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Housing

Volume 171: debated on Wednesday 25 April 1990

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7.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what action he is taking to make private housing properties which are unfit for human habitation or lacking basic amenities adequate for letting to help reduce waiting lists of local authorities; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. Christopher Chope)

There is a statutory duty upon local authorities to take action against unfit properties, including those lacking basic amenities. Where such action is taken, financial assistance may be available under the new system of renovation grants starting on 1 July, to help owners carry out the necessary repairs.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I thank him also for visiting my constituency to see the problems on the former coal board site at Crackley. As a result of his visit, the council has written to the owners of the empty properties, none of whom has had the courtesy to reply. When will the Government give additional powers and moneys to local authorities to help them to solve that serious problem?

I enjoyed my visit to Newcastle-under-Lyme, and I was grateful to the hon. Lady for her presence. Newcastle-under-Lyme has done well as a result of the Government's housing policies. This year, its housing investment allocation was £4·159 million compared with only £1·69 million last year. That was an increase of about two-and-a-half times. I hope that that gives some satisfaction to the hon. Lady on the resources front. I have said that the local authorities have the appropriate statutory powers. The problem is that some authorities are not exercising those powers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways of returning such properties to active use would be to go further in liberalising the rented sector? Shorthold tenancies are a step in the right direction, but there is a need to go much further.

My hon. Friend is right. The liberalisation that we have already implemented has brought many more properties into use in the private rented sector. In the light of that success, the Government may be looking for further progress.

Has the Minister read the report of the Association of District Councils, published six months ago, which states that one in seven houses in England and Wales is in need of repair and that the total bill would be a massive £36 billion? The ADC, which is Tory controlled, has urged the Government to provide additional moneys to the public and private sectors so that a start can be made on repairing badly needed houses. Is the Minister aware that the greatest concentration of poor private sector housing is in the north of England? When will he do something about that? Or does he intend, like his predecessors, to sit back and let further decay take place?

All Conservatives are concerned about the quality of the housing stock. The Government's record on improving housing is exemplary. I remind the House that during the last year in which the Labour Government were in office only £90 million was spent on home improvement grants. That massive sum has been exceeded fourfold in many years since then. There are regularly more than 100,000 improvement grants a year now, whereas under the Labour Government we were lucky if there were more than 50,000. That is an example of the Government's fine record on private sector housing.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever we say about the private sector, the most effective way of reducing local authority waiting lists is to start on our own doorsteps, as it were, and to fill the empty homes that are available for occupation? There are about 2,000 such homes in Wolverhampton. If we were to collect the rent arrears of £7 million and invest that sum for the homeless, we would begin to get somewhere. There is much rhetoric about the homeless, but I am sure that as a result of the community charge the local authorities will begin to get their house in order.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The best thing that the people of Wolverhampton can do for themselves is to vote for a Conservative council on 3 May.

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received over the provision of capital investment in housing following the autumn statement; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend receives such representations from time to time, including some drawing attention to the large increases in public expenditure provision for subsidised rented housing that we have announced.

Does the Minister accept that the Government's current housing investment policy is disastrous? The bottom has fallen out of the private sector and there is a major problem with pre-1919 houses. Are not hundreds of thousands of people waiting for proper accommodation, including the elderly and the handicapped who need specialised accommodation and who will die before it is provided under this Government's policies? As for Wolverhampton—

Public expenditure on housing is massive—£3 billion in housing revenue subsidy;£3 billion in housing credit; and a doubling of Housing Corporation expenditure up to almost £2 billion. The Government are spending astronomical sums. We inherited very bad housing stock from previous Governments, especially Labour ones. The real problem is bad Labour councils not managing their stock properly.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the large amount of housing investment made available to the voluntary housing movement is most welcome? Can he forecast the number of dwellings likely to be forthcoming as a result of that money?

The current average build from that money is about 17,000, rising to 20,000. In two years' time, the figure will rise to 34,000 a year.

When will the Minister at the Department of the Environment stop making cheapjack political points—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Gentleman must make his own judgment about those matters.

Ministers are making cheapjack political points out of the homeless. It is all very well for fat Conservative Members to laugh about homelessness. More than 70 per cent. of my constituency casework relates to housing. If all these wonderful things are being done by the Government, why has homelessness in London doubled during the past 10 years?

I have not been making cheap political points; I have been making rather expensive ones during the past 10 minutes. One reason why the hon. Gentleman represents a constituency with such bad housing is that the housing authorities there and in surrounding constituencies are run by Labour councils. They have mismanaged their housing stock—

I am giving the facts. I am not necessarily making political points, but simply pointing out the facts to the hon. Gentleman.