HC Deb 17 March 1982 vol 20 cc348-9
13. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list the latest number of (a) private and (b) council housing starts for the Greater London Council area.

Sir George Young

In 1981, about 2, 000 local authority and 5, 000 private sector dwellings were started in the Greater London area.

Mr. Cox

Is the Minister aware that that deplorable reply illustrates the total collapse of the Government's housing policy? Is he further aware that next Tuesday there will be a major lobby of this House by the unions involved in the construction industry? Will he give an assurance that he will meet representatives from those unions so that he can learn at first hand just what is happening to building workers who are now on the dole as a direct result of the Government's failure to deal with housing need?

Sir George Young

I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has agreed to see Len Murray on this subject. Housing starts as a whole in Greater London, including the private sector, were 8, 082 in 1981—an increase from the figure of 7, 500 in 1980. The hon. Gentleman should take into account the fact that last April 40, 000 local authority dwellings in London were empty.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Does the Minister accept that London is one of the areas with the greatest housing stress? Has he yet been able to study the report of the Housing Research Foundation, which assesses the overall need for housing to be something in the order of 270, 000 houses a year—a figure close to that contained in the 1977 Green Paper, on which the Secretary of State has poured such scorn? Do the Government now accept that they are completely failing to meet urgent housing needs, which have been positively confirmed by the report?

Sir George Young

The hon. Gentleman has failed to mention that the Government have introduced many initiatives to boost low-cost home ownership involving the private sector, thereby bringing home ownership within the reach of many. He has failed also to take account of the home improvement scheme. To take housing starts as a proxy for meeting housing need is to consider only part of the picture.

Mr. Ward

If my hon. Friend meets representatives of the construction industry next week, will he encourage them to investigate the amount of work that is still being farmed out to direct labour organisations instead of being put out to proper tender to help the construction industry? Will he encourage them also to ask local authorities to use some of the funds that they have available from the sale of council houses to produce more capital construction?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right on both counts. He will know that yesterday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State laid an order dealing with direct labour, from which I am sure he will draw encouragement. Last Saturday my right hon. Friend drew attention to the tremendous underspend that many local authorities incurred during the current year because they failed realistically to respond to our campaign to enable council tenants to buy their own homes and failed to spend the receipts that that policy generated.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

In view of the low number of starts and the length of council house waiting lists in London, will the Minister dissociate himself from the statement of the recently knighted Sir Laurie Barratt, who has said that there is an adequate stock of council housing? Will he say publicly that he rejects Sir Laurie Barratt's other suggestion that when a council tenant's income rises above a certain level he should be forced to move into the private sector?

Sir George Young

It is not the policy of this Administration to force council tenants to move into the private sector and we have never so made it. Next year London will receive HIP allocations equivalent to over £200 per household compared with less than £100 per household in the rest of the country. We have tried to look after London's needs.

Mr. Squire

I welcome all the initiatives that the Government have taken. Does my hon. Friend recognise that housing starts in neither the private nor the public sectors appear to be able to reduce the growing number of single homeless, especially in greater London?

Sir George Young

I have referred to some of the initiatives that the Government have taken to try to tackle the problem of the single homeless. I understand that there' is an Adjournment debate on the subject tomorrow evening, during which the arguments will be developed further.

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