HC Deb 29 July 1982 vol 28 cc1294-306 8.32 pm
Mr. David Penahaligon (Truro)

I have tried to raise the problem of housing in Cornwall on one or two occasions, unsuccessfully. However, I never thought that the possibility would arise when I could explore every avenue of the county's housing problems for a full 12 hours. When I realised that I had 12 hours in which to speak, I was tempted to bring a list of all my constituents who are awaiting a house and read them out so as to use the time available.

My county is recognised as an attractive part of the country but there are aspects of life in Cornwall that are not as attractive as some may envisage. Possibly in the next few weeks one may see more of my parliamentary colleagues in my county than in the House. Many people visit Cornwall in the summer, but sometimes the image of the county that they bring back is not a realistic appraisal. On a nice sunny day with the surf rolling in at Perranporth, or a similar resort, the county is most attractive. Even the humblest dwelling looks attractive in those circumstances. But there are the Januarys when the seas rage and the winds blow and tragedies such as the one last Christmas occur. Those dwellings may not be so magnificent in such circumstances.

The desire of individuals to secure an exclusive home of reasonable size should by now have been achieved by our society. There is a combination of circumstances in my county. I do not believe that that reasonable demand has been achieved and now the position is deteriorating. People in Cornwall earn the lowest average wage in England. A small percentage of houses is owned by the local authorities. Cornwall has the special problem of summer lets and second homes and a remarkable and inexplicable number of people are drifting towards the county. I suspect that it may have something to do with the next few weeks, as people see the county and believe that it would be a marvellous place in which to live. Those factors have added up to an unacceptable position. I hope that the Minister can respond to my questions.

I shall give a few examples of cases brought to my attention. I have not asked my constituents whether I may reveal their names in public, so I must refer to Mr. G, Mr. H or Mr. Q. For all that, the cases are valid and if the Minister wishes to check them, he may examine the correspondence. Mrs. G has three children aged 11, 10 and 9, two of whom have been in district council care for at least a year. Correspondence with the director of the local social services department reveals that if the family could be rehoused they could be reunited. Mrs. G has waited for at least a year.

Mrs. C lives in a three-bedroomed house. One bedroom is only a boxroom. In that house there are four adults, two teenagers and a two-year-old child, who lives with her mother in the boxroom. Mrs. C has been on the waiting list for three and a half years.

Mrs. P lives in a two-bedroomed flat with a kitchen and bathroom—it is not a bad flat. She lives there with two adult daughters and with Mr. and Mrs. T and their baby. Mr. T works on night shift and Mrs. T is expecting another child. That family has been on the waiting list for many months.

Another constituent lives in a house with her mother, father, brother, sister, niece and her seven-year-old child. The child sleeps in a cot in the boxroom with her mother. The mother says that the cot is now smaller than the child, but it cannot be replaced because there is no room for a bed.

Mr. and Mrs. B have a pleasant two-bedroomed maisonette. They wish to transfer to a one-bedroomed property. One would have expected the local authority to welcome that. One may ask what is wrong with the two-bedroomed flat. There are 45 steps from the flat to the street. Mrs. B is elderly, is losing mobility and is becoming a prisoner.

There are worse cases. Mrs. M had a stroke in November 1980. She has recovered a little and can move around her kitchen with the use of an aluminium frame. She lives in a first-floor flat and the only way in which she can get from there to the ground floor is for her husband to help her. The only way that she can get down the steps is for her husband to catch hold of the back of the wheelchair and play "bumps" as it goes down the steps to the street. The lady is in receipt of attendance allowance, which gives one an idea of her condition. Both she and her husband are over 70 years of age.

Another case that I know of is of a young woman who lives in a boxroom—I seem to have more boxrooms in my constituency than anything else—with her 12-month-old child. In the same house live her parents, her sisters, 17 and 12, and her brother of 16. I did not have the courage to tell her when she visited me that, knowing the housing problems in my county, she had no chance of being rehoused. If one were the housing officer with all those other cases to deal with, one could appreciate why her problem does not warrant priority.

The worst case of all that has recently been brought to my attention is of a young man who was paralysed in a motor accident in January of this year. He is as fit as he is likely to be. He is in a local hospital, and there he will stay until the local authority can find him a property in which to live. His wife and children live with relatives, and the hospital says that until suitable accommodation is provided, it is unreasonable and unrealistic for the wife to take on the not inconsiderable problems of having to deal with a husband who is paralysed from the neck down.

