§ 1. Mr. Sheerman
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he is taking to stimulate the building of houses suitable for tenants or buyers on lower incomes. 
§ The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration (Mr. David Curry)
My Department has a housing programme of £6.7 billion this year, which goes mainly to provide new social lettings, to renovate existing housing, and to help finance rent rebates for council tenants. We also finance a number of low-cost home ownership programmes.
§ Mr. Sheerman
Is that not an appallingly complacent answer from a Minister who knows that in 1979 local councils built 75,600 houses, whereas last year they built just 1,600? Is it not a matter of shame for both the hon. Gentleman and the Government that there are tens of thousands homeless people throughout the country and that people are living in degrading and squalid conditions? Is it not time the Government liberated councils to build the homes that people deserve?
§ Mr. Curry
Why is the hon. Gentleman so obsessed with houses being built by councils? What is the difference between a house built by a council, one built by a housing association and one built by the private sector? It shows the Labour party's obsession with state ownership and state development. One of the greatest achievements, among others, of this Government has been to put housing associations in the front line in the development of new homes. That is infinitely better and more flexible than house building by councils.
§ Dr. Spink
Will my hon. Friend confirm that there are about 800,000 empty houses in this country and that councils, especially those under Labour control, have a responsibility to bring them into use? Would that not help those on low incomes?
§ Mr. Curry
It is true that there is a large number of empty homes in both the public and the private sectors. We have a housing partnership programme aimed at bringing them into use. It is also true that, if we could get more of them into use, that would make a significant dent in some of the housing problems.
§ Mr. Raynsford
Why will the Minister not admit to the true state of housing in Britain today, with house sales last month 14 per cent. down on 1994, 1.25 million home owners trapped in negative equity, repossessions running at 1,000 a week—50,000 a year—councils to all intents and purposes stopped from building new housing, and housing association budgets cut for two years running, thereby reducing the combined output of rented housing by councils and housing associations to the lowest levels since the second world war? Is it not clear that the Government have failed the nation and that they have lost 194 the confidence of house builders, tenants and home owners alike, and that they should now make way for a Labour Government who will take housing seriously?