HC Deb 04 December 1991 vol 200 cc257-8
15. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the latest figures for housebuilding in the public sector; and what are the comparable figures for 1979.

Mr. Yeo

The public sector, mainly local authorities, completed 9,000 dwellings in England in the year to September 1991 compared with 75,000 in 1979. Housing associations, which are in the private sector, are now the main providers of new social rented housing. They completed nearly 16,000 newly-built dwellings in the year to September 1991, and together with acquisition and renovation of houses for letting, building for shared ownership sale, and other activities, the total output of housing associations was almost 22,000 units in 1990–91, compared with only 16,000 in 1979. Under our public expenditure plans, housing association output is due to rise substantially to at least 40,000 by 1993–94.

Mr. Skinner

Is it any wonder that every one of my hon. Friends is now inundated with more complaints about housing matters than at any time since we have been in the House? Is the Minister aware that eight times as many houses were built under the previous Labour Government than those doctored figures show for the last financial year? It is high time that we got rid of the Government who have characterised the 1980s with cardboard city and got a Government for the 1990s who will start using bricks and mortar again.

Mr. Yeo

It is no surprise that hon. Members are inundated with complaints because the problem with housing policy in Britain is that, although it is made by the Government, it is delivered by the local authorities, far too many of which are Labour controlled. There are two real housing scandals in Britain today. The first is the appalling mismanagement and waste of resources. In the hon. Gentleman's constituency of Bolsover no less than 5.3 per cent. of rent remains uncollected. That puts it in the worst quarter of local authorities. More than 120 authorities do twice as well as that with uncollected rent less than half the level in Bolsover. The other scandal is the doctrinaire attitude of Labour-controlled councils such as Plymouth city council which, when Labour took control in May this year, halted for several months the previous Conservative policy of selling land to housing associations at concessionary prices, enabling rents to be kept down and output to be increased.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

With regard to complaints about housing, of which I have many from my constituents, will my hon. Friend confirm that if Labour-controlled Norwich city council were to adopt a more up-to-date approach to housing, co-operate properly with housing associations and take advantage of the various initiatives that have come from the Department of the Environment, it would be better for housing in my constituency and better for my constituents?

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently visited my hon. Friend's constituency and delivered a few home truths to the city council about its housing policy failures. If Norwich were to adopt a proper enabling role and take advantage of the huge opportunities that the Government have made available to local authorities for delivering increased housing output, particularly in co-operation with the private housing sector and the housing associations, the people of Norwich would be much better served.

Mr. O'Brien

Is it not a fact that due to Government policy local authorities will be building no new houses next year and housing associations will achieve only what they achieved in the mid-1970s? Is it not also a fact that waiting lists for houses to rent are increasing and have more than trebled since the Conservatives took office? When shall we have the affordable rented houses that people need? The Government's housing policy is abysmal. When shall we have some policies to provide affordable homes for rent?

Mr. Yeo

The hon. Gentleman obviously was not listening to my answer. Housing association output will soon be running at three times the level that it was in the 1970s. In addition, Britain's total housing stock has increased by 2 million units in the past 12 years—a far higher rate of increase than that of the population as a whole. But the fact remains that while local authorities demonstrate their continued inability to use the resources that are already at their disposal, when so many Labour-controlled authorities cannot even be bothered to collect the huge sums in uncollected rent, I cannot see why the hon. Gentleman should be concerned about the level of rents.

Mr. Ian Taylor

Does my hon. Friend agree that in constituencies such as mine in the south-east there are problems in providing houses for those most in need and I welcome the additional figures that he has announced for housing associations? One of my boroughs, Elmbridge, tried it, but there were objections from Labour groups connected with housing and now my tenants are in a much worse position than they otherwise would have been.

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend has made a most important point. Those authorities that transferred their stock, under the large-scale voluntary transfer policy, have received a substantial capital receipt, a quarter of which they are able to use. In addition, independent research shows that tenants in those areas where transfers to housing associations have taken place have been extremely satisfied with the service that they get and the improved repairs. Moreover, the rent guarantees that they were given have been honoured. I would also draw my hon. Friend's attention to our planning circular 7/91 in which we have encouraged local authorities to identify housing need in their areas and then, when private developers bring forward proposals for new housing, to negotiate with them an element of affordable housing in their developments.