HC Deb 10 July 1991 vol 194 cc940-1
9. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the Government's policy towards the public rented sector.

Sir George Young

Our policy is set out in chapter 7 of the Department of the Environment's 1991 annual report—Cm. 1508.

Mr. Winnick

Why should so many people be denied adequate rented accommodation? I think that hon. Members probably receive more letters about housing and the need to be rehoused than on any other subject, so why should people be penalised because they cannot afford to buy and because the chance of getting a council house is now so remote? When Ministers go home in their chauffeur-driven cars—usually to one of their palatial homes—do they notice, two or three minutes from here, people living in squalor on the streets? They are some of the victims of the Government's housing policy.

Sir George Young

On the second point, the hon. Gentleman should know that more progress in helping people who sleep rough in London has been made in the past six months than in the whole history of the capital city. As for homeless people, I note with interest that there are 74 homeless households in Walsall in temporary accommodation, but that Walsall has 989 empty dwellings.

Mr. Sumberg

How high will council rents in my constituency have to rise to compensate for the disastrous decision made by the Labour-controlled council in Bury to invest all its resources—about £6.5 million—in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International? Is not that decision an appalling indictment of the Labour leadership in Bury, and are my constituents not entitled to know why it occurred because it has ruined the chances of good services in my constituency for years to come?

Sir George Young

Of course, one sympathises with the charge payers in my hon. Friend's constituency, but the responsibility clearly rests with the local government leaders who took such a decision.

Mr. Soley

When answering this question it will be appropriate for the Minister to remember that today there is a major lobby of Parliament by homeless people following the sleep-out night earlier this week. It is also appropriate for him to remember the Duke of Edinburgh's report which said that about 1.7 million to 1.9 million homes have been lost from the rented sector—about half of them from the public sector—in the past 10 or 11 years. Will the Minister give a more definitive answer to the question, because the previous Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), explicitly expressed the view that councils should no longer provide housing. Does the Minister agree? How soon does he envisage council house provision coming to an end?

Sir George Young

The Government have made it absolutely clear that they look to the housing association movement to provide new affordable homes to rent. They expect local authorities to devote their resources to improving and modernising their stock, and local authorities are now spending twice as much in real terms on improving their stock as they did 10 years ago. That seems a sensible division of responsibility.