HC Deb 08 July 1981 vol 8 cc387-9
2. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many housing starts were made in the public sector during the months of April, May and June.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. John Stanley)

The figures for June are not yet available. The provisional, seasonally adjusted, figures for April and May show that there were 5,300 public sector starts in that period in England.

Mr. Ross

Does the Minister agree that that is an abysmal figure when one considers the problems of those who need housing? Will he examine the areas under greatest stress and provide the necessary resources for authorities with growing waiting lists to provide houses for those who need but cannot afford to purchase them and are being priced out of the private rented sector?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the system of allocation is as far as possible directed towards authorities with the greatest need. There is very careful analysis as to the basis of the allocation. I certainly cannot accept that there is not scope for authorities to do more by making use of the substantial number of low-cost home ownership initiatives that we have introduced and of the private rented sector, which would be materially helped if the Opposition would withdraw their repeal commitment on shorthold.

Mr. Dover

Does my hon. Friend agree that local authorities would get better value for money by using their existing housing stock and, in particular, reducing the number of voids in that housing stock?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend is entirely right. There is a later question on empty dwellings. He will know that we have introduced a substantial range of measures to assist local authorities to reduce the number of empty dwellings.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is not the Minister's policy virtually ending all council house building, except for the elderly and the disabled? What does he propose to do for the other families, comprising 45 per cent. of the population, who cannot afford to buy, even with the aid of a mortgage, and whose prospects are daily worsened by the Government?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, in addition to the basic allocation, we have given authorities substantial scope for increasing their capital allocations by the use of capital receipts. He will see, for example, from the housing capital receipts which arose in the course of last year that in many constituencies represented by Labour Members who complain about the insufficiency of housing allocation money capital receipts were nil, whereas other authorities had capital receipts last year of £1 million and more which can now be used for the housing capital programme.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the hon. Gentleman place before the House the calculations upon which the Secretary of State based his statement to the Housing Consultative Council on 15 June that it is far cheaper in public expenditure terms to keep building workers on the dole? Does he accept that, in the light of the disgraceful figures that he has announced today, that statement by the Secretary of State is particularly obscene to the 1.2 million people on council house waiting lists and the 25 per cent. of building workers who are on the dole?

Mr. Stanley

On the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, if he will table a specific question we shall endeavour to assist him. I revert to what I said previously, however. There is substantial scope for local authorities to increase their allocations through the use of capital receipts.

The right hon. Gentleman represents a North-West constituency. The striking thing about the North-West is that those few authorities—which, incidentally, include Manchester—that reported zero housing capital receipts last year are losing substantially as a result of a self-imposed cut in their housing programmes through their failure to sell council houses.