HC Deb 17 February 1982 vol 18 cc268-9
4. Mr. Joseph

Dean asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many council houses were started in 1981.

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

About 21, 000 dwellings were started in English local authorities in 1981.

Mr. Dean

Is the Secretary of State aware that those are the worst figures since council house building was started in Britain? Is he further aware that if one is underprivileged, badly housed or homeless, under his present policies the possibilities of being rehoused are worse than in the period of Rachmanism? When will he give some hope to the three classes of people that I have mentioned and do what not only the trade union movement but the CBI has suggested and start more public sector house building to alleviate the problem?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will remember that Rachmanism was a phenomenon of the private rented sector and would wish the Labour Party to withdraw its embargo on shortholds, which are an attempt to improve the position. The lack of council house building is in part a reflection of many Labour-controlled councils' decisions to improve and repair rather than to build new houses.

Mr. Hill

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this may be the time to introduce more legislation to allow the private market to produce more accommodation for rent? At the moment the private sector is not pulling its weight, because it is waiting for the Government to make the right moves.

Mr. Heseltine

I support my hon. Friend's instincts in the matter. However, he will be aware that we have introduced legislation to initiate assured tenancies and provide for shorthold tenancies. It is not the lack of confidence in the private sector that concerns me, but the deliberate attempts by the Labour Party to make it impossible for the private sector to find a way to do this and to protect its own investments.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Will the Secretary of State stop trying to put the blame on local authorities? Does he not realise that many local authorities want to build more council houses but that the Government are preventing them from doing so? Will he confirm that, if the Government run their full term of office, in five years of Conservative Government fewer council houses are likely to have been started than in 1975—just one year under the Labour Government?

Mr. Heseltine

I hope that the hon. Lady will now devote her attention to encouraging Labour authorities with significant under spend on their capital accounts for housing to get on and spend the money that they are authorised to spend.

Mr. Heddle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that members of the Labour Party are wrong to assume that the people who are looking for homes necessarily want to wait on a council house waiting list? Does he further agree that his Department's initiative to encourage local authorities to homestead, build homes for sale, improve existing housing stock and release land that they have locked up for years will go some way to meet that demand?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will welcome, as I do, the fact that private sector starts in England were up 22 per cent. over last year.

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