Housing

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st June 1978.

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Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Merioneth 12:00 am, 21st June 1978

I thought that the Under-Secretary would say that, and I was about to deal with that aspect. I shall do so now. It depends whether one takes the view that the Welsh Office housing division is a passive or aggressive department. If it is a passive department, the Under-Secretary, his ministerial colleagues and their civil servants sit back in Cardiff and wait for bids to land from Heaven—or, rather, from the 37 district councils. However, if, as my party suggests, there is a need for an aggressive drive in housing in Wales, we need an aggressive department which will take its programme to the housing authorities. We need an aggressive department which will get increases in the figures in the public expenditure White Papers for projected expenditure in Wales. No local authority will make bids when it is faced with public expenditure cuts in the total housing allocation from the Treasury in London to Wales.

Wales has 5·9 per cent. of the population of Great Britain, but we have never reached even 5 per cent. of British expenditure on housing in the present decade. The projections to 1980–81 indicate that there will be a decline in the total public housing expenditure in Britain as a whole and that Wales will receive a smaller share of the diminishing cake. By 1978–79 it will be reduced to about 80 per cent. of the 1974 level.

We have had a cut in the global allocation from the Treasury to the Welsh Office, and individual programmes within Wales have been more severely cut than in Britain. Local authority mortgage lending has been cut. The projections of the public expenditure White Paper indicate that local authority lending has been cut from £30·2 million to £3·8 million, a reduction of 87 per cent. Improvement grants have been reduced by 74 per cent. Expenditure on new council housing has fallen from £61·8 million to £54·5 million over the decade. I am projecting from the present through to 1981.

There is a continual reduction in new building and in the allocations being made available for other housing provision. For that reason, the housing policy of the Welsh Office was, for once, adequately described by the Western Mail. If I can avoid it I never quote the Western Mail in our debates, but on 31st January the housing policy of the Welsh Office was described in a strong editorial as A tumbledown policy for tumbledown homes. A major feature article in the Western Mail enumerated the facts on housing deprivation in Wales and the failure of the Welsh Office to tackle that need.

We talk about a lack of finance from the Treasury to the Welsh Office for new building, but we must stress the lack of finance for housing improvement. As Wales has such a preponderance of older property, we might expect increased expenditure on housing improvement allocated to Welsh district councils. Gwynedd, into which falls most of my constituency, is the only county in England and Wales which, on a calculation based on indicators and needs, is found to need more than six times the expenditure on house improvement that has been allocated by the Welsh Office. It is run close by Mid-Glamorgan, in which, on the indicators, all the districts need more housing improvement expenditure than is allowed by the Welsh Office. The Cynon Valley, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda, Rhymey Valley and Taff Ely districts in the county need six times more than the expenditure provided by the Welsh Office. The same applies in the county of Clwyd. The district of Glyndwr, which falls within my constituency, and all the districts in Clwyd need more. Glyndwr appears on the indicators to need six times the expenditure that the Government have allowed.

The allocation being made centrally by the Treasury to the Welsh Office is inadequate, and the Welsh Office accuses the authorities of underspending. I referred at the beginning of my remarks to the propaganda campaign waged by the Welsh Office to try to persuade the public that it is not the Government Department that is short of resources and that the local authorities are not spending their allocations. We have heard that again today from the Under-Secretary of State. What he does not tell us is why the underspend took place.

I shall not quote from the appalling document—it is one of the worst documents to emerge from even the Welsh Office—entitled "First Report of the Working Party on Housing Finance in Wales", but it suggests that the main reason for underspending was the heavy rainfall during 1976–77. However, the factor that caused the underspend was the telephone calls made from the hon. Gentleman's Department on 23rd July 1976 to every one of the 37 district councils in Wales telling them to stop everything, to stop all their programmes. It was a moratorium or a freeze on the total expenditure on housing in Wales. That is what caused the underspend.