my constituency, Norwich South, and the city that sent me here to be its voice unto power. The previous MP to be sent here was my predecessor Simon Wright. As both a teacher and an MP, he has given many years of his life to public service—service given dutifully and to the best of his ability. For that I thank him on behalf of our city.
For those who have not had the pleasure of visiting the fine city of Norwich, let me assure them that it is far more than the home of Alan Partridge and Radio Norwich. It is one of only a few cities with two cathedrals, it has an historically iconic marketplace and it has at its centre what is considered one of the finest examples of an 11th-century Norman castle in western Europe. Looking out from the top of Norwich castle, one sees our city spread out in uneven but concentric circles—the closer to the castle, the older the buildings. Moving out from the sites of historical slums, one begins to see the advent of 19th and 20th-century affordable social housing.
My fear is that future generations of my city will look out from that castle and ask themselves, “What happened to the social housing of the 21st century?” Having listened to the Queen’s Speech, my fear is that the answer will be, “The foresight and wisdom of past generations spanning more than a century was squandered for the short-term gain of a few.” Today, as we debate the crucial issue of housing, we have a Government who are, in effect, seeking to forcibly asset-strip housing associations. Not content with that, they would also force local authorities to sell off their already scarce housing stock to fund this supreme tragic folly.
In my humble opinion, this is a policy as economically incompetent as it is ideologically obnoxious. In one fell stroke it will increase the division between those who own properties and those who do not. It will raise rents, increase the housing benefit bill, fuel house price inflation, further segregate my city and increase the number of homes that are owned as mere units of speculation. For many of my constituents it is not an asset they desire, but a roof over their head and a place they can call home. As their MP, this is what I will fight for. Some may call that radical, but if striving for decent affordable homes for my constituents garners me that label, I will wear it with pride, for both Norwich and Norfolk have a long history of bearing radical sons and daughters.
Take Robert Kett and his rebellion against the injustice of land enclosure in the 16th century. Kett led the poor and disfranchised of my city and beyond as they defied the wealthy who wished to take their land from them. Fast forward to today, and the robber barons are back. Take some of the academy chains operating in Norwich, such as the Inspiration Trust. Not content with taking over our schools and giving parents no say in their children’s education, it craves ever more power and wealth. Now it wants to take from the people of Norwich the Hewett local authority school and the £60 million of land it sits on—land that belongs to the people of my city. Then there is the Earlham early years Sure Start centre in one of the most deprived parts of my city, now told by its new landlords—again, the Inspiration Trust—that it is to be evicted and must find new premises. Indeed, the robber barons are back.
But now, as then, the people of Norwich are defiant. They will not go silently into the night. They will not be asset-stripped and thrown out on to the streets without a fight—a fight I am proud to be part of. At the end of it all, I only hope I fare slightly better than Robert Kett. Captured by the nobles, he was eventually executed and his body left hanging in chains from Norwich castle. The Inspiration Trust is ruthless, but I hope not quite that ruthless.
I hope, then, that the spirit of Norwich—its defiance in the face of injustice; its desire, as the saying goes, to “do different”—will move and guide me in the years ahead, because now, more than ever, my constituents need hope: hope that we in this House can articulate an alternative to the politics of despair that austerity represents. My constituents deserve nothing less, and nothing less will they get from me.
I want to draw the House’s attention to my interests. I am a controlling shareholder in a mortgage broker and property portal that is focused on the shared ownership sector. It includes First Steps, which will be of interest to London MPs.
According to the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association, if current trends in tenure continue, two decades from now, for the first time since the early 1970s, the majority of Britons will rent their home. I have spent my commercial life focused on first-time buyers, and I do not want to live in a country where home ownership is restricted to the few. That is why I strongly support the measures proposed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to support home ownership, particularly the extension of the right to buy. It is important to remember that this is not just about getting on the property ladder; it is about people keeping a roof over their head. Housing repossessions are at the lowest level for nine years; indeed, repossessions and arrears are falling. I welcome that. We must never forget that a key element of any housing policy is a strong economy in which people can afford to pay their mortgages, gain employment to obtain mortgages, keep paying their rent, and so on. I am proud to be a Conservative in a Government who are delivering a strong economy where people can get on the ladder and get on in life.
I set up my company in 2004. I was originally a mortgage broker, although we have since diversified, and I want particularly to focus on mortgages. I have to say to the shadow housing spokesman, Emma Reynolds, that when we started in 2004 I was absolutely shocked and appalled by some of the practices in the mortgage lending industry. I was stunned that people who already had an adverse credit history and huge unsecured debts would call us up seeking a mortgage. Indeed, they were often able to obtain one, on a self-certified basis, through so-called adverse, heavy-adverse and super-adverse products. One very famous American bank even had a “credit builder” product, which basically meant “unlimited-adverse”. People could have missed as many payments as they wanted and still obtain a mortgage.
