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Schedule 1

Volume 202: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1992

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Housing Of Asylum-Seekers: Supplementary

Amendment made: No. 19, in page 9, line 36, leave out first 'an' and insert 'a housing'.— [Mr. Fraser.]

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.— [Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

9.47 pm

I am glad to have an opportunity of making a few remarks at the end of the consideration of the Bill. Other business has prevented me from playing a bigger role in the earlier proceedings. I want to place on record on behalf of my constituents my opposition to the Bill.

I remember the first debate on the Bill, just a couple of months ago. In almost his opening sentence, the Home Secretary assured the House that there was no question of the Bill playing the numbers game. The preparation for the Bill began in the summer, when the tabloid Tory newspapers made it clear that part of their pre-electioneering was to play a racist card by supporting the introduction of this Bill. There was a spate of stories about the country being "swamped" or of there being "too many asylum seekers" and of the "scandal" of thousands of "bogus" applicants.

On 3 November, The Sunday Times managed to combine nearly all those elements in one sentence when it said:
"Tory MPs, particularly those with seats in the Midlands, plan to fight Labour hard on its pledge to oppose the government's legislation cracking down on immigrants seeking bogus political asylum."
Virtually all those elements were contained in a single sentence in one article. Of course, that is not an objective appraisal.

As anyone who has read the Committee proceedings or heard the debates in the Chamber will know, the word "bogus" is not an objective term but a purely subjective analysis which changes as do the rules and regulations, which the Government regularly tighten. People who do not come under the ambit of these rules and regulations are described as bogus.

What have we been talking about in terms of numbers, an issue with which the Home Secretary began his contribution—45,000 or 50,000 asylum seekers last year? What is that? It is perhaps the gate at a Manchester City/Manchester United local derby football match. The reality is that only about 5 per cent. of the estimated 17.5 million refugees in the world get as far as or seek to come to Europe, and only a small fraction of those ever apply to come to the United Kingdom. Those statistics are a matter of public record, but it is hard to find them reflected in many of the newspaper articles that I mentioned, especially those in the tabloids in recent months.

It is also a matter of public record, because the Home Office admitted it to me in a parliamentary answer some months ago, that in 20 of the past 27 years—from 1964 to 1990—there was a net outflow of people emigrating from this country. For those who wish to know, during those 27 years there was a net outflow of 786,000 people. That is a matter of public record, so there is no question of this country, in the immortal words of the former Prime Minister, being
"swamped by people of an alien culture".
The Bill has been designed to make asylum not easier but harder. It will be made harder because of carrier fines and the associated regulations. The speeding up of the process which is part of the Bill does not bode well for a fair hearing. The Minister will know of a case that I raised, which has occupied staff in his office in recent weeks. It involved a Sikh constituent who, if I had not intervened, would have been sent initially to Germany and possibly back to the Punjab, where his brother was killed some months ago.

I was able to raise the case because of the powers of intervention that hon. Members still have, but those powers will be side-stepped by the tightening of the procedures and by the denial of an oral hearing which the Bill will make law. If, in that case or in future cases, the so-called removal to the port of first entry is to be the norm, and if no assurances are received from the country to which the person is sent, I predict that the Bill will result in people being sent to their death.

As Nye Bevan used to say, one does not need to look into a crystal ball if one can read the book. We know about the famous case of the Tamil seekers after refugee status—five were sent back to Sri Lanka and four were tortured. That is a matter of record. I could mention other cases, but I know that other hon. Members want to speak. Any hon. Member who has a substantial proportion of constituents with families residing in other countries could provide case after case to show that the Bill will put at risk the lives and safety of constituents' families.

As I said, the Bill was politically aimed at the pre-election period. The newspapers that give support and succour to the Tory party played their role well, not only by softening public opinion in advance of the House's consideration of the Bill, but by poisoning workers' minds with their repeated stories of con men, of racketeering and of massive social security fraud. How those stories seemed to escalate in the weeks before the Queen's Speech when the Bill was first introduced in the House.

We are talking about people fleeing persecution by some of the world's worst dictatorships, fleeing countries racked by civil war under repressive regimes often supported and funded by countries in the west in general, and even by this country in particular.

I have been politically active for 20 years. The first case with which I dealt as an individual was that of refugees from Chile, who had arrived in Coventry in the early 1970s with no clothes and no furniture. My grandfather's radio, which is still playing, was given to the children of the first Chilean refugee family to get as far as Coventry in the early 1970s. Throughout that period and until today, we have received families from Africa, Asia, the Punjab, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and other countries. The Bill would make the job of hon. Members that much harder—it is designed to do so. Many Tory Members have written—not least my neighbour the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher), who wrote an article a few days ago in a Coventry magazine stating that it was because hon. Members were clogging up Home Office procedure with their interventions that the Bill had to be introduced.

We know why the Bill has been introduced. It seeks to criminalise those who come to this country seeking political asylum. As "Newsnight" showed last night, several hundred of the people who get as far as these shores find that Britain's hospitality leads them to the detention centre at Harmsworth or to prison, where they languish for weeks or months.

I make no apology for saying that the Bill legitimises and underpins the arguments of racists in this country, which, if unchecked, could lead to the horrors that have occurred in France and Germany in recent months, where people have been burnt out of hostels and there have been several attacks. Just before Christmas, a black woman in my constituency—Mrs. Morrison, who is not a refugee—was threatened with a baseball bat, her phone and television cables were cut four times and she had beans and grease thrown at her windows and dog excreta smeared on her doormat. She fears for her own life and that of her 12-year-old son. If the Bill is enacted, the proposals that it contains will legitimise, underpin and give support to racist organisations such as the National Front and the British National party, which seek to take on to the streets the racist and neo-Nazi ideas that unfortunately gain succor from those who play the numbers game in the House or elsewhere.

As a socialist, I believe that people who are fleeing war and persecution should be welcomed into this country as they have been so many times by past generations. Our parents and grandparents welcomed the people from Europe, eastern Europe, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa who were seeking to flee persecution. It should not only be Russian composers and South African athletes with friends in the Tory Cabinet who are allowed here in a matter of days: all those who flee persecution should have a right to seek and find asylum and refuge in this country.

