HC Deb 16 February 1994 vol 237 cc936-8
8. Mr. Burden

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his Department's latest estimate of the number of new housing association houses to be completed in 1993–94, 1994–95 and 1995–96.

12. Mr. Barron

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his Department's latest estimate of the number of new housing association houses to be completed in 1993–94, 1994–95 and 1995–96.

Sir George Young

The Housing Corporation estimates that housing associations will provide around 57,600 new lettings in 1993–94, 58,300 in 1994–95 and 51,500 in 1995–96; a total of around 167,400 over the three years.

Mr. Burden

Is not the real fact that in the next financial year Government investment in housing associations will be cut by more than £300 million and in the year after by not far short of £300 million? How does the Minister explain away the fact that his Government have spent years grooming housing associations as an alternative to local authorities in providing low-cost housing only now to strangle housing associations, forcing them to cut back on building, or raise rents, or both? What does that mean for the 900 families who become homeless in my city of Birmingham every single month?

Sir George Young

What really matters is the fact that the Government have exceeded by 25,000 the number of new units they said that they would provide. We have exceeded our manifesto commitment by producing 178,000 new homes as against 153,000. In the three years 1989–90 to 1991–92 the output was 70,000; in the next three years it is likely to be 178,000. That is what really matters for the homeless.

Mr. Barron

Is not what really matters the newbuild social housing that we have for rent in this country and not the figures which the Government are putting out? Is not it true that there will be a 38 per cent. reduction in building new social housing for rent rather than the figures with which the Minister is misleading the House?

Sir George Young

What really matters for people in housing need is the number of new lettings. Those are the figures that are of relevance to people in housing need and they are the figures which consistently go up.

Mr. Hendry

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that there are 2 million more houses in this country than there were in 1979, but that too many of them are currently empty? Can he also confirm that the Government's task force on empty properties is making a concerted attack on bringing back into use those empty Government properties? Is not it time that Labour local authorities who are sitting on thousands upon thousands of empty houses made an equally determined attack on the problem?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right. We must make better use of the stock that we already have. There are some 800,000 units empty and there is a political imperative to bring them back into use. I hope shortly to receive the report of the task force, with its recommendations for making better use of Government-owned properties. Local authorities, particularly Labour-controlled local authorities in London, must make better use of their own housing stock if we are to make faster progress.

Mr. Barry Field

Is not the real answer to more housing association houses being built to give the tenants the right to buy? To paraphrase Shakespeare, what we would like to hear on this side of the House is: "Sir George for England and for housing association tenants".

Sir George Young

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for injecting a patriotic note into our discussions.

As I explained, many housing association tenants have the opportunity to become home owners by taking advantage of the tenants incentive scheme. The way in which housing associations are now funded makes it impossible to extend to housing association tenants rights parallel to those available to local authority tenants; but, in many cases, the tenants incentive scheme is a better alternative.

Mr. Pike

The Minister was very selective about the figure that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden). He did not dare to compare the current position with that of 1979. Will he not admit that there is now a serious shortfall in housing that is built for rent, as a result of Government policy? The Government are now cutting the money available to housing associations, and they have axed local authority provision. Given that he accepted last year that capital receipts should be used to allow new building, why does not the Minister accept that they should be used for that purpose now?

Sir George Young

The figures for homeless acceptances have fallen for the past six quarters; in the past 12 months, there have been 41 per cent. fewer people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation; and the number of lettings is rising. That is the currency which matters to people on waiting lists or in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We are making good progress, and we are determined to go on and do even better.

Mr. John Marshall

Is my right hon. Friend aware that 9 per cent. of Hackney council's housing stock is unlet? Does he not think that the council is trying to become even less efficient than Lambeth council—if that is possible?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right: there are housing difficulties in Hackney and it is incumbent on Hackney council to do all that it can to make better use of its housing stock. Filling those properties would generate a rental income which, in turn, could be ploughed back into improving the condition of the housing stock. I very much hope that that will be one of the issues on which public attention will be focused in London over the forthcoming months.