HC Deb 27 April 1983 vol 41 cc857-8
11. Mr. O'Brien

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his latest estimate of the number of new council houses due for completion in 1983; and what is his estimate of the total stock of council houses at the end of 1983.

22. Mr.John Fraser

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many dwellings he estimates will be (a) started and (b) completed by local authorities in England in the current year.

Sir George Young

It is for local authorities to decide what priority to give to spending on council house building within their total available resources. My Department makes no estimates of the numbers of starts or completions.

Mr. O'Brien

Bearing in mind that answer, the totally inadequate answer that was given to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) and the false trumpeting about the housing record by the Prime Minister yesterday, when will the Minister admit that the Government's housing record is an unmitigated disaster? Is the Minister aware that in my constituency, which is a relatively small town, we have waiting lists of nearly 3,000 and that, because of the Government's financial restrictions, we shall be able to complete only between 70 and 100 dwellings this year? Is he aware that since 1979 we have been able to build only 276 dwellings, all for old-age pensioners? When will we return to the rate of building achieved under the Labour Government?

Sir George Young

After falling for every year since 1975, local authority starts increased by one third in 1982. That seems to be a useful step in the right direction. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will use his influence in Darlington to broaden the horizons of the Darlington council. At the moment the council has no plans to extend the initiative developed by the former Conservative-controlled Darlington council to have a partnership with the private sector. Last year it refused to attend a tripartite meeting with the House Builders Federation and my Department's regional office on the release of land register sites for low-cost home ownership schemes. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will use his influence to change the council's policy on that subject.

Mr. Latham

Was it not Mr. Anthony Greenwood, as he then was, when he was drastically cutting the housing programme as the Labour Minister responsible for housing, who first put forward the idea that the housing programme did not consist solely of building council houses but was made up of improvement grants, repair grants and many other initiatives?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In England alone more than 190,000 dwellings were renovated in 1982 with the aid of grant or subsidy, which is the highest annual total since the period of office of the Conservative Government between 1972 and 1974.

Mr. Lofthouse

How much will the new dwellings cost? If the Government's proposals going through the other place at present are successful, the cost floor provisions are removed and the maximum discount is raised to 60 per cent., how much could a new tenant who qualified to buy at that discount pay for that dwelling?

Sir George Young

I think that the hon. Gentleman is under some misapprehension. The cost floor is not being removed and the 60 per cent. discount cannot bring the price below the cost to the local authority of the dwelling concerned.

Mr. Eggar

Is it not a scandal that so many Opposition Members and so many Labour authorities whinge on about building council houses but do not give proper priority to building for sale, improvements and other imaginative schemes?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The building of local authority dwellings for rent is but one aspect of meeting housing need. The estimated increase in the number of owner-occupied dwellings during this Parliament already exceeds that in any other post-war Parliament apart from the Conservative Administrations of 1955 to 1959 and 1959 to 1964.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

As the total stock of council houses, to which the question relates, will be reduced still further if the Housing and Building Control Bill is passed, and in view of the Government's defeat in the House of Lords yesterday on the extension of compulsory sales, will the Secretary of State confirm his intention to withdraw that Bill?

Sir George Young

No, Sir. The hon. Lady seems to think that if a local authority house is sold it somehow disappears from face of the earth—

Mrs. Taylor

From the rented sector.

Sir George Young

—but it is still there to meet housing need and the resources provided by the sale can be used by the local authority to complement its housing programme.