HC Deb 15 July 1987 vol 119 cc1120-2
4. Mr. Hunter

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what measures he proposes to take to increase the availability of specifically low-cost rented housing, public and private.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. William Waldegrave)

We are aiming to increase the overall supply of rented housing, some of which will be available to those on lower incomes. In addition, we are giving local authorities new powers to grant-aid private rented housing and enabling housing associations to combine public and private finance.

Mr. Hunter

Will my hon. Friend comment on the proposition that in many parts of the country there is a dire social need for more low-cost rented housing and that although the Government's initiative on reactivating the private sector is welcome, unless there is an appreciable Treasury input low-cost rented housing will not become available?

Mr. Waldegrave

One of the most hopeful developments is the application of private money to meet the needs of housing associations. However, I remind my hon. Friend that the other side of supply is getting the houses built. If we oppose the building of all housing in high pressure areas, we may be in some difficulty.

Mr. Rees

Will the Minister talk to his right hon. and learned Friend who is responsible for the inner cities and who, to his credit, visited the centre of Leeds and south Leeds last week? If he does, he will find that the Leeds, South council has done an excellent job over the years. However, the particular problem that we face, and about which I should like to get something done, is that we have had to knock down some flats that were built only 20 years ago. We shall also have to knock down some duo slab and other housing—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Rees

If I had wanted to make a political point I should have said that they were built under Conservative control. It is no good telling us about increasing the amount of low-cost housing, because we need to replace the housing that has been knocked down. Will the Minister do something to help us to do that?

Mr. Waldegrave

Several interesting schemes are coming forward in Leeds at the moment, for example, the Hillcrest scheme. The council is willing to consider bringing in private sector money and is talking to housing associations and so forth. Such schemes are interesting and we shall do our best to carry them forward.

Mr. Heddle

I applaud the manifesto commitment to encourage responsible private sector capital to build new houses for rent, but does my hon. Friend not agree that hundreds of thousands of houses that are in the ownership and management of local authorities are empty at the moment and that they should be brought into beneficial use forthwith?

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. Indeed, that sentiment has been expressed many times by Ministers speaking at the Dispatch Box. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that it is, and must be, part of that purpose to bring back into use large numbers of empty houses in the private sector. That is the purpose of our proposals for freeing the rented sector.

Mr. Rooker

I should like to agree with the first part of the Minister's first answer, in that the housing that needs to be built for low rent in high-pressure areas must be supported by hon. Members from all parties, which has not been the case in the past.

I should also like to point out to the Minister that we are not really talking about low-cost housing, which results in the exact examples that were given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). By definition, low rent housing implies a subsidy. How much subsidy will be available to provide well-built housing that will last, at rents that people can afford?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman is right to make the distinction between cost and price. Some of the cheaply built houses of the past—built under both Labour and Conservative Administrations—have been a catastrophic part of our inheritance. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would be a major achievement if we could apply some of the large resources that are available in the City to housing associations for building low-cost housing. I believe that we are not far apart on the importance of that.

Mr. Hill

I agree with my hon. Friend completely about the housing programme, but is he aware that it means much more money will have to be poured into the Housing Corporation, which will assist the housing associations to take over this sector? Will not my hon. Friend eventually have to face the fact that a complete review of the Rent Acts, stretching back to the 1950s, is about due?

Mr. Waldegrave

On the second point, we shall introduce radical proposals on new lets to try to bring back into use existing private housing stock which is empty, and to get new-build private housing for rent. On the first point, my hon. Friend is pessimistic. If we can reorganise the way in which finance for the Housing Corporation is categorised in the national accounts, we will not necessarily have to add to public expenditure, provided that there is real private sector participation.

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