HC Deb 05 March 1984 vol 55 cc587-9
1. Dr. Marek

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has for improving housing conditions in Wales.

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

The most pressing need is to improve the condition of the existing housing stock, of which 40 per cent. was built before 1919. Housing improvements have been carried out at record levels over the past four years, and the total capital available for local authority housing will exceed £150 million in the coming financial year.

Dr. Marek

I must thank British Rail for its excellent effort after the points failure at Chester this morning. I missed my connection but was taken to Crewe and the waiting train then arrived early at Euston.

Although it is necessary to repair existing housing stock, the Under-Secretary must realise that local authority new building is far below even his expectation. Can he put forward a programme allowing local authorities to build new houses during the 1984–85 session, over and above any present programme?

Mr. Roberts

As I have told the House on a number of occasions, there has been a long-term decline in public sector house building. For example, during the period of the last Labour Government between 1975 and 1979 there was a decline of about 59 per cent. in local authority house building.

Mr. Grist

Does my hon. Friend agree that the abolition of the zero rating of value added tax on alterations and extensions to houses would be a retrograde step?

Mr. Roberts

That is really a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Anderson

Even though there was a decline in 1979 from the 1974 figures, Welsh people wanting housing definitely want those 1979 figures to be restored. Does the Under-Secretary of State still hold to the view he expressed in September 1982 to the Council for the Principality that, on a conservative estimate, Wales needs 12,000 new buildings each year for 20 years?

Mr. Roberts

That is certainly one way of looking at our housing needs, but the current emphasis is on rehabilitation. I am glad to tell the House that the outlook is nothing like as gloomy as Opposition Members would have us believe. Since the 1982 Budget, local authorities have received a total of 107,000 applications for housing grants, not all of them qualifying for the enhanced rate. About 69,000 have been approved and 43,000 have been paid.

Mr. Mark Robinson

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if councils such as Newport were to speed up the sale of council houses, more funds would be available for home improvement grants?

Mr. Roberts

We are dependent on progress with rehabilitation and, in housing generally, on the sale of council houses. The added benefit is that we shall increase the number of home owners. I am glad that since 1979 the proportion of home owners in Wales has increased significantly.

Mr. Wigley

Given the emphasis that the Under-Secretary claims he is giving to renovation, how does he explain the fact that thousands of people in Wales who expected to obtain improvement grants this year must wait four, five and six years before they obtain the money that is badly needed to improve their homes?

Mr. Roberts

As usual, the hon. Gentleman exaggerates his position. Exaggeration has never proved a case yet. Many authorities are readjusting their policies in view of the announcement of their housing allocations for next year. I have already given the figures. of the 107,000 applications for grant, 69,000 have been approved and 43,000 have been paid.

Mr. Hooson

Will my hon. Friend estimate what proportion of the houses that were classified as unfit in 1980 are no longer unfit as a result of the excellent improvement grants?

Mr. Roberts

The 1981 survey showed that there were about 91,000 unfit houses. About 40,000 repair grant applications have been approved, so we have made an impact, which will show up in the next housing survey.

Mr. Geraint Howells

'Will the Minister inform the House why local authorities in Wales built fewer private houses in the public sector in the 1980s than in the 1970s?

Mr. Roberts

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman means, but I think that he was referring all the time to the public sector. It is entirely up to the local authorities whether they build, but it seems fairly clear, looking at the last decade, that they, like us, are moving towards rehabilitation. For example, today I have approved three new enveloping schemes to be carried out by Cardiff, Rhondda and Ogwr district councils, under which 443 houses in urgent need of attention are to be enveloped.

Mr. Raffan

While housing unfitness is principally a private sector phenomenon, does my hon. Friend agree that council house maintenance is a very important responsibility of borough councils, and that, if such maintenance had been carried out properly in the past 20 or 30 years, boroughs such as mine in Delyn would not now have to spend upward of £1 million a year on extremely expensive rolling programmes of improvements?

Mr. Roberts

If my hon. Friend looks at an answer that I gave at a previous Welsh Question Time he will see that local authorities have spent significant amounts on repairing their dwellings. He will also know that the Housing and Building Control Bill introduces a right to repair that will enable council tenants to carry out repairs themselves and claim reimbursement from their landlords.

Mr. Barry Jones

Does the Under-Secretary understand that more than 3,000 skilled building operatives and tens of thousands of construction workers in Wales are out of work? Is it not the case that his programme offers them no chance of work?

Mr. Roberts

Our housing programme, with expenditure of about £150 million, is a significant programme, and should give employment to many unemployed people.

Back to