To be fair, the council is doing all that it can and I have promised that the family will be given priority consideration. However, he has been in the hospital for some weeks and there is not yet a house selected for the family and there is no start on the modifications that will be necessary for any home that they have. I could go on and on with examples, but as other hon. Members wish to speak I shall not give any more examples of individual cases.

As for the young couples who marry and believe that a responsible way to bring up a family is to obtain their own home before starting a family—there are many such people in my constituency and I suspect that they are not unique in believing that—they will die of old age and childless if they are hoping for council property in my constituency. I wish to run through why this ludicrous position has arisen. It is complicated and I suspect that some of the problems are, if not unique, fairly special, to my part of the world.

If someone is faced with inadequate housing, the most obvious thing to do is to try to solve one's own problem. That is what most people do—they buy a house, take on a mortgage. I do not know whether the Minister has ever seen it, but some time ago I commissioned a pamphlet to be produced by the Low Pay Research Unit called "Low Pay and Unemployment in Cornwall". This evening, I shall refer only to the low-paid. The figures in the pamphlet are for 1980, but the ratios have not changed significantly. They show that for full-time working men over the age of 21, in April 1980 the average weekly wage in the United Kingdom was £124.50. In my county it was £98.80. If we look at it in another way, which may be better because the statistics are slightly out of date, in 1979 the average wage in Cornwall was 79.7 per cent. of the Great Britain average. In 1980, it was 79.4 per cent. I do not make anything of that miniscule change, as I suspect that the figure is similar for this year. At that time 29.6 per cent. of the full-time employed males in my county earned less than the top line wage of £75 a week. The average for Great Britain was 16 per cent.

It is a simple fact of the economy of my county—where I was born and brought up; some even say that I sound as though I come from Cornwall—that if a male in my constituency who is willing to do a good day's work and is fit and able could find a job with a top line of £85 a week, he would consider himself very fortunate. If such a job were advertised and a place were appointed where people had a queue for that job, there would be a queue of mammoth proportions. The sum of £85 a week represents £4,500 a year. We talk about solving the problem for ourselves. Could one manage on £4,500 a year and pay a mortgage of £12,000 or £13,000? I confess that I should not like to carry such a mortgage if I were on £4,500 a year. However, it is not unknown. Some people have managed it.

I come to the irony of the situation. In many parts of the country, house prices are related to local average wages. Tragically, that is not so in my county. I have no statistics, but I suspect that, ignoring London, the average prices in my county are at least the national average. The prices at which properties exchange hands in some of the coastal areas are beyond belief. Even inland, where local people are increasingly forced to live, prices for properties are at least the same as the average prices throughout the United Kingdom.

The reason for all this is the population drift. In the last decade, Cornwall has seen a population growth of 12.1 per cent. That is slightly higher than it was in the preceding decade. Let me repeat that figure: 12.1 per cent. population growth in a decade. It is the fifth highest figure for any county in England, and the other four contain new towns. However, there has been no attempt to organise that growth. Indeed, some people in our county occasionally approach the media in an attempt to put people off coming to live in Cornwall. It is quite remarkable to have such a population growth in a decade, and that decade follows the 1960s when the percentage, although lower, was much the same.

People are buying their way into the county. They do not get council houses. Indeed, I cannot get them for my own constituents. People buy their way into Cornwall, and that is what is holding up house prices. So, for many people, solving one's own problem is simply not on. It is a fantasy that some hope for, work for, and strive for, but I fear that it is something that they will not attain.

We must dismiss that method. What about the private rented sector? Let us explore that next. The statistics here look slightly more encouraging, in that 15 per cent. of houses in Cornwall are used for private rent, while the national figure is 13.2 per cent. So perhaps things are better in this respect. However, the private rented sector is rapidly declining, as any Member of Parliament from any part of the country will know. I suspect that the basic raw figure is slightly misleading when it comes to my county, because it has an unusual proportion of tied properties. The most obvious tied property of course is the agricultural cottage, but there are a number of occupations in my county that have tied properties.

To be fair to the Government, I believe that the Government's shorthold tenancy reform will make a useful contribution here. However, they have made a mistake in not making rent review compulsory. There are many reasons for that. The truth is that it will not be greatly used, and it is not being greatly used. I suspect that as long as the Labour Party threatens, if it comes to power, to destroy the legislation and put all shorthold tenancies on a permanent basis, it will not reap its full advantage.

