HC Deb 04 June 1984 vol 61 cc5-7
4. Dr. Marek

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will enable local authorities to expand their housing programmes.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wyn Roberts)

My right hon. Friend will continue to make available to Welsh authorities the maximum housing resources commensurate with the overall need to contain public expenditure.

Dr. Marek

I anticipated that complacent reply, which is no consolation for Welsh people who require housing. Does the Minister realise that Wales is being subjected to the worst housing programme since the 1920s? Is he aware that available finances are spent on maintaining the fabric of housing rather than on building new houses? In the light of that, will the Minister enable local authorities immediately to finance the building of new council houses?

Mr. Roberts

There is a danger of underestimating how much money is being spent on housing in Wales. Last year gross capital expenditure was about £245 million. That was higher in real terms than at any time since 1976–77. A great deal of money is being spent on housing this current year, when we expect to spend about £200 million. The choice between new build, rehabilitation and other forms of housing spend is a matter for local authorities.

Mr. Best

Is not expenditure on public sector housing in Wales and elsewhere in the United Kingdom one of the most cost-ineffective ways of providing housing? Does my hon. Friend agree that far more could be done through housing associations and house renovation and repair grants, to which the Government have devoted a great deal of money?

Mr. Roberts

My hon. Friend is quite right. He may recall that under the Labour Administration public sector new build declined by some 60 per cent. We and local authorities are putting the accent on rehabilitation. Last year alone we spent more on rehabilitation than the Labour Government spent in five years in office.

Mr. Rowlands

Is the Minister not aware that tens of thousands of Welsh householders are condemned to eternal waiting for home improvement grants and that 3,600 of them are in the Merthyr borough? Will the Minister sit down with the Welsh local authorities and try to shorten the unending waiting lists that have accumulated and help home owners to improve their houses? If the accent is on improvement, why does not the Minister help local authorities to help householders to improve their homes?

Mr. Roberts

I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that I have already sat down with Welsh local authority representatives on the Welsh housing consultative committee to discuss the problem with them. We are very glad that a tremendous influx of applications for improvement grants has resulted from the measure in the 1982 Budget introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) when he was Chancellor. I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that about half of those applications have been dealt with or are in the process of being dealt with. There are, nevertheless, about 74,000 applications awaiting processing, approval and implementation. We are concentrating on trying to resolve that problem.

Mr. Hooson

Does my hon. Friend agree with my estimate that we may have halved the number of unfit Welsh houses since 1980–81 as a result of the wide implementation of the improvement grant system?

Mr. Roberts

There is no doubt that the 1976 and 1981 house condition surveys revealed considerable unfitness and need for repair and rehabilitation of housing in Wales. That is why the Government have adopted the rehabilitation policy, which has been backed by local authorities. We are all concentrating on rehabilitation. We sincerely hope that the next house condition survey in 1986 will show much improvement in the state of the Welsh housing stock.

Mr. Barry Jones

Is the Minister not ashamed that hundreds of elderly Welsh citizens are likely to die before their dilapidated homes are repaired? Is he not disturbed that when tens of thousands of Welsh construction workers are on the dole there are growing queues of homeless people seeking council tenancies? His policies are in ruins. They are a disgrace.

Mr. Roberts

Let me stress just once again that last year we spent £100 million on improvement grants, more than was spent in five years under the Labour Government. With regard to the elderly, I urge from the Dispatch Box that local authorities should give them priority if they are on the waiting list for improvement grants. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the 90 per cent. rate of improvement grant will still be available to those in hardship.