I hope that, when Opposition spokesmen make their wind-up speeches later, and when, as I hope, Labour form a Government in the weeks and months ahead, they will make it clear that they will not only make it easier and quicker for refugees to be granted the right to stay in this country, but withdraw support from those regimes from whom people are fleeing—such administrations should include the Governments of Sri Lanka and India as long as oppression continues in the Kashmir and Punjab—and embark on a sufficiently large programme of public works to build homes, hospitals and schools so that unemployment and other social conditions do not allow racism to breed in the cities and towns of Britain.

There is no justification for the Bill. The Home Secretary seems to take it as conclusive proof that anyone who arrives with bogus documents is, by definition, a bogus refugee or asylum seeker. Most people fleeing a country in which there is oppression do not have time to queue up at a British embassy or high commission for the necessary paperwork. The very nature of their departure means that they often seek refuge here via a third country. The fast track proposed in the Bill will weaken or even fatally flaw the ability of such people to seek refuge in this country.

It is a nasty little Bill, and the House should drop it into the dustbin tonight. If it is enacted, I hope that a future Labour Government will give a categorical pledge to repeal it and the earlier racist legislation on which it is built. I wish to ensure that families in my constituency and others up and down the country are united instead of divided, as they are at present. I want to ensure that those who come here to save their lives, those who have been restricted and suppressed in their own countries, are not further restricted and suppressed when they seek refuge in this country, which has traditionally been a haven for refugees and, in my opinion, should continue to be such a haven.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered,

That, at this day's sitting, the Asylum Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Kirkhope.]
Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

10 pm

The House wishes to come to a conclusion on this Bill tonight.

The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) has just spoken with very great passion and feeling. I do not believe that what we have heard from him was the least bit simulated. He spoke with conviction, and he spoke for many people—people outside this House as well as in it—who share his abhorrence of the measure that Parliament is passing with so little scrutiny.

Today the House is being asked to conclude its deliberations against a background of Government uncertainty about the administration of the provisions of this legislation, which is almost unparalleled and unbelievable. When the Bill was being introduced the House was advised that the prime responsibility for representing and giving advice to people seeking asylum would rest with the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service. Today we have been told that this is not so. The whole foundation of the argument put forward by the Minister was shot from under his feet by himself. At lunch time today the Minister published amendments to the immigration rules. In doing so at such a late hour he made it impossible for the House properly to consider the amendments and to decide whether, in the whole new framework of rules, the Bill is appropriate. That is not the way in which the House should deliberate in respect of such a sensitive matter.

We have not received from the Minister, either today or on an earlier occasion, a direct answer to the accusation of the Commission for Racial Equality that at least some of the Bill's provisions are racially discriminatory and are counter to the provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976. It is a very serious matter that the chairman of this Government-appointed body, Mr. Michael Day, should make such a charge. I refer in particular to clause 4, which relates to the duties of local authorities—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) has not been so closely involved at all stages of the debate on this Bill as to know what Mr. Michael Day and the Commission for Racial Equality have said about it. That body, which is charged by statute and was appointed by the present Government to protect our society from racial discriminatory measures, has made the charge to which I have just referred. It is a very serious charge, and the Government have not answered it. No doubt, however, it will come up again in another place.

Upon that House falls a heavy responsibility to ameliorate this rotten little measure, which does nothing to enhance the reputation of the Ministers who brought it forward. I should say in passing that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office has undertaken his role with honour and distinction. He has attempted the impossible by at least seeking to explain, if not to justify, what is in the Government's mind. Justification would be impossible. The Home Secretary, of course, has nothing to say. The Home Secretary is the Home Secretary. [Laughter.] I use a rhetorical device that Mr. Edward Pearce is accused of having used too frequently.

I hope that this Bill will come to grief in another place and that it will come back to this House much improved. Those in the other place who have experience of the law—and there are a number of former Home Secretaries there who have direct experience of handling these matters—would do well to justify their revising role by making hefty revisions to the Bill before it returns to this House.

10.4 pm

As I have been in the Chamber throughout today's proceedings and attended every sitting of the Standing Committee, I should like to take this opportunity again to place on record my opposition to the Bill.

Every time we consider the Bill, it becomes clearer that the provisions are wholly unnecessary and unjustified. It has become clear today that it may well be impossible to administer the provisions and, clearly, the Bill may have the most dangerous consequences for the men, women and even children who seek political asylum in the United Kingdom.

Last year, we were told by the so-called popular press, and by many right-wing Conservative Members, that hundreds of thousands—possibly millions—of people were queuing up to seek political asylum in the United Kingdom. That propaganda campaign caused widespread alarm among many sections of the community at the prospect of all those people flooding into the country seeking political asylum.

We were told that many of the applicants—indeed, the majority of them—were bogus, and we have heard that again today. How can that be squared with the Government's information that nine of every 10 people seeking political asylum are genuine—indeed, must be genuine because they are granted exceptional need to remain or full political asylum? We know from the Government's information that the bulk of applicants are genuine and we have no reason to believe that, in future, the majority will be bogus.

The Government have tried to persuade us that the Bill is necessary to allow applications for political asylum to be considered more quickly. None of us supports the system which has meant that many seeking political asylum have had to wait up to a year—in some cases, for several years—to have their applications considered. None of us can justify arrangements whereby appeals can take months and months to be held. But if the Government want to expedite political asylum applications, they can do so very easily. They could have done it years ago by devoting more resources to enabling applications to be considered quickly and efficiently and by appointing more officials.

It is clear that the real purpose of the Bill has nothing to do with the creation of a fair and efficient system for considering political asylum cases, and everything to do with political opportunism and the Government's desire to pander to right-wing sections of the Conservative party—which have been in evidence again today.

The Bill is without friends. Opposition to it is considerable. Its opponents range from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster to organisations such as the Commission for Racial Equality which, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said, has warned that the Bill may well breach the Race Relations Act 1976.

The Bill may also breach our obligations under international conventions. It will certainly intimidate men, women and even children and deter them from applying for political asylum in Britain. The message that the Bill sends out clearly and loudly is "You are unwelcome here, go away." The Bill is part of a process that is now under way to create a Fortress Europe, so that the European Community can turn its back on those who are seeking refuge from violence, from persecution, from war, and from torture.

The Bill is unnecessary, dangerous and offensive. How, in 1992, can the House agree to a system whereby we routinely photograph and fingerprint even children? Those provisions are obscene. As we have heard today, the housing provisions will create enormous distress and difficulty for many families waiting for decisions on their political asylum applications.

