HC Deb 04 March 1997 vol 291 cc697-9
5. Mrs. Helen Jackson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many new rented housing starts he estimates will be made by (a) housing associations and (b) local authorities in 1997–98. [17005]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. James Clappison)

We estimate that the Housing Corporation will grant approximately 26,000 approvals for new rented housing association homes in 1997–98.

Mrs. Jackson

I am not sure whether the Minister was present when his colleague, the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration, told the Select Committee on the Environment on 10 January last year that he considered that 60,000 new starts in the affordable rented sector was "quite robust". The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that the actual figure is less than half that. I am sure that his colleague did not want to mislead the Environment Committee. Was it simply incompetence on the part of the Department in not meeting its own targets?

Mr. Clappison

The hon. Lady is right in that I was not present in the Environment Committee, but she is also wrong. If she studies the evidence, she will see that our target was 60,000 lettings, not new starts. She knows that we meet housing need in a variety of ways besides new starts, including tenants buying their own homes and the releasing of existing houses for new tenants. The target is 58,000 to 60,000 new lettings over the year—which we shall achieve.

Mr. Wilkinson

May I say how right my hon. Friend is to emphasise the role of the private rented sector in meeting housing need? In that regard, will he and his Department have a careful look at the notorious activities of Hillingdon borough council in using public money through the Housing Corporation to promote housing association developments on green chain and public open space such as recreation ground in my constituency—a move that is bitterly opposed by local residents?

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend is right. The private rented sector has an important role to play in meeting housing need. It has been very good that, since 1988, there has been a major revival in the private rented sector due to deregulation, which the Labour party bitterly opposed at the time but which has been a great success. My hon. Friend is also right to say that it is important that we protect our green belt.

Mr. Beggs

More and more elderly people and more and more disabled people like to feel that they are capable of living in their own homes. What advice are the Government giving local authorities and housing associations on an estimated reasonable percentage of new starts that should be adapted from the beginning to meet the needs of disabled people?

Mr. Clappison

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We give guidance through the Housing Corporation which, as he will know, has a role in overseeing the housing associations in ensuring flexibility in their programmes to provide for old people who want to stay in their own homes—something that we regard as very important.

Mr. Raynsford

Let me remind the Minister that, 20 years ago, in 1977. under a Labour Government, we started 81,000 council homes and 26,000 new housing association homes. Does he recognise that, in this last year of a discredited Tory Government, he cannot even forecast a single council start and can forecast only 26,000 housing association starts—exactly the same number as Labour achieved 20 years ago, minus the 81,000 council homes? Is not the fact that the Government have allowed the house building programme for social needs to fall to the lowest level since the end of the second world war an appalling comment on their neglect of their housing responsibilities?

Mr. Clappison

The hon. Gentleman knows that we are meeting housing need. I take his contribution as a plea for higher public expenditure. He wants to go further. He should know that his idea of releasing council receipts amounts to higher public expenditure. The hon. Gentleman and his party have not done their sums correctly on this issue. Such an idea counts towards higher public expenditure.

There is another problem for the hon. Gentleman. Contrary to what he was telling listeners in the London area over the weekend, there is no correlation, no matching, between housing need and capital receipts.

Mr. Raynsford

There is in London.

Mr. Clappison

Well, let me tell him that, in London, the three authorities that have the highest council receipts are Enfield, Merton, and London City. By contrast, Tower Hamlets and Lambeth have very few, and Southwark, Newham and Hackney have none at all. If that is the hon. Gentleman's idea of social geography in London, he has a very poor grasp of geography—almost as bad as his grasp of mathematics in not realising that his idea amounts to higher and higher public expenditure.