HC Deb 19 July 1995 vol 263 cc1656-8
12. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps are being taken to encourage the availability of affordable rented accommodation. [33383]

Mr. Curry

This year, public funding will produce 70,000 new social lettings. Around 250,000 existing tenancies become available for reletting each year.

Mr. Winnick

Does the Minister not realise that what he has said this afternoon to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and other colleagues does not alter the fact that tens of thousands of families are being punished—there is no other word for it—because they cannot get a mortgage and are unable to obtain a council house, as a result of Tory dogma? Why should those people be punished and have to live in the most dire circumstances, often in a single room, or even be homeless with their children, while Ministers have perfectly adequate accommodation? Is it not time that we allowed local authorities to build again, thus giving people who cannot afford a mortgage the opportunity to live in the kind of accommodation available to Members of Parliament?

Mr. Curry

I would be rather more concerned about the hon. Gentleman's indignation if I felt that he was being a little more useful in tackling the situation in Walsall, where the incoming Labour council is seeking to overturn a tenants' ballot in favour of taking the management of the estate under its control, not to speak of management changes that have even the Labour unions protesting against the Labour council. When he has addressed himself to the problems on his doorstep, he might be more qualified to address the problems of the nation.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend accept that, in Hackney, the Monklands of the south, some 9 per cent. of the housing stock is empty? Is he aware that many Labour-controlled councils have a large number of empty council houses and that also they have not collected huge amounts of rent and rate arrears? If they collected rents, would they not be able to do something about improving the housing stock? Does he also accept that many people welcome the proposals of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to deprive illegal immigrants of the right to social housing?

Mr. Curry

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right on all counts. It must be the first task of local authorities to ensure that they manage their stock correctly. That means that they get down voids, they manage their repairs, they move people through on the waiting list and they collect the rent. The rent which is not collected is simply a resource being ignored, and that means that somebody suffers. Usually, people who are in the worst circumstances suffer from those inefficiencies.

Mr. Dafis

Is it not difficult to justify paying housing association grants to private sector providers of social housing, as the White Paper proposes? If the Government insist on proceeding with that proposal, will the Minister confirm that such private developers will be subjected to exactly the same requirements as housing associations and local authorities on the selection of tenants and being required to accept nominations from local authorities, and so on? Do the Government have any concrete evidence that the private sector can provide social housing more efficiently than housing associations, bearing in mind that, of course, it will take its cut of profits?

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman should realise that if private-sector builders enter this process and therefore get Government subsidy, they will have to sign a contract with the Government that will govern the conditions under which they receive grant, get tenants and quit the sector and it will govern what happens to any profit that they might make over the very long-term from that activity. It is our absolute intention to ensure that housing associations and private developers in that sector are put on an exact equal basis and that the standards of the properties that they are required to build will be the same.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is an unfairness because tenants of social housing and private rented accommodation qualify for housing benefit, and those who are in protected tenancies do not? Does not the landlord of the protected tenant have to subsidise that tenant, whereas taxpayers and council tax payers subsidise tenants in social and private rented housing?

Mr. Curry

I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that one of the central purposes of the White Paper is to encourage more landlords to come into the housing sector. The evidence is that a large number of landlords—many owning few properties—would like to be able to rent their properties but they are concerned about whether they would get possession of the security. Being given rent guarantees, having an intermediary who can act on their behalf and being given the assurance that if things go wrong they will be able to get their possession, for example, is an essential and important way of ensuring that more properties are made available for people to rent. A vigorous private rented sector is an important aspect of a successful economy because of the sheer mobility that it can introduce into our labour market.