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Housing Investment

Volume 82: debated on Wednesday 10 July 1985

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10.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list those local housing authorities which have expressed approval of current Government policy in respect of housing investment.

Does the Minister accept that if there were a list it would be incredibly short? Is he aware that the majority of housing authorities which have to face staff decay and the reality of need, even if Conservative, would be exceedingly critical of present policy? Has the Minister seen the pertinent comments by the retiring ombudsman about improvements, or does he think that everyone other than Ministers is out of step?

The common experience of mankind is that all those who receive allocations would like more. The House should understand that.

Given the appalling record of mismanagement by many Labour-controlled local authorities, instead of listening to their whingeing about not having the funds and not being able to cope, why does my hon. Friend not require them to hand over much of their housing to skilfully managed private sector companies, which would have three advantages: first, they would not be politically motivated, secondly, they would be using private not public funds, and, thirdly they might actually know what they were doing?

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the importance of improving the management of our public sector housing stock. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State last month launched the urban housing renewal unit, which is devoted to a much closer partnership between the public and private sectors in trying to find solutions to our housing problems.

Since 100,000 homeless families report to local authorities every year, since millions of families are badly housed and in need of council accommodation and since 400,000 construction workers are on the dole, costing the British Exchequer £2,400 million a year, would it not make social, compassionate and economic sense to put those people to work building more houses?

It is unworthy of Opposition Members to claim a monopoly of compassion. I am looking forward to visiting the Brent, East and Brent, South constituencies on Monday week, when, in the company of the right hon. and hon. Members who represent those constituencies, I shall examine the severe problems of homelessness in that area. A real contribution to solving the problem of homelessness could be made if some of the 25,300 local authority-owned dwellings which have been empty for more than a year were brought back into use.

If my hon. Friend wants a cheap way of improving housing imvestment, will he immediately sell off the historic buildings in which his Department keeps sculptures, which are surrounded by neat little lawns with expensive little notices telling us that we are not allowed to walk on them, so that the buildings can be restored as homes for people by people who care about old buildings?

I am not sure that I entirely understand my hon. and learned Friend's suggestion but as it comes from him I shall examine it most carefully.

If the Minister and, indeed, the Secretary of State are so concerned about the homeless, why is the Department refusing to have a British element in the 1987 International Year for the Homeless? Secondly, does the hon. Gentleman agree that an element of Government policy should be investment in housing, including repairs, new build and renewal, at a rate that is at least equal to that of deterioration?

I shall discuss with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development, who represents the sponsoring Department, the first issue raised in the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. Secondly, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State told the House earlier this afternoon that £1 billion a year from housing investment programme allocations is being spent on the repair of our local authority housing stock. In addition, another £1 billion a year is being spent from the housing revenue account.