HC Deb 16 July 2003 vol 409 cc266-9
4. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

What plans he has to increase the national house-building programme; and if he will make a statement. [125862]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott)

The national house-building programme is for 2.2 million houses, of which 930,000 houses are planned in the London, south-east and midlands areas by 2016. The step change that I announced to the House in the recent sustainable communities plan identified the fact that a further 200,000 new homes in London, the south-east and the midlands were needed to meet the high demand, and that represents a 20 per cent. increase.

Michael Fabricant

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his answer. On 9 June, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when making a statement about the euro, spoke about the need for extra housing over and above both the current supply and the Department's plans. How will the Deputy Prime Minister respond?

The Deputy Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Chancellor initiated the Barker review to look at the mismatch in housing supply and demand. Indeed, there was a breakfast meeting this morning with all the stakeholders. We are clearly concerned to see what we can do, not only about house numbers within sustainable communities, but about the relevance of that matter to the debate on the entry into Europe to which the Chancellor referred.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

Under the previous Administration, there was chronic under-investment in housing, but we have doubled investment. However, will my right hon. Friend consider the problem of overcrowding? I took one of his predecessors to see a family of 16 people who are living in two bedrooms. Will he review the overcrowding standard that dates from the 1930s and further increase investment in housing?

The Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right to point out the problem, particularly in her constituency, of high demand and low levels of social housing, which was made much more difficult by the right-to-buy facility introduced at a cost of £40 billion in subsidies. We are changing those priorities, and more resources are being provided, as the step change demonstrates. However, I will not kid my hon. Friend—a considerable number of extra houses, both rented and new housing, need to be provided, and we are doing as much as we can to meet that demand.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

Does the Deputy Prime Minister accept that his ambitious plans for house building will fail miserably unless there is a huge increase in the number of trained construction workers? Does he acknowledge that the Construction Industry Training Board estimates that in the next three years we need an extra 76,000 trained workers to enter the industry in each year? Why, therefore, has the Government's flagship scheme "Ambition: Construction" trained only 171 people in its first year?

The Deputy Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has a real point about the problem of training in the industry, which has existed for decades. It is a real problem, and we have to find a solution, but I am not sure that the solution is to abolish the Department, which is the Liberals' policy. However, the hon. Gentleman is quite right—construction is the one industry that still has a levy for training and still fails to provide enough trained people, whether builders, plumbers, electricians or other kinds of workers. The 175 people to whom he referred are taking part in training that is a return to the old kind of apprenticeship system, and we want that to continue. However, it will not meet the demand for housing or provide all the skilled labour that is required, which is why I am putting a great deal of emphasis on off-site manufacturing of houses—£250 million has been provided this year solely for houses built in that way. That relieves some of the pressure on the demand for skilled labour.

Colin Burgon (Elmet)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any effective house-building programme should have at its heart the effective use of our brownfield sites? Bearing in mind his recent visit to the millennium village at Allerton Bywater, does he agree that that is a classic example of building on brownfield sites better to protect our green fields?

The Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. I enjoyed my visit to Allerton Bywater, which is on an old pit site and is one of the millennium villages that we planned. The site is difficult, but they are making great progress there, and I was very encouraged when I saw it. I noticed also that it has increased the green belt in that area. Using brownfield sites and increasing the green belt is in line with our policy.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Can the Deputy Prime Minister explain why, in the seventh year of this new Labour Government, house building is now at such a level that it led the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Committee to come up with a shocking statement in a recent report? It says: The number of homeless households in temporary accommodation is now the highest ever. How can that be under this Government?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the Select Committee. I do not always agree with every analysis by every Select Committee and we have exchanges about that, but the hon. Gentleman is on to a fair point about the increase in homelessness. We inherited a difficult problem, as he recognises. Under the previous Government's housing policy, half a million homes were repossessed, 1.2 million households suffered from negative equity, there was a £19 billion backlog in local authority housing, and the Government's priority was £40 billion to subsidise the right-to-buy scheme. We had to change that. We are increasing the housing supply; we have reduced bed-and-breakfast accommodation and homelessness—

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

It has got worse.

The Deputy Prime Minister

Well, in a number of areas there has been an increase, but I can show that in the period since 1997 the position has improved. Under both Governments, not enough has been done. We have not provided enough houses. That is why we have embarked on a step change in the policy.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

We are now in the seventh year of the new Labour Government, and the situation has got substantially worse. The same departmental Select Committee report states that we need to deliver an additional 35,000 affordable houses. How will the Government do that?

The Deputy Prime Minister

The step change seems to be a change in the Leader of the Opposition. We have had to reverse the situation. We have increased the number of houses being built and an ambitious programme is under way. We have dealt with the backlog of unfit housing—800,000 houses have been improved. We have a target to improve 1 million houses in a 10-year period, and we are on course to achieve that. We are improving rented accommodation, refurbishing council house estates and building new houses, but, as I have told the House time and again, it would be better if we could get a consensus on improvement, rather than the party-politicking that the hon. Gentleman obviously wants to pursue.