HL Deb 06 November 1989 vol 512 cc428-30

2.41 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

What sums have been allowed under the global housing investment programme in each year since 1979.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Hesketh)

My Lords, my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are responsible for local authority housing investment in their respective countries. In England the total amounts allocated under local authorities' housing investment programmes since 1979 were: 1979–80, £2.5 billion; 1980–81, £2.2 billion; 1981–82, £1.8 billion; 1982–83, £2.2 billion; 1983–84, £2.2 billion; 1984–85, £1.9 billion; 1985–86, £1.6 billion; 1986–87, £1.5 billion; 1987–88, £1.4 billion; 1988–89, £1.3 billion; and 1989–90, £1.1 billion.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed Answer. However, is the Minister not aware that following the substantial cuts which have been made responsible people in the housing field are saying that had the level of spending on housing investment programmes been maintained in real terms at the 1979 level there would have been approximately 500,000 additional houses in the public sector to let to low wage earners? Does that not convey clearly that responsibility for the increasing incidence of homelessness lies at the door of the Government?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, if one looks at HIP figures to the exclusion of all other figures they do not look very encouraging. However, if one looks at the important figures, which are the real figures, and combines investment by the Housing Corporation and local authorities' expenditure the figure for 1979–80 is £5.9 billion and for 1989–90 some £4.6 billion.

I should also remind your Lordships that provision for support to housing associations through the Housing Corporation is planned to increase by more than 60 per cent. from £815 million this year, to £1.3 billion in 1991–92.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether this Question should not more properly have been one for Written Answer. How can we take in the rapier thrusts of statistics which were exchanged across the Table at such rapid speed?

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, as the noble Earl asked me that question, I think I should say that the Government are in the position of having responsibility to answer to the best of their ability Questions put down by noble Lords, wherever they are in the House. We cavil at it a little if our Answers have to be too long, but those are about the only grounds of which I can think. Perhaps I may consider the matter and either have a word with the noble Earl or write to him. If I write to him, I shall of course put my letter in the Library.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, will my noble friend take note of what happens in another place where, if the Answer involves a table of figures, that table is published in Hansard?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the Government certainly take account of that practice, and so do I. Perhaps I may also consider that proposal in conjunction with my noble friends.

Lord Rippon of Hexham

My Lords, in spite of the statistics and whatever they may show, is my noble friend aware that there is widespread concern at the lack of availability of low-cost housing for rent both in urban and rural areas and the consequent increase in homelessness? Will he give the House some assurance that the Government are tackling the problem of homelessness, which is worsening every month?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is aware that in the last seven days further encouraging developments have taken place in rural housing, possibly to some extent due to the decisions of your Lordships' House. It will be of some interest to this House to note that the total number of housing starts in 1979 was some 190,000 while in 1988 it was some 213,000. As an overall figure that is quite encouraging.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will confirm that he was merely asked to read out 10 figures, which is surely not too taxing for the intelligence of this House. Turning to the substance of the answers, I note that he did not deny what my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick said; namely, that we have lost half a million public sector houses as a result of the cuts. Will he confirm that the figure of half a million houses which have been lost is as great as the number in the entire Housing Corporation housing association sector in total?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, if one accepts the noble Lord's argument —namely, that nothing will ever change —there may be some interest in it. It would have been more encouraging if he had listened to the last figure that I gave, which showed that the total number of starts for housing in all sectors in 1988 had increased substantially over the figure for 1979. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that this country has only 8 per cent. of people living in private rented accommodation compared with 40 per cent. in West Germany and 30 per cent. in Socialist France.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, the noble Lord's answer does not particularly help the situation. If we are talking about the finance that should be made available to local authorities, I should point out that I was not including the substantial amounts of local authorities' own capital receipts which were originally promised to them but which have been withheld. When Ministers in both Houses and departmental spokesmen repeat, as they did at the weekend, that the Government's housing policy is a success, I should ask whether they intend the number of homeless people to be increased. That is the end product of what is happening. I am simply asking the Minister whether, in considering the housing investment programme for this year, he will deal with homelessness as a matter of urgency and allow authorities to spend substantial sums —increasing sums —of their own money to deal with the situation.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, the Government's review of homelessness is now reaching completion. However, perhaps I may remind him of the Government's position: we see the local authorities as enablers and we have made a massive commitment to increase housing association expenditure.