HC Deb 06 July 1983 vol 45 cc261-3
1. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the Government's policy on the building and improvement of council dwellings.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Ian Gow)

Local authorities are free to determine their own priorities for investment, including on newbuild and improvements to council dwellings, within the total resources available to them.

Public housing starts in 1982 were substantially higher than in 1981. In the first five months of this year there was a significant increase over the same period in 1982. The number of dwellings improved by local authorities last year—62,600—was substantially above the number in 1981—52,400.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Minister aware that as a result of cuts in public expenditure and the Government's dogmatism an increasing number of people are desperately in need of council accommodation? Is he further aware that such people are not in a position to take on a mortgage? Are Ministers proud of the fact that, despite all the figures and the boasts, council house building remains at the level that it was in the 1920s? Is that not a scandal and a disgrace, because it causes intense misery for hundreds of thousands of people?

Mr. Gow

There has been a considerable increase in housing starts in recent years. For example, in 1982 the number of starts was 35,000 above that in 1981. In the first five months of this year starts totalled 84,200, compared with 71,900 in the first five months of last year.

Mr. Heddle

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box at Question Time. Does he agree that the Labour party, instead of weeping crocodile tears over those who want the right to rent, should drop its dogmatic objection to shorthold and thus enable such people to rent property, not only in the public sector, but in the private sector too?

Mr. Gow

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. I agree entirely with his second point. Some of the remarks that are made by Labour Members diminish the prospect of rented accommodation becoming available in the private sector—something for which the Labour party claims to be strongly in favour.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Will the Minister turn his attention to the second half of the question, about improvements? There are great problems in industrialised building, particularly Reema houses and flats, the occupants of which cannot obtain mortgages, nor have them demolished by the local authority. Will the hon. Gentleman publish the report that his Department now has on that?

Mr. Gow

I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman has said and make a statement as soon as I am able to do so.

Mr. Nelson

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most significant proposals put forward to improve the existing stock of council dwellings is the right-to-repair provision in the Housing and Building Control Bill, which has just been introduced, and that far from castigating that provision, as the Opposition appear to do, they should applaud it?

Mr. Gow

My hon. Friend is right. We hope that the right-to-repair provision in the Bill, which received its Second Reading yesterday by a substantial majority of more than 200, will, when it reaches the statute book, significantly improve the opportunity for council properties to be repaired in the way that my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. John Evans

Does the Minister believe that local authorities should be encouraged to spend some of the money that they receive from the sale of council houses to repair and improve existing council stock?

Mr. Gow

Yes. It is open to local authorities to spend their receipts from the sale of council houses in the way that they determine. I hope that they will spend their money, because, as the House knows, there was a significant underspend last year of approximately £800 million.

Mr. Spence

Will my hon. Friend ensure that the spirit as well as the letter of the Housing Act 1980 are enforced for the improvement and new building of houses and dwellings by local councils, by means of private labour organisations, by competitive tendering and by making them responsible for the figures that they produce?

Mr. Gow

The Department of the Environment has responsibility for ensuring that the direct labour organisations are managed in accordance with the Act and it is our duty to monitor progress by local authorities. We shall do our utmost to ensure that both the letter and the spirit of the Act are observed.

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