This is a bad, squalid Bill. I hope very much that it never reaches the statute book but, if it does, I hope that the next Labour Government will repeal it.

10.10 pm

This is indeed a squalid, unworthy little Bill. It is discriminatory both in its intent and in its effect. It has been given a thorough going-over in Committee and in the House. Some concessions have been wrung out of the Government, but, nevertheless, it remains an unpleasant Bill. It remains a piece of legislation, the effect of which is to put this country in breach of its international obligations.

Earlier, reference was made to the specificity of the provisions. The international provisions which the Bill causes us to breach are article 19(4)(C) of the Council of Europe's social charter and the International Labour Organisation's convention No. 97, two articles of international law on which this country has been obliged to renege in pursuit of the Government's purpose—a purpose which does the House no credit.

At this time of the year, we in the Christian calendar celebrate the flight of Our Lord and his parents, delivered from Herod, into Egypt. At this time of the year, we might reflect on the Bill, because one can be in no doubt that if Our Lord and his parents were to seek to gain entry into the United Kingdom, they would have great difficulty. They would be turned away at the gates. If they were admitted, they would not only find themselves in danger of being fingerprinted—Mary, Joseph and child; such are the provisions of the Bill—but, were they to obtain temporary accommodation in a church or synagogue in excess of 28 days, they would be denied local authority housing.

This is a strange measure—strange because we have not had established in the House a sufficient reason for introducing a measure of this nature, the extent of which is so thoroughly discreditable. There is still time for the Government to make a better Bill in another place. They can begin by getting rid of clause 3 and its impact on existing housing legislation. Housing and immigration do not mix in terms of the functions of the House in creating new law. They should never have been intermingled in such a way, and they make the Bill even more unworthy than it would otherwise be.

There have been attempts to make the presentation of the Bill more palatable by stating that bona fide refugees need have nothing to fear and that our traditions of hospitality to bona fide refugees remain as they have always been. An attempt has been made to gloss over the more objectionable characteristics of the Bill by saying that they are necessary to preserve the general public good of those settled and permanently resident in the United Kingdom.

If that is true, the Government can give credence to their own case by recognising the very real needs that local authority associations of all political hues have made known to the Home Office and to the Department of the Environment. They can recognise the representations of the Churches, the voluntary organisations, the housing associations and the Housing Corporation, which seek to deal with refugees who are legally in this country. They can heed the representations made to the Home Office and the Department of the Environment about the impact in and on our constituencies of the presence of bona fide refugees.

What happens in schools in my constituency when young Somali boys and girls, many of them unaccompanied, find themselves there? What happens at Copland school in my constituency where they have had to deal with several score of Somali refugees without a penny more of resources from the Government? When the headmaster, the governing body and the local education authority, under both Conservative and Labour, have written to the Department of Education and Science and the Home Office about this gap in the funding of local authority provision for refugees, answer comes there none. Not a penny more comes from the Department of the Environment, the Home Office or the Department of Education and Science to deal with the resettlement of genuine refugees and to deal with the impact on local communities of refugees with special needs and problems—refugees already traumatised when they enter this country.

If the Government are genuine in their concern for bona fide refugees, they will put their money—our money—where their mouth is and do something to help local authorities tackle the problem. Until they show that they genuinely care about refugees and about the reputation of this country, we will be entitled to treat the Bill, as we do, with contempt.

10.16 pm

As one who spoke against the Bill on Second Reading, right through Committee and in today's proceedings, I want to put on record my continuing opposition to the Bill and my contempt for the purpose of it and the way in which the whole thing has been presented.

It has been accompanied, as other hon. Members have said, by a particularly nasty campaign in the popular press, with day-to-day stories of alleged social security fraud, including telephone fraud, with a story one day of excessive numbers of people seeking asylum and, on the next day, a story of multiple asylum applications. Yet at no stage are these stories properly collated or the issues surrounding asylum properly set out. It is part of an attempt to create a fear, a xenophobic attitude in the country, and it has been promoted by the Home Office and, in particular, by the Home Secretary with his disgusting and disgraceful speech to the Tory party conference some months ago.

It is against that background that there is a refusal by the Home Secretary and the media to recognise the real reasons why people seek asylum or the fact that the vast majority of people who have sought and obtained some form of safe haven have not come to western Europe or north America but have been cared for by the poor in the poor countries of the world. It is in Mexico, India, Iran and the Sudan that one finds very large numbers of people who have sought asylum, living in awful conditions and with very little help given by the wealthy west.

Yet all these things—the use of the words "flood" and "waves", the supposedly large numbers of asylum seekers trying to get into western Europe—are used to stoke up fears. On the back of this xenophobia, the racists are at work in Europe: there have been 800 attacks on the homes of people in western and eastern Germany who have sought to work there for economic reasons. Racist violence is going on there. There have been attacks on the streets of France. Racist attacks happen once very 30 minutes in this country. That is the agenda of the new Europe. I am not saying that the Bill is entirely related to all that, but the atmosphere surrounding it and the purpose behind its introduction lie in the direction of stoking up racist feelings in this country when we should be heading in the opposite direction.

The Bill makes it more difficult for those fleeing from persecution to gain entry into this country. As a result of the Trevi group and the Schengen and Dublin agreements, it is now more difficult to gain entry into western Europe as a whole. Those who readily condemn people who seek political asylum should spare a thought for what those who have suffered from political and social persecution have gone through. They should talk to those who have been tortured in Somalia or Zaire. They should talk to those who fled from the regime of Saddam Hussein—not last year when that was a popular cause because of the Gulf war, but five or 10 years ago when the British Government were happily trading with Saddam Hussein. They should talk to those who have fled from Iran and to those who managed to get out of the national stadium in Chile in 1973 when 20,000 people were killed by that fascist dictatorship—another one that was armed by the British Government.

We need some understanding of what it is like to have to leave one's country, possibly never to return—because that is what seeking political asylum is all about. Our attitude should recognise what we would want for ourselves if we were in the same situation—a place of safety, welcome and understanding. Instead, we offer a limited right of appeal with limited access to social security. We positively refuse to grant such asylum seekers permanent housing.

