Being mindful of Mr. Speaker's ruling about the length of speeches, much of what I want to say will be about the practicalities of the situation relating to public sector housing. As for the private sector, suffice it to say that many of us are disappointed with what has been achieved over the last four years. It was rather hypocritical of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) to condemn the Government and in the same breath to say that the reason why the figures for 1973 were bad was the oil crisis. The situation that we inherited was something about which we had no idea when we talked about what we proposed in our manifesto.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction shares the frustration which I and others feel about the things that we have been able to achieve over the last four years, but the economic situation has made it very difficult for funds to be readily available for all the things which we believed were necessary as a result of the situation which we inherited. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave some helpful and hopeful signs in his speech. I hope that the Home Purchase Assistance and Housing Corporation Guarantee Bill will help many first-time buyers to obtain a home more quickly than they otherwise would. I also hope that his suggestions about making grant aid for improvement work more readily available will reach fruition very quickly.
Over the past few years the main complaint which I have had from constituents with regard to local authority mortgage rates is that when building society rates have fallen they have found themselves paying a higher rate to the local authority. Some means of regularising the situation is necessary, because on the face of it this appears to be rather unfair.
In the public sector, the problem faced by smaller housing authorities, such as that in the Kingswood district, which has the same boundaries as the parliamentary constituency, has been more noticeable during the last 12 months. The effects of the reorganisation of local government has been felt. I suppose that has been the case for many local authorities throughout the country. In Kingswood, the building plans which came to fruition last year were those which were left over by the previous housing authority. That left us with housing units which had been planned by smaller authorities to fill a very different need. It is true that people on housing waiting list now have a broader choice of where to live, but often the flats and maisonettes planned by the previous authority were either situated in the wrong place or were not required by the people on the combined waiting list of the new authority of Kingswood.
The districts where flats and maisonettes were provided have proved to be unpopular. Nevertheless, the district council has let over 400 of these properties. Some difficulty has been experienced, because many of the homes which were planned were for elderly people and were unsuitable for families, despite the fact that the majority of applications on the housing waiting list were from families. In order to accommodate those families I believe that in future we must concentrate on family units. I believe this is a problem which is similar to the problem of neighbouring authorities.
I understand that the Department of the Environment has approved new housing for the coming year, but that housing is mainly for the elderly. In Kingswood that is a cause for concern, because much of the land owned by the council is not in a suitable position for old people. That in itself will create a problem. Another problem is that those now on the waiting list, which is growing all the time, are young families who have to join the end of the queue. There seems to be a problem in that regard.
The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act was mentioned earlier. My impression is that it is an Act which enables quick and effective help to be given to many homeless people. I would not want it to be felt that any remarks I now make are against the Bill, because I am strongly in favour of it. I am sorry that the misrepresentation of facts about the Bill in remarks which have been made outside has made some people worried. Nevertheless, the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, welcome though it is, has put pressure on local authorities to provide for people who find themselves homeless and has resulted in such people jumping the queue. That is a difficulty. Over the last six months, the Kingswood district has housed nine homeless families per month, on average, and only 11 families have come off the housing waiting list. There was also the odd special case, such as someone moving into the district for reasons of work, and so on.
That means that half the homes available were taken up as a result of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act. I believe that the Act has made more remote the chances of ordinary local people on the waiting list getting a home. I should like my right hon. Friend to say something about this, because resources need to be given to smaller local authorities such as Kingswood in order that they can avoid being faced with this kind of problem. It creates a difficulty when half the houses available to a smaller authority are allocated to families as a result of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act.
I should like to mention briefly two other points. The modernisation programme is something which needs special attention. In my own area, many council houses were built 30 years ago, just after the war. They now need to be modernised as a matter of urgency. The policy of the council in accepting the lowest tender has not always resulted in the work being done in the best possible way. Perhaps there is a need to look at the policy of the Department of the Environment with regard to the problems of modernisation of properties.
There has been a growth of private housing associations in the Kingswood district. They perform a valuable function in providing homes to let, but there have been problems with high rents and heating costs in some of their properties. Many tenants have complained to me about condensation. The housing association said that the reason was lack of heating, but when the heating was turned on people faced bills of £120 per quarter. This often meant that they fell into rent arrears, were evicted, and had to be rehoused by the local authority. I hope that this trend does not grow. Housing associations are new in our area, but we have come to suspect them because of these difficulties.