Statistics on Housing Starts

Orders of the Day — Housing Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 19th May 1980.

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' Local authorities in receipt of housing subsidies payable under this Act shall, not later than 31st March of each year submit to the Secretary of State an estimate of the numbers of new dwellings whose construction they expect to start in the 12 months commencing from the date of 1st April immediately following.'.—[Mr. Hattersley.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The intention of the clause is to do no more and no less than enable Parliament, and eventually the people, to know the number of new houses likely to be built each year by each local authority. Therefore, by aggregating those numbers, as reported to the Secretary of State from each local authority, Parliament and the people will know the total number of new houses to be built in the subsequent year throughout England and Wales.

An estimate of such information might be thought to be already available. However, when the Opposition pressed the Secretary of State to make an estimate of the number of houses likely to be built in the financial year 1980–81, he declined absolutely to offer any opinion and said that under the new system of capital allocation this was a matter for the local authorities alone.

There are two things to be said about that. First, if this is a matter for local authorities, it is important that they should make clear how many houses they intend to build. In other legislation this Govern ment have been great devotees of performance indicators—of the local authorities telling the people whom they represent, and upon whose votes they depend, what they have done and what they propose to do. It is no less reasonable that those authorities should tell their electors how many houses they propose to build, as well as what rates they propose to levy and how many employees they have on their books.

8.15 pm

That is only one of the arguments. The other, which makes the new clause particularly important, is that it is disingenuous for the Secretary of State to say that this is not a matter about which any national judgment can be made but is a matter for the local authorities, when at the same time he is putting those authorities in a position that limits them absolutely on the numbers of houses they can build next year and in subsequent years. If the choice is that of a local authority, it should make clear where its choice lies.

The Secretary of State's point is that, with a block allocation of funds, a council can decide whether to build houses, whether to use money on rehabilitation or for other purposes. The nonsense of that argument is best demonstrated by one Conservative local authority which, when asked by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities whether it proposed, in the light of this year's capital allocation, to make an alteration to its system of priorities in housing, said: The allocation will not result in any change in the council's priorities because the uncommitted allocation of funds is likely to prove insufficient to enable the council to commence any new schemes of any description. If that is the position in which individual local authorities find themselves, it seems only reasonable that Parliament should know about it, because Parliament votes those funds. It also seems right that the electors of the authority and the national electors of this Parliament should know about it as well.

It is the pratice of the Government to provide, in an aggregated form, at least, some of the information for which the new clause asks. Each year, normally towards the end of the calendar year and before the financial year in which the expenditure falls, the Government make an announcement about housing allocation. Even under the new regime of a single grant, the Government will make an allocation of money and make the information known to the House about the turn of the year.

This year, the Government made a statement on 21 February, unsually in the House of Commons, about the number of houses to be built, or at least about the size of the housing investment programme. Even if they continue that practice, it is very clear from the episode of 21 February that it will not meet the needs as we see them and describe them in the new clause. On 21 February, the Secretary of State made a statement that I must remind him, for the third time, was described by two professional journals as "wilful obfuscation" and "calculated to mislead". Those phrases seem to be wholly accurate descriptions of the Secretary of State's behaviour. The journals put it in language that might be inappropriate for me to use in the House.

Whatever the strength of that language—I am glad that the Secretary of State is here on the third occasion on which I have quoted those allegations, as he will have a third opportunity to answer them—the nature of that obfuscation and misleading statement means that the House has been left with virtually no information except that which it could glean from other sources about the number of houses likely to be built in Britain during the next year.

The statement itself, even with the statistical limitations on which I will not dwell this evening but which are well documented, suggest that house building will be reduced in Britain next year by 21 per cent. compared with last year. A more accurate answer, given the following week, put the reduction in house building at about 33 per cent. I have no doubt that, if the Secretary of State addresses himself to this problem, he will try, with awe-inspiring disregard for logic, to argue that this is not a matter that should concern the House particularly. He will probably say that since overall house building expenditure fell by 24 per cent. in the five years from 1974–75 to 1979–80, it is wholly reasonable that it should fall by 48 per cent. in the four years from 1979–80 to 1983–84.

We take a rather contrary view. Housing expenditure was reduced in those early years, and far from that being a reason to reduce it any further, it is a reason for ensuring that the programme is protected to every reasonable extent. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will want to reply to the debate in the partisan terms of "You did this a little, we shall do it a lot. Anyway, why do you want to know about the actual figures for the building programmes of individual authorities?"