The Bill will go down in history as one of those nasty reactionary measures introduced by a particularly nasty and reactionary Government who are seeking to run with a nasty tide. We should recognise the victims of persecution not as the cause of a problem, but as the victims of a much wider problem. We should adopt a more welcoming and supportive attitude towards them. The Bill is wholly wrong and inappropriate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) rightly said, the Bill is wholly friendless and should be opposed by the House.

10.21 pm

Although we have had long discussions on the Bill both in Committee and on the Floor of the House, it would be wrong to let the Bill pass its Third Reading without comment. There is no doubt that the problems of asylum seekers and of the movement of people in Europe and elsewhere are real problems, but they need to be tackled rationally instead of being seen as an opportunity to score political advantage.

Hon. Members will remember that the Bill was yet another Tory flagship. The Home Secretary promoted its cause throughout last year—in the House, at the Tory party conference and wherever he could—but he has not even spoken today. It is no coincidence that the same Secretary of State who introduced the poll tax, which is now floundering, has abandoned the central plank of the Bill—the attempt to remove legal aid from those who seek asylum. It is clear from today's debate that legal advice and assistance is here to stay—at least for the time being. The Government's chosen replacement is now to be broken up because it cannot discharge the task that the Home Secretary was so confident only 11 months ago that it could. The rules that were published at lunch time today have made substantial concessions. I am glad of that and pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department who has attempted to fashion a workable Bill out of what started originally as a piece of political rhetoric.

However, the Bill remains ill thought out. It was rushed out in an attempt to gain party advantage, which has failed, rather than being an attempt to tackle the real problem. The Committee and Report stages have effected substantial changes and we understand that more changes are to be proposed in another place. However, the Bill remains fundamentally flawed. I refer especially to the lack of a right of appeal. The clauses that are designed to discourage people from seeking asylum serve no other purpose.

Nothing in the Bill will stop asylum applications. As long as there is conflict and famine throughout the world, people will apply for asylum. The challenge for us is to deal with those applications fairly and thoroughly so that we do not run the risk of sending people back to countries where they may be tortured or face death. The Bill has failed to rise to that challenge. It was designed for entirely the wrong reasons. It has failed to meet the many challenges that it needs to meet. For those reasons, we shall oppose its Third Reading.

10.25 pm

This is a good and necessary Bill and I reject utterly the inflammatory, indeed palpably ignorant, charge by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) and other hon. Gentlemen who, like him, have suggested that it is racist. It is designed to give effect to the 1951 United Nations convention in a way that ensures that all those who arrive in the United Kingdom with a well-founded fear of persecution, wherever they come from, will find a safe haven here; and that those who have no such fear and no other humanitarian or appropriate reason for remaining, wherever they come from, will be obliged to leave.

I urge the House to give the Bill a Third Reading and speed it to the other place.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 298, Noes 216.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Division No. 47]

[10.25 pm

AYES
Adley, RobertFavell, Tony
Alexander, RichardFenner, Dame Peggy
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Allason, RupertFinsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Amess, DavidFishburn, John Dudley
Amos, AlanForman, Nigel
Arbuthnot, JamesForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Arnold, Sir ThomasForth, Eric
Ashby, DavidFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Atkins, RobertFreeman, Roger
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)French, Douglas
Baldry, TonyFry, Peter
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Gale, Roger
Batiste, SpencerGardiner, Sir George
Bellingham, HenryGill, Christopher
Bendall, VivianGlyn, Dr Sir Alan
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Goodhart, Sir Philip
Benyon, W.Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Blackburn, Dr John G.Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterGrant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Boscawen, Hon RobertGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Boswell, TimGregory, Conal
Bottomley, PeterGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaGrist, Ian
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Ground, Patrick
Bowis, JohnGrylls, Sir Michael
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesHague, William
Brandon-Bravo, MartinHamilton, Rt Hon Archie
Brazier, JulianHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bright, GrahamHampson, Dr Keith
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Hanley, Jeremy
Browne, John (Winchester)Hannam, Sir John
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Budgen, NicholasHargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Burns, SimonHarris, David
Burt, AlistairHawkins, Christopher
Butler, ChrisHayes, Jerry
Butterfill, JohnHayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Hayward, Robert
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Carrington, MatthewHicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Carttiss, MichaelHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cash, WilliamHill, James
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs LyndaHind, Kenneth
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Chapman, SydneyHordern, Sir Peter
Churchill, MrHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Clark, Rt Hon Sir WilliamHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Colvin, MichaelHunt, Rt Hon David
Conway, DerekHunter, Andrew
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Irvine, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Jack, Michael
Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnJackson, Robert
Cormack, PatrickJanman, Tim
Couchman, JamesJessel, Toby
Gran, JamesJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Currie, Mrs EdwinaJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Day, StephenKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Devlin, TimKey, Robert
Dickens, GeoffreyKilfedder, James
Dorrell, StephenKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKirkhope, Timothy
Dover, DenKnapman, Roger
Dunn, BobKnight, Greg (Derby North)
Durant, Sir AnthonyKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dykes, HughKnowles, Michael
Eggar, TimKnox, David
Emery, Sir PeterLang, Rt Hon Ian
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Latham, Michael
Evennett, DavidLawrence, Ivan
Fallon, MichaelLee, John (Pendle)

Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkSayeed, Jonathan
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lightbown, DavidShaw, David (Dover)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lord, MichaelShelton, Sir William
Luce, Rt Hon Sir RichardShephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)Shersby, Michael
Maclean, DavidSims, Roger
McLoughlin, PatrickSkeet, Sir Trevor
McNair-Wilson, Sir MichaelSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McNair-Wilson, Sir PatrickSoames, Hon Nicholas
Madel, DavidSpeed, Keith
Malins, HumfreySpeller, Tony
Mans, KeithSpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Maples, JohnSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marland, PaulSquire, Robin
Marlow, TonyStanbrook, Ivor
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)Steen, Anthony
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Stern, Michael
Mates, MichaelStevens, Lewis
Maude, Hon FrancisStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Sir RobinStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickStewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Meyer, Sir AnthonyStokes, Sir John
Miller, Sir HalSumberg, David
Mills, lainSummerson, Hugo
Mitchell, Sir DavidTapsell, Sir Peter
Moate, RogerTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesTaylor, Sir Teddy
Monro, Sir HectorTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Montgomery, Sir FergusTemple-Morris, Peter
Moore, Rt Hon JohnThompson, Sir D. (Calder
Morris, M (N'hampton S)

