HC Deb 30 April 1984 vol 59 cc4-6
4. Mr. Anderson

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he has now received copies of the reports on housing in the Principality by the Association of Directors of Housing and the housing associations; and what response he intends to make.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

I received a copy of the report some days after it was made available to HTV and the press. The issues it raised have been discussed in the House on many occasions and I see no need for any formal response.

Mr. Anderson

What a dismissive way to try to get rid of reports which clearly show the universal condemnation of Welsh Office policies by those in the front line. I refer not only to the two reports about which I asked, but to the leaked Welsh Office advisory report. Why did the Welsh Office, in response to the universal call for a housing strategy for the Principality, say that it was naive for such a strategy to be demanded? Was the use of the word "naive" approved? If it was, does that not show complete complacency about the magnitude of housing problems in Wales?

Mr. Roberts

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not complacent. I am fully aware of housing problems in Wales. The report is entitled "Report on the capital investment in housing in Wales". I find it inadequate on that score. It grossly understates what is being spent on housing. It quotes authorities' capital expenditure on a net basis and omits the substantial input from capital receipts in recent years. The report also ignores the valuable contribution being made by the Housing Corporation and fails to recognise the significance of urban development grant. The authors are clearly not fully aware of what capital investment there is in housing in Wales.

Mr. Hubbard-Miles

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the years 1980–81 and 1981–82 there was considerable underspending of the capital uptake by local housing authorities, amounting to something over £80 million in the two years?

Mr. Roberts

My hon. Friend is right. In 1981–82 we provided for expenditure of some £31 per head on housing in Wales compared with £32 per head in England, but in Wales £22 per head was spent as opposed to £32 per head in England—about 50 per cent. more.

Mr. Wigley

Will the Minister tell the House whether he intends to publish "The production of a housing plan for Wales", the document produced by the housing management advisory panel for Wales in September last, which he has kept hidden until now and which is a devastating indictment of the Government's failure to come to grips with the problem? Will he now produce a plan and set up a working party as recommended in the document?

Mr. Roberts

There is nothing secret about the document to which the hon. Gentleman refers. In fact, I discussed it with the Welsh housing consultative committee on 2 December last year. Its main thrust was to get the Welsh Office to fund a research programme costing some £83,000 upon which a housing plan for Wales might be based. I did not believe that the research was necessary—we have all the facts—nor do I think that the local authorities would agree a plan because of their widely differing circumstances, requirements and policy objectives. If the local authorities feel differently, of course they are welcome to fund the research which, as I say, is estimated to cost £83,000.

Mr. Mark Robinson

Will my hon. Friend confirm that private house building starts in Wales are up some 40 per cent. since 1981? Does that not show that the Government's policies are having an effect on Welsh housing, contrary to what we hear from the Opposition?

Mr. Roberts

Of course, my hon. Friend is right as regards the private sector. It is curious that in this exchange we have not, as yet, mentioned the Government's strategy on the rehabilitation of houses in Wales. The extent of that rehabilitation is illustrated by the fact that last year alone some £102 million was spent on grants compared with only £58 million over the Labour Administration's last five years. That is our strategy for Wales.

Mr. Barry Jones

With thousands of homeless Welsh people and tens of thousands of construction workers in Wales on the dole, why did the Minister decide to cut local authority building allocation by some 20 per cent.? Is it not foolish and cruel to limit the capability of housing associations this year to about only one sixth of what they could do? Is he not that aware that this policy and that of his Department for housing in Wales is a national disgrace?

Mr. Roberts

There is a considerable amount of housing activity in Wales. I have already stressed that the Government's emphasis is on the rehabilitation of older properties. That has been demanded time and again by Opposition Members. I am delighted to say that between April 1982 and December 1983 we have had 121,000 applications for improvement grants, of which 29,000 have been completed and 28,000 have been approved. By my calculation we are about half way towards achieving what we require.