Those were bad days for the mortgage industry. They were overseen by the Financial Services Authority, which was set up by Gordon Brown in 1997. When he did so, he said that it would give stability to the financial sector. For me, the biggest failure of the Labour Government was their failure to regulate the mortgage sector. I was a business owner in the mortgage sector, and we constantly received correspondence from the Financial Services Authority—huge reams of regulation and gobbledegook. Every six months we had to submit a capital adequacy return. Northern Rock would have been doing the same thing, so why could not the FSA have spotted what was happening? It was an incredible failure to regulate banking. Let us not forget that 1998 to 2007 was the most unprecedented period of growth in house prices in this country, so when Labour Members table a motion about first-time buyers and affordability, they must recognise their own culpability in this matter.
One specific issue that I feel very strongly about is the growth of buy-to-let. I would never criticise anybody who has invested in property, especially given that we have had such problems in our pensions sector, not least because of the tax brought in—again—by Gordon Brown. I do not blame anyone for doing that, and I do not think we should do anything to clamp down on existing buy-to-let, because that would force rents up. However, when we look at new entrants to the market in the years ahead, we have to start to take account of the fact that the assets in buy-to-let will shortly hit £1 trillion. The key point about buy-to-let is that it is not a level playing field. Those properties are properties that first-time buyers wish to buy as well.
Three key aspects illustrate why buy-to-let is not a level playing field. The first is stamp duty. If I buy my first property, I pay the same rate of stamp duty as someone buying their 15th buy-to-let portfolio property. I do not think that is acceptable. Then there is tax relief, which has been raised by hon. Members in all parts of the House. If we were to give first-time buyers the ability to offset their mortgage repayments against tax, we would be told that that was stimulating house prices, yet we feel quite happy that a buy-to-let landlord should be able to do the same. Again, I have a real problem with that.
The most important point is about mortgages. If someone telephones our biggest mortgage bank, which was bailed out at great cost by the public, they will find that a residential customer—a first-time buyer or home mover—has to have a capital repayment mortgage, which is absolutely right, but that a buy-to-let landlord can get a mortgage for the same property from the same bank on an interest-only basis. The Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association has stated:
“The ‘triple lock’ of the new regulatory landscape—the mortgage market review (MMR), Basel 3 capital adequacy rules and macro-prudential regime, disadvantages first-time buyers relative to buy-to-let borrowers and may help to entrench the decline of owner-occupation going forward.”
That is what the mortgage lending industry says. It went on:
“For example under the MMR at an interest rate of 4%, first time buyers required to take out a capital repayment mortgage will face monthly mortgage payments 58% higher than a landlord”, who is probably borrowing to lend the property out to frustrated first-time buyers.
I am very interested in my hon. Friend’s analysis of the buy-to-let mortgage market. I would point out, however, that the oversight of that market has been far better under this Government with their regulation of financial services than during the Labour party’s time in government.
It has to be said that the oversight of mortgages could not have been worse: it was a very grave failure under the FSA.
The thing about the level playing field is that I want to see a country where first-time buyers on average earnings have a realistic prospect of buying a home, which is not that ambitious. I am a one nation Conservative, and I do not want to be in a two nation country with those who own property and those who have absolutely no chance of doing so. That is the key point. There are those who will feel that owning their own home is a long way away, but they want to feel that they have a chance. That is one reason why I support measures such as the extension of the right to buy and the Help to Buy individual savings account deposits. We want to give people opportunity.
I want us to consider such points, because we need a level playing field. House prices are affected not just by building and the supply of building; demand factors are critical as well. House prices collapsed in 2008 not because we suddenly built more homes, but because of the economy and what happened to mortgage finance. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will take cognisance of these points.
The constituency of Leeds East—or East Leeds as we locals call it, because it is not just a constituency; it is a distinct area as well—is a place I could not be prouder to represent. Leeds East is my home, and my family have lived and worked in Leeds East for over 100 years, ever since coming from Ireland to look for work.
Before I talk about Leeds East, I want to talk about my predecessor, George Mudie. He served our community for nearly 40 years: first, as a local councillor in Seacroft in Leeds East; then as leader of Leeds City Council; and then as our MP. For me, he embodied the ethos of public service. In an age when so many are so cynical about elected representatives, he remains loved and respected across East Leeds and across Leeds. People know he was in politics for the right reasons—not to feather his nest or carve out a career come what may, but to make life better for ordinary people. To listen to him speaking up for his constituents, for our area and for accountable, well-funded public services in public hands was to witness someone speaking with a real moral force that no kind of synthetic media training could match. The memory of George Mudie’s tireless work as our MP lives on in the minds and hearts of all those whose lives he improved.
From Crossgates to Colton, from Halton Moor to Harehills, from Swarcliffe to Seacroft and Gipton, Leeds East is a fantastic place. People are friendly, people—including perhaps their MP—“tell it how it is”, and people by and large have always supported the correct team, whether that be in football or in politics. But all is not well in Leeds East, and housing is one of the major issues in my constituency. It is a constituency where the percentage of people owning their home has gone down, where the percentage of people renting a council house is markedly down and where the percentage of people renting from private landlords is markedly up. Wages are too low, rents are too high and Leeds City Council does not have enough council houses or enough money to build enough more. Too many people are priced out of buying a house.