I am not certain that the legislation will even be that much good in my county. The real nub of the whole problem in my county is that for those who have property to rent there is a viable alternative and that is to rent the property by the week during the summer. Some are sold for second homes, but renting the property by the week during the summer is good business. The money comes in cash and Cornwall has a fairly understandable attitude towards paying tax. On the whole, it is not that sure that it is part of England anyway and so it has a fairly tolerant attitude towards the tax that one should pay in such circumstances. The money comes in, some of it gets lost and one can repossess the property every year.

Summer lets are a bigger problem in my county than are second homes. The reason for that is obvious—it is one of geography. Someone who wants a second home wants to get there. I know from my weekly experience that the distance from here to my front door is over 300 miles. Somewhere 300 miles away is not a credible proposition for a weekend visit. There are second homes, but they are not the problem in my part of the world that they are in North Wales and South Devon. The effect of second homes and summer lets is the same but there is a difference between the two.

The national dwelling and housing survey that was recently carried out showed that Cornwall had 18,800 vacant dwellings out of a total housing stock of 171,500. Eleven per cent. of the housing stock in Cornwall is empty. The figure for the English shires is 4.5 per cent. The highest outside Cornwall and England is the Isle of Wight at 8.1 per cent. There may be some political significance in such statistics. More remarkable than that is the figure for Dyfed, in Wales, of 10.7 per cent. and for Powys in Wales, of 10.8 per cent. Both those figures are lower than that for my county. Only Gwynedd, which has rightly received much publicity, where the figure is 14.5 per cent., has more vacant dwellings in that context than my county.

We need legislation for this problem. It could be justified by the social effects within the communities, where the problem has become a disease. If the Minister comes to my county, I can take him to areas where over one-third of the houses are now used for summer lets or for second homes. There is no more effective way of destroying a community. There is nobody there in January so the chapel and the shops close and the dentist and the doctor go away because they cannot make a living in just a few months of the year. Some villages make most forlorn sights in January. They are like disorganised Butlin holiday camps. If I found somebody in one village in my constituency in January, Portloe, I would be kind to him because one would have to assume that he was lost, because there are so few people who still live there.

It is my fundamental belief that the use of properties for summer lets or for second homes—I admit that the latter is slightly more difficult—should be made subject to change of use planning permission. I see no logic in the position defended by successive Governments that if one wants to change a house to a shop one must go to the local authority for planning permission to do so, but if one wants to change a house to the commercial purpose of letting it by the week during the summer, apparently no planning permission is required. It is to rub salt into the wound to see such properties given domestic rate relief. That is beyond belief for those who live in the villages, who have to deal with the problem and see its effect on other communities.

Such legislation need not be national. It needs to be legislation that an authority can use if it wishes. I remember discussing the problem once with my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) and he explained to me that summer lets and second homes in his fair city were not the first problem that came to mind when discussing housing difficulties. We know that that is so, but that does not mean that the problem is not massive in many areas.

I have gone through two options and I now return to the proposition that the council solve the housing problem. A survey suggested that 31.2 per cent. of the British housing stock was owned by local authorities. That is not quite one-third. The figure for Cornwall is 18.6 per cent. However, in reality, the figure is lower than that because it ignores the 11 per cent. of houses standing empty. However, of the houses lived in, in the normal sense of the word, 18.6 per cent. are owned by local authorities. The figure appears to be almost the lowest figures in the United Kingdom. The only counties with lower figures that I could find were Dorset, Sussex and Surrey. At least two of those counties are prosperous enough to enable people to solve the problem largely for themselves. They certainly have a standard of living that people in my county would not dare even to dream of.

There is nowhere to go other than to the local authority and so the pressures mount up until they are enormous. I have talked to all the district councils in my county. Perhaps the problem is best illustrated by the use that is being made of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act. The figures that I shall give ignore council transfers, because no real change has taken place. However, 75 per cent. of the houses let by the Restormel authority in the past 12 months have been let to people under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act.

At 50 per cent., Caradon is about the norm for the county and North Cornwall has the best record, because one-quarter of its lets come under that Act. Often, the councils have no accommodation. I sometimes hear hon. Members talking about hard-to-let council houses. There is no such thing in my area. When people have been through such sagas they will accept a house on top of a cliff, in the middle of a moor or anywhere. There is no such thing as a hard-to-let council house. The councils have no accommodation, and therefore resort to temporary accommodation.