I shall try to explain as clearly and briefly as I can why we want to know. The evidence presented to us suggests that a cut in the house building programme of the extent to which the Secretary of State eventually admitted—about 33 per cent., year on year—must amount in many areas to a virtual ending of the house building programme.

It must also amount to a literal ending of the house building programme in some local authorities where the need for housing is particularly acute and where the Opposition would say "This is not an area that should have no opportunity to build; it is an area where house building is absolutely essential and where the programme, far from being abandoned, ought to be extended."

Let me try to explain why a reduction of over 30 per cent. in the investment allocation, one year to another, is not a cut of 30 per cent. in the programme but, in a real sense, an abandonment of new building. It stems from the simple fact that the nature of local authority contracts means that, year on year, much money is being paid for contracts that were begun, for work done and for work almost completed in the previous financial year, and that with a reduction of 30 per cent. in the overall investment programme, authority after authority is finding that the only money that it possesses is the money that it needs to enable it to pay off the existing work, and after that has been completed there are no new funds to allow new housing starts and new building.

I give a single example of the sort of information that we seek. It is the sort of information that hon. Members ought not to have to obtain by going individually to local authority associations and individual councils and reading the professional press, but it is an example that makes my point exactly. It is from the borough of Southwark. It is written up in some detail in the professional journal of the housing association by the Director of Housing—not struggling to make a party point, but just describing how he, as an officer of the corporation, faced the housing investment programme which had been offered to him by the current Secretary of State.

For Southwark, the housing investment programme was £417 million—almost exactly the corresponding percentage as that which has been allocated for the nation as a whole. Southwark received 64 per cent. of what it had asked for, and that £41·7 million amounted to rather less than it needed to pay this year to fulfil existing contracts. Indeed, outstanding work requires a payment of £42·8 million, leaving that borough literally short of money, to the tune of £1·1 million, to pay off existing contractors, and, as the director of housing says, without any hope of new building or a continuation of the modernisation planned.

I suspect that my right hon. and hon. Friends will be able to give examples of other areas that, whatever the Secretary of State attempted to pretend to the House and the country on 21 February, are areas in which there is little or no new building, where there are, in consequence, appalling results—both for those families in desperate need of housing and for the building industry, many of whose members are facing bankruptcy during the current financial year—and where not only are there reductions in housing which amount to no housing starts but where housing investment programme funds have been so denied them that as well as there being no possibility of new houses being started, there is equally little possibility of improvement programmes continuing or local authority mortgages being available to prospective purchasers of private houses.

If the Secretary of State has any doubts whether that is so, let me say that I have managed, through the courtesy of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, to find him two or three other examples of what, in reality, this year's housing investment programme amounts to. They are examples that I fear would be multiplied 10, 20 or 50 times over were the Secretary of State to accept the new clause and require housing authorities to describe in detail what housing prospects had been offered them by the Secretary of State.

I give only four examples, the first of which is the borough of Bolton. It was hoping to start 257 houses. They have all been lost. In its report to the AMA, the borough says: We can envisage the position in a few years' time where the size of the backlog presents a daunting task and there will be no possibility of the resources being available to tackle our problems adequately. The second example is South Tyne-side, where again the authority has discovered that it has no funds available and is being allocated no funds to meet any of its needs.

The third example is Barnsley, where the authority has had to decide that in 1980–81 no new construction contracts will be available and that it can go ahead with no new housing whatsoever. It has had to postpone its slum clearance programme for 1980–81 and subsequent years. Its improvement programme has been brought to a halt for a year, and it will consider in 12 months' time whether that can go ahead.

My fourth example is Coventry, where that authority, too, has decided that there can be no new house building in 1980–81, where the mortgage scheme for tenants wishing to buy private houses has been abandoned, and where central heating for elderly residents, which was to be the centre point of the authority's rehabilitation and improvement programme, has been abandoned because there is just not enough money to allow that programme to continue.

I could continue to give the House example after example of local authorities that have reported over the last two months that what the Secretary of State has done, in effect, is to prevent them from starting any new houses next year, to prevent them from going on with their programmes of rehabilitation and improvement next year, and to prevent them from providing mortgages for private purchasers next year.

If we have a Secretary of State who is prepared to do that to housing programmes, he should at least have the courage to admit that he has done it and to explain it and describe where the blow is to fall. By the nature of these cuts, they will fall on the areas which need housing the most. They will fall on the areas that would have built the most and now find that they are unable to build at all.