In the past four years, the number of people in Leeds East who are in work but who have to rely on housing benefit has increased by nearly 80%—not a surprise when one in five people in work in Leeds East do not get paid a living wage and more and more have been pushed on to zero-hours contracts. Last year, there were over 18,000 people in Leeds on the council house waiting list. So-called “affordable homes” are affordable in name only, at 80% of the market rent, and it must not be forgotten that 1,440 homes in Leeds East are hit by this Government’s cruel bedroom tax. For the first time in not far off a century, mothers and fathers across Leeds East face the reality that their children have less chance of getting a council house and of being able to afford to buy a home than they did when they were their age. The people of Leeds East deserve better. They need a Government who will not just “leave it to the market” when it comes to housing and everything else; a Government who will control rent increases; a Government who will give local councils the money they need to build council houses; a Government who will not force councils and housing associations to deplete their housing stock at bargain-basement prices; a Government who will resist the big building companies’ pursuit of quicker and easier profits and ensure that brownfield sites are built on first in an effort to best protect our green belt; and a Government who will not choose to hit the most vulnerable with policies such as the bedroom tax.
Fundamentally, people in Leeds East need a Government with an alternative economic strategy, and an economy that works in the interests of ordinary people, not just in the interest of big business and the super-rich. The economic divide we now have in the UK makes a mockery of the Conservative rhetoric of one nation. Our nation is in fact divided into those whom the current economic system serves and those whom the current economic system uses and, all too often, abuses.
In politics, in life and in the economy, I believe that fulfilment of potential only comes when, in the words of the Leeds United song, we are “Marching On Together”. There is such thing as society and there is such a thing as community. I am proud of the society and community I come from and I look forward to standing up for the people of East Leeds in this House in the years ahead.
East Leeds and Eastleigh—so close and yet so far.
It is a pleasure to speak following some fine maiden speeches on both sides of the House. I welcome the housing Bill. It will give the right to buy to those people who made the effort to contact me during the election campaign to say that it would make a difference to their life, their planning, their schools and their children. My hon. Friend Jake Berry raised the issue of family-friendly policy. Those on the Conservative Benches should look at that, and I would be supportive of it.
I thank the Housing Minister for meeting me soon after I walked into the House and for allowing me to make representations about concerns in my constituency. However, I want to highlight a different point. We have heard a lot about community and about challenges, but we have heard very little about people actively being involved in the choices for their community. There has been scaremongering, and I would find it worrying if I were trying to get involved in housing at a local level or in local community activism to secure, for example, a rural exception site. People want a home for their children and grandchildren, but there has been a lack of local planning in my patch. It concerns me that there is a lack of brownfield development in Eastleigh. There is no local plan and no five-year land supply, and there is not one neighbourhood plan. People are not involved, which is fundamentally wrong given that we have a localism agenda that people could get involved in.
The lack of involvement of parish councils in my area concerns me. One plan introduced in 2011 would have helped to bring forward a much-needed bypass, which would have been part of a way of ensuring controlled development. That has not happened in Botley, because it was discouraged by the local council, which, as a borough council, was keen to prevent local people from getting involved.
One person’s new carpet and shiny new kitchen is another person’s concern about losing green space, so decisions will always be finely balanced. We need more parish councils and more local people to be involved in making their communities the place they want to live in. With the Localism Act 2011, we have the ability to look forward to the next 20 or so years.
The lottery of the planning inspectors is the other reason why I am on my feet. We need fairer planning rules, so that we can find the right balance. I was concerned to find in my inbox today a letter from a developer telling me how one local bypass would be brought forward, because it had had the idea and was already working on it with the council. However, that was different from my information. The problem is that there is no plan, so there is nothing to work from. That is what I am seeking to highlight.
Many of my constituents have taken the time to write to me about their concerns time after time, and it would be remiss of me not to bring their comments to the House. The lack of a local plan means that historic sites in my area, with listed buildings within their curtilage, are under threat, such as Stoneham Park and the Bursledon windmill. That is lamentable. We can do something about housing if we actively involve ourselves as communities.
There are 9,000 parish councils across the UK, but six in 10 people do not have a parish council and do not get involved in neighbourhood planning. The Government have put localism on the statute book so that if people do not feel that they are adequately involved, they can get involved. I am delighted that the Government will continue to promote that, alongside the changes that will be made in the housing Bill.
In my constituency, both Winsford and Malpas have successfully adopted local plans under the neighbourhood planning process, and Audlem is currently consulting on its neighbourhood plan. Does my hon. Friend agree that the process gives local communities the ability to have direct input and control over planning in their environment and prioritise where they want affordable housing?
I absolutely agree. I feel that the right balance has been lost in this debate and the pressures, because we are not accepting that local people want a say. The lack of neighbourhood plans and the lack of infrastructure around houses have not been mentioned. To get people involved, we need the right balance of needs. In my constituency the process is piecemeal and hostile—people feel that they are sitting ducks, and they do not feel involved in the process. That is lamentable, because there are ways for people to be involved. I would like to see that happen sooner rather than later.