Valley)

Morrison, Sir CharlesThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Morrison, Rt Hon Sir PeterThorne, Neil
Moss, MalcolmThornton, Malcolm
Moynihan, Hon ColinThurnham, Peter
Neale, Sir GerrardTownend, John (Bridlington)
Nelson, AnthonyTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Neubert, Sir MichaelTracey, Richard
Newton, Rt Hon TonyTredinnick, David
Nicholls, PatrickTrippier, David
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Twinn, Dr Ian
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Norris, SteveViggers, Peter
Onslow, Rt Hon CranleyWakeham, Rt Hon John
Oppenheim, PhillipWaldegrave, Rt Hon William
Page, RichardWalden, George
Paice, JamesWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Parkinson, Rt Hon CecilWaller, Gary
Patnick, IrvineWard, John
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Patten, Rt Hon JohnWarren, Kenneth
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWatts, John
Pawsey, JamesWells, Bowen
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWheeler, Sir John
Porter, David (Waveney)Whitney, Ray
Portillo, MichaelWiddecombe, Ann
Powell, William (Corby)Wilkinson, John
Price, Sir DavidWilshire, David
Raison, Rt Hon Sir TimothyWinterton, Mrs Ann
Redwood, JohnWinterton, Nicholas
Renton, Rt Hon TimWolfson, Mark
Rhodes James, Sir RobertWood, Timothy
Ridsdale, Sir JulianYeo, Tim
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Roe, Mrs MarionTellers for the Ayes:
Rost, PeterMr. John M. Taylor and
Rowe, AndrewMr. Nicholas Baker.
Sackville, Hon Tom
NOES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.)Anderson, Donald
Allen, GrahamArcher, Rt Hon Peter
Alton, DavidArmstrong, Hilary
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Ashley, Rt Hon JackHaynes, Frank
Ashton, JoeHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Hinchliffe, David
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Barron, KevinHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Battle, JohnHome Robertson, John
Beith, A. J.Hood, Jimmy
Bell, StuartHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Bellotti, DavidHowells, Geraint
Benn, Rt Hon TonyHowells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Hoyle, Doug
Bermingham, GeraldHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Blair, TonyHughes, Roy (Newport E)
Blunkett, DavidHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Boateng, PaulIllsley, Eric
Boyes, RolandIngram, Adam
Bradley, KeithJanner, Greville
Bray, Dr JeremyJohnston, Sir Russell
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Jones, Ieuan (Ynys M6n)
Caborn, RichardJones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Callaghan, JimKennedy, Charles
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Kilfoyle, Peter
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Kirkwood, Archy
Canavan, DennisKumar, Dr. Ashok
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Lambie, David
Cartwright, JohnLamond, James
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Leadbitter, Ted
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Leighton, Ron
Clelland, DavidLewis, Terry
Cohen, HarryLitherland, Robert
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Livingstone, Ken
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Livsey, Richard
Corbett, RobinLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Corbyn, JeremyLofthouse, Geoffrey
Cousins, JimLoyden, Eddie
Crowther, StanMcAllion, John
Cryer, BobMcAvoy, Thomas
Cummings, JohnMcCartney, Ian
Cunliffe, LawrenceMacdonald, Calum A.
Darling, AlistairMcKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)McKelvey, William
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)McLeish, Henry
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)Maclennan, Robert
Dewar, DonaldMcMaster, Gordon
Dixon, DonMcNamara, Kevin
Doran, FrankMcWilliam, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethMadden, Max
Eadie, AlexanderMahon, Mrs Alice
Edwards, HuwMarek, Dr John
Enright, DerekMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Evans, John (St Helens N)Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)Martlew, Eric
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Maxton, John
Fatchett, DerekMeale, Alan
Faulds, AndrewMichael, Alun
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Flannery, MartinMitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Flynn, PaulMoonie, Dr Lewis
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMorgan, Rhodri
Foster, DerekMorley, Elliot
Foulkes, GeorgeMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fraser, JohnMowlam, Marjorie
Fyfe, MariaMullin, Chris
Galloway, GeorgeMurphy, Paul
Garrett, John (Norwich South)Nellist, Dave
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
George, BruceO'Brien, William
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnO'Hara, Edward
Golding, Mrs LlinO'Neill, Martin
Graham, ThomasOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Parry, Robert
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Patchett, Terry
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Pendry, Tom
Grocott, BrucePowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hain, PeterPrescott, John
Hardy, PeterPrimarolo, Dawn
Harman, Ms HarrietQuin, Ms Joyce

Radice, GilesStott, Roger
Randall, StuartStrang, Gavin
Redmond, MartinStraw, Jack
Rees, Rt Hon MerlynTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Reid, Dr JohnTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Robertson, GeorgeThomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Robinson, GeoffreyThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Rogers, AllanTurner, Dennis
Rooker, JeffWallace, James
Rooney, TerenceWalley, Joan
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Rowlands, TedWareing, Robert N.
Ruddock, JoanWatson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Sedgemore, BrianWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Sheerman, BarryWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Shore, Rt Hon PeterWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Short, ClareWilson, Brian
Skinner, DennisWinnick, David
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)Worthington, Tony
Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)Wray, Jimmy
Snape, PeterYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Soley, Clive
Spearing, Nigel

Tellers for the Noes:

Steel, Rt Hon Sir David

Mr. Ken Eastham and

Steinberg, Gerry

Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

Housing (Hyndburn)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Sackville.]

10.37 pm

Even though it means delaying my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment on what has already been for him a busy day, I am grateful for the opportunity to raise once again the problem of housing in Hyndburn. It has been the subject of previous debates, of many ministerial visits to Hyndburn and of delegations that I have arranged to meet Ministers at the Department.

The principal housing policy of the Conservative Government, who were elected in 1979, is simply defined: an increase in home ownership. Measured against that simple objective, the policy has exceeded beyond all expectations. Home ownership has increased from 55 per cent. in 1979 to 67 per cent. in 1990.

The people of Hyndburn did not need the encouragement offered by the new Conservative Government in 1979 to buy their own homes. They realised many years earlier that home ownership was a good thing. A high level of home ownership had already been achieved due to the self-restraint and independent nature of the people there, and the way in which, over the years, they resisted the onslaught of municipal socialism in housing.