In Carrick, nine families live in Trennick house, a fine old mansion with big rooms. There is a family in each room. A similar situation can be found at Penryn. The council has hired 40 caravans on a local site and other people are accommodated in bread and breakfast establishments. That is just not good enough. Indeed, matters are becoming worse. Sixty families live in temporary and often hopelessly inadequate accommodation in a small district authority such as Carrick. Indeed, it has a population of only 50,000. Kerrier has 24 families in a similar situation. Restormel has as many families in difficulties and also has caravan arrangements. Caradon is in a slightly better situation, with 15 or 17 families in temporary accommodation.

I have nothing against caravans. Indeed, I was brought up on a caravan site. My father owned one. Before someone else points it out, I should mention that the caravan site that I referred to in connection with Carrick council is owned by my brother. It is a small world in Cornwall and my brother seems happier with the situation than some people. However, I have no financial interest. Nevertheless, caravans can make a useful contribution towards housing. From years of experience, I know that they are not the place in which to bring up families. They can be useful for young married couples and perhaps, even, on the odd occasion, for couples with very young babies. However, once the children are aged 2 or 3 and begin to run around, caravans are just not the answer.

I have spoken to every housing department in my county. Penwith believes that it is holding its own. The rest believe that the position is becoming worse, and Carrick, Restormel and Kerrier believe that it is rapidly becoming worse. Some of them were a little embarrassed to point out that the position exists despite probably the most ruthless application of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 that exists in England. Anyone who does not qualify is declared to be intentionally homeless, and has to solve his own problems. One in four of the applications made in Cornwall under the Act is rejected as intentional homelessness. Nationally, the figure is nearer one in 25.

We look to the housing investment programme as the sourse of finance to solve the problems. Will the Minister explain why housing investment programmes on a per head basis in my county provide £27.50 a year while in the United Kingdom the average is £37.50 a year and in London for reasons that are totally beyond me the figure is £82 a year? If Cornwall were merely brought up to the United Kingdom average it would mean investment of an extra £3,750,000. Why does not Cornwall deserve average treatment? I defy the Minister to challenge the problem that I have outlined.

All the authorities in my area accept that the best way of using money is a mammoth building programme of accommodation suitable for the elderly. Cornwall has a problem with elderly people that will probably increase. One has only to do a little canvassing—we all do that and perhaps we are moving into a canvassing period—to see the ludicrous under-occupancy that exists on many council estates. If more suitable accommodation were offered many people would willingly transfer homes. A substantial and sustained campaign of building such properties is required to make better use of the family homes that we have. That does not mean that we can afford to forget repairs.

I have often had the opportunity to discuss mining areas in previous Sessions. They may look attractive on an August day with the sun shining, but they are not all that they seem. On most criteria—whether the houses have baths and so on—the local housing position is 50 per cent. worse than the national average. One of the odd things about a rural area is that a slum looks more attractive in the middle of a field than with more slums around it. A slum is a slum, an inadequate house is an inadequate house, and a house without a bathroom is a house without a bathroom regardless of whether it happens to be in an urban or rural area.

The Minister may be surprised that I have used only the first 30 minutes of my 12 hours and have not mentioned council house sales. I do not believe that they make much difference in the medium term, and I do not want the Minister to spend a great deal of time arguing that case. On the whole, I welcome council house sales and look forward to the day of a mammoth property-owning democracy. I do not believe that the legislation is bad for many areas. It has been passed and it is too late to do anything about it. In some cases, council houses are in seaside areas, villages, and along small creeks and it is madness to sell them. I would be the first to oppose the allocation of further land to build more council properties in such areas. That is a minor part of the problem that I wish to bring to the Minister's attention. Council house sales, whether one is for or against them, are not the main cause of the problem that exists in Cornwall. I hope that I have outlined the seriousness of the problem.

Will the Government seriously consider legislation to restrict summer lets and second homes? My county is not the only one to press for help. An article in a London evening newspaper complains of properties being let by the week in the borough of Westminster. That came as a surprise. There is hope that something may be done to solve the problem, because London receives special attention. Cormwall however is, a long way away. Can we look forward to increased investment in the housing to at least the national average?

In many rural areas in percentage terms the lack of housing is worse than in urban areas. I note the tremendous depopulation of this great city, but that must at least help the local authorities in numbers of houses, even though the quality may not be that high. My area does not even have the number of houses to solve the basic shelter problems, and in many instances the houses are inadequate.

