HC Deb 04 March 1997 vol 291 cc699-700
6. Mr. McAvoy

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the total sum allowed for local authority credit approvals for housing investment in 1996–97; and what are the figures for each of the past three years. [17007]

Mr. Curry

The totals are £789 million, £1,014 million, £893 million and £869 million.

Mr. McAvoy

When so many people are homeless or living in substandard accommodation, why are the Government cutting local authority capital investment programmes even further? Is it not time that the Government released, or started to consider releasing, the set-aside capital receipts, to boost local authority housing investment and help ordinary people?

Mr. Curry

It is interesting to see the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) asking a question about investment in English housing. I suppose that he is getting his practice in, because, if the Labour party came to power, he would not be able to ask questions about Scottish housing. The hon. Gentleman's proposals run into the sand in three or four ways. They would involve public expenditure, no matter how the books were rigged. As the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), has said, the need and the receipts do not match each other. For example, the extent to which Malvern Hills can invest is probably limited. There would have to be a massive redistribution and that would need primary legislation. The hon. Gentleman will not tell us how much he would spend, when he would spend it, or when he would legislate to spend it. The proposal is not worth a row of beans, let alone a row of semis.

Mr. David Shaw

Why is it that so many councillors believe that the capital receipts are sitting in some bank account, when local authorities have already taken them into their accounts and spent the money? It seems to be Labour councillors who believe in that mythical situation and who do not understand that the commitment by the Labour party to spend capital receipts would involve an extra £5 billion to £6 billion public expenditure on the public sector borrowing requirement.

Mr. Curry

My hon. Friend is right. The Labour party seems to think that the receipts are in an old sock under the mattress, but they are being used. They have been redirected into housing and housing revenue accounts, because otherwise rents and taxes would have to go up. That is a formula that Labour will not recognise. It is not a free option: it is an extremely expensive option. The Labour party would fiddle the accounts or betray its promise, and the latter is more likely.

Mr. Fraser

Has it not occurred to the Government that the less we invest in social housing, the more we pay exorbitant levels of private housing benefit, keep people in the poverty trap and push up unproductive public expenditure? Is that not nonsense as Government policy?

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman could no doubt make out a case for increased public expenditure across the range of public services. His colleagues could make a case for an increase in spending on education or on health, but if the Government gave in to all the demands for increased public expenditure, the economy and interest rates would get out of control and we would become less competitive. We would then find ourselves in the position of too many of our continental partners, who cannot run their economies.