HC Deb 14 November 1990 vol 180 cc574-6
14. Mr. Flannery

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many council homes have been started by local councils in the current year.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Michael Spicer)

Local authority housebuilding is currently running at a rate of 7,000 starts a year. Housing associations are the major providers of new subsidised housing for rent. We announced last week that funding of housing associations will increase to more than £2 billion by 1993–94.

Mr. Flannery

Is not the stark reality that since the Government took office the building of council houses has dropped catastrophically, that homelessness is rising steadily, that the number of people on council waiting lists in big cities is growing all the time, whereas it was falling in 1979, and that many building workers are being laid off as the slump deepens?

Mr. Spicer

The stark reality is that about 40,000 households are in temporary accommodation. At the same time, there are about 100,000 empty council houses, mainly in Labour-controlled authorities. That is the real scandal of the housing problem, which we intend to put right by attaching conditions to the vast housing subsidies that we give to councils.

Mr. Dickens

Is it right to condemn people to live in council houses for the rest of their lives, paying rent until the grave and having nothing to leave their children? Is not it preferable to pursue our present home ownership policy and to help housing associations?

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend is right. That is why our policy of right to buy has been such an enormous success, with more than a million households that would not otherwise have done so now owning their own houses. It is also why we shall be experimenting in Basildon with the rent-to-mortgage scheme.

Mr. George Howarth

Does the Minister recognise that there is a strong connection between the decline in the supply of all sorts of rented housing over the past 11 years and the inexorable rise in homelessness? Has he had an opportunity to read the report prepared recently by the Tory-controlled London Boroughs Association, entitled, "A Crying Shame—The Child Victims of Homelessness"? That report calls for a supplement to the inadequate £250 million allocation for homelessness and the relaxation of controls on capital receipts and it calls for local authorities to be allowed to bring into use long-term vacancies in the private sector. What does the hon. Gentleman intend to do about that?

Mr. Spicer

What I want to do about the 600,000 empty houses in the private sector is to reinvigorate the whole private sector by totally changing the attitude to landlords. My problem is that if the Labour party ever returned to power, it would introduce new controls which would completely kill off the rented sector. The number of houses per head of population has risen considerably in the past few years. Because of the break-up of marriages and various other social forces, there are pressures on housing. That is why we have vastly increased the money that we are spending on the homeless, both single people and families. This Government have done more than any other Government to focus money on the homeless.