I hope that the Minister will consider the problem of summer lets and second homes. Basic housing cannot be provided with 10,000 vacant properties. If only we had the average investment per head given to local authority housing, an extra £3,750,000 would come to my county. Can the Minister explain why that does not happen?

9.6 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Giles Shaw)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) not only on having a debate on housing in Cornwall, but on having the first debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

The hon. Gentleman gave us a tour d'horizon of the conditions in Cormwall behind the glossy posters advertising sunshine on the beach. It is a matter about which he feels deeply, and his case was cogent and well documented.

I am not unaware of the problems. I have shared with the hon. Gentleman dicussion on the dereliction after generations of tin mining. In the wake are problems of unemployment and wage rates and their consequences for the population's ability to sustain adequate housing. The main issue is Cornwall's relationship to other parts of the country in regard to housing.

In April 1981 the total dwelling stock was 174,000, compared with the 1971 census estimate of 146,000, which is a growth of 19 per cent. The hon. Gentleman rightly laid stress on the fact that its growth factor is perhaps Cornwall's most outstanding feature, among its many unique attributes. It brings with it not only a straight numerical problem but one of social structure by age. That factor has shown a substantial growth compared with the housing stock.

In the decade 1971 to 1981 the usually resident population increased by 12 per cent. from 373,500 to 418,500. Much of the growth provided smaller than average household sizes. The total number of private households increased by almost 18 per cent., or 154,000 units.

My figures can be updated if they are wrong. Of the total number of dwellings about 16.9 per cent. are owned by the local authorities compared with 27 per cent. nationally. That is where the hon. Gentleman started his major theme of the problem of local housing in his area of Cornwall compared with national characteristics.

It is shown from the HIP returns that 3.3 per cent. of the total stock is unfit, 7.6 per cent. lacks basic amenities and 7.7 per cent. needs major repair. In total, almost 19 per cent. of the housing stock is in some state of disrepair. I gather that the figure in Penwith is almost one-third. That area has some of the oldest stock in Cornwall.

The vacancy rate in 1981 was approximately 4½ per cent., which is a low figure. However, in addition there is the problem of second homes and holiday lets. I think that hon. Members will recognise that the problem to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention is not confined to Cornwall. He was right to say that the intensity of the second home problem is not at its most obvious in Cornwall. The second home problem is greater in England and Wales, and to some extent in Scotland.

The hon. Gentleman asked for legislation as a means of dealing with the matter. There are many different ways in which some of the county authorities have sought to deal with it. In certain structure plans proposals have been made for relating new builds to local employment conditions. Others have related them to the number of those who work in a given area, and so on. There are many different thoughts about that problem. Local authorities regard second homes as a matter that should be related to structure planning.

Complex issues are raised, such as the citizen's right to own a property and to do with it what he or she would like, and whether we are limiting the choice that is available to any person to buy property anywhere he likes. Some factors require careful consideration. One area that suffers from this problem is the English Lake District. Its special planning board structure plan is before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for consideration. Such matters are being actively considered, so I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman what the result of that consideration will be. However, I accept that in Cornwall there is plenty of evidence that that problem is compounding the general housing problem, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Penhaligon

I re-emphasise the fact that in my county summer lets is a bigger problem than second homes. That is not true of the Lake District or of parts of North Wales. I know of some of the difficulties with second homes. I recognise that it would not be easy to change the law. There is no problem with regard to the commercial letting of property by the week, the fortnight or the month. What the Minister said about freedom to do with property what we like is not true. If one owns a property in Cornwall and wants to open a fish and chip shop, one has to move heaven and earth before one gets permission to do that. I do not see the difference between using a property in a picturesque area such as Mevagissey for a fish and chip shop and using it to let by the week for tourists. I do not see why that problem cannot be dealt with.

Mr. Shaw

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. We are discussing categories that are available under planning law for a change of use. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that we are talking about a dwelling either being used primarily for domestic use or primarily for commercial use. The fact that other persons will be living domestically in the dwelling does not necessarily involve a change of use. The dwelling is still a dwelling or a residence and has people living in it. As the change of use order stands at the moment, it does not provide for the distinction that the hon. Gentleman would wish. I note his views. He is not alone in voicing them. It is a different matter from that of the ownership of a second dwelling.