I absolutely agree with the right to buy. I point out my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—I am a landlord. I know that people have views on both sides of the argument, but the good news is that if we get these things right, our constituents will see the benefit. Perhaps they will be able to be part of the Help to Buy mortgage scheme, which has brought 127 people on to the housing ladder in Eastleigh, or the NewBuy completion scheme, which has brought 15 people on to the ladder. I support the Department for Communities and Local Government in that, and I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments today, but I would like more of a balance in how housing is brought forward. I thank my constituents for raising the issue to the top of my agenda.
When I was standing for election, one of my Labour counterpart’s main advertising sites was in the centre of one of the towns and pointed out the failure of the local plan to bring about housing for constituents in Eastleigh. At the local level, many people in Eastleigh are on the same side.
What an honour and delight it is to see you enthroned, as to the manner born, Madam Deputy Speaker; and may I praise the two marvellous epoch-making maiden speeches we have just heard? My hon. Friend Clive Lewis owes his origins to Grenada via Ealing en route for Norwich. He would have been very welcome to stay in Ealing, although perhaps not as a parliamentary candidate. I rather suspect that an extremely distinguished former Member of this House, Colin Burgon, is a relative of my hon. Friend Richard Burgon and appears to be in the Gallery.
Sorry, it’s Colin’s brother.
We are speaking today on an incredibly important subject. Last Friday morning, I went to the extreme east end of the District line, where a family from my constituency have been housed in temporary accommodation at the other end of London. The children have to get up at 7am to carry on attending their primary school in Northolt in my constituency. It takes an hour and a half to get there, before the day has even started. This is the reality of the housing crisis in the nation as a whole, but particularly in London. The housing that that family could once have aspired to has been sold. It is one of the cruellest ironies that some 42% of temporary accommodation that we provide under the private sector leasing scheme in Ealing is former council housing.
What are the Government proposing? Are they talking about a sensible house building programme? Are they talking about fiscal incentives and mechanisms to assist people in buying properties? No. They are proposing one of the most cruel, stupid and brutal pieces of legislation I have heard of in my life. Harold Macmillan was mentioned earlier, a man who spoke for a time when we thought that housing was something that should be built, not sold off, and something that is not a bribe but an entitlement and a right.
I have great respect for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He is a good man, but he has fallen among asset strippers here today. Harold Macmillan talked about selling off the family silver. Well, we are talking about selling off the family shelter. The idea is that the Government can go to a charitable housing association and say, “We are going to nationalise you and then we’re going to liquidate you and sequester your assets.” How on earth can anything think for a moment that that is a logical or sane way to go forward?
I wish to do the Conservative party a favour. I wish to save them from themselves. I know there is no chance whatsoever of this proposed legislation actually seeing the light of day and becoming an Act. It simply cannot work. There will be legal challenges. As soon as we start to drill down into the minutiae, it will be realised that the Government simply cannot take a private asset and sell it off as a possible bribe to the future. If they want to take the logic of this forward, why not go to every single private landlord—including Mims Davies, who confessed to being a landlord—and say to them in an attempt to expand the property-owning democracy that made this nation great, “We’re going to take your property. You are a private landlord, just as a housing association is a private landlord”? Where is the logical difference?
I wish I could, but I cannot.
I believe in the fairly basic precept that no person should have a second home as long as there is one person who has no home. Will the proposed legislation—I address specifically the issue of extending the right to buy, the sequestration of housing associations—make any difference whatsoever? It will. It will make matters a great deal worse. Housing associations will lose their collateral base. They will lose their ability to borrow. There will not be some great freeing up of assets spreading across the nation. Rather, there will be the same slithering, slimy people scurrying around the remnants of our housing estates trying to persuade people to buy their property, to realise their assets and to free up the money in their property. These poodle-faking spivs have had the time of their lives under Conservative Governments. We do not want to see it reach an efflorescence again under this ludicrous Bill.
In case after case in our surgeries, every one of us surely hears heartbreaking stories arising from the housing crisis. If someone is ill, they can go home until they feel better. If they lose their job, they can go home and apply for other jobs. If they lose their home, they are on a slippery slope to perdition. Homelessness means not just not having a home; it means being on the street and losing one’s health and one’s future. I spoke earlier about a primary school child making a one-and-a-half-hour journey in the morning and afternoon. What will be the corrosive effect of that on future generations? It will destroy their hopes, their dreams and their ability to learn and become good citizens.
The Bill will not help. Let us save the Conservative party and say, “Get away from this nonsense of trying to bribe the future with their own property”, and let us look at building new housing. That is what it is all about. That is the important thing. Let us do that and get rid of this insanity of trying to sell something that does not belong to the Government in the first place.
I also congratulate you on your ascension, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I join the Secretary of State in lamenting the lack of humility from Labour over their previous policy. It was my colleague on the London Assembly, the charming Tom Copley, who blew the lid off its record by revealing that more social housing was built in the final year of Margaret Thatcher’s Administration than in the whole of the 13 years of Labour. The situation is even worse than that, however, because during those 13 years Labour created an unsustainable housing market, with rapidly rising prices, very thin mortgage equity requirements and a much looser credit situation than now. It then crashed the market and, once it had been revived, decided that the best thing to do was to propose a tax on it—the mansion tax. That is no solution to what is an extremely pressing problem.
