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 Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East 12:00 am, 21st June 1978

I shall come to several of these points later. If the hon. Member for Henley wants a period of disappointing reading, he should look through Hansard tomorrow, because his speech will ook very impressive as the contribution of the Shadow Secretary of State on such an importantnot l subject.

It is extraordinary how little, apart from the series of "me too-isms", the Tory Party attitude to housing has changed in the last four years. There have been radical advances in housing policy in that time but only minimal changes in the content of Opposition policies. If anything, the Conservatives have retreated further into the backwoods from which they were emerging into the scrublands when we took office in 1974.

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Hornsey said about nothing having been done in the last few years and his claim that we were only now presenting our intentions, the real emphasis in housing policy has changed. By the late 1960s, the emphasis on meeting new house building targets as a singular test of success or failure by any Government was already out of date, but we had to wait until the last four years for this wider development in housing policy to take place. It is not that house building is unimportant, but we need to put it in the context of a much wider look at the real needs of people and not the needs for which politicians anticipate good Press coverage.

The work encapsulated in our housing Green Paper, which has been commended on both sides of the House, has already led to changes in policy and procedures as we have built up the work. We have not awaited the publication of the Green Paper or the policy statement that my right hon. Friend made earlier, on the basis of that Green Paper, before acting in these matters.

We shall bring forward the legislative proposals, but Conservative Members should mark the order in which action is taken. First, we establish the need by the most extensive study and analysis of housing problems in this country that has ever been undertaken. Secondly, we formulate and implement policy changes and, where necessary, carry them forward. The comprehensive Bill that my right hon. Friend outlined will do just that.

This wider development of housing policy has had a number of ingredients already. The first aspect is the quality of life. Hon. Members, not for the first time, have raised the question of high-density living, high-rise blocks and industrial building—the latter subject was raised, with much stress, by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean). Action was taken from 1974 onwards, within a few months of our taking office, to put a stop to high-rise building and medium-rise accommodation for families.

There are no tall blocks or even medium-rise blocks being planned for family occupation. When we came into office, such accommodation represented nearly 20 per cent. of the total programme. It now represents less than 1 per cent. That is a worthwhile achievement. We did not await the Green Paper or legislation. We did not even await the changes in density policies that some of the structure plans, under our influence, are implementing. We took action.

We have altered density policy, which is of great significance for future housing development in our urban areas. Coupled with that, we must deal with the existing stock by changes of management policies, which are already being put in train, which we are encouraging and upon which we are giving guidance. We have stressed, as my right hon. Friend did again today, the importance of housing management initiatives and experiments in neighbourhood management schemes. We have acted upon them in conjunction with local authorities throughout the country.

When I took office in 1974, the Department did not employ one adviser or consultant on housing management. We now have a housing services advisory group, and a housing management services unit is being set in post. We have issued a full series of reports. In conjunction with about 30 local authorities throughout the country, we have undertaken studies of the worst problem housing estates. We are implementing the results of the studies. We are not awaiting some new policy or new legislation before taking action. Action is being taken now.