Eighty-one per cent. of people in Hyndburn own their own homes, and therein lies its problem. The Government successfully concentrated on providing effective policies to promote new owner-occupation but, perhaps undertandably, they did not pay sufficient attention to the problems of areas such as Hyndburn, where a high level of owner-occupation had already been achieved.

Important though policies such as the sale of council houses, various low-cost ownership schemes, and the removal of constraints on private builders are in a national context, they are of only minor relevance in Hyndburn. With home ownership there at 81 per cent.—it has been approaching that figure for many years—it will be obvious that a substantial number of owner-occupiers are in the lower income groups.

Hyndburn is a low-wage area, even by comparison with other parts of Lancashire—let alone the rest of the country. Consequently, although owner-occupiers have made their mortgage payments over the years, they had nothing left to pay for major repairs or improvements. That combination of a high percentage of home ownership and low wages makes Hyndburn a special case.

In addition, a high proportion of houses in Hyndburn are far from soundly constructed. The majority were built in Victorian times to provide homes for workers in neighbouring cotton mills. Although Hyndburn's stone-built terraces were in some ways more soundly constructed than much modern, system-built housing, they were erected at such a frenetic pace—to cope with the enormous growth of industry—that many corners were cut.

In particular, insufficient care was taken to provide those properties with secure foundations, in an area notorious for its difficult ground conditions. The legacy is a private-sector housing stock that is now fast deteriorating and in need of massive investment in terms of repairs or replacement.

It is a depressing thought that, despite years of economic prosperity and high employment in the borough, about 7,000 of its houses—approaching one quarter of the total, and nearly all of them in the private sector—are officially designated as unfit for habitation, or fit but lacking basic amenities.

My concern is that those factors—a high percentage of owner-occupation, a history of low earnings, and a poorly constructed housing stock—are not sufficiently taken into account when resources are allocated. It is clear that a high percentage of Hyndburn's housing is coming to the end of its useful life, and that major investment is needed if wholesale demolition in the not-too-distant future is to be avoided.

It is not too late. The houses in question could be saved and be improved by imaginative schemes, such as the Quadrangle—a Bradford and Northern housing association scheme in Oswaldtwistle. Alternatively, they could be left to deteriorate even further, so that, in a few years, they will be beyond repair or improvement.

It is much cheaper to improve existing housing stock than to demolish it and rebuild. Such a policy allows people to remain owner-occupiers, rather than become tenants. However, unless some way is found of providing additional resources to help Hyndburn, it will be 30 years before every owner-occupier household there can enjoy basic amenities in a property free from major defects—even on the unreasonable assumption that there will be no further deterioration meantime, and no improvements to basic standards. The average terraced property would reach its 130th year before being brought up to an adequate standard.

I do not want to give the impression that it is all doom and gloom. Far from it. In 1979, Hyndburn borough council spent only £300,000 a year on improvement grants. Under a Conservative Government, £2 million a year was spent. In addition, because Hyndburn's problems were recognised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) when he was Minister for Housing, Hyndburn was one of the first areas to benefit from the Government's estate action programme.

Generally speaking, there has been all-party support for the housing initiatives that have been undertaken; so it was particularly unfortunate that, when the Housing Minister invited the housing chairman, Councillor Mrs. Betty Court, to London to discuss Hyndburn's housing problems, the controlling Labour group—which included Labour's current parliamentary candidate—voted, to its shame, against allowing her to come.

Those who know Mrs. Court will realise that it would take more than a silly party political decision to deter her from doing all that she could to improve Hyndburn's housing; she came at her own expense. We saw the Minister together, and as a result £1 million was spent on Huncoat, one of our most rundown estates at the time. That money came from the estate action programme. Since then, we have benefited greatly from the same programme in Fern Gore, Spring Hill and Clayton le Moors.

That is good news for many council tenants, but there is still much to be done—not least on the Trinity street estate in Oswaldtwistle, and in other areas of the borough where estates are in need of urgent action if the accommodation is to be of reasonable standard. Despite the considerable capital investment of recent years, there are still many council houses with serious defects and a lack of amenities.

We benefited, too, when—after intense pressure from many of us—the Government decided to extend the neighbourhood revitalisation services scheme. I was very pleased when Hyndburn was one of the areas to benefit. The scheme's contribution to the improvement of houses in the east Accrington area has been invaluable. Housing associations have also played an increasingly important part in the provision of much-needed accommodation for our growing number of elderly people. Schemes totalling over £3.5 million are in this year's programme.

Over the past 10 years, the council has dealt with the very worst housing, but we are now left with a great mass of properties built within a couple of decades. Inroads into the problem have been made, mainly in the areas that have been targeted for housing action area activity. A series of housing action areas, and a couple of general improvement areas, have represented the main thrust of the council's improvement activities since 1980. There remains, however, an enormous and urgent problem.

The council's housing capital programme has been reduced from a peak of £6,676,000 in 1989–90 to £4,306,000 in 1991–92, with a similar figure likely this year. That reduction has unfortunately coincided with an increased demand for mandatory renovation grant expenditure—mainly owing to the introduction of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, whose provisions I welcome but which has caused further problems for the borough. For example, the original programme expenditure on renovation grants in 1990–91 was £1,420,000. To meet the demand for the new mandatory payments, that had to be increased to £2.3 million.

To accommodate the increased expenditure on renovation grants, expenditure in other areas, especially repairs and improvements to council stock, was severely curtailed. Two contracts for the completion of estate action schemes were postponed from the 1990–91 programme, and could not even be proceeded with in 1991–92. That, I feel, is particularly unfortunate.

The Department of the Environment was advised of the council's dilemma, and encouraged the council to bid for a supplementary credit approval. In the event, the application was not approved. That resulted in an overspend of £520,000 in 1990–91, which the council covered by using the provisions of section 65 of the 1989 Act.

If the council was to meet its statutory duties to approve mandatory grants within six months, it would have been impossible for it to redeem the overspend from the 1991–92 programme, and it would therefore have had to roll it forward. As a consequence, I arranged a meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), which took place on 8 May.

In addition to making a request for supplementary credit approval of £520,000 to deal with the 1990–91 overspend and an SCA of £1 million in 1991–92 to handle the legal duties of the council in respect of the urban renewal legislation programme, we also requested a supplementary credit approval of £300,000 to allow a clearance-rebuild partnership with Wimpey Homes, through an imaginative scheme, to harness housing compensation for investment in new housing provision.

