HC Deb 18 January 1995 vol 252 cc705-6
20. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the number of (a) local authority and (b) housing association dwellings started in 1978 and (c) the estimated number in each category for 1994.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Housing associations started 17,900 new dwellings in England in 1978. We estimate that they will have started over 33,000 new dwellings in 1994. English local authorities started 67,600 dwellings in 1978, with new towns starting a further 7,000 dwellings. We estimate that they will start fewer than 500 dwellings in 1994. This change reflects the shift to an enabling role for local authorities with housing associations becoming the main providers of new social housing.

Mr. Winnick

Does the Minister recognise that the comparison between 1978 and today illustrates only too well why so many people face such appalling difficulties in trying to find, usually without any success, affordable rented accommodation? Is he aware that when I leave here in the evening and walk up Whitehall, within five minutes of the Palace of Westminster I see a sight that I certainly did not witness before 1979—people sleeping out in the rain and the cold, because they have no alternative? They are among the victims of the Government's callous housing policy, which has left so many people homeless or near homeless.

Mr. Jones

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House earlier when I answered a question from the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) about waiting lists. I told him that they had fallen substantially.

We cannot cover every blade of grass with new housing development. We must ensure that there is a proper balance between building new homes, with the costs associated with that, and ensuring that existing housing stock is properly used.

Mr. Hendry

Will my hon. Friend confirm that what really matters is the number of new lettings made every year? Will he further confirm that last year there was the highest number of new lettings since 1979? Lettings are on the increase.

Mr. Jones

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a valuable point. Local authorities, with their new enabling role, can ensure that lettings are available not just in the public sector but in the private sector. Some local authorities whose representatives I met during the recent housing investment programme rounds have been much more successful than others at managing to persuade owners of empty properties in the private sector to make them available for rent. I commend that strategy to all local authorities—it is copying the successes of the best.

Mr. Dobson

Why will not the Minister admit that, despite the claim that housing associations have taken on the role of councils, the figures that he has quoted show that the number of houses available for letting by councils and housing associations together has more than halved? Roughly speaking, 50 council houses were built in 1979 for every one that this rotten, mean-minded Government are building today.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman seems to think that money grows on trees. The only suggestion he has for making more money available is to release capital receipts, which would have a dramatic effect on council taxes as well as driving up borrowing. That would be most unsatisfactory in present circumstances. The hon. Gentleman also sets his face against harnessing private money for the redevelopment of housing and the creation of new housing. I commend the large-scale voluntary transfers as a way of getting additional resources for housing.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Do not the figures that my hon. Friend just quoted represent a real achievement in helping the homeless? Do they not make the Labour party's professions on wanting to care for the homeless seem extremely hollow?

Mr. Jones

What the Labour party wants more than anything else is for people to be captives in the public sector, which is the very opposite of our view. We believe that people should realise their aspirations to be home owners or to rent, whichever they want.