§ 17. Mr. Austin Mitchell
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many homes have been built by local councils in England over the past five years; and what were the figures for the period 1974 to 1979. 
§ Mr. Mitchell
The Minister is telling us that, at a time of desperate and growing need for low-cost social rented housing, the number of starts and completions by councils is down by more than 90 per cent. Is he proud of that? Is he proud of the fact that councils will build only 1,000 new houses this year and that housing associations will build fewer than 20,000, at a time of need? Is he proud of the fact that, this year, there will be the lowest number of starts for low-cost rented housing for 50 years?
§ Mr. Curry
The hon. Gentleman has been in this place long enough to know that the earlier figure referred to local authority building at a time when local authorities were the prime new builders of social housing, whereas the latter figure refers to a period when that role has been largely taken over by housing associations. Last night the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) and I were at a meeting to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the National Federation of Housing Associations, whose members are now significant builders. He might have added that 260,000 new lettings in the relevant period came from housing associations.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is therefore simple: the Government do not believe that new build should be undertaken predominantly by local 346 authorities. We believe in diversification of tenure and in choice. We believe that housing associations are better placed, more skilful and more effective at delivering new housing than local authorities.
§ Mr. Dobson
Will the Minister confirm that, taking council house building and housing association building for rent together, the total this year will be the lowest for the 50 years since VE day?
§ Mr. Curry
We have produced 180,000 new lettings in the past three years, and we will produce as many again in the next three years. What matters is letting, not building. It is nonsense to assume that the only house available is one built from scratch. What matters are properties coming to the marketplace for social letting. We have made significant achievements in that respect, and we shall continue to build on them.