HC Deb 04 December 1985 vol 88 cc293-5
10. Mr. Cartwright

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how long he estimates it will take to complete all the repairs identified in the report of the inquiry into the condition of the local authority housing stock in England on the basis of existing public expenditure plans.

18. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the estimated amount of repair and modernisation work needed to council owned residential accommodation.

Mr. John Patten

I refer the hon. Members to the replies given on 12 November by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle).

Mr. Cartwright

Does the Minister accept the Audit Commission's assessment that an extra £900 million will have to be added to the outstanding repair bill for council housing every year? Does he deny that at the present rate of spending it will take about 90 years to clear the nearly £19 billion-worth of defects which were revealed in the Department's report, which was published only recently? What hope can he give to the hundreds of thousands of families who are condemned to live in cold, damp, condensation-ridden substandard council housing?

Mr. Patten

I hope the hon. Gentleman recognises that the Government are the first Administration to go into this matter comprehensively and to publish a complete report. That was done as a result of the initiative of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). I take this opportunity of paying tribute to him for what he did as Minister for Housing and Construction.

I hope the hon. Gentleman also recognises that the net sums available have been increased this year. Furthermore, the net amount that is being spent on repairing the public sector housing stock is about £1.25 billion this year from the current account and about £1.25 billion from the capital account. That is, I think, a record level of expenditure, and substantially more than the £500 million from the capital account that was being spent in 1979, for example.

Mr. Winnick

Does the Minister recognise that the vast amount of work that has to be done is largely the Government's responsibility because HIP allocations in the past few years have been entirely inadequate for local authorities either to repair or modernise on the scale required, and certainly inadequate to allow them to build? Is he aware that local authorities should have the financial means to allow them to carry out the work that is necessary so that they do not have to hand over estates to private property speculators and spivs?

Mr. Patten

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has some difficult estates in his constituency, such as the Rosehill estate. That is why we sent the urban housing renewal unit to visit it on 22 November. Councils have to make their own priorities in housing expenditure. Surely their first task is to rehabilitate houses which they have in their ownership. They should have been doing that for many years. It is because of underspending by councils for decades that many housing estates have got into such an awful condition. They are now being renovated with the help of private sector money, which should be welcomed in a non-ideological way by the hon. Gentleman.

Mrs. Currie

Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the worst local authority housing was built in the 1960s, which was the last occasion on which we tried to build our way out of the problem? Does he further agree that the best thing to do now is to say never again to proposals to build large-scale, windswept council estates, in which we merely condemn people to misery, to sell off as many houses as we can and to make effective repairs to those that are left?

Mr. Patten

Large-scale solutions do not seem to have helped in the past. The right to buy is certainly helping now. I wish that councils which complain the loudest, like Southwark, which has a reported £24 million of uncollected rents, would collect their rents so that they might spend the money on keeping their housing stock in the state in which it should be kept.

Mr. Favell

Does not the abysmal state of so much local authority housing stock make a case for actively discouraging the building of any more local authority houses?

Mr. Patten

It is the first duty of councils to manage properly and to repair and rehabilitate their stock so that tenants are properly treated. The forthcoming housing and planning Bill will contain provisions to make sure that the voice of tenants is better heard, as it was in Thamesmead, where the tenants voted to leave council control because they were dissatisfied with it. That is characteristic of the GLC.

Mr. John Fraser

The Minister is talking absolute rubbish in accusing local authorities of underspending, when his Government have cut HIP allocations to local authorities by almost 70 per cent. over the last six years. We want to hear from the Minister within what time scale he will give permission for local authorities to raise money or spend their own money to deal with the appalling backlog of housing which has been highlighted by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and confirmed by his own Government's report. Why does he not allow them to go to the market to get money, if they want to, or to spend their own money on this essential purpose?

Mr. Patten

There was widescale agreement by all the local authority associations represented at the housing consultative council meeting last week about the fact that more work needed to be done and about the priority to be accorded to work that should be carried out before proper timetabling could be organised. While we are talking about the AMA, which speaks loudly about the need for more money, I wonder why it is spending on plush new headquarters in central London the sum of £7 million raised from its own ratepayers.