HL Deb 28 June 1988 vol 498 cc1287-8

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the total of their financial subvention to local authority housing in 1979, and what were the figures for each subsequent year.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, government subvention to local authority housing takes the form of housing subsidy. A different system operated prior to 1981–82, so I shall take that as my base year. In 1981–82 housing subsidy entitlements totalled £881 million. In successive years they have been £437 million, £347 million, £S345 million, £487 million, £476 million and (last year) £S464 million. In addition, many local authorities have received help via rate support grant for the rate fund contributions that they are assessed as making to their council housing.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the very detailed figures that he has given us. Is he aware that local authorities calculate that since 1979 in global terms they have lost £15 billion through government withdrawal and change of subsidy? Is he further aware that if that money had been left where it was and made available to them, that sum could have gone towards refurbishing to a much higher and more acceptable standard 80 percent. of the more than 100,000 council houses which the Minister keeps telling us are empty in the local authority sector? Is it not time that the Government stopped blaming local authorities for some of their own misdoings?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord touched on only part of the income that a local authority has in the housing field. There are rents net of rebate besides housing subsidy, rent rebate subsidy from the DHSS and rate fund contributions. If one looks at it in the whole, together with the capital sums that have been given, not only to local authorities but to other providers of housing, the picture is not quite as bleak as the noble Lord portrays.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, is it not the case that many local authorities would do well to imitate those who have made partnership arrangements with private sector companies to achieve the refurbishment of which the noble Lord, Lord Dean, spoke, and that where that has been done it has not only provided a highly acceptable standard of housing but a very great improvement on anything that those local authorities were able to do before?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right, and he will be delighted to know that the gross provision in the last three successive years to help authorities deal with the backlog of renovation has meant increases in the sums available.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, did the noble Earl see the programme on BBC "Panorama" last night which depicted the activities of a rapacious, vicious and criminal landlord against his tenants? Does he not think that there is some connection between that kind of behaviour and the massive cuts in finance that the Government have made to local government housing?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I did not see the programme. I was in the Chamber voting. I hope that the noble Lord was too.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, does the Minister recall that it is his department's own figures that indicate that the greatest number of properties left empty are those that are owned and managed by the Government the themselves? What do the Government intend to do about that situation?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an interesting point. I think that it is a little wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, does the Minister agree that I be allowed to smile at the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, as he was one of the culprits who indulged in that exercise of massive cuts in subsidies? In fact, cannot he be accused of behaving like the surgeon who kept his foot on the oxygen tube until the patient expired and then blamed the nursing staff for neglect?

The Earl of Caithness

No, my Lords, I think that that would be a wrong accusation to make against my noble friend.

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