There is much to commend in the Government’s plan presented in our manifesto and the proposed Bill, which addresses access to the market as well as supply. The brownfield register; the housing zone; the promotion of garden towns, the starter homes—all that is extremely welcome, but there are two areas I particularly want to address. One is the extension of right to buy, which I support. It has much potential to enable the same social change and progression that the right to buy council housing did during the 1980s and 1990s.
I want, however, to bring two areas to my right hon. Friend’s attention. One was eloquently highlighted by my hon. Friend Jake Berry: exceptions for small rural communities, particularly in extremely delightful areas to live, such as large parts of my constituency, where there is pressure on housing already—I will not elaborate on that. Secondly, will the Secretary of State consider a transferable discount, so that housing association tenants can realise the value of their discount and transfer it into the private sector, with various conditions applied. That might solve the problem of disposing of the house, but also give them the freedom to move on.
The second area I want to talk about, which sadly is not mentioned in the motion, is the role of the planning system, particularly the Planning Inspectorate. One of the revolutions that the previous Government introduced was the notion of local neighbourhood plans. I am pleased to say that large parts of my constituency have embraced the idea with extreme enthusiasm. From larger settlements, such as Whitchurch, Oakley, Kingsclere and Overton, to small villages, such as St Mary Bourne in the middle of my constituency, people have worked hard on their local neighbourhood plans. It has excited much interest in the community and quite a lot of debate, and for the first time in these areas, people feel as if planning is something being done with them, rather than to them.
Still hovering above them, however, is the role of the Planning Inspectorate. I hope that over the next few months or weeks, as we debate the Bill, we can address the issue of the inspectorate and the game of poker that its existence creates in the planning system for local authorities. Far from smoothing the passage of planning applications, the planning inspectorate is more often used, I find, as an excuse to slow things down, as a complicated game of chicken is played between developer, local authority and local community about what each thinks the planning inspector will deal with. If localism is really to take hold, locally elected democratic representatives, including the Mayor of London—even with his vast majority and mandate, he has to bear in mind the chap in a suit from Bristol—will have to play a part in dealing with the possibly negative effect of the planning inspectorate. I think that any fear and loathing generated in communities by this problem needs to be addressed.
Finally, let me say a few words about homelessness. The shadow Secretary of State tried to offer a simplistic solution to the rough-sleeping problem by saying that it is just about housing. That does a disservice to those many people who unfortunately find themselves on the street. There are complicated issues relating to mental health, alcohol, drug addition, previous life experience—particularly for the high proportion of rough sleepers who have been in the forces and might have post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health problems—that need to be addressed. Having worked as a councillor on this issue, I am aware that many people living on the street are very hard to help. Offering them just housing as a solution will often not get them very far.
It was Ronald Reagan who said:
“There is no limit to the amount of good you can do” in politics,
“if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
I am extremely pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his place on the Front Bench. We were councillors together, and he has worked very hard on the localism agenda over the last five years. It is good to see him in a position where he is able both to achieve great things for housing in this country and to take much of the credit.
It is an honour to give my maiden speech today in the birthplace of Westminster democracy—a model that many other countries have used as a blueprint for their fledgling democracies. We must never forget that others look to us for leadership internationally not just on democracy, but on human rights, too.
In the constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green, democracy features strongly. In the year I was born, 1966, the Conservative Hugh Rossi was elected and remained the MP until 1992, when he resigned. He was followed by the Labour Minister Barbara Roche who was the MP until 2005, when the Liberal Democrats’ Lynne Featherstone won the seat. Tory, Labour and Liberal over a relatively short space of time—democracy is certainly alive and kicking in Hornsey and Wood Green. My predecessor, Lynne Featherstone, was well respected locally for her ministerial work on gay marriage and her campaigning for an end to the vile practice of female genital mutilation—causes that I am sure she will continue to pursue.
I am very pleased to speak on housing and equally happy that my hon. Friends have brought this crucial matter forward as an Opposition debate so early in this Parliament. I am pleased, too, to see a fresh face in the Government. I am not sure what happened to his predecessor, but it is with a huge sigh of relief that those of us who come from local government see a slightly different face. I hope that this will presage some positive moves around the housing agenda.
My constituency is one of great contrasts, with households on low incomes living in the graceful, but dilapidated, Victorian Noel Park estate. I was always amazed by our Victorian and even our post-war predecessors who saw the need to invest in housing for working communities and made it happen. In coming months, so much energy will be spent on needlessly debating the merits of the “right to buy” for housing stock where people are securely housed, when we could be getting stuck into building more for the many who lack housing security. There are so many excuses why we cannot do that, when we should be determined to build, build, build to address the critical imbalance between the supply and demand for housing.
In the west of my constituency, leafy boulevards of Edwardian splendour nestle in the foothills of Alexandra Palace Park and run along the boundaries of the spooky Highgate and Queen’s woods—28 hectares of ancient woodland known for its archaeological treasure trove of Roman pottery. The famous landmark of Alexandra Palace, originally known as “the Palace of the People” was leased to the BBC in 1935 for its new television service, and its glass dome provides a magnificent backdrop, which today’s shoppers can gaze at from the Wood Green shopping city. One hundred and eighty languages are spoken in our local schools. As an immigrant myself, I am proud of our rich diversity. Immigration is too commonly seen as a handicap when, in truth, it is our strength.
