HC Deb 12 February 1998 vol 306 cc546-8
11. Mr. Sanders

When he will announce his plans for the next phase of the housing capital receipts initiative. [27211]

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson

In line with our policy as stated in the manifesto, and in line with Liberal Democrat policy—we welcome the hon. Gentleman to an agreed policy—£900 million is to be released in the first phase of the release of capital receipts: £200 million this year and £700 million in 1998–99. That is a good start.

Mr. Sanders

I draw the Paymaster General's attention to the fact that, in the controlled spending targets for public sector housing this year, there is a £200 million reduction, which knocks out the £200 million made available under the Local Government Finance (Supplementary Credit Approvals) Act 1997. That is not the release of capital receipts; it means that local authorities will be allowed to borrow money against the value of the capital receipts. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman referred to £900 million. Can he clarify how that relates to the figure of £800 million given by the Prime Minister yesterday?

Mr. Robinson

We welcome the hon. Gentleman's agreement with our policies. The £200 million this year is a separate issue. Why does he not focus on the £700 million that will be genuinely additional next year? He is well aware that we went for supplementary credits because the receipts were not in those areas where housing need was greatest. That is the best mechanism that we could find to make sure that the receipts were released in those areas, rather than in areas of less need.

Mr. Coaker

Will my hon. Friend ensure that social housing receives its fair share of resources over the next few years? One of the greatest stigmas that we see is the plight of the homeless, and one does not have to go very far from the House to see that. Social housing is desperately needed in many parts of the country to rehouse the homeless and to ensure that everyone has a decent place to live.

Mr. Robinson

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He is aware that the new deal programme is specifically designed to help the young homeless, and that we have split up the housing receipts to take care of regeneration, as well as rehabilitation. Taken together, those measures will go a long way to meeting his genuine and justified concerns.

Mr. Sayeed

As the Minister could not answer the very good question from the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), perhaps I could ask him a simpler question. In Islington, one in 16 council-owned properties lies empty, while Islington councillors go around complaining about homelessness. How will the Minister make sure that giving those capital receipts to local authorities will ensure that they place homeless people in the homes that have been standing empty for many years?

Mr. Robinson

It is a terrible indictment of 18 years of Conservative rule and bashing of local councils that the hon. Gentleman admits that that is the case. What we are doing through the release of receipts will enable—[Interruption.] Many of those problems were caused by central Government through the Tories bashing local authorities and reducing them to a position where they could not take decisions, which was the point of Tory policy. One of the reasons why so many of the houses are unoccupied is that they need urgent rehabilitation. That is what the phased release of capital receipts will achieve.

Mr. Miller

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in my constituency, the waiting time in the local authority housing sector for a couple with one child increased from one month to nearly four years between 1986 and 1996? Is my hon. Friend aware that that waiting time is dropping under Labour policies? Will he ensure that the next phased release of capital receipts takes account of the actions taken by local authorities to bring about such reductions, and thus relieve the burden on housing benefit and other charges to the Exchequer?

Mr. Robinson

My hon. Friend is quite correct, and I entirely agree with him. In the context of the comprehensive spending review, we are looking at what the next phase of releases will be. It is too early to predict that yet. My hon. Friend makes precisely the point in respect of his council that I made a moment ago: the previous Government's housing and general local government policies caused a terrible situation, with deteriorating housing stock. We are grappling with that problem, and the phased programme of capital receipts release will contribute to solving it.