The hon. Gentleman laid a fair amount of stress on the peculiarity of the need problem in Cornwall. He quoted from the national dwelling and housing survey. It showed that about 3.2 per cent. of households in Cornwall were overcrowded as compared with 3.7 per cent. in other shire counties. Those figures do not show a great difference. The survey showed that 1 per cent. of households in Cornwall were sharing a dwelling as compared with 1.5 per cent. of other counties. I do not for one minute wish to reduce the importance that the hon. Gentleman attaches to the overall condition of the cases that he has raised. Each of them showed a real need and problem that must be solved. Nevertheless, it is not entirely fair to assume that Cornwall is so different on some of those measurements from other shire counties.

Nevertheless, Cornwall hs a substantial growth in that sector of the population that requires special housing provision—the elderly. In terms of net migration into the county, a substantial proportion of people in the structure plan period, 1976–91, will be at or near retirement age. That is one of the reasons why the structure plan provides for about 40,000 new dwellings in that period.

I shall now deal with what should be the housing response to the needs that the hon. Gentleman has so clearly demonstrated. There are real problems. We should first examine home improvements as a method of ensuring that the housing stock is brought up to a satisfactory level. The hon. Gentleman stressed repair and renewal of the housing stock in Cornwall. It is a significant problem. Too often, we tend to think of repair and renewal as an urban or, indeed, an inner-city problem. That is not true of Cornwall. The problem is seen at its most acute in rural housing, where there has been a long history of neglect. The Government attach great importance to the process of home improvement. We have introduced many measures, both legislative and financial, to encourage this expansion. The hon. Gentleman will know that the 1980 Act has introduced flexibility into the system and has made grant available to many more people, including those on low incomes, the elderly, the disabled and tenants and in both the public and the private sector. In his Budget Statement, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor announced provision for 90 per cent. grant and the subsequent additional allocations to local authorities have given a considerable boost to the campaign for home improvement.

The hon. Gentleman questioned fundamentally the basis of HIPs and whether Cornwall was being treated fairly in so far as it does not receive the average allocation per head of population. With respect, I do not believe that the mere mathematics of allocation per head of population is a fair way of making the assessment. It is intended that HIP allocations are based on an objective analysis of housing need, the number of houses in disrepair or, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the number of houses without bathrooms. The pressure to which authorities are subjected in terms of numbers of units is taken into account when arriving at the HIP allocation. It is not simply a matter of numbers and averages.

We try to tailor to the need. That is why the levels of home improvement allocations in Cornwall differ. Widely differing bids have been made for the various districts within the hon. Gentleman's constituency. His own authority, Carrick, got all that it asked for, and all the others were given allocations sufficient to meet the mandatory claims that they estimated would be made upon them, and more. The hon. Gentleman might say that they have not got nearly enough, but in respect of the allocations that was the case. Clearly in some areas demand has been underestimated. However, we have advised all local authorities that where the demand for grants in some areas is lower than had been previously estimated when they made their bids we shall want to reallocate the surplus funds to authorities in whose areas the demand is running in excess of available funds. We shall do this in September and the hon. Member may be assured that we shall look very carefully and sympathetically at the situation in Carrick and in all the other Cornish authorities, but I am sure that the hon. Member will understand that I cannot at this stage say how these matters will work out. In the meantime, we are pleased that some councils are making full use of their capital receipts for home improvement grants and of the tolerance arrangements that are available to them.

It is important to understand that the allocations made are in no sense a measure of the problems that the authorities have to face. In many cases, the allocation was simply a topping up of the provision that local authorities had already made in their budget for improvement grants. While £18,000 for Carrick seems absurdly low when compared with the £342,000 allocated to Caradon, it should be seen against the original provision of nearly £1 million made by Carrick compared with just over £300,000 by Caradon.

I shall not burden the hon. Gentleman or the House with further detailed comparisons. The message must be that many local authorities were already doing a great deal and Carrick was certainly one of these.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the matter of homelessness. I certainly agree that homelessness is a significant problem in Cornwall. As the hon. Member explained, the problem is exacerbated in part by the attractiveness of Cornwall as a holiday resort. There is no doubt that Cornwall "imports"—I use the word advisedly—homelessness. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is a problem that becomes particularly critical when winter lets are no longer available.

Mr. Penhaligon

I pursued that point during my telephone conversations. On the whole, housing officers express the view that more than 80 per cent. of those qualifying for help under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act are what Cornish people would describe as local. What a Cornishman describes as "local" perhaps reveals a not desperately tolerant attitude to the "foreigners" from Devon and beyond.