Recent research has shown that households privately renting in Hornsey and Wood Green spend £250 of the average weekly wage of £500 on rent. Guidelines issued by Shelter, the national housing charity, state that a third of average weekly earnings should be spent on housing costs, not 50% as is the case in Hornsey and Wood Green. Costly housing is holding back the London economy, making London unaffordable for the workforce, and creating public health problems as a result of overcrowding. In short, “generation rent” needs a break. It is good to see so many London Members here today. Not a day goes by without a London Member of Parliament or councillor hearing someone’s heartbreaking story about overcrowded housing.
The knock-on effect of high-cost rented housing is that fewer young people can purchase their own homes. The Government’s much-flaunted Help to Buy scheme has helped fewer than 20 households in my constituency. Meanwhile, the deregulation of pensions in recent times is fuelling the “buy to let” market and pushing up prices. There is nothing short of a housing crisis. People in housing need are being failed by this Government—and I am tired of hearing Members talk about what we did in the Labour Government. That is ancient history. I have been here for one month, and for me it is ancient history. I do not intend to let up on the fact that the housing benefit bill is costing the public purse dear, and that is a national disgrace.
The only way out of this spiral is increased housing supply. Whether young people are trying to get on to the housing ladder or trying to rent a social home, councils must be permitted to build more affordable homes. That is the most efficient way. They must also be allowed to insist that 50% of all newly built homes are genuinely affordable, not with rents at 80% of the market rate. That is utterly unaffordable for average or middle-income households. To date, in the current Parliament, I have not heard anyone make a commitment to addressing the crucial issue of housing supply. We ignore it at our peril, but that is symptomatic of the tin ear of this Administration when it comes to investment in vital housing infrastructure—and, for that matter, any kind of infrastructure. There is also the crucial issue of social mobility for our young people, which our society desperately lacks.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for indulging me in my first speech in Parliament. I look forward to standing up for the people of Hornsey and Wood Green, challenging the housing inequality in our society, and fighting for the things that matter.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the interests of time, I will rapidly condense my planned speech.
I congratulate Catherine West on speaking eloquently and passionately about her constituency, and about what she hopes to achieve in the House. I wish her well. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Philp on an excellent maiden speech. He spoke about real aspiration, hard work and getting on, which are key values of his and guiding principles of this Conservative Government. I have no doubt that he will make an invaluable contribution during his time in the House.
I must declare an interest, as a barrister specialising in planning law who has represented local planning authorities and house builders at planning inquiries.
“Housing is the first of the social services. It is also one of the keys to increased productivity. Work, family life, health and education are all undermined by crowded houses.”
Those words are taken from the Conservative manifesto of 1951. The 1951 election, about which we have heard a great deal today, was narrowly won by Winston Churchill, who appointed Harold Macmillan as his Housing Minister. Macmillan achieved great feats, delivering more than 300,000 houses between 1952 and 1953 alone. He achieved that by liberating the market and providing incentives for house ownership, and he increased supply considerably. Thirty years on, Margaret Thatcher and Lord Heseltine achieved the same with the right to buy, and today, another 30 years on, I am proud to be part of a Conservative Government who are continuing that tradition of home ownership, helping people who are working hard, counting their pennies and saving in order to afford a home for their families—all in the name of responsibility, aspiration and the securing of a financial future.
The facts speak for themselves. Housing completions have increased hugely. Some 200,000 new starter homes and the Help to Buy ISAs are directly helping first-time buyers get on to the housing ladder. In my constituency, a total of 258 new homes were started in 2014. It is crucial that sufficient schools and infrastructure are provided to meet demand. The hypocrisy on the Labour Benches is astonishing given the present-day failure, because let’s look at Wales: Labour-run Wales has a paltry delivery record on home ownership, and has the lowest house building rate per capita of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom. In the UK overall house building increased by 28% in 2013, but it declined by 12% in Wales. Rent controls, which are being used in Sweden and New York, are failing. They are socially divisive and are decreasing supply.
I am proud to say that housing is the key to social mobility. It is the building block for social justice and it is at the heart of aspiration. Both the achievements of the last five years and the programme for the future are well thought-through plans of which Macmillan would be proud.
I welcome you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to your new role. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair.
It has been an interesting—but quite short—debate. I congratulate in particular the Members who made their maiden speeches. Chris Philp spoke passionately about the achievements of his constituents and his predecessors. My hon. Friend Clive Lewis reminded us of the importance of increasing the diversity of Parliament and this Chamber. He conjured up an amazing image of cathedrals and castles in Norwich and of their being defiant against injustice, which I am sure we would all want to emulate. My hon. Friend Richard Burgon spoke very movingly about the wide range of issues facing his constituents and how the actions of this Government and the previous Government are exacerbating them. He did a very good job in speaking up for all his constituents and speaking about the support they need and are not getting from this Government. My hon. Friend Catherine West gave a moving speech. She reminded us of the problems facing “generation rent” and the difficulty young people have in getting into the housing market, the need to promote social mobility and, especially in London, the need to address rising house prices, which are putting housing beyond the reach of so many.