As the Minister will be aware, the aspiration of many owner-occupiers is to maintain their tenure. The scheme that we outlined sought to achieve just that, in an area where there is a gap that otherwise cannot be filled between the compensation resulting from clearance and the price of a new house.

The Secretary of State visited Hyndburn on 18 June and said that he was greatly impressed by the co-operation between Hyndburn borough council and Wimpey Homes. The result of that meeting on 8 May was an SCA of £900,000—clearly short of the amount requested, but welcome nevertheless. The scheme devised by Wimpey Homes is now going ahead under the title "resale covenant scheme". That, too, is welcome news.

In this short debate, I have sought to demonstrate that we have the needs and ideas for dealing with them but that we do not have the resources to enable us to do so. I want those people who have been waiting for a considerable time for grants to improve their properties—many of whom I have visited in their homes, where I saw the conditions for myself—to be able to obtain grants quickly. If they cannot, and if there is not an even greater increase in resources than we have had in the past, we shall be struggling in Hyndhurn not to increase home ownership, which is in line with Government policy, but to maintain it at its present level.

I understand that, once again, a sum has been set aside by the Department for SCAs. I urge the Minister to ensure both that Hyndburn receives a substantial part of that sum and that our bid for estate action resources for the Trinity street estate in Oswaldtwistle leads to money being made available.

10.51 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) on raising this extremely important issue and I pay tribute to him for his vigorous and consistent advocacy on behalf of his constituents. He has played an important part in securing for Hyndburn sympathetic treatment of its housing problems over the years. He referred to his meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning on this issue.

It is gratifying to hear that Hyndburn has made good use of its past allocations of housing investment programme resources and that particular benefit has been derived over a number of years from targeted estate action money. The upgrading of rundown council estates, coupled with management improvements and proposals for the diversification of housing tenure that have been developed in consultation with tenants, the local community and the private sector, remains a very important element of the Government's housing policy.

It may be helpful if I set the debate in context. It was in response to a question from my hon. Friend on 6 December 1991 that the Secretary of State announced the Government's decisions on the allocation of housing resources for 1992–93. I understand my hon. Friend's concerns on this score, but I must point out to him that the total resources are very substantial. Gross expenditure by the Housing Corporation in supporting housing associations—now the principal provider of new social housing—will be £1.77 billion in 1992–93. That will allow more than 50,000 new houses to be approved next year—25 per cent. more than the current year and four times more than in 1990-91. In addition, £1.7 billion has been allocated to local authorities in the form of housing investment programme allocations for 1992–93. Of that sum, £1.3 billion was in the form of general purpose allocations. The balance of £400 million has been allocated in the form of specified capital grant for private sector renewal to assist councils in their grant aid to private owners and in their expenditure on renewal areas.

The sum of £364 million—an increase of a third over the current year—will be allocated next year to maintaining the commitment to tackling the most difficult estates under the estate action programme. An additional £215 million has been set aside for spending on housing action trusts over the next three years. That is sufficient for the housing action trusts that have been established in Waltham Forest and Hull and for four additional housing action trusts that we hope will be created in other areas.

Historically, housing resources have been distributed to regions by means of the generalised needs index, a series of indicators measuring relative housing need. In 1991–92 both annual capital guidelines and specified capital grants were distributed to regions by means of the GNI; and within regions to local authorities on the basis of 50 per cent. by GNI with the other 50 per cent.—a discretionary element—allocated by Ministers on the recommendation of regional housing controllers.

We have, however, been concerned for some time about the undue emphasis placed on formulae in distributing housing resources. The almost automatic receipt of resources by an authority regardless of its performance has done little or nothing to encourage greater efficiency and effectiveness in capital investment or in protecting that investment through improved management. Nor does it deliver the quality of service that tenants seek and deserve.

For 1992–93—next year—we concluded that we should move to a system under which good performance was rewarded through higher allocations, and clear incentives were held out for all authorities to raise their standards to the level of the best. In the current bidding round, therefore, authorities competed for a 60 per cent. share of annual capital guideline resources while 60 per cent. of specified capital grant was distributed largely on the basis of local authorities, actual performance as demonstrated by expenditure patterns.

I am aware—and my hon. Friend mentioned this in his speech—that there is disappointment in Hyndburn about the level of the borough council's housing investment programme allocation for 1992. A total allocation of £4.156 million—which is made up of an ACG of £2.406 million and resources for specified capital grant of £1.75 million—represents a 3 per cent. increase over the current year's £4.029 million. In relative terms, Hyndburn has fared better than most authorities in its region.

I know that there is particular disappointment that the Department did not agree to fund Hyndburn's three bids for new estate action schemes next year. The allocation does, however, include provision of £1.4 million to enable the ongoing projects at Fern Gore and Spring Hill to continue. Refusal to fund the new bids is a reflection not of the quality of the schemes submitted but of the success of the estate action programme generally. There is now immense competition for what are inevitably finite resources and many more schemes have been submitted than there were resources to distribute. It is true—this is good news for the tenants for whom all this is being done—that the quality of the schemes coming forward is higher than ever before.

One of the important features of the estate action programme is the requirement for local authorities, wherever possible, to make contributions to the schemes matching those provided by the Government. That demonstrates a clear local commitment to turning round their problem estates and enables total resources committed to improving the worst estates to be "stretched" further. In Hyndburn's case we were conscious of the fact that the local authority is already working hard to make its contribution to ongoing schemes and that approval of new schemes in 1992–93 might have faced the authority with commitments it could not reasonably meet in that financial year. The regional controller for the Department has already suggested to the council that its priority should be satisfactorily to complete the schemes already embarked on before moving on to fresh ones.

My hon. Friend acknowledged—I welcome it—that Hyndburn has benefited greatly from estate action. He also referred to Mrs. Betty Court, a former chairman of housing for the council. I am glad to acknowledge the excellent work that she did during her time as chairman.

The statistics for Hyndburn tell an interesting story. Since the inception of the estate action programme in 1985 Hyndburn has received estate action resources totalling almost £10 million which has enabled almost 2,000 houses on no fewer that seven estates to be improved. That represents nearly half of Hyndburn council's housing stock of 4.179 dwellings. I know that there have been notable successes amongst the schemes that have been carried out, and I believe that that augurs well for the future. It bears repeating that the priority must be the successful completion of the current schemes.

