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The council’s policy is to cut the target for the construction of social rented housing by more than half, even though its own housing strategy says that it needs to build 4,390 additional social rented homes.

Most extraordinary of all is Hammersmith and Fulham council’s decision to switch existing designated affordable housing units for which permission has been granted and which have been built to something called “discounted sale”. That may be a new concept to this House, but I shall give one example involving the well known Imperial wharf site, which is on the riverside in Fulham. On 30 October last, the Tory-controlled planning committee agreed to switch 191 social rented units and 50 shared-ownership units to discount sale. That means that, for almost 90 per cent. of the units, buyers will need an annual income of more than £50,000, while buyers of the other 10 per cent. will need an income of more than £35,000. As a final blow, the subsidy will come from the housing revenue account, which means that council tenants will pay the subsidy for people earning more than £35,000. In my constituency, 50 per cent. of households have incomes below £20,000. Only 20 per cent. of households are in the above £50,000 category and by definition they are the least in need. If Tory affordable housing policy is to cater only for people in the £50,000 to £60,000 bracket, we are living in deeply cynical times.

The main defender of affordable housing in London is the Mayor of London. My hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) has already made this point, but it is worth repeating: there is provision in the Greater London Authority Act 2007 that the Housing Corporation should have regard
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to the Mayor’s housing strategy. There should be a similar provision in the Bill and for the London plan.

I say that because I feel certain that the current Mayor will be re-elected next May; otherwise I should not be making the argument so strongly. Last week, I had the misfortunate to read a speech, headlined “Boris Johnson sets out his housing vision for London”, which contained the following gems: we should not be

Such words are extremely comforting to my Shepherd’s Bush constituents, as perhaps is the final gem:

That is the view of the Conservative party’s candidate for the mayoralty of London—as unfunny as it is patronising. The prospects for my constituents fill me with dread, especially those in housing need.

Part 2 deals with regulation. The National Housing Federation and some Members have said that the requirements on RSLs are onerous. I beg to disagree. There are some good RSLs and some adequate ones, some of whom operate in my constituency. They are usually the ones who pay most attention to tenants and whose boards have the most tenant participation. For the past five years, until recently, the management committee of Shepherd’s Bush housing association was chaired by Ron Lawrence—a tenant and a superb advocate of social housing, whom I hope to see next week when he collects his MBE from the palace. However, that association is the exception that proves the rule.

My general experience of RSLs is that they give tenants an indifferent, sometimes poor, service, and are unaccountable to their tenants. Notting Hill housing trust, for example, appears to have completely forgotten its rental tenants in the push for home ownership. The Peabody trust is busy selling off 10 per cent. of its stock at market values, while Genesis, William Sutton and Catalyst are rolling over before the demands of Tory councils intent on minimising the amount of social housing. Such RSLs need to remember why they were set up and what their purpose is, and if they are not prepared to act voluntarily, mainly through their tenants, I hope the regulation provided in the Bill will ensure that they do so.

I welcome clauses 257 to 259 on tenant empowerment. I am pleased to be a member of the all-party group on housing co-operatives and community controlled housing, ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). I am also pleased that several of the large estates in my constituency, including South Acton and, I hope, Acton Vale, will pursue tenant management. That is in part because of Ealing council’s appalling management of their housing stock, but it is also a positive move, which should be encouraged.

I agree with the Local Government Association on two points. First, it is important that resources are given to support tenants in what is a difficult process,
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and often against the hostility of local authorities. Secondly, there is no reason why RSLs should not also be subject to tenant management.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) has ably covered my final point on clause 272, so I will not go into it in detail. The clause extends the same rights to Gypsies and Travellers as are already extended to other occupants of mobile homes. It follows the decision in Connors v. the United Kingdom and my hon. Friend’s Bill, the Caravan Sites (Security of Tenure) Bill, which I was pleased to support last year. A bit of prompting has been needed, but nevertheless I compliment the Minister on bringing the measure forward. It is an essential addition.

There is, of course, also a wish list, which Shelter has provided as it always does on these occasions, on overcrowding, on ground 8 of schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988 and on improving the private rented sector, and I hope that that goes forward.

Let me conclude by addressing the security of tenure point. I hope that there is no threat to security of tenure from the Government. I do not believe that there is, and I ask the Minister to confirm that. I know, however, that there is such a threat from the Conservative party, which said in its policy review of this summer:

That is completely beyond the pale. As security is being extended in the Bill, it is ironic that the Opposition should be seeking to take it away, and I will ensure that my constituents know that.

9.11 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I welcome the Bill, not for its contents, but for the opportunity it gives us to explain the housing crisis that many Members’ constituencies face. If what I have to say becomes repetitive, I beg no forgiveness for that, as the seriousness of the problems we face bear repetition.

