Orders of the Day — Housing (England and Wales)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th June 1977.

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Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Merioneth 12:00 am, 20th June 1977

Yes, "Bust the bank". Yet subsequently, within nine months, we were having cash limits and expenditure cuts imposed. In that context no local authority can be expected to carry out an effective housing programme.

I stress that as local authorities now look to their housing needs for the next three years they should be thinking of putting in to the Welsh Office not realistic bids related to what they submitted in the last two years but bids for what they really need to tackle their housing problems.

I appeal to local authorities in Wales to undertake a programme not only of new house building for specialised needs but also of improvement. This will take them well beyond their 15 per cent. ceiling for Section 105 allocations which the Welsh Office has laid down. I was glad to hear that the Minister was being flexible on the 15 per cent. The truth is that the balance of a massive rehabilitation programme would take certain district councils well beyond their 15 per cent. The Welsh Office should look again at that ceiling, and, instead of imposing an initial ceiling and then becoming flexible in relation to various districts, it should consider giving more freedom to authorities to choose as between rehabilitation and new building. I say that because the balance of rehabilitation as compared with new building has an immediate impact on the total number of unfit houses.

I stress that we are working within a context of massive reductions in public expenditure on housing, and in a context also where not sufficient attention is paid to the relationship between the various types of housing expenditure. This has been touched on already in the debate, and I shall not go on at length about it because we have been warned about shortage of time. However, I emphasise that we ought to look again at the relationship between spending through the mortgage interest tax relief and spending on subsidy to the council house tenant.

I was very disappointed to have advance warning from the Secretary of State that the housing finance review, or whatever the Green Paper coming out next week is to be called, will not result in a fundamental reassessment of the cost-effectivness of our subsidies. It must be said again that any studies of tax relief to owner-occupiers show that public money is being ploughed in which tends to find its way especially to the upper end of the market, while, on the other hand, there are inadequate total resources going to housing. We should look again at the ways in which our total deployment of housing resources can be improved. If that means taking away tax relief at the upper end of the market even further, it must be done in order that our housing resources may be redistributed effectively.

In this debate, as in every housing debate, the Government have pretended that they give housing a high priority. That is totally at odds with their expenditure policies. I was glad to have from the Under-Secretary of State for Wales the small admission that he himself felt that the figures for housing in Wales given in the expenditure White Papers were inadequate. I was glad to have that admission, but the hon. Gentleman should admit also that his Government's expenditure policies mean that we shall never be able to tackle our housing crisis in Wales as we ought to tackle it.

The three recent rounds of public expenditure cuts have hit housing more heavily than they have hit any other single social wage item. The housing programme is still being severely reduced at a time of unprecedented unemployment in the construction industry. The consequence is that we face a deepening housing crisis, especially in the older regions of England, such as the North-East, and in Wales, where we have a preponderance of housing built at the time of the Industrial Revolution and where, accordingly, a more urgent initiative from the Government is necessary to tackle the problems.

Finally, I turn to the impact of housing cuts and the impact of the Government's housing policy on one area in Wales, namely, our capital city of Cardiff. I am becoming increasingly concerned about what is happening in Cardiff—both about the attitude of the South Glamorgan County Council and the attitude of the Cardiff City Council. This year already homeless families have been thrown out on to the street, families have been split up and families have been thrown out of hotel and short-stay accommodation by the South Glamorgan social services department. Moreover, we have seen an unwillingness on the part of Cardiff City Council to accept the responsibility for homeless persons, and the Welsh Office has not felt able to intervene in the matter because it sees it as an internal dispute within Cardiff between the social services and housing.

The root of the problem in Cardiff is not merely that we have extremely reactionary Conservative councillors running Cardiff. We have, in addition, the failure over the past 10 years to tackle the 3,000-strong waiting list in the city. Cardiff's council house building programme has plummeted down from 1,000 in 1970 to fewer than 500 houses in 1976–77. Demolition in Cardiff has been ahead of new building every year since 1973–74.

I appeal to the Welsh Office to examine the situation in Cardiff as it reaches crisis point, particularly as regards homeless families. I also ask the Welsh Office to be prepared to intervene between the district council and the city council if there are any further evictions and if any more families are split up by the authorities in Cardiff later this year.