Therefore, although there is an element of truth in what the Minister says, I think that that aspect of the problem is sometimes exaggerated. I therefore ask the Minister to check the figures so as not to be misled.

Mr. Shaw

I shall certainly ensure that those figures are checked because it is important to make the distinction and to see whether pressure of summer lettings and so on results in people being displaced or whether there is an indigenous homelessness problem, irrespective of the pressure placed on the housing stock in Cornwall by holidaymakers.

The hon. Gentleman and local authorities must accept that the responsibility for meeting local housing needs and helping homeless people must rest with the locally elected housing authorities. Their duties have been laid down in the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977. Thus, all who are homeless are entitled to some kind of help from local authorities, including accommodation for those in greatest need. The Government have recently concluded a review of the operations of the Act in England and Wales and have decided from this that the Act should not be amended but that we shall be reviewing the code of guidance to which local authorities must have regard.

A debate of this kind provides information and opinion to which we must give serious consideration. I give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.

I am satisfied that the concern expressed about the operations of some aspects of the Act have largely been met by the measures recently outlined in my right hon. Friend's announcement of the conclusion of the review on 13 May. I should add that we shall certainly continue to monitor the operations of the Act.

As regards the need for building new houses, the hon. Gentleman rightly referred to local authorities' housing programmes. Clearly, to build new houses for rent would be a most important prospect if it could be achieved. I do not dispute that for Cornwall this must always be a considerable element of its housing investment programme. However, I think it is equally important for local authorities to take a fundamental look at the role they have to play in housing provision. They have got to look beyond the needs of those who want to rent, to those who want to buy and could afford to do so, given the wide range of low-cost home ownership for which we have been campaigning.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about the average wage rates in relation to mortgage commitments, but he will recognise that on the average wage of £75 or £90 to which he referred this could still provide, given the terms available either through local authorities or building societies, mortgage cover for the ownership of low-cost houses. It is in that respect that I commend to the hon. Gentleman the recent booklet issued by the South-West regional office of the Department which attractively lays out the range of possibilities for low-cost home ownership.

Housing problems will not be solved by the use of public sector money alone. This is an area where private sector finance and the ability and willingness of the house building industry to provide low-cost housing must move hand in hand.

The local authority's role is now much wider than one of simply providing houses for rent. More and more it must look for partnership deals with the private sector, to the release of land for the provision of low-cost starter homes and also for low-cost home ownership for the elderly, particularly where houses are under-occupied or are too large and too expensive to run.

This is already happening in Cornwall. Carrick has already provided houses for sale in Falmouth and there are more in the pipeline. It has provided land for self-build groups, as has North Cornwall, which has also made land available for local builders. I have no doubt that much more could be done. The South-West regional office has recently concluded a round of discussions with a number of authorities in its region and representatives of the house building industry to consider jointly and in detail the range of partnership deals that can be struck.

During the forthcoming HIP discussions the Department will be discussing with Cornish authorities just how much more they can become involved in these initiatives. It may be that we shall be able to arrange discussions with them and builders later this year. Indeed, North Cornwall has figured in the first round of discussions, and I can say that I was pleased with the reasonable and forthcoming attitude taken by the officers and members of North Cornwall council on this type of problem. That is an encouragingn indication, and is one we hope to build on.

What is important here is the way in which local authorities manage their resources, both physical and financial. The role of capital receipts in local authority financial management is crucial. We can see this clearly from the level of allocations Cornish authorities received in 1981–82 measured against the capital receipts that were then available. Caradon's allocation was £2.1 million, with capital receipts of over £0.5 million. Carrick's allocation was £1.4 million, with capital receipts of £0.9 million. Kerrier's allocation was £1.6 million, with capital receipts of nearly £0.9 million. North Cornwall's allocation was £1.3 million, with capital receipts of nearly £0.9 million. Penwith's allocation was £1.7 million, with capital receipts over £0.5 million. Restormel's allocation was £1.6 million, with capital receipts over £1 million. In total, therefore, Cornwall authorities were able to enhance their allocations by £5 million.

That is a significant prospect that I trust wilt be built on by local authorities in Cornwall and in the hon. Gentleman's constituency to generate additional funds for the purposes mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Severe housing problems and pressures on housing department staff exist in Cornwall. House lets and holiday businesses cause specific problems, but they also bring substantial revenue to Cornwall. More specific answers are required and I shall ensure that my colleague responds in writing. We must grapple with the issues that the hon. Member raised so cogently.