Elsewhere in the debate we heard a wonderful speech from my hon. Friend Ms Buck, who highlighted the particular problems of housing in London and the need to breathe new life into shared ownership. James Cartlidge made some interesting points about the need to reform buy to let and I will be interested to see how those on his Front Bench respond to them. Mims Davies made some interesting points about the need to do more to promote neighbourhood planning and ensure that infrastructure is in place to support new housing—a point emphasised by Suella Fernandes.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the removal of section 106 and community infrastructure levy tariffs from the proposed new starter homes programme will result in our building communities that are not well enough supported by the infrastructure and the services that they need to be successful in the future?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point; it is one that we made a number of times when we were opposing the Government’s changes to section 106 agreements. Those changes are incredibly short-sighted and will lead to a long-term dearth of the infrastructure that our country so desperately needs.
Our housing market is in crisis because the Government are failing to build the homes that our country needs. We need 245,000 homes to be built every year in England alone, just to keep up with demand, but only 125,000 new homes were built in England between April 2014 and March 2015. Recent figures from an LSE report demonstrate clearly that house building figures were much lower under the coalition Government than under the previous Labour Administration. Indeed, house building fell during that time to its lowest level since the 1920s.
Between 2011 and 2014, the total shortfall against the need for new homes was a massive 515,000. This has led to record numbers of young people in their 20s and 30s living with their parents. Analysis by the estate agent Savills has shown that in areas such as the south-east, where there is high demand and a strong employment market, approvals for new builds are
“falling well below objectively assessed need”.
In other words, even the homes that are being built are not necessarily in the places with the most acute housing need.
As a result of the Government’s continuing failure to tackle barriers to housing supply, prices are continuing to rise, reflecting sky-high demand. Even though there is deflation in other parts of the economy, the annual rate of house-price inflation is now 8.6%. House prices have outstripped wage inflation and hit an affordability ceiling in all parts of the country, with figures for last year showing a salary-to-house-price ratio of 10 times across the UK. Houses are unaffordable right across the country, with a rate of seven times in the north-west and 14 times in London. As prices are pushed beyond the reach of an increasing majority of us, home ownership has fallen to a 30-year low.
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that there are now real issues with recruiting to our vital public services because people cannot afford to live in our cities any more?
Indeed; my hon. Friend makes an excellent point.
The Government’s flagship Help to Buy scheme is also stuttering to a halt, with completions falling by 43% in the last quarter of last year and at the beginning of this one. The record on private renting is no better. For renters who aspire to home ownership, the future poses huge challenges. Around 11 million people are now renting privately. They are not just young people trying to get on to the housing ladder: 1.4 million of them are families with children, and almost half of private renters are over the age of 35. The undersupply of private rented homes is making housing unaffordable for many, particularly those who rely on that sector. Rents are rising, and between 2008-09 and 2013-14, the mean average private rent increased from £153 a week to £176 a week—an increase of 15%. The increase in London was 21%.
What are the Government doing about this? Absolutely nothing. Indeed, the previous Conservative chairman, Grant Shapps, denied that private rents were rising, much to the incredulity of Labour Members. The Tories’ record on social renting is no better. In 2013-14, only 10,840 social rented homes were delivered. That was a 71% decrease from the 37,000 delivered in 2012-13. Furthermore, despite Government promises to replace every home sold through the right to buy, that simply did not happen—for every 10 sold, only one had started to be built to replace them.
The Government therefore have real questions to answer about their extension of the right to buy scheme. In particular, we must have better answers about how the extended scheme will be financed. Selling off expensive council houses to fund the policy will mean that, for some areas of London and for other inner cities too, all council housing might need to be sold, with like-for-like replacement unlikely to be achieved. That point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield
All the measures that the Government have put in place, however, do not tackle the issue of homelessness.
I am out of time.
I hope to hear from the Minister how his Government will address the massive undersupply of housing, deliver more social housing for rent, tackle barriers to home ownership and produce a private rented sector that offers stable and secure housing for the people relying on it. In moving the motion, we are asking the Government to bring forward a comprehensive plan to address the housing crisis that our country is facing and to do so now. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I urge all Members to vote for our motion.
I will first touch on some of the speeches made by my hon. Friends and other hon. Members in an interesting debate, which has included some great contributions. I was slightly surprised that Dr Whiteford gave a critique of Labour’s past performance—something we agree on and which I know was something to be worried about. We are disappointed that the SNP, as she said, has ended the right to buy in Scotland, therefore crushing the opportunity for aspiration for so many people.
I will not, given the time that is left, I am afraid.
My hon. Friend Jake Berry made a great contribution and gave some superb ideas for us to look into. He rightly outlined the work that we have done for family-friendly tenancies with the model tenancy agreement that the Government launched in the previous Parliament. I look forward to working with him over the months ahead to ensure that we will do what we can to deliver homes for people throughout our country and across tenures.
