HL Deb 04 November 1998 vol 594 cc266-8

2.45 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the total amount they have committed to public sector housing since taking office, and how was the figure arrived at.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the resources already made available and committed by the Government for all housing capital investment in England by local authorities and registered social landlords between 1997–98 and 2001–02 will total £11.5 billion. Some of the resources made available go towards grants for private sector housing, but these are not separately identifiable for future years. Currently they account for about a quarter of housing capital expenditure by local authorities. This figure excludes expenditure on housing through the Government's regeneration programme, all housing revenue expenditure, and housing capital expenditure by local authorities financed from their own resources.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that detailed reply, but is he aware of the mountain we have to climb to get back on course? Is the Minister aware that in the three years of the Callaghan government over 300,000 public sector houses were built, 80 per cent. of which were built by local authorities, and for that year, 1979, the cost was £4.5 billion in government subsidy? The cost of constructing just over 80,000 houses now would be £13 billion in subsidy, which is well in excess of the sum that has been apportioned to housing now. The Conservative government, by a deliberate act of vandalism in their last year in office, constructed 32,000 houses, of which only 1,600 were council houses. Does not the Minister agree that as a government and a nation we ought to start according housing the same priority as the health service and education if we are to deal with the problem satisfactorily?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, as regards the resources which the comprehensive spending review has allocated to housing there will be a substantial increase in the coming few years, partly through the release of capital receipts. My noble friend is absolutely right to say that house building, particularly social housing, declined dramatically over the period of the previous government. Social housing starts in the past few years have averaged about 26,000, as compared with 70,000 in the final years of the Callaghan government, and at one point the figure was 150,000. There has been a change in the pattern of housing. We now look at housing as a whole rather than defining it by form of tenure. We are giving local authorities the flexibility to put resources into all sectors of housing rather than concentrating on one sector.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, I believe the Minister gave figures for England. As I believe we still have a United Kingdom and Her Majesty's Government are supposed to be responsible for the whole of the United Kingdom, why did he not include the figures for Scotland and Wales?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, most figures that have been mentioned in relation to housing need and house build relate to England. The situation in Wales is similar to that in England in terms of the pattern of housing build. The situation in Scotland is somewhat different in terms of the local authority housing sector strategy. As the noble Lord will know, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive plays a strong role as regards housing in Northern Ireland. That situation is again somewhat different. If the noble Lord wishes, I will provide that information to him in written form.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, there is a widely held belief, which I think the Government share, that providing for the housing need of many groups of people is about more than merely providing a roof over their heads. I refer in particular to elderly people, those with learning difficulties and mental health problems, and families which break up for whatever reasons, sometimes domestic violence. What steps are the Government taking to make sure that much-needed capital projects for such people are not held back because of a lack of revenue funding to support them?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, a large part of what we are requesting local authorities to do in assessing their own housing need and the need for the conversion and improvement of existing properties, as well as new capital projects in all sectors, relates to the changing social pattern and to those vulnerable groups. However, it is primarily a question of local authorities prioritising on the basis of the social needs within their areas.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, how will the Government bring pressure to bear on local authorities to speed up the improvement and turn-around of their stock? Will they consider setting targets? If so, can success be measured by the number of lettings rather than the number of starts?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I agree that the total new access to housing is the key figure. It is not merely a question of starts and completions; it is a matter of conversions and other properties coming on to the housing market which we need to relate to housing need. I agree that lettings form part of that figure. There are a number of measures that can be taken by local authorities to improve their turn-around of stock. The additional resources that the Government are giving to local authorities to improve their stock will be spent partly on improving, and therefore turning round, the poorer local authority housing stock and helping housing associations in that regard.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the deliberate withdrawal, almost in total, of subsidy to local authority housing by the previous government has resulted in the massive deterioration of some estates, which have almost become no-go areas? It will cost an enormous sum to put them into the right condition again.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there are many estates around the country where, sadly, the condition of local authority housing has declined. That is partly a reflection of the previous government's lack of priority in that area. There has been an overall decline in the quality of local authority housing stock, as was revealed a recent debate in this House.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, the noble Lord said that the Government intend to improve 1½ million local authority houses over the next three years. Will that bring the whole local authority housing stock up to scratch?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I do not recall using that figure. It is up to local authorities whether they put the money into new housing, improving their existing stock or helping the private and housing association sectors. Given the additional resources, local authorities can make a beginning in improving the total housing stock and the availability of housing.

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