My weekly surgeries are similar to those of virtually every other London Member—and, from what I have heard, similar to those held by Members from across the country as well. At least half of my surgery cases are to do with housing, and I could weep at the circumstances that people come to me about. Families are living in temporary accommodation often for up to a decade. They are churned around every 12 to 18 months, or the maximum of two years, living in temporary accommodation with licences or in lets that last no longer. They live in appalling, overcrowded conditions, the like of which in my area might not have been seen since the end of the second world war.

In my community, no council housing has been built, perhaps over the entire past two decades. Social landlords—housing associations—have come in, and there are some good ones in my constituency which I have tried to work with, but I must say that some of them are as unresponsive as any bureaucracy or private landlord.

Only an extremely limited amount of social housing has been built, so my constituents live in appalling conditions. We have seen the return of Rachmanite landlords who buy property after property. They milk the housing benefit system, and they plough nothing
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back into those properties. I fear for the health and safety of my constituents who live in such accommodation. At best, their children settle in appalling and overcrowded conditions, but as the churning continues, they move from school to school, which affects their education and their social life. Over the past couple of weeks in my constituency we have been exposing the fact that private landlords—the buy-to-let exploiters of the poorest within our society—are now housing people in outbuildings and sheds. That is how bad things have got in my constituency.

In my area, we went through a process whereby after three ballots—because, obviously, the tenants did not vote the correct way the first two times—an arm’s length management organisation was established. During that balloting process, tens of thousands of pounds were spent on consultants, who came along to meetings. Many of my constituents have never eaten so well as they did at those various meetings held to persuade them that this was the way forward for them.

But the blackmail was there: people either voted for the ALMO, or they did not have their home improved. Eventually, they succumbed and transferred to the ALMO. I am extremely concerned about its management. We have had a number of examples of poor workmanship during the implementation of the decent homes programme in my area. I know of cases in which tenants have been injured as a result of the work that has gone on, following the resources that have been ploughed into the ALMO for the decent homes programme.

With the end of the council house building programme and with insufficient social housing being brought forward, we have a homelessness problem of the sort that I have never seen in the 30 years I have lived in the area. I was elected in 1997 and we had 40,000 homeless families in London. We now have twice that number. In my borough, between 1,600 and 2,000 families are homeless and desperately in need of accommodation. The explanation is quite straightforward: we are simply not building homes anymore. To be frank, in my area, the amount of accommodation that has been built as a result of planning agreements is relatively trivial in comparison with what we need. The Bill goes nowhere near tackling the problems in my area.

First, I find it offensive that there is empty accommodation in my area when people are living in such appalling conditions—some of them sleeping on the streets. I would like, if necessary, to look at the emergency measure of compulsorily purchasing private accommodation that has been left empty. Let us commandeer some of that accommodation, because we face a crisis on a scale that we have not seen since the second world war.

Secondly, we should end the tax regime that encourages people to purchase buy-to-let accommodation, which forces families in my constituency to live in these conditions. If there is to be private landlordism, we should regulate it properly. In my constituency, even houses in multiple occupation are not properly inspected because the local authority does not have the resources. We have had fires and there has been a high level of risk to families. If we do not ensure that there is proper inspection and enforcement, we will risk more tragedies.

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At the end of the day, the solution is straightforward. It is not a new invention: it is called the council house. We need an emergency programme of building of the kind we have not seen for perhaps a generation. I do not see that happening as a result of the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) said, the projected numbers for social housing and council housing in particular are trivial in comparison with the need. Introducing a means-test approach will break down what little we have left when it comes to communities that live together as equally as they can.

Not to allow councils access to the funding that they need to launch the programme is disgraceful and misguided. It is something that is lacking in the Bill. I do not understand why we are offering private companies, instead of local authorities, the opportunity to access public money. I thought that it was in the old days that people believed, “Private sector, good; public sector, bad.” I thought that we were going to get a level playing field as a result of the Labour party conference decisions and some of the commitments that were given by the Prime Minister when he took over the leadership of the Labour party.

I will look at the Bill, but I will encourage a number of my colleagues to think about the amendments that we can bring forward to tackle the Rachmanite landlords of the buy-to-let regimes, and to enable local authorities to build council houses again and have access to resources in the same way as housing associations have access to them. We need to look at other emergency measures. It does not give me any pleasure to say this, but we have had 10 years of a Labour Government. It should not be like this after 10 years of a Labour Government. We have let down a generation of children, who, in my constituency, are living in quite dreadful conditions.

Lynne Jones: My hon. Friend may well be accused of advocating a vast increase in public expenditure, but does he share my concern that the failure to invest in bricks and mortar—in building new council homes—means that we spend far more, in revenue terms, on propping up the private sector? Councils have to put families in private accommodation, and housing benefit is used to pay extortionate amounts in rent—often, in my constituency, for houses that used to be council houses.

