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Council Housing

Volume 407: debated on Wednesday 18 June 2003

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If he will make a statement on his policy on funding council housing. [119748]

Our policy is to enable local authorities properly to manage and maintain their stock, while charging fair and affordable rents. All councils are required to bring their stock up to the decent homes standard. Indeed, since 1997, we have reduced the number of non-decent social homes by 500,000, and we are on track to ensure that all social housing is decent by 2010.

In a recent report in Property People, Lord Rooker is quoted as telling tenants in Hammersmith and Fulham that there would be "no exceptions" to the policy of making councils choose between stock transfer, the private finance initiative or arm's length management organisation options. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether that report is accurate? If it is not, will he assure the tenants who vote against those options that their local authorities will be adequately funded to meet the Government's very worthy decent homes target?

My hon. Friend exactly reports the options that we have got. The three options, as reported by Lord Rooker, are absolutely right, but there is an option for local authorities to stay with their housing stock if they wish. Those are the choices that they have, but we have made considerable changes and investment in housing has gone from about £750 million to £2.1 billion—a tremendous increase, against the Tory record of reducing housing investment every year.

Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that, at the end of 1997, 25,000 social houses were built in this country, but by the end of last year, the figure had fallen to 14,500 social houses built six years into a Labour Government? Why has that happened? Is not he ashamed that a Labour Government have turned their back on some of the country's poorest people?

It is a bit of a cheek for the hon. Gentleman to say that—he belonged to a Government who had a housing record that was, frankly, scandalous. They left us with a £19 billion disinvestment, which we have just referred to, and a year-on-year decrease in housing investment. As I told the House when I launched the sustainable community package, the record in housing of all Governments, over decades, has been poor and unacceptable. That is why we have invested the largest amount of money ever given to a housing programme—£22 billion. We intend to reverse the trend, and we have made major changes in improving the housing stock. The amount of money available is not enough to meet every demand, but it reverses the decline that we saw under the Tories, who produced a massive repair backlog and a year-on-year decrease and gave away £40 billion in subsidising the right to buy, instead of improving homes for the people. Half a million homes were repossessed between 1990 and 1997. That is the record of a Tory Government, and we will not take any lecture from them on housing policy.

My right hon. Friend will have seen the report from Hammersmith and Fulham, which was well prepared and indicated that tenants wanted to stay with the council. Indeed, I gave evidence to that very excellent committee. However, one of the problems in Ealing—another part of my constituency—is that a Conservative council doubled the rent overnight. When that happens, as I pointed out to the tenants, one of the problems of remaining under council control is that they become victims of political change at very short notice. If we want good quality housing in this country, we need a genuine long-term commitment, free of that sort of political gerrymandering of rents.

Indeed, that is the record that we inherited, and we have given local authorities the option to change from that system and to have a greater opportunity for continuity, to get the proper investment and to have decent quality homes. That is the dividing line between our policies and those that we inherited from the Tories.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister regard it as indispensable, in order to meet his communities plan targets, for private developers to be given access to Housing Corporation loans?

Housing Corporation funding is available for that and has been used in the past. We are looking at a range of public and private financing. As the right hon. Gentleman well knows from his experience in government, the reality of the housing situation is that there is a lack of adequate resources. We have turned more to using public and private resources to lift the amount of investment for housing. We are considering using private resources for housing corporations.

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), council tenants in my constituency warmly welcome the Government's commitment to the decent homes target and the extra funding that has been made available for council housing. However, they are against stock transfer and want to remain with the local authority. Will my right hon. Friend assure them that if they stay with the local authority, funding will still be available for the decent homes target to be met?

I understand my hon. Friend's point. He must know from his experience on housing that the disinvestment that occurred in the local authority housing stock means that something like £19 billion has to be found. We have to restart a housing programme. There are major problems in the south and the north and we need resources from public and private sources as well as the Exchequer. Given those circumstances, we have had to say that we will try to provide adequate funding for those who want to stay with local authorities, but we have provided alternatives, which the majority of councils are using to bring together public and private financing so that investment in housing to correct the disinvestment can be achieved more quickly.

Is the Deputy Prime Minister willing to consider the project just down the road at Elephant and Castle, which he knows about, and the project on the Aylesbury estate, which he and I have talked about, to find out how we can achieve what he told his colleagues? Where a regeneration scheme that is supported by the Government is going ahead, is there a way in which people who want to be council tenants can be assured of the same funding for new homes in the public sector as would be available if they transferred to registered social landlords?

Yes, but I have made it clear that there are a number of choices: regeneration programmes, private finance initiative programmes, stock transfer programmes and ALMO programmes. They all represent different approaches and they increase resources. I am trying to be fair to all sectors of the housing community, which is what the programmes are about. [Interruption.]

Order. May I say to the House that there are far too many extraneous conversations going on, the total volume of which is making it difficult to hear both questions and answers?