[Hugh Bayley in the Chair] — Housing (Greater London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:14 am on 11th November 2008.

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Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Assistant Chief Whip (Commons) 10:14 am, 11th November 2008

I congratulate Jeremy Corbyn on securing this debate. It is a pleasure to follow Ms Buck, who has initiated similar debates previously.

Although the debate highlights the crisis that we all feel and see, it is slightly reassuring to hear that it affects boroughs other than our own. Week after week, we sit in our constituency surgeries hearing the tragic cases of people who cannot find housing. There is a great deal of frustration, which I am sure other hon. Members here today share. People come to us, seemingly as a last resort, but there is very little that we can do except speak to the housing authority and see whether anything further can be done.

The fact of the matter in most cases, as we have heard, is that no housing stock is available. As I have tried to explain to some of my constituents, it is not the borough's deliberate policy to stop people having a house. It simply does not have the stock. It is incredibly difficult to explain that, and I can understand why people's frustration often boils over. I would hate to work in a housing department—indeed, I pay tribute to those who do. We listen to such problems in our surgeries, but those working in housing departments listen daily—hourly—to people who are desperate to get a home.

The hon. Member for Islington, North rightly pointed out the problems for families. I know of similar cases; I am sure that we all do. The idea of the old-fashioned nuclear family—the married couple with two kids—has changed. We now see people marrying for the second time who have to bring up kids from a first marriage. I am dealing with a case at the moment of a family with teenage children who are unrelated and of different sexes, but who are expected to share the same room. I am sure that that is not allowed, but it has to happen or the family will have nowhere to live. That is unacceptable.

The London borough of Hillingdon, which covers my constituency, has another housing problem—again, one that will be found in other areas. Brunel university is located in the borough, so student housing has taken up a lot of the private rented sector. It has also pushed up prices. I spent some time at London university living in private rented housing, so I am not blameless, but it is something that must be considered.

The frustration of local people is that they want to see their kids getting a place of their own and making a start, but it is not possible. Another effect is completely overstated, but it has to be said. When people come to my surgeries—again, I am sure that similar things happen elsewhere—one of the first things they say is, "Yes, but we live near Heathrow." We know what that means: they think that asylum seekers will be pouring into the country and taking local homes. The facts do not back that up—it may be a small factor, but that is all. Unfortunately, in times of housing shortage, it is exactly such things that increase tension. It is something of which we must be aware.

We have not discussed this, because of the lack of time, but I think of older people, who often find themselves without suitable accommodation. We need more suitable accommodation for older people. I accept that some may not want to leave their present home, but if new homes are adapted and if they seem nice, they might be willing to move, thus freeing up accommodation for others.

We shall hear more about housing problems as a result of the current crisis. Things will become more and more difficult. My hon. Friend Mr. Scott spoke of a well known bank. What worries me is that many of the most vulnerable people go to mortgage lenders who not only charge incredible rates, but are ruthless when customers default. Such cases are difficult to deal with. We as MPs can talk to the banks and we might normally get a favourable response, but some of these mortgage companies are like the car clampers of the banking world: they take no interest in human misery.

Later today, we will be debating Heathrow. Given that the London borough of Hillingdon has an acute shortage of housing, it is incredible that the Government should be on the verge of giving the go-ahead to a scheme that would knock down 3,000 or 4,000 homes. No one knows exactly how many homes will go, but people who have lived in villages and communities for generations will be expected to find somewhere else to live. At present, there is nowhere else for them to go. I find that incredible. If only for that reason, we should not have the runway expansion at Heathrow.

This afternoon, if I am lucky enough to speak, I shall elaborate on my other reasons for taking that view, but we are talking this morning about housing provision. If we knock down 3,000 or 4,000 homes, it will make finding housing in west London even more impossible than it is now.