Hyndburn has a well-earned reputation for "enabling" the private sector and housing associations to play their part in providing accommodation. I am aware of the problems of affordability in the borough and the considerable thought that has been given in particular to helping local people whose properties are the subject of clearance to stay in owner-occupation by seeking innovative schemes to help them to bridge the equity gap between the compensation from their old house and the cost of a new one.

As my hon. Friend acknowledged, housing associations continue to fulfil a central role in the borough in the provision of new rented and special needs housing. In the three years to 1990–91, £7.6 million of provision received project approval from the Housing Corporation, producing 233 new dwellings. Over the next three years, between £6.1 million and £8.2 million will be spent in the authority's area by housing associations on housing for sale and for rent.

I was not surprised that my hon. Friend referred at length to the particular difficulties in the private sector, not least in relation to the expenditure on mandatory renovation grants. As he said, there is a long tradition of owner-occupation in north-east Lancashire. A very high proportion—85 per cent.—of houses in Hyndburn are privately owned, which is way above the regional and national average. Again, statistics are important: 65 per cent. of the stock was built prior to 1919, much of it with specifications inadequate by today's standards; 27 per cent. of the stock—7,500 dwellings—is unfit; and 30 per cent.—8,500 dwellings—needs substantial repair work. These problems are, of course, compounded by the relatively low incomes which often limit the ability of residents to invest in their property. My hon. Friend has made those points to us on several occasions.

Hyndburn is to be commended for the energy and effort that it has put into getting to grips with private sector problems. The declaration of the east Accrington renewal area facilitates a strategic and comprehensive approach to deal with the problems of the area, and I know that progress is also being made towards a renewal area declaration in west Accrington. Renewal areas encourage the development of corporate, comprehensive strategies for identified areas and, by focusing resources and efforts in that way rather than merely responding to unprompted demands, provide a sound basis for progress in regenerating those areas.

Some of Hyndburn's stock is beyond economic repair and it would be a waste of resources to seek to prop up houses which have no long-term future. It is perfectly proper for Hyndburn to use its specified capital grant allocation to pursue clearance and I know that this is an issue which my regional controller has recently discussed with the borough council.

I understand the concerns expressed about the difficulties of coping with levels of mandatory renovation grant applications. Hyndburn's problems are not untypical of other districts and towns in the north-west where there is a preponderance of older, run-down housing occupied in the main by poor people. Inevitably, until the new system introduced by the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 shakes down, it will remain difficult to predict with certainty just what the likely demands for resources will be.

In the current year, the distribution of specified capital resources by the generalised needs index led to some anomalies. As security against demand exceeded resources in some areas, we purposely set aside a special allocation of supplementary credit approvals totalling £25 million—my hon. Friend referred to it—to cater for that eventuality. After the points made by my hon. Friend last year, Hyndburn was a major beneficiary, receiving a supplementary credit approval of £904,000.

Before reaching decisions on how specified capital grant resources should be distributed from the centre for 1992–93, we looked closely at the pattern of needs for resources to deal with problems of private sector stock condition and the actual spend performance of regions and individual authorities on renovation grants. A clear picture has emerged of where stock conditions were most serious and where resources to tackle those problems were inadequate. We therefore decided upon a distribution methodology which allocated resources to regions on the basis of the total number of statutorily unfit properties identified. This established a much clearer link between actual problems on the ground and the likely need for resources to tackle them.

Within regions, as I have mentioned, 40 per cent. of resources were allocated to local authorities on the basis of need as identified by the number of unfit properties and 60 per cent. mainly on the basis of actual performance as determined, in the main, by local authorities' spending patterns. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that there is a clear logic to having a system which not only recognises need but pays particular attention to a local authority's track record and its ability to deliver.

As we had expected, the new approach favours regions like the north-west with its higher proportion of pre-1919 owner-occupied dwellings—a legacy of its industrial heyday. In fact, in 1992–93 a total SCG of £52.9 million has been allocated to the north-west region as compared with £45.2 million in the current year—a 17 per cent. increase. Significantly, the new figure closely matches the likely regional outturn for the current year and will therefore, I hope, go some way towards mitigating the mismatch between demand and resources which became evident in the current year.

Hyndburn's SCG for 1992–93 of £1.7 million is 19 per cent. more than this year's £1.47 million. Coupled with the supplementary credit approval of £904,000 already received, it should provide a sound basis for continuing progress to be made in renewing the borough's urban fabric. I appreciate that, in common with other authorities, Hyndburn would like a larger allocation.

What is often not fully appreciated is that the new finance system set up by the 1989 Act gives local authorities flexibility to meet demand for grant expenditure. The allowance an authority receives for renovation and other specified capital grants in its housing investment programme is not a ceiling. The council can spend if it needs to by using its other resources. As an added safeguard against unforeseen demands for mandatory grants, we have again set aside a reserve of supplementary credit approvals—this time £30 million—for use in circumstances where an authority considers that its basic credit approval will be insufficient to meet demand for housing specified capital grant in any single year. Of course, as in the current year, any such application would have to be considered on its merits, and a particular consideration would be evidence that the level of mandatory grants actually approved by the authority was high in relation to the resources available. Authorities will again be invited to submit bids for SCAs during the course of 1992-93. Therefore, an authority such as Hyndburn, which has been through the process once before, should look to the coming year with confidence that, in addition to the allocation that has been made, it will have an opportunity to bid for additional resources if it appears that demand has heavily outstripped supply. I hope that my reassurance is of help to my hon. Friend.

In conclusion, I think it can be said that Hyndburn has come out of the 1992 housing investment programme round well, with a higher resource allocation than that for the current year. There remains scope in all authorities to improve the management of capital programmes and housing stock, introduce new management practices, work more closely with the local community and fully to engage the housing associations and private sector as a means of making resources go further and securing better value for money. Resources for housing are already very substantial but they are finite. Local authorities should temper their plans with realism. Increased efficiency rather than ever-growing allocations points the way forward; and the new system of competitive HIPs that we have introduced provides a basis for rewarding those authorities who most clearly demonstrate their effectiveness.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the position in Hyndburn to the attention of the House this evening.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes past Eleven o'clock.