In particular, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Philp on his maiden speech. He made a good start in the House by respecting the comments of Mr Deputy Speaker and keeping himself short and tight in his words, while outlining his clear passion for his area and his experience as a man from London, although I would question his loyalty to Crystal Palace football club. I am a supporter of Queen’s Park Rangers, so that might be one area where we fail to agree, but his passion and knowledge of housing will be a great contribution to the House, particularly his clear passion for the use of public sector and brownfield land.
Clive Lewis, one of my new neighbours as a fellow Norfolk MP, gave an interesting maiden speech, with an interesting outline of the Norwich that I know best as the city of ale, as I am a former pubs Minister. I look forward to him joining us in putting pressure on Labour-run Norwich City Council to use the powers and money that it has to build council houses in Norwich. I have met the council about that and I encourage him to join me in nagging it to go further.
I thank my hon. Friend James Cartlidge for a thoughtful speech. He outlined some of the issues and problems left by the Labour party because of its failure to regulate properly, which led to some of the problems in the economic crash that Labour gave us just before it lost its majority in Parliament in 2010.
Richard Burgon in his speech outlined his 100-year family background in the area, which he is clearly and rightly proud of. I am pleased that he, along with other Members, has given a clear message to the House that he has a focus on housing. I am sure that he will want to join me in congratulating the Leeds area on having the highest number of beneficiaries of the equity loan Help to Buy scheme in the entire country, for which it can thank a Conservative-led Government.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mims Davies on another excellent and thoughtful contribution, which outlined the importance of local plans. She rightly seeks to ensure that absolute pressure is put on her local authority to deliver a local plan to serve the constituents she has been elected to represent. I hope that the council will have listened to her speech and taken note, and will deliver that local plan which it so badly needs and should rightly deliver for its residents.
Stephen Pound gave a typically robust, if a little far-fetched, outline of the Government’s policies, but I look forward to debating with him further when we come to the housing Bill later this year. [Interruption.] Yes, it was not a maiden speech, but it was close.
My hon. Friend Kit Malthouse made a thoughtful and helpful contribution, as I know he will do throughout his time in this Parliament. As with my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen, I particularly noted his comments about rural exception sites, and we will come back to that as part of the housing Bill in due course.
I congratulate Catherine West on her maiden speech, in which she paid a clear tribute to her predecessor. Again, I thank her for showing that she will have a clear focus on housing, and I hope she will join me in making sure we deliver the housing we need across our country.
I am fortunate, as the Minister for Housing and Planning, to be able to build on excellent work done by my predecessors, including my hon. Friend Mr Prisk, who did fantastic groundwork on the private rented sector, setting it up to be the strong and growing sector it is today, and in his general work on housing. My hon. Friends the Members for Henley (John Howell) and for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) have also contributed through work on neighbourhood planning and on the NPPF. My neighbour, the hon. Member for South Norfolk, has done fantastic work on custom-build and right to build. That is all contributing and will go on to contribute further to build the homes we need across our country.
I was surprised at a couple of things said by the Opposition Front Benchers, not least because we are still not entirely clear—I do not know whether any Labour Members are—about whether they support or do not support the aspiration to own that people who benefit from right to buy will have. Conservative Members absolutely support that. It is deeply ironic, at best, that the Opposition have called today’s debate at all, in order to raise the alarm about the housing crisis that they created. It is a little like listening to the arsonist ringing the fire brigade to report a house that they burned to the ground. Let us remember where we have come from: in 2010, they left this country with the lowest level of peacetime house building rates since 1923, with millions of first-time buyers locked out of the market and—let us be clear about this—with a net loss of some 420,000 affordable houses. That was a shameful track record to leave this country.
Let us contrast that with what has happened during the past five years of a Conservative-led Government. We have had the job of clearing up the mess, and progress has been made. [Interruption.] Labour Members may not like to hear this, but let me give them some facts. Housing starts and the number of first-time buyers have doubled since 2009, and those continue to rise. Councils are building at the fastest rate in 23 years; just five years of a Conservative-led coalition built more social housing than 13 years of Labour. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly said, we were the first Government since the 1980s to finish with a larger stock of affordable homes than we started with.
We plan for a brighter and a bigger future, which the Opposition cannot come to terms with. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set out a clear goal and a clear mission for him and for us in this Parliament, which is to ensure that everyone who works hard can aspire to have a home of their own. More than 1 million tenants in housing association properties will be helped to buy a home. Some 200,000 starter homes will be built with a 20% discount for first-time buyers, and 95,000 homes will be built on brownfield land. We will help communities to have more control over house building and we will build 275,000 more affordable homes, which is the fastest rate in more than 20 years. As my right hon. Friend said, we have a rich legacy on which to draw.
Today we have heard the difference between a Government with plans to fulfil housing goals and an Opposition who want to frustrate them. We are offering working people a ladder, and the Opposition are telling them to form a queue. We will build more homes that people can afford. We will make it easier for local people to build the homes they need for the future in the places they want to build them. Above all, we will support the aspirations of working people who want to buy a home of their own.