What we are asking, therefore, is that councils should be required—most of them, I know, will do it most willingly—to describe at the beginning of their financial year their housing programme for the subsequent two months. It seems to us that that is a proper, necessary and highly desirable check on individual local authorities—altogether consistent with other things that the Secretary of State says about the public having the right to know how their local councils are behaving and about the decisions that their local councillors are taking.

I do not attempt to deceive the House by pretending that we do not regard this as anything other than an essential check on the behaviour and performance of the present Secretary of State for the Environment, because two things are clear about his house building record. The first is that he has brought new house building to a virtual halt. The second is that he has not had the courage to admit it in the House, and, when pressed about it, he has done all that he could to obscure the truth of the position.

If the new clause is agreed to, at least we shall know the extent, the severity and the areas of the Secretary of State's damage. If the new clause is resisted and defeated, it will be because the Government in general and the Secretary of State in particular do not have the courage to face and admit the consequences of their own performance.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East 8:30 pm, 19th May 1980

The Government are dealing with this Bill as if it were an ordinary run-of-the-mill measure. It is not. It is a monstrous Bill. It will give private landlords the opportunity to raise their rents every two years, instead of every three years. It will allow the best council houses to be sold. Shortholders will lose their security of tenure. The Bill also forms part of the Government's strategy to end council housing. The new clause is therefore important.

I believe that the Minister will oppose the new clause. As the Bill stands, a provision that appeared in the Housing Bill 1957 will be deleted. That provision states: and as often as occasion arises, or within three months after notice has been given to them by the Minister, to prepare and submit to the Minister proposals for the provision of new houses. The provisions in this Bill are very different. The Bill merely states that local authorities should review the situation. Anyone can review the situation. That is a child's game. The 1957 Act states: it shall be the duty of every local authority to prepare and submit to the Minister proposals for the provision of new houses. I do not think that the Secretary of State is listening. If he is not listening, he should be.

The provisions of the 1957 Bill have been omitted. That is an outrage. The new clause is good, but it is not good enough. All those interested in housing will know that one cannot start building a new house within 12 months of approval. Local authorities should be required to provide their estimates of housing to the Minister, not only for the subsequent April, but also for the subsequent April but one. We do not blame councils. The Government have not told us the size of the subsidy cuts to be implemented next April. As yet, people do not know what has hit them. Subsidy cuts will not commence until next April. The Secretary of State must admit that councils do not know what they can build.

Last year, Salford spent £10 million on improvements. The local authority does not know how much it will spend in the coming year. It thinks that it might spend £500,000. That represents a terrible cut. However, it does not know how much it will spend, because it does not know the Government's intentions.

The current issue of the Local Government Chronicle states: A question mark still hangs over the new housing subsidy system. While more clues to the Government's policies are available as a result of publication of the long-term expenditure plans it is impossible for local government to tell what will happen with reckonable expenditure levels until it sees the Government's suggestions for housing project control. The consultation paper is not now expected for several weeks.' Until such time as we know what they are going to do about project control we can't make sense of the subsidy sysem ', commented the Association of Metropolitan Authorities' Housing Under Secretary Peter McGurk. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has given us cause for serious thought. There have been savage cutbacks. Some London boroughs have already announced that they cannot build one new house this year, or grant one council mortgage. Nevertheless, there is a colossal need for houses. There are 1 million families on waiting lists. Another 1 million families probably do not bother to apply for housing, because they know that the situation is hopeless.

The number in need of homes is even greater. It includes those who live in a house without a bath, hot water or inside lavatory—in the year 1980! There are people living in houses condemned as unfit for human habitation and in grossly overcrowded houses, especially when two families have to live together, the parents, the children and the grandchildren.

There are more families coming into existence, because families are smaller and there are so many divorces. More houses are needed. Many older houses are collapsing every year or having to be demolished.

Most of those to whom I have referred are dependent on getting a council house. They cannot afford to buy even with a mortgage. These people are being entirely neglected and ignored. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said, the solution is to build more houses.

About nine out of 10 of those who come to my advice bureau wish to see me about housing. They used to see me about getting out of their rotten slum house into a council flat. I must admit that that has changed. Most of the slums have been pulled down. People now come to see me about getting a transfer from the multi-storey block into a council house. That applies especially to mothers with young children. There they are, 18 or 20 storeys up, trying to keep an eye on their children who are playing in the playground at the foot of the block, assuming that there is a playground. They are seeking a transfer from the flat to one of the better council houses in the suburbs where there is a bit of garden.

