HC Deb 06 December 1972 vol 847 cc1272-8
3. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will now give the number of council houses started in the United Kingdom in the first three quarters of 1972, 1971, 1970 and 1969, respectively.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Paul Channon)

During the first nine months of this year, 81,000 dwellings were started for local authorities. The corresponding figures for 1971, 1970 and 1969 were 93,000, 105,000 and 123,000 respectively.

Mr. Allaun

What is the Minister doing, therefore, to reverse this disastrous fall to the lowest level in 11 years? Does he accept that we need more council houses and not fewer, because most working class families are dependent upon them, since they cannot afford to buy at present prices?

Mr. Channon

As I told the House the last time this subject was debated, no restrictions are placed on local authorities who wished to build council houses. The basic point was dealt with by my right hon. Friend in the debate on housing. There are no restrictions, and I hope that those who need council houses in their areas will put forward proposals.

Mr. Allason

Is not the important point the total number of houses built, and has the Minister seen the call for an increase in the supply of building land so that the house-building industry can build 10 per cent, more houses next year than they have done this year?

Mr. Channon

I entirely agree. It is essential to have an adequate supply of building land. It is extremely important that we should be able to get as many private sector houses started as possible, as there is such an enormous demand.

Mr. Crosland

The House will have some sympathy with the Minister and with the Secretary of State, because their two predecessors got out just in time and left them very badly in the lurch. I wish to put two questions, in view of all the optimistic statements made from the Dispatch Box in the last two years. Is it not a unique achievement to preside at the same time over the biggest inflation of house prices ever known and the lowest rate of completions for 10 years? Will the Minister accept that we have reached the point at which the Government must announce what their housing policy is? It is not enough to have the totally discredited Housing Finance Act. We want to know their policy for increasing the supply of houses.

Mr. Channon

The right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to agree with what he has said. The Housing Finance Act is widely recognised by people both inside and outside the House as being one of the major reforms of housing that has taken place this century. The House must recognise that in the first ten months of this year public and private sector starts together are up 8 per cent. on the same period in 1971.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Do the figures include Northern Ireland? If not, will my hon. Friend tell us about the rate of building in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Channon

I rather hoped that I had left Northern Ireland behind me for the moment.

Mr. John D. Grant

Do not the figures that the Minister has just given make a sick joke of the boasts of Ministers that the slums will speedily be cleared—a sick joke at the expense of those who are in need of new homes?

Mr. Channon

No. The hon. Gentleman is totally wrong. The great improvement shown by the National House Conditions Survey shows that that is by no means the situation. The progress that is being made with the improvement of our older houses and slum clearance is extremely encouraging.

8. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will issue a circular to local authorities about the need to build houses to rent to applicants on their waiting list.

The Under-Secrctary of State for the Environment (Mr. Reginald Eyre)

No, Sir; local authorities are well aware of the duty which Parliament has laid on them to consider local housing conditions and the need to provide housing accommodation to meet local needs.

Mrs. Short

When will the Front Bench accept responsibility for the shocking state we have arrived at with housing? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the first 10 months of this year only 107,000 houses were built by local authorities? When his hon. Friend says that in the first 10 months of this year there have been more starts, he is wrong, because the number is 105,000, which is fewer. What will happen next year? Is the Minister further aware that of all the large building firms engaged in system building for local authorities—building houses and flats by large panel methods —only one is still engaged on housing? What does he intend to do about this?

Mr. Eyre

I think that the hon. Lady misunderstands the situation. It is for the local authority, assessing its needs, to develop the housing policy necessary for its own locality. No constraints or restraints are imposed by this Government, unlike the previous Government, on local authority building.

Mr. James Hill

Is my hon. Friend aware of the need to issue a circular asking housing departments thoroughly to investigate their housing lists with a view to six-monthly updating, as many waiting lists are not factual and do not reflect actual housing needs.

Mr. Eyre

Waiting lists can help local authorities in assessing needs, but they are of qualified value, because some local authorities impose residential qualifications and others do not, some people find accommodation or move away without taking their names off the waiting list, and sometimes people are registered on more than one list.

Mr. Freeson

But if the hon. Gentleman believes that there are no constraints on local authorities' action in providing fresh housing, why did the Department in one of its recent circulars ask local authorities to inform the Minister of any such constraints that might exist?

