HC Deb 06 February 1985 vol 72 cc928-30
12. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he is satisfied that the amounts allocated to housing capital expenditure in "The Government's Expenditure Plans 1985–86 to 1987–88" will be sufficient to prevent the deterioration of the housing stock.

Sir George Young

The Government's plans allow for over £3 billion of public investment in housing in each of the next three years. It is for local authorities to decide what proportions of their share to use on renovating their stock, on home improvement grants or on other capital expenditure.

Mr. Alton

What advice does the Under-Secretary of State have for authorities such as my own, which have already entered into legal and binding agreements for next year's capital programme and now find that their allocation is insufficient to meet those contracts? What advice does the hon. Gentleman have for authorities which have stopped their housing action area programmes and have put most of their resources elsewhere?

Sir George Young

The message to Liverpool must be that it needs a heavy injection of realism. The council's stated intention for capital expenditure on housing stretches far beyond any reasonable expectation of capital provision. The message to go back to Liverpool is that Liverpool must try to live within its means.

Mr. Yeo

Is my hon. Friend aware that housing expenditure is one of the most labour-intensive forms of any public expenditure? Is he further aware that the reports in today's press of the possibility of further cuts in housing expenditure have given rise to considerable concern?

Sir George Young

There is no foundation for that headline.

Miss Boothroyd

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that, because of the Government's pernicious financial policies, for the first time in the history of the Black Country towns within Sandwell are unable to build council houses? What message does the hon. Gentleman have for the more than 6,000 families who are on a council waiting list in that area?

Sir George Young

The first message to any local authority must be that it should look at the number of vacant units it already has. Often those units are vacant for more than 12 months. The local authority's first priority must be to get that stock back into use.

Dr. Hampson

Does my hon. Friend agree that we are accustomed to the press selectively quoting from leaked Government documents? Will he go beyond what he said to my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo), because, unless he knocks on the head the impression given in The Guardian today that councils will not be eligible to use their assets, there will be no incentive for councils to sell their assets, which is central Government policy?

Sir George Young

I have seen the article to which my hon. Friend referred. The headline in particular is grossly misleading. No such proposal is on the table.

Mr. Steel

Does not the hon. Gentleman's answer to the questions asked by the hon. Members for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) and for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) mean that he is denying the figures contained in the reports, which claim to come from his Department, showing that there has been a severe reduction in the number of new starts in house building in the public and private sectors? Is the hon. Gentleman denying those figures?

Sir George Young

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 18 December his proposals for the capital spending in 1985–86 by local authorities, he indicated that the pesent system was unsatisfactory and that he was embarking on discussions with the local authority associations. My right hon. Friend has held a useful meeting with the chairman of the local authority associations. That article arises from a subsequent discussion between my right hon. Friend's officials and officers of the associations.

Mr. Bendall

As the London borough of Redbridge has had its share cut by £7 million, how does my hon. Friend think that Redbridge, with a large number of Airey houses, can repair those units? The cut will seriously delay those repairs.

Sir George Young

I am well aware of the particular problems in Redbridge, where there are a number of Airey houses. I have had a meeting with the chairman of the housing committee. The representations made by my hon. Friend and by the chairman of the housing committee have been taken into account in assessing Redbridge's housing allocation for next year.

Mr. Rooker

I ask the Under-Secretary of State two questions. First, will he answer question No. 12 and say whether the money will prevent a deterioration in the housing stock? Secondly can the hon. Gentleman categorically tell the House whether the proposal announced by the Secretary of State to cut to 20 per cent. the amount that local authorities can use will be the figure in the order brought before the House, or will the figure be less than 20 per cent., as forecast in The Guardian this morning?

Sir George Young

The figure will be 20 per cent. On the first question, the responsibility for preventing the deterioration of the housing stock has to rest in the first instance with the owner-occupier, who is, in the vast majority of cases, the owner of the stock, rather than the Government.