John McDonnell: A number of hon. Members have mentioned the housing benefit that is being poured into the pockets of private landlords. Most of us recoil in horror at that obscenity. It is not as though we are getting value for money, either through the quality of the premises being offered, or through increasing capacity to cope with the need. As we have argued time and again, allowing local authorities equal access to public funds to enable them to start building council housing once again is a cost-effective way of tackling the problem. I cannot emphasise enough how critical the problem is. Every Labour Member who has spoken has explained what is happening in their constituency. We need emergency measures immediately to tackle the issue.

The problem is breaking down our local communities. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) talked about the cost
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of housing in his constituency. The situation is the same right across London and the south-east. I do not know many public servants who can afford to live in my constituency. Only one firefighter at the Hayes station now lives in Hayes. The rest of them commute 150 or 200 miles, from the south-west and elsewhere, because that is the only place where they can find a roof over their heads. They leave their family living in the constituency, so as people get older, the family support structures break down. The cost of caring for elderly relatives then falls on the local authority, because families are not there to support them in the way that they were in the past. The community is degenerating in front of our eyes, and people live in appalling conditions, while others make vast profits.

I look forward to debating the Bill in Committee, and to Report. A number of us will move amendments proposing a realistic programme for new build, for tackling buy-to-lets, for enforcing decent standards in the private sector, for making housing associations accountable again, and for creating a level playing field for access to resources. In five or 10 years, I hope that I am not—or my successor is not—experiencing the same weekly nightmare of sitting through a surgery attended by children and families who live in desperate conditions, with parents weeping in front of me, begging me to intervene to try to get them a roof over their heads, when I know that I cannot do anything about it, because the housing supply is not there.

9.23 pm

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who has finally put us in a position to wind up the debate after six hours.

None of us comes to the issue with clean hands. We have listened to stories from colleagues on both sides of the House, and we have heard about what they see in their surgeries. We Opposition Members are no different from Labour Members. The fact that people face the housing conditions that they do in this country today should be a matter of disappointment and sadness to all of us. That is why we are offering a reasoned amendment to the Bill. I will come to that in more detail later.

It has been a good debate, and perhaps it had a better edge than it might have done because the Opposition had the temerity to question the policy proposed by a Government who, judging by many of the speeches that we have heard tonight, have comprehensively failed in their duties on housing and regeneration. I will tackle that point head-on in due course. Neither we nor the country are willing to be taken in any longer by a Government who wish us to believe that, just because they talk about better housing and more regeneration, it means that they will deliver it.

I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) to his place. He has made an excellent start to his role by offering some changes for coastal towns. The cross-departmental working that he has announced or intends to announce will be of considerable benefit to those towns, a number of which have some of the housing problems familiar to those who have spoken in the debate. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s winding-up speech.

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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) for his robust attack on the Government and the failings of their policy, which became clear during the debate. He was prepared to challenge some of the myths of Labour competence in an area that they consider to be theirs. He was right to do so, and I look forward to many more speeches from him on Second Reading, but few from the Opposition Benches and more from the Government Benches in due course.

Mr. Love: Immediately after his speech rejecting the Mayor of London’s 50 per cent. target, the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) was interviewed on television. When he was asked whether he thought targets were a good thing, he said yes. The second question was, “What is your target?” He would not answer it. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) would not answer it either. Can the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) answer the question?

Alistair Burt: Let me deal with targets up front. Conservatives without targets built more houses than Labour with targets. Labour set targets, in respect of which it continues to disappoint. There is no evidence that targets deliver. They have been the fig leaf which Labour Members have used today to cover their embarrassment at their failure. I know what my constituents who are looking for houses would like. They would like the houses that would be built under a Conservative Government and they would like a stamp duty policy that would help them get some of them. That is it for the discussion of targets.

Under Labour— [interruption.] The hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) should listen. Her speech of denial was a classic of its kind. Under Labour, as she was reminded, an average of 145,290 homes a year have been built. In the last 10 years of the previous Conservative Government, the average was 164,000 a year. Across the whole period of the Governments of Mrs. Thatcher and John Major, the average was 173,000 a year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield said in his speech, people do not live in targets; they live in houses. If targets are of no consequence to Labour because it cannot meet them, what is the point? I would rather we went back to a more sensible approach. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) defined a target as what those in her local community believed to be the right number for them. They had one, they built to it and it was right. The Government came along and imposed something on top which cannot be delivered. That is why it is nonsensical for Labour to advocate targets.

The Minister for Housing was generous in taking interventions during her contribution and made a robust defence of her policy. I appreciate what she said, although her defence of policy which is failing was admirable but wrong.

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