HC Deb 02 December 1991 vol 200 cc9-10
7. Mr. Murphy

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he next intends to meet Welsh local government leaders to discuss local government finance.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

My right hon. Friend will meet the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance after he has received the submissions and consultations on the settlement proposals for 1992–93, which are due in by 24 December.

Mr. Murphy

Does the Minister agree that the council tax, which he is pushing through the House now, will be seen as just as unfair and unrelated to the ability of people to pay as the poll tax? Does he accept that it is so unfair that with all the discounts and bandings, the Government will have to squander another £100 million in precisely the way that they had to squander money to dump the poll tax?

Mr. Bennett

The last thing that the people of Wales want is to return to the discredited and out-dated rating system, which the hon. Gentleman said some years ago was not supported. Labour now wishes to go back to it. The council tax proposals are eminently fair. There is a special banding for Wales, with special reductions. More than 90 per cent. of all local government expenditure in Wales is provided by central Government or business finance, not by the chargepayer. The Labour party's proposals would mean 14 bands, but we were not told the ratios between the different bands. In other words. Labour Members did not have the guts to tell the people of Wales just what their proposals were.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Minister accept that local authorities in Wales will need much more capital finance if they are to make inroads into the massive housing shortage for people on the waiting lists in Wales? Is he aware of the representations from a number of Welsh local authorities about the need for a review of housing and planning legislation to make sure that the housing problem is cracked? Will the Government call a conference in Wales to consider those serious issues?

Mr. Bennett

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of dealing with housing in Wales. My right hon. Friend will shortly be making a statement about capital allocations for local authorities. It must be remembered that the role of local authorities has changed from their being the providers to being the enablers. We have put considerable sums of money into Housing for Wales. This year, a record 3,500 properties are under construction. I take seriously and personally the need to tackle the housing problem in Wales, which is why we recently issued "Housing in Wales: An Agenda for Action", the first-ever agenda on housing issued by a Government Department.

Mr. Edwards

The Minister states that Tai Cymru is building 3,500 homes in Wales next year. However, there are 3,500 people on the waiting list in my constituency alone. Is he aware that those people will never be able to buy, that they cannot afford to rent, and that for them very little is being developed in the council housing sector—indeed, nothing at all—which means that they have little chance of getting into a property developed by Tai Cymru? Does he appreciate that there is a massive housing crisis in Wales, and especially in my constituency?

Mr. Bennett

No, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise that not enough is being done. We are working hard on the housing problems of Wales. Housing waiting lists are not a good indication of need because they have not been validated. When local authorities have examined their waiting lists, they have found that a large number of people on them have moved or no longer need to be rehoused. That is why housing lists are not an especially good indicator. We are increasing the number of properties available for rent through the housing associations, but we must also consider the total number of properties being built in Wales. Private builders are doing a good job in building new properties for sale and that creates a knock-on effect on rented accommodation.

Through our policies, for instance those on rented accommodation, we now provide a special allocation for the flats above shops initiative. If the hon. Gentleman takes a walk down any high street he will see how that policy is working through into the provision of new housing.