That is what millions of mothers want. However, they will not be able to have it because the Government will sell off those houses. They will not sell the multistorey blocks. No one will buy flats in those blocks and the Government know it. However, they will find buyers for the nice semis with a bit of garden. That will prevent many mothers from giving their children the future that they were intended to have.

Last year was the worst council house building year since 1947. There were 88,000 starts in 1978 and 66,000 in 1979. My estimate for 1980 is 35,000. Shelter, which is not exactly behind the door in these matters, estimates that there will be 13,000 starts. That means virtually the end of council house building. Only a few disabled and elderly persons will be able to get a house.

The Government's estimate of current expenditure on housing is £5·3 billion. By 1983 there will be a cut of about £2½ billion. That is a cut of 50 per cent. I said that there will be a £2½ billion cut, but it will be £3½ billion when contrasted with the Labour Party's plans for that year. There will be a 50 per cent real cut in housing.

The Government say "You have freedom." It seems that it is the freedom to cut. In effect, the Government are saying "There are three choices—namely, to cut new build, to cut on improvements or to cut the amount lent to residents for mortgages."

It has been said that some of the worst cuts are taking place in stress areas. That is true, but other areas are in need of council housing, too. No council builds unless there is a demand for housing. Throughout the country the need for housing is great in stress areas and also in better areas, although the situation there is not as acute.

We are told by the Government that we cannot afford to continue, that it is necessary to cut because the country cannot afford the expenditure on housing. That is nonsense. Instead of cutting expenditure on housing, we shoud be cutting our fantastic arms expenditure. This is highly relevant, for this reason. Obviously the Secretary of State does not like what I am saying, but I shall continue. Five Trident submarines each costing £1 billion are proposed. For £1 billion we could build homes for 74,000 additional families; and that is what people want.

The Secretary of State will not agree with this, but a month ago The Sunday Times carried out a public opinion poll. The questions put to those interviewed did not get much headline treatment. Nevertheless, they were printed. The majority of people, when asked whether we should spend more or less on housing, said that we should spend more. The same people, when asked whether we should spend more or less on defence, said that we should spend less. In other words, the majority of people take the view that it would be far better to build houses than to build Trident submarines, and that was despite the daily propaganda in the opposite direction.

If we cut house building, as is clearly the Government's intention, what will happen to those who build houses? At the moment, including subsidiary trades such as glass, brick and furniture making, there are 235,000 unemployed construction workers. So, by cutting the housing programme, we shall not only fail to provide what people want. We shall also put an additional number of workers on the dole.

The average rent of a council house is £6.60 a week, plus rates. I do not know what it will be by the time this Government finish. Shelter estimates that it will be £21 a week plus rates. Of course, part of the Government's intention is so to raise rents as to force people to buy council houses even if they have no wish or intention to do so. If rents are raised to that degree, the rate of council house building will go down even more sharply than it has already.

The Government say that the average rent of a council house should rise this year by £2.10 a week. However, a friend of mine on the Wolverhampton council tells me that in his area rents are going up by £5 a week. That again is bound to cut council house building.

I challenge the Minister. What will happen to those who cannot afford £21 a week and who cannot afford to buy? Where will they live? How can a young couple set up home unless they have plenty of money, in which case there is no housing problem? This has been portrayed graphically in three films which many of us have seen. They are "A Kind of Loving", "The Family Way" and "Cathy, Come Home". In all those films the story is the same, and we can tell it from our own experience. It is that of a young couple who cannot find a house. The girl lives with her mother, and the boy lives with his mother and father. I suggest that that kind of family life does not continue for very long. It ends in the divorce court. That is what will happen as a result of this cut in housing.

The Government are trampling on human lives. This clause would give people something to hope for and look forward to.

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North 8:45 pm, 19th May 1980

I have heard housing debates as an hon. Member sitting on both the Opposition and the Government side of the House. Listening to the debate so far, one would imagine that the Labour Party had the most marvellous record on housing while our record was bad. I sat on the Opposition side of the House when the Labour Government of the time cut housing viciously. They claimed that such steps were necessary and that the country was in a bad financial state. That was accepted by the Conservative Opposition——

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

I should like to proceed with my speech. The Labour Party introduced the Rent Act 1974 that had a diminishing effect on the amount of rented accommodation available. If hon. Members wish to indulge in tear-jerking, I recall that university students were sleeping on the floor of halls at Reading university because inadequate accommodation was available in the rented sector.

The previous Government also introduced a Community Land Act. What a farce that was. Hon. Members discussed the Bill until all hours of the night. It was described by the Government as a vital Act that would save the whole situation. It turned out to be a damp squib. The abolition of that Act has gone through the House hardly noticed. It was an inadequate and stupid piece of legislation. There were vicious cuts in improvement grants. The grants were put back into circulation shortly before the election but, during the preceding period, the grants were cut enormously.

