HC Deb 26 January 1983 vol 35 cc884-5
6. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the house condition survey 1981.

20. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the English house condition survey 1981.

Mr. Stanley

I refer the hon. Members to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) on 14 December.

Mr. Alton

Does the Minister dispute the findings of the survey, which shows that one house in 10 is unfit to live in or is in a serious state of disrepair? Does he dispute the finding of the House of Commons Select Committee inquiry that we shall be short of more than 420,000 houses by 1984? Is he aware that in cities such as Liverpool people are living in houses that are unfit for human habitation and that many council house tenants inhabit houses that are damp or in a serious state of disrepair? What will he do about that?

Mr. Stanley

I do not dispute the findings of the English house condition survey of 1981, which the Government have published. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the five-year period which the survey covered included the time of the Lib-Lab pact, when the Opposition had some responsibility for these matters. I also remind him that the present level of improvement grant is way in excess of any level that was achieved during the Lib-Lab pact.

Mr. Winnick

With more than 1 million homes being unfit and about 900,000 houses lacking one of the basic amenities, is the Minister aware that, instead of the housing cuts of the past few years, what is required is an emergency building programme to ensure that all our people can live in decent conditions? Does he agree that it would make much more sense to employ people now on the dole queue, especially construction workers, to do the work for which they were trained in the first place?

Mr. Stanley

I invite the hon. Gentleman to consider what is now happening with regard to home improvement. The expenditure on home improvement grants is more than doubling this year. For example, grants for the disabled are three times higher than when the Government came to office, and repair grants are 70 times what they were in 1979. For last year, we look like having the highest number of improvement grants in any year since 1974.

Mr. Flannery

What about unemployment?

Mr. Steen

Is my hon. Friend aware that Liverpool city council has accumulated 5,000 empty council properties? Is he further aware that the council is refusing to allow people on the waiting list to move into those houses and pay for the repairs themselves? Will he tell the leader of the Liberal council that unless he allows people to help themselves, the Government will stop aid to the city?

Mr. Stanley

We regularly encourage all local authorities to make use of their empty properties by selling them, so that the purchasers can make the improvements themselves with the aid of improvement grants. Homesteading is an important part of our policy. I hope that the council in Liverpool will use homesteading with the same enthusiasm as many Conservative councils have done.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Does the Minister agree that the real rate of increase in the number of unfit properties recently is 41 per cent.? By what method and by whom were the 1976 figures for unfit houses changed? Does he agree that the report explains why those figures were changed, but not how they were changed? Were those changes made by technically qualified officers? If not, by whom were they made? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that was an exercise in cooking the books to disguise the effects of Tory cuts?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Lady has scored an own goal. The 1981 house condition survey shows that the 1976 house condition survey, which was carried out by the previous Government, seriously underestimated the quantity of unfitness and disrepair.