HC Deb 19 July 1995 vol 263 cc1655-6
11. Mr. Khabra

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the total number of social rent homes which will be started in 1995; and what were the figures for 1979. [33382]

Mr. Curry

In 1995–96, we estimate that about 46,000 new social rented homes will be started or released by home ownership grant schemes, together with a further 4,000 shared-ownership properties. There were about 77,000 starts in 1979–80.

Mr. Khabra

The Minister is being evasive. Why does not he face the fact that the Government's housing programme has been a shambles? In the first five months of the year, housing association starts were down by 31 per cent. Does he accept that the output of new houses for rent is the lowest since the end of the second world war?

Will the Minister confirm that his Department's estimate of housing need shows a requirement for between 60,000 and 100,000 new houses for rent each year? However, new starts this year will be only half of the bottom end of that range. Does he admit that his housing policy has been a disaster and does not meet the country's needs?

Mr. Curry

To equate housing need and housing starts is a wholly false comparison. What matters is how many people acquire homes as a result of policies. Housing starts are obviously part of that equation, but so is people's ability to move into empty property, people taking up the incentive schemes and people taking shared ownership. I can think of no Government who would calculate the figures purely on the basis of housing starts. The hon. Gentleman should look at the entire pattern of the housing programmes to see what is being done to help the private rented sector and appreciate how the housing associations have been given a much greater role in the provision of housing. He should also look at the provisions in the White Paper, which are intended to bring greater capital into the programme. I am sure that he will find that, far from being what he described, the Government's housing policy is coherent. We are all waiting for the Opposition's housing policy. We have been told that it is about to be announced, but I suspect that, yet again, they are having a spot of trouble with Gordon.

Mr. Jenkin

Is not the most effective way for local authorities to promote the construction of social housing—and, indeed, to release housing capital receipts—to adopt the large-scale voluntary transfer of council housing stock? They could then pay off their debts and invest their housing capital receipts in new construction, in conjunction with housing associations.

Mr. Curry

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The large-scale voluntary transfer programme provides one of the avenues through which significant resources can be released for the benefit of the tenant and the local authority. I draw his attention equally to the Government's recent proposals on the creation of housing companies, which will provide another avenue. We are anxious to find as many ways as possible to provide the sort of houses that people want and to get the best value for money in providing them.

Mr. Dunn

Given that housing need and homelessness are greatest in inner-city areas, will the Minister please confirm that Labour-controlled inner-city councils are mismanaging many thousands of empty houses and flats, to the detriment of people in real need? The Opposition want to run the country, but they could not even run a bath.

Mr. Curry

My hon. Friend is right. Some inner-city authorities forget that the basic management skills involved in filling voids, doing repairs and keeping people moving up the waiting list are essential in the provision of homes. If they do not have those management skills, they are not likely to be able to embark on any of the more ambitious programmes.

Mr. Dobson

Behind all the Minister's waffle, is it not the case that, in the first five months of the year, there were only 11,000 council or housing association starts and that we are therefore heading for the lowest number of such starts in any year since the second world war? Is it not a bit rich for the Minister to announce suddenly that the Government have seen a blinding new way to deal with the demand and need for housing when their predecessors took the simple-minded view that if there were people with nowhere decent to live, it would be a good idea to build them some houses? Is it not a fact that the Government's housing policy is letting down people who have nowhere to live and people who live in overcrowded conditions? Is it not also letting down owner-occupiers by the million through the record level of negative equity and mortgage arrears and, now, record low levels of house building? It is all very well for Ministers to laugh, but the fact is that, whether people are renting, or buying, or have nowhere to live, the Government are letting them down, and the recent housing White Paper offered no solutions to any of the problems.

Mr. Curry

Before the hon. Gentleman gets too frantic, and before he turns his attention to persuading the shadow Chancellor to allow him to publish his own housing proposals, for which we are all waiting with bated breath, perhaps he might consider what is actually in the White Paper. It is amazing that, even when a document is leaked, the Labour party cannot understand the leaked version.

We have significant proposals for the development of the role of housing associations; we have proposals that will help the development of the private rented sector; we have proposals for the diversification of tenure; and we have proposals to bring new money into the social rented sector and the private rented sector. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is privatisation."] There is a great deal to be said for privatisation. The hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that in, for example, our proposals for housing companies, we intend to allow local authorities a significant stake. I noticed that one of the Opposition's Treasury team speaking at Harrogate—at the same conference at which the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) spoke—said that we should not expect the Labour party to allow local councils to have a majority stake in housing companies because it does not believe that they should. When he reflects on things, the hon. Gentleman will have great difficulty seeing anything in his document apart, of course, from proposals for more council houses built by the same councils on the same old dreary estates.