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Housing Stock

Volume 78: debated on Wednesday 8 May 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will estimate the number of pre-war council houses awaiting modernisation included in those designated difficult to let in local authorities' housing investment programme submissions for 1985–86.

Is it not time that the Minister found out just how many thousands of houses in this country are urgently awaiting modernisation, and are difficult to let, including many in my constituency? The problem is that the Government give insufficient HIP allocation and have reduced the amount of capital receipts that councils can spend. Because the burden of improving council houses is forced on to rents or rates, or a combination of the two, does the Minister accept that all those facts show that the Government's housing financial policies are a disaster and that they should be prepared to make a change?

I would not accept that for one moment. The Department depends on the local authorities for the information that it gets on the housing stock. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, there is a problem with the stock that was built between the wars, not least because when restraints on public expenditure were less strict Burnley failed to take effective action to safeguard the condition of its stock. However, in the forthcoming allocation we shall take into account the problems facing housing in Burnley.

Does my hon. Friend agree that housing improvement, whether in the public or the private sector, is an activity that creates substantial employment opportunities at a relatively low net cost to the Treasury? Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that it would be extraordinary for us to reduce the funds available to support that activity to achieve gross savings regardless of the net effect on Government expenditure?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the amount of public money spent on improvement grants has gone up by some £90 million since we came into office, to about £700 million for the year that has just passed. Tomorrow we hope to publish a Green Paper on our proposals for improvement policy.

When the informatin becomes available, will the Minister assure the House that he sees a relationship between the lack of response to the scheme for the modernisation of pre-war houses and the large number of bankruptcies among small firms perfectly capable of doing that work? Is it not the case that the inadequacies of Government finance have added workers to the dole queues?

The hon. Member must try to keep this in perspective. For every £1 of public money that goes into the improvement and conversion of houses, £20 comes from the private sector. Therefore, it is important to pursue policies to ensure that the £20 is available rather than concentrating on the £1.