HC Deb 17 February 1982 vol 18 cc275-6
10. Mr. Douglas-Mann

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment by what criteria he assesses the need for public sector housing; and what assessment he has made of such need in England and Wales for the years 1982–83 and 1983–84.

Mr. Stanley

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Government's views on assessment of need and demand for housing set out in its replies to the first and third reports from the Environment Committee.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Is that not another way of saying that the Department has no interest in ascertaining the extent of the need, as its reply to the Environment Committee certainly gave no such information? Would it not be more honest for the Government to say that they do not collect the information because they do not wish to know, that they are not interested in the 500, 000 or more families who are homeless or in acute housing need, and do not care about them because they are not likely to vote Conservative in any case?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, through a system initiated by the Government of the party that he previously supported, we collect annually from each local authority, through the HIP system, its assessment of housing need. The somewhat speculative nature of the assessments of demand and need to which the hon. Gentleman refers was amply borne out by the Labour Government's experience, as, although their Green Paper was published in June 1977, its projections for public sector completions were met neither in 1978 nor in 1979.

Mr. Denis Howell

Does the Minister accept the conclusion of the 1980 study group that 125, 000 houses are required this year to deal with homelessness and disrepair, and that the rate of obsolescence is now estimated to increase to some 90, 000 per year? Is he aware that that means that the number of people who are inadequately housed will increase by one-third to 4 million by the end of the decade? If that is so, do not the figure of 21, 000 that he has announced and last year's figure of 36, 000the lowest ever recorded—constitute a gross obscenity and an increase in human misery and despair that no Government should tolerate? How does he intend to reverse that disastrous position?

Mr. Stanley

The first necessity is for local authorities throughout England to spend the allocations made available to them. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, substantial numbers of local authorities seem unlikely to spend in full their allocation plus their housing capital receipts in the current financial year. I hope that they will devote the maximum attention to ensuring that they use those funds in full and also take advantage of the increase by a further 3 per cent. in real terms in gross provision for local authority housing capital expenditure next year.

Mr. Dubs

Will the Minister ensure that before the Secretary of State goes to Wandsworth on Friday, presumably to investigate housing problems there, he examines a publication produced by a member of his Department—the inspector who reported on the Wandsworth borough plan—which states that the council's policy of selling council houses is severely prejudicial to the interests of the poorest families 1n the community and is liable to contribute to social unrest?

Mr. Stanley

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will consider any relevant documents. Whether that document is relevant to his visit, I am not sure.