HC Deb 12 November 1980 vol 992 cc450-3
2. Mr. John Evans

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many houses, in both the private and public sectors, he now expects to be completed in the current financial year.

14. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the estimate of housing starts for 1980 in the public and private sector, respectively.

21. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many public sector housing starts there have been since April 1980, compared with the equivalent period last year.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

The latest figures for England are as follows. Between April and September there were 25,500 starts and 48,000 completions in the public sector and 47,400 starts and 57,000 completions in the private sector. Between April and September 1979, there were 39,300 starts in the public sector. Completions in the rest of 1980–81 in both the public and private sectors will depend on the rate of progress on dwellings already under construction.

Mr. Evans

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that those figures mean that this year there will be the lowest number of houses built in Britain for 30 years in both the private and the public sectors, and that there is a great danger that existing houses will become slums faster than they can be replaced or modernised under his regime?

Mr. Heseltine

This will be a year of low figures for housing in both the public and the private sectors. In many ways I find that as disturbing as the hon. Gentleman does. However, the reduction in public sector housing has been going on for some years.

Mr. Winnick

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, when translated into human terms, these figures will mean acute hardship and misery for thousands and thousands who will not be able to be rehoused? Bearing in mind how much the right hon. Gentleman has undermined and sabotaged housing, is he not ashamed to hold his present position?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman is as aware as I am that the reduction in public sector housing is continuing along much the same lines as under the previous Government.

Mr. Dubs

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the dismay and bitterness that is felt by housing associations that are facing a reduction of about 60 per cent. in loan approvals? Is he able to say something to encourage the good work of the housing associations that are faced with such a catastrophic decline in their finances?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are expecting to see an expenditure of £420 million through the Housing Corporation and housing associations this year. By no means can that be described in the sensational language that the hon. Gentleman chooses to use.

Mr. Steen

Are the Government financing the printing and circulation of the cards that have been produced by the Liverpool housing associations and supported by the Housing Corporation? Will he say something about the use of public expenditure for this purpose?

Mr. Heseltine

Although I do my best to keep abreast of what is going on in my Department I should require notice of that specific question. If my hon. Friend lets me have a look at the cards in his hand, I shall examine them carefully later.

Mr. Alton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I know of the concern of many housing association tenants in Liver-pool, and I know that many people live in houses that have no inside sanitation? Will the Secretary of State tell us what hope there is for Merseyside housing associations? Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that what used to be regarded as the third arm of housing is becoming the dead arm of housing as a result of his policies?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman must know that the only hope of improving housing is to get real growth in the national economy. That is the objective of the Government's policy.

Mr. Major

When my right hon. Friend listens to strictures from the Opposition about the housing programme, will he bear in mind that far more dwellings would be available for occupation if the Opposition removed their dogmatic objections to shorthold leases?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend is right. The House might like to know that, according to the latest figures, there are about 100,000 empty local authority accommodation units, which could be used for those who are looking for houses.

Mr. Kaufman

Why does the Secretary of State constantly fiddle the figures that he presents to the House? Is it not a fact that local authority starts in England for the first six months of this financial year equal 15,070, and that the total is falling all the time? Does he not accept that in September, the latest month for which figures are available, there were 1,900 starts, which represent an annual rate of 22,800? That is by far the worst total for generations. Will the total reach 30,000—which would be appalling enough—or will it fall to 22,000 as a result of his disgraceful policies?

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Gentleman has accused me of fiddling the figures. In 1974–75 the figure for housing capital expenditure was £4.2 billion. In 1978–79 expenditure was down to £2.154 billion. If that is not a reduction, I do not know what is. If the right hon. Gentleman were to apply himself to the figures as opposed to rhetoric, he would find that the reduction in my programmes for capital account on housing is proceeding at a slower rate than the average for the last four years of the previous Labour Government.

Mr. Kaufman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if local authorities went back to the worst figure under the last Labour Government they would offer thanks when they compared them with what the right hon. Gentleman is asking them to do? Will the right hon. Gentleman for once give a straight answer in this House? Will the starts reach 30,000, or will they continue at the present annual rate of 22,800?

Mr. Heseltine

I shall certainly give the right hon. Gentleman a straight answer. During the two years for which I have been responsible for housing capital expenditure, it has been reduced by 14 per cent. per annum. During each of the last four years of the Labour Government it went down, on average, by 15 per cent.