[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] — Decent Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:31 pm on 27th January 2011.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats 4:31 pm, 27th January 2011

Thank you for accommodating me, Mr Bone. I apologise to you, to the Chairman of the Select Committee, Mr Betts, and to my right hon. Friend the Minister for not being present at the start of the debate. I was chairing a meeting elsewhere in the House on education matters of general interest, which overran. I came here as quickly as I could and am pleased to be here.

I am very grateful for the Select Committee's report. I note that the Committee had the benefit of the contribution from my friend and colleague, Councillor Nick Stanton, who was then leader of Southwark council. He came and gave evidence, together with Councillor Kim Humphreys. That shows that in Southwark, as in Lambeth, Islington and elsewhere, as my friend Kate Hoey said, housing remains an absolutely central political issue today. I know that the Minister knows that, because for a brief period he had political aspirations in Southwark, which I was able to redirect elsewhere. I am sincerely grateful for his interest in and robust engagement with housing issues, and for his willingness not just to listen, but to try to work with colleagues imaginatively to find solutions in difficult financial times.

I had the last Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall in the last Parliament. It was on housing in Southwark. Barbara Follett replied on behalf of the then Government and was positive, constructive and helpful. The debate was on general issues in relation to housing in Southwark, but it allowed me to say then, as I shall say now, that I come to the debate as the person who is privileged to be the Member of Parliament in England with the largest proportion of constituents who live in local authority housing. That has been the case ever since I was first elected. I am privileged to be the Member of Parliament for the borough with the largest local authority social housing stock in London and, I think, the third largest in England. We are absolutely clear that council homes make a hugely important contribution to social cohesion in Britain. In the old borough of Bermondsey, we had the first council homes ever in England. That was the result of a far-sighted, progressive Labour council in the 1920s. We have retained that real commitment to decent homes in public ownership, as well as decent homes in any other form of social ownership.

It is notable-this was part of the evidence given by my friend, Councillor Stanton-that whenever Southwark, under whatever colour of political leadership, has discussed what should happen, we have taken a different view from the one taken in Lambeth and have retained local authority housing in direct ownership and management. In my judgment, we have taken the right view on that. I think that it is important. It provides accountability and is the best solution. I was very glad that at the end of a long struggle with the Labour Government, we were able to win the argument that we should not be penalised. My friends the hon. Members for Vauxhall and for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) will remember that, all the time, the Labour Government were trying to incentivise people to become ALMOs and so on, saying that that would provide a better deal. That should be a local decision.

The really good news about the Minister's announcements in November is that, in finding some money for the decent homes programme to continue, which is very welcome, he made the right decision in saying that we are not going to go back to using the old-style rating method. The council's ability to deliver would have been reflected on to the tenants, who would have paid the price. The tenants would have been penalised. I am very grateful that councils are basically starting from a blank sheet, have been able to put in their bids and are awaiting the outcome.

I also think that it was a wise move, although obviously slightly more controversial, to say that in general, and normally, if less than 10% of the stock were still to be brought up to decent homes standards, we would not expect the Government to be able to assist, but that exceptional cases would be looked at. That seems sensible.

I also want to pick up on the point wisely and readily made by my colleague the hon. Member for Islington North, who, like me, has been in debates on housing in this place pretty much for half his life.