HC Deb 01 April 1981 vol 2 cc280-2
12. Dr. McDonald

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether, following the expenditure White Paper, he will give an estimate of the expected starts for local council houses in 1981–82.

13. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is now the projected number of starts for (a) private housing and (b) council housing for the present year.

22. Mr. Douglas-Mann

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will now give an estimate of the probable number of starts in the public housing sector in the light of the public expenditure White Paper.

Mr. Stanley

In the public sector the number of housing starts will reflect local authorities' decisions as to the proportion of their total single block capital allocation and their total capital receipts that they decide to use for new house building, and in the private sector starts will reflect the decisions of the house building industry.

Dr. McDonald

Has the Minister any evidence to justify the disagreement of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with the 1977 Green Paper's prediction that by the mid-1980s there would be a cumulative shortage of half a million homes? If he or his right hon. Friend has any such evidence, will he undertake to publish it forthwith?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Lady must consider the range of measures that we have taken both to make the best use of available accommodation in the public and the private sectors and to give local authorities the maximum freedom to use their capital receipts to add to their housing investment programme allocations.

Mr. Flannery

Why has the Minister taken refuge in evading the question and not giving figures? He knows that everyone is watching for the figures. Does he realise that in Sheffield alone there is a housing waiting list of 27,000 people and that the sale of council houses will lengthen that waiting list? Is he aware that when his hon. Friends talk about people sitting around doing nothing they should remember that 3 million people are being forced by the Conservative Government to sit around doing nothing when hundreds of thousands of them want to build houses for the people but the Government are preventing them from doing so by the disgracefully low grants that they are offering?

Mr. Stanley

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman referred to the city of Sheffield, as it illustrates my point in reply to the previous question. I hope that the hon. Member will use his influence in Sheffield to get the city council to start processing far more quickly the 3,000 right-to-buy applications sitting in in-trays in the council's offices.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Is the Minister aware that the rate of public sector housing starts has already fallen below the levels that the Select Committee on the Environment estimated in its report would occur only by 1982–83 and that the monthly approvals rate is already as low as the Committee's worst estimate? Will he have the honesty to admit that, as a consequence of his policies, it is estimated that housing starts are unlikely to exceed 30,000 in each of the next three years—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—against an average need estimated by local authorities in 1979 and the housing policy Green Paper in 1977—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is giving more information than he is seeking. It is Question Time.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

—as between 110,000 and 120,000 and that his policies are reduced to providing only one-quarter of what is estimated to be needed?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Member must realise that local authorities can decide between new build and improvement. He has pointed to only one side of the coin. Last year the number of private dwellings that were improved was the highest since 1975, and the number of local authority dwellings that were improved was the highest since 1973. I hope that he will welcome the fact that in the last quarter the number of private sector building starts was up 20 per cent. on the previous quarter.

Mr. Latham

On that point, will my hon. Friend confirm that the latest figures published by the House Builders Federation show a significant and dramatic improvement in the rate of private house building starts?

Mr. Stanley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has drawn the attention of the House to a very important trend which we hope will be sustained.

Mr. Cryer

Does the Minister accept that Bradford local authority applied for a £35 million grant which was cut by the Tory Government to £21 million, which means that 800 planned starts, in an area with a massive waiting list in which houses are urgently needed, will not now take place in 1981–82? Is he aware that this also means that the building components industry will face further redundancies and that there will be more bricklayers and building workers on the dole, so that the Department of Employment will be paying out in dole pay money that should have gone to the local authority—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is arguing the case instead of asking a question.

Mr. Stanley

In view of the hon. Gentleman's concern about the availability of rented accommodation, I am sure that he will do his utmost to persuade his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) to reverse his commitment to repeal the shorthold provisions.

Mr. Michael Morris

Instead of worrying too much about the national figure for starts, will my hon. Friend take a long, hard look at all the empty homes in the London boroughs of Islington, Southwark and Lambeth? Will he take the kid gloves off and get those boroughs to produce some modernisation programmes?

Mr. Stanley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. As he will know, we have said before that a total of 23,000 local authority houses were vacant for more than a year. In view of the steps that we have taken as regards improvement for sale, mortgage guarantees and homesteading, there is no excuse for authorities to have that number of local authority houses vacant for so long.

Mr. Alton

Is the Minister aware that this year the number of housing starts in the public sector is the worst since 1924? Instead of telling council tenants in cities such as Liverpool, where 50,000 people are out of work, that they should buy their own homes, would it not be far better to embark on more council house building? In that way some of the 300,000 unemployed building workers could be taken off the dole.

Mr. Stanley

As the hon. Gentleman knows, local authorities have decided to divert more expenditure into improvements. The number of local authority dwellings that were improved last year was the highest since 1973.