HC Deb 04 March 1981 vol 1000 cc274-6
21. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the present levels of house building, housing improvements and the level of rents in both the public and private sectors.

Mr. Stanley

I am satisfied that local authorities now have the necessary powers and discretion to obtain the optimum housing value for the available public expenditure, and that in the private sector the building industry will respond very positively to the Government's low-cost home-ownership programme.

Mr. Hardy

Does that mean that the Government are satisfied with the growing needs of those affected by the moratorium, by the inflationary increases in rents and the cost of rent rebates and rent allowances, which involves an enormous transfer of resources? Does it mean that the Government are satisfied with the high level of unemployment in the building trades, while the condition of the nation's housing stock deteriorates? Should not the Government be profoundly dissatisfied with their record over the past two years?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Member will be aware that as from 1 April it will be open to local authorities to increase the HIP allocations by the use of capital receipts. My latest information is that nearly 4,000 right-to-buy applications have been received by Rotherham district council, which suggests that the hon. Gentleman should be giving full support to a rapid processing of those applications, in order to increase the availability of housing capital expenditure in his constituency.

Mr. Hill

Is my hon. Friend aware of the anomaly building up in the public and private rented sectors, in that private rents are now far below the public rents that are paid through councils? Rent officers in the districts, certainly in Southampton, have had no indication from the Department of Environment—or any other indication—and they are still assessing rents on the basis of a formula that has not changed for the past five years.

Mr. Stanley

As my hon. Friend will be aware, the fixing of rents in the private sector is done on a statutory basis and it is not open to Ministers to intervene in the way in which the rent officer service carries its statutory responsibility. In the Housing Act 1980 we reduced the period between fair rent reviews from three years to two years to ensure that a fair rent maintained its value in the light of the current rate of inflation.

Mr. Kaufman

Can the Minister say whether council housing starts will reach 20,000 this year?

Mr. Stanley

That will depend upon the decisions that the individual authorities take between improving their existing stock and starting new building.