[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] — Decent Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:10 pm on 27th January 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall 4:10 pm, 27th January 2011

It is a pleasure to follow Nicky Morgan. This debate has demonstrated how much every speaker cares about housing in their own area and on how much we agree, although we will always disagree about how much money is spent by whichever Government are in power. Many Labour Members were cross during the first four years of the Labour Government, way back in 1997, when we felt that housing was being given the least priority. That changed, but if we had given housing a great deal more priority from day one, we would be in a much better position today.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Betts, who introduced this debate, on his commitment to housing over a long period. He has always ensured that the matter is raised in Parliament. I say to the Minister that his job is probably one of the most difficult in the Government, because housing affects every MP from the inner city to rural areas, as my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn has said. It is the most important issue that I encounter at my constituency surgeries. For many of us, it is there all the time, and we get more and more frustrated and depressed, because we know that we can do little to help people who are desperately overcrowded and want to move or who are homeless.

On cost, there is no point arguing about how another Government would have spent more or done things differently. Undoubtedly, cuts would have had to come. We all want to support the Minister in arguing his case with the Treasury in terms of the cost-benefit analysis of spending and investment in housing. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington North has discussed the cost of people living in bad housing. The cost to our national health service of the people affected by bad housing conditions and overcrowding is huge, as it is more likely that they will need treatment, which costs money. Although we have our differences in terms of specific party politics, we must do everything that we can collectively to say to Governments of all parties that investment in housing saves money in the long term.

I will make one or two quick points. The reason why I did not put in my name, Mr Bone, is that I was not sure how long the introduction to a new report on a ban on Heathrow night flights would take. It did not take as long as I thought it would, so I am able to be here.

Many of the Adjournment debates that I have secured concerned housing in Lambeth. Lambeth is one of those boroughs in which politics change, council leadership changes and coalitions form-we have had it all during my time as a Member of Parliament-but one thing that does not seem to change is the culture and how it is run, particularly in terms of housing. I opposed the ALMO in Lambeth, as I thought that it would end up simply as a change of function from the local authority, and that the same kind of people would run the ALMO. I have been proved more or less right. The ALMO was approved by a tiny majority-3,518 to 3,362-so I appreciate that it did not start with a mountain of support. Some good people have been involved, and some have worked hard.

I add my thanks to the people at the bottom of the structure-those who do the cleaning on the estates, particularly those who are in-house. Despite all the changes at the top, in which they never seem to be involved, and despite all the factors against them, they try to deliver good services, where they can. They are at the sharp end where the cuts will come, which will not affect the people on £250,000 a year-the directors and assistant directors of which we seem to have so many, who get huge amounts of money that never seems to be cut. I would love the Select Committee to investigate the costs of how we deliver services. Any tenant or resident leader who has been involved in their tenants or residents association for a long time could simply come in and say how much things could be changed and made different.

We did not get a two-star rating in my constituency. When the ALMO was set up, most people moved to it. We got a few changes, but we are no nearer to getting a two-star rating now than we were when we started. The tenants and I have always said, "What happens when there is a change of Government? Is there a plan B? Will ALMOs still be supported? Will a two-star rating mean anything?" I am quite pleased that we have got rid of this whole two-star thing, because in the end, it is not the tenants' fault that the ALMO does not have a two-star rating. The tenants worked so hard to make it happen. Now we are in a situation in which we do not have a two-star rating, and we have a huge amount of homes that are not up to the decent homes standard. We have put in a bid for £217 million, but we are unlikely to get it, and we should be coming to the Minister now with our priorities.

One or two estates are real priorities. I could take hon. Members to an estate, which is a 10-minute walk from the House of Commons, where the windows are falling out, which is something that people have been living with for a long time. I cannot understand why we do not have a system where we look at the estate and assess how much it would cost to get the windows in. We will spend more money-just like we spent more than £1 million on getting an ALMO-on preparing the costs and the analyses, and companies will come back time after time. It is usually the same old companies that get the jobs anyway. All those people go around tendering against each other and operating cosy little cartels. It often ends up with someone getting a lot of money, and sometimes the standard of the work is not adequate.

Decent homes standards cover more than just the home itself. Some of my older residents do not want a new kitchen and like their sinks or whatever. In fact, some of the sinks that were taken out were sold to rich people who wanted to install an old-fashioned sink. A decent homes standard is different for everybody.

It upsets me that we have many empty flats and homes in Lambeth. When a tenant moves out or dies, their home is empty. Suddenly, that home cannot be let, because it is not up to decent homes standards, even though someone was living there two or three weeks ago, which is absolutely ridiculous. We should be able to allow people with a bit of nous who are on the housing waiting list to go in and do their work, like the old Greater London Council used to do. As long as the electrics and the health and safety are right, I do not see why anyone should not be allowed to go in and take the flat. Instead, we have flats sitting empty for months and even years. Then the council says, "We had better sell them off now because we cannot afford to make them good." It is absolutely scandalous, and I hope that the Minister will say that he will encourage such a route.