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22 Oct 2002 : Column 149—continued

National Nutrition

Ms Oona King accordingly presented a Bill to provide for the establishment of a national nutrition strategy; to provide development funding for Primary Care Trusts to address the issue of diet and obesity; to establish a minimum requirement for physical activity in schools; to develop a system of food labelling to enable consumers to identify high-fat foods and total calorie content; and to make it a requirement for health warnings to be displayed on all packaged convenience food with a high-fat or sugar content: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Thursday 7 November, and to be printed [Bill 195].

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Opposition Day

[unallotted day]

Affordable Housing

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I should announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.48 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I beg to move,

Judging by the amendments to our motion, there appears to be a great deal of agreement about the existence of a crisis in affordable housing, and a recognition that in recent years, inadequate attention has been paid to it. Of course, we could get bogged down in a debate on the definition of Xaffordable housing", and I am well aware that some make a very strong case for the alternative definition of Xsocial housing". However, I hope that we can avoid definitional arguments and address instead the crisis that undoubtedly exists, and which has been brewing for many years.

Party manifestos of the past 50 years have promised action. It is interesting to note that the 1950 Labour party manifesto stated:

In 1966, the Conservative manifesto called for the following:

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way. While he is on the subject of manifestos, what has he to say about the Liberal Democrats' 2002 alternative Budget, which proposed the infliction of VAT of up to 7 per cent. on all new building? How would that help to increase the supply of affordable housing?

Mr. Foster: I will answer that in full at some point, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind waiting until later in my speech. Various Labour and Conservative manifestos have contained many fine

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words on the subject, but despite that the crisis is mounting. The Deputy Prime Minister honestly accepted that when he said:

That is a clear admission that enough has not yet been done. Fine words in manifestos and on the Floor of the House have not led to sufficient action to prevent the problem.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): As the hon. Gentleman is speaking about manifestos, I wonder whether the Liberal Democrat manifesto at the last election included a commitment to provide 80,000-plus new affordable dwellings, as suggested in the motion.

Mr. Foster: The manifesto proposed a range of solutions for the crisis that I am describing. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I shall list several measures that were contained in the manifesto that would—I am sure he will agree—be sufficient to solve the problem. I hope that we will see much agreement across the Chamber tonight.

What do the problems mean in real terms for real people? In Friday's Evening Standard, I read about Emily Hill, aged 27, who teaches at Forest Hill school in Lewisham, where the shortage of affordable housing is acute. She earns #21,000 a year and is unable to find an affordable home. Indeed, only six new affordable houses have been completed in Lewisham since January. As a result of Emily Hill's particular problem, she may have to leave London.

The housing problem varies from one part of the country to another. Bath, for example, has increasing difficulty attracting so-called key workers. Applications for teaching jobs are falling dramatically, because potential applicants fear that they will not be able to find somewhere to live. An average home in Bath costs some #160,000, which is nine times the average starting salary for a teacher. Even a one-bedroom flat is likely to be beyond the means of a new teacher. We also have difficulty attracting nurses to our Royal United hospital. For a nurse, the average house price is 10 times his or her likely salary.

With such house prices, rents have also become unaffordable for teachers, nurses and other young people and families. Before anyone suggests that the Government's key worker scheme will help, I should point out that funds for the scheme are such that only 10 teachers in my constituency are likely to benefit. I question the merits of a scheme that is likely to fuel house prices instead of helping the vast majority of key workers. Surely it would be better to use the funds in building more affordable homes.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's speech on what is a serious and important issue. Does he agree that it is of immense concern that the Government do not seem to have realised that the crisis in affordable

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housing afflicts the west country as well as the south-east and London? Is not it a pity that the challenge fund money is not available to us in the south-west, but only to those in the south-east?

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Government seem to be myopic about the needs of the south-west in many respects. We are losing out in the area that the hon. Gentleman has described and it seems that we will continue to lose out in terms of local government funding and the provision of improved public transport facilities. He gives but one example of the Government's myopia in respect of the south-west.

In the country as a whole, housing is in a significant mess. More than 80,000 statutory homeless households live in temporary accommodation—the highest figure ever—and 100,000 children become homeless every year. More than 500,000 households are overcrowded. More than 3 million people live in poor housing.

It is no wonder, therefore, that Jon Rouse, the chief executive of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, should have told the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Select Committee that we have Xa housing crisis" on our hands. He is absolutely right.

The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) referred to the need for specific figures for affordable housing. He is right. Cambridge university's housing and planning research centre estimates that, to meet current and future needs, between 83,000 and 99,000 new affordable homes will be needed every year for the next decade, and well beyond.

This year, the lowest number of new houses has been completed since 1924. There are far too few affordable homes—more than 80,000 are needed each year, but fewer than 20,000 will be added to the stock this year. Although some 10,000 additional properties have been acquired, converted or rented for affordable housing, even that means that there will be only 30,000 extra homes, compared with the need for well in excess of 80,000.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): The hon. Gentleman is right to bring this matter to the House's attention. It is most important, especially for my constituents. Does he agree that it would be a good idea to extend the right to buy to certain categories of housing association members, provided that all the receipts went towards the building of new social housing? Would not that be a way to secure the extra social housing that is so badly needed?

Mr. Foster: The simple answer to that question is no, it would not. I apologise for giving so many similar replies, but Conservative policy on right to buy is of great interest to the House, and I shall return to it in some detail later.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster: Go on then.

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