HC Deb 07 March 2000 vol 345 cc858-60
13. Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)

If he will make a statement on housing investment. [112185]

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

The Government have provided a massive boost—around £5 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament—in resources for housing investment that deliver real improvements in the quality of life and well-being of many low-income households. As a result, local authority housing investment programmes have been increased by no less than 48 per cent. in the coming year. That is part of a comprehensive range of measures to tackle the major housing problems inherited from the previous Government.

Mr. Caplin

I welcome the Government's new investment in an important part of the United Kingdom's infrastructure. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the new investment that the Government propose will be used effectively to tackle the important social housing needs that exist in many constituencies such as mine?

Mr. Raynsford

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. We are not only providing resources to enable local authorities to tackle the backlog but putting in place proper provision through the best value regime to ensure that authorities achieve real value for money and continually improve the quality of the services that they offer. That is part of the Government's commitment not only to reversing the investment shortfall that we inherited, but to creating a proper climate for efficient delivery of public services to people in need.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

The figure has gone up 48 per cent. compared with last year's, which was lamentably low. Does the Minister accept that the figures are £27 billion invested by us in four years in the previous Parliament, compared with £24.1 billion projected through to the fourth year of this Government—a fall of some £3 billion? If he denies that, will he tell me and the House straightforwardly whether the figures for homeless acceptances—which, after all, must be the litmus test of whether the Government are investing in housing—have gone up or down?

Mr. Raynsford

I remind the hon. Gentleman that, by the end of this Parliament, capital investment by local authorities and registered social landlords together will be double that which we inherited from the Conservative Government. That is the truth and I can assure him that we are ensuring that the needs of the homeless are met. As he will know only too well, the numbers have been high because housing provision is not made overnight and recovery is taking time after years of neglect and under-investment by the Conservative Government. However, we are addressing those needs and providing the homes, unlike his party, which has spent most of today trying to make cheap political points at the expense of the homeless by saying, "Don't build any houses in the south of England."

Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South)

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend and his colleagues on the record housing investment and the change to resource accounting, which are in the sharpest possible contrast with the devastation of house building and housing investment over the past two decades. However, is he aware that my constituency in the inner area of Luton has an acute need for larger refurbished homes? Will he redouble his efforts in discussions with the Chancellor to encourage my right hon. Friend to amend the rules on VAT on refurbishment, thereby making best use of housing investment moneys?

Mr. Raynsford

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are very keen to ensure that we achieve the best possible use of resources. Of course, matters relating to taxation are entirely for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. However, I stress that the Government are not afraid of meeting their responsibilities. We recognise the extent of poverty and deprivation and the wide range of housing needs which have not been adequately met as a result of the previous Government's lamentable failure. We are putting that right and, over this Parliament and the next, following a successful general election, we shall ensure that the whole country properly provides for the needs of all its population.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

A great many houses—several million of which are more than 100 years old and received improvement grants 30 years ago—are sick and need money spending on them. Does the Minister recognise that unless the Government are prepared to invest, and unless we have a housing programme that includes several hundred million pounds to enable local authorities to make greater use of discretionary awards, we shall return to the days of the bulldozer and slum clearance and have an even worse housing problem?

Mr. Raynsford

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point about the backlog of poor-condition properties—many of them in the private sector—in need of renovation. He will want to know that our forthcoming housing Green Paper will set out a number of important new proposals to attack the problem of disrepair in all sectors, including the private sector, with new and imaginative approaches. I obviously cannot give him the details, but I can assure him that when the Green Paper is published, which will be in the reasonably near future, he will welcome many of its proposals.

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