Mr. Eyre

Because we seek to be as helpful as possible to local authorities, though like the hon. Lady, we sometimes find it difficult to understand why they do not get on with housing programmes. The finance and all that is necessary is available to local authorities in areas of need.

19. Mr. Duffy

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proportion of housing in the Yorkshire and Humberside Region is sub-standard; and how this compares with the national average for the other regions.

Mr. Eyre

Separate figures for the Yorkshire and Humberside Region are not available.

The National House Condition Survey indicated that 19 per cent. of the houses in the North of England as a whole were without one or more basic amenity. This compares with 16.8 per cent. for England and Wales as a whole.

Mr. Duffy

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the picture that he projects to the House for the north of England will undoubtedly sadly be reflected in the Yorkshire and Humberside region? Can he any longer depend for relief of the situation on local authority building programmes, no matter how well intentioned? Will he look again at the improvement grant scheme? How far does the hon. Gentleman think its provisions are being devalued by the soaring costs of the last two years? How far is uptake restricted by the capacity of the building industry?

Mr. Eyre

Increased costs have not caused any falling away in effective grant. The average figures show that great progress is being made in this respect. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the problems in this area, but the recently increased grant of 75 per cent. in development and intermediate areas has stepped up the rate at which the arrears in those areas are being made up.

Mr. Wilkinson

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the Times Supplement article yesterday on Bradford, by Denys Thornton, in which he said that improvement schemes had solved the housing problem for the city, which is typical of the West Riding of Yorkshire? The City of Bradford has the best record for general improvement areas of any in the country.

Mr. Eyre

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this article, which was very encouraging and showed that Bradford, by local vigour, had taken advantage of the system of Government grants and was moving rapidly towards solving its housing problem.

Mr. Hardy

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the Government have repeatedly pledged that all slums would be cleared by 1980? Is it not clear from the information already known generally, and from that supplied this afternoon about the North of England, that at the present rate of progress slum clearance will be achieved not by 1980 but by 1990?

Mr. Eyre

I think that the hon. Gentleman is unduly pessimistic, because considerable progress is being made in slum clearance throughout the north and other parts of England, and this will be stimulated by the extra subsidy available under the Housing Finance Act 1972.

30. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will send a circular to local authorities designed to increase accommodation provided for single persons.

Mr. Eyre

It is for each local authority to decide what the particular housing needs of its area are and to consider what provision should be made to meet those needs.

Mr. Dormand

That is a very disappointing reply. Is the Minister aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult for single persons to obtain suitable accommodation? I know that this type of accommodation entails increased costs, but does not the Minister agree that that is a totally inadequate reason for not providing sufficient accommodation of that kind? Will he bring more pressure to bear upon local authorities to increase the number of units of such accommodation?

Mr. Eyre

The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that the cost of providing self-contained single-person dwellings to Parker Morris standards will be taken into account in assessing the entitlement of local authorities, and housing associations—which can play an important part in this matter—to the new subsidies introduced by the Housing Finance Act 1972. The matter rests with local authorities to provide the initiative to cater for this need.

Miss Fooks

Will my hon. Friend reconsider this matter? Will he take into account the fact that among the group of single people there are somewhat inadequate people, very often middle-aged single women, who find it very hard to keep their heads above water? Will he liaise with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, as I believe there is a serious need here which is not at present being met?

Mr. Eyre

Yes. My hon. Friend would not expect me to recant one word of what I said earlier about the Housing Finance Act 1972, but I certainly take her point with regard to categories of single people. When the element of care is present the prime responsibility rests with the Department of Health and Social Security, but we are already in very close touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and we intend to pursue this matter.

Mr. Tinn

I do not wish in any way to reduce the responsibilities of the local authorities in this matter, but will the Minister, perhaps in consultation with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, at least undertake some kind of survey to ascertain what kind of provision is made? To say the least, it is probable that there are great variations in provisions by local authorities.

Mr. Eyre

With regard to local needs it must be for the local authority to make this study. But in October last my Department published a design bulletin entitled "Housing for Single People", for general information. That bulletin was the first of a series of three, which will deal with a housing project for single working people under retirement age which was designed by a department of the Leicester City Council. It is believed that this publication and the two that will follow will be very helpful to local authorities in terms of design.

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