The Government are right in the sense that it is time to move to greater use of existing stock. This is the key to housing. The housing situation, except in stress areas, has changed. There are parts of the country, for instance, Swindon, where one can obtain a council house in six weeks. In stress areas such as that I represent, it takes longer. Looking at the housing situation as a whole one sees that massive building of more council houses is not required. There needs to be less of the bulldozer and more of the development of existing stock.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw , Blackburn

The hon. Gentleman accepts that the situation varies from local authority to local authority and indicates that Swindon is different from Reading. If that is the case, is it not necessary for the Secretary of State to have the information about the building plans of each local authority that reflect those differences? What is the hon. Gentleman's objection to accepting this amendment?

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

Under the Government's proposals, local authorities will be able to make local decisions. That is the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. The authorities can choose how to spend the allocation—on improvements, new housing or people. That is a right and sensible choice.

There has been mention of high-rise flats. It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) say that the main problem is moving people out of high-rise flats into other accommodation. The housing situation in his area does not sound so bad. Some of my constituents would be pleased to get into high-rise flats. That is a local matter. The local authority can decide which people go into high-rise flats. If this has been done badly by his local authority, that is not the fault of the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The hon. Gentleman describes the problems in his area. Will he tell the House, or does he prefer me to tell the House, how many new houses this year's housing investment programme allows his council to start in areas with the problems he has described?

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

I happen to know that the right hon. Gentleman's adviser is a councillor from my constituency. That is probably why the right hon. Gentleman has the figures. The situation is that the authority is able to complete its existing programme. What happens afterwards is a different story. It is not felt that there is need for a great expansion in building for council housing in our area once that programme is completed. It is a policy matter for the council.

We need to move much more into the development of housing associations. One of our basic troubles is that we have concentrated too much on public sector housing and not sufficiently on housing association type development.

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

I shall not give way. Many hon. Members wish to speak.

I have been on a trip to Denmark recently. It is interesting that there is no public housing there. The money is provided by central Government and by local authorities, but all housing is provided under the aegis of housing associations. That is a good way of providing housing.

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

I want to finish my remarks as other hon. Members wish to speak.

The next point concerns land. Land is the key to housing, be it local government or private. The Community Land Act had a bad effect on the availability of land. We have had delays in planning. The Government are doing their best to speed up the planning process. The hon. Member for Salford, East said that it takes a year to start a house. Frankly, it should be a jolly sight quicker than that. It is nonsense that it should take a year to start a house. That is something else that the Government are endeavouring to sort out. They want to get more land released.

We have heard about the Government holding large tracts of land. There is land in my constituency not being used. The more land that we can release, the better it will be for house prices. It will enable developers to build more houses, for which we hear a constant demand from both sides of the House.

I do not support the bleats by Labour Members. The Labour Government had a bad record on housing. They cut improvement grants, they dried up the supply of land——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine):

Order. The argument that the hon. Gentleman should be advancing is whether we should or should not have statistics.

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

The answer is that they are not relevant to the situation. One can play about with figures and prove all sorts of things. But people want more houses. Therefore, the relevance of collecting statistics, so that we can have a wailing and gnashing of teeth, will not help homeless people. We should be more interested in getting things moving in all sections and doing something about the problem. That is what we are trying to do. This is an excuse by the Opposition to bleat about the bad record of this Government. I do not support that view.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

I support the new clause. The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant), who was my opponent in Rother Valley in 1970, will not be surprised if I disagree with him. Without trespassing too far from the subject, I believe that we need the facts of the situation in order that the hon. Gentleman may learn that Labour-controlled authorities-authorities which remained Labour-controlled through difficult years—carried on building houses whereas Conservative-controlled authorities did not and thereby contributed to the decline both in the building of new houses and in the improving of old houses. I share the hon. Gentleman's view that we should improve houses. Indeed, in many ways I should have liked my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) to have included the number of houses that authorities expected to improve in the ensuing year. However, I believe that we shall get the picture that we need if the new clause is accepted.

The need for the new clause is illustrated by a recent exchange in the House. The Secretary of State may recall that, whilst he was speaking in the guillotine debate, I intervened and spoke about the dreadful situation that would apply in my constituency. The right hon. Gentleman may recall that he rejected emphatically the critical note that I struck. Since that debate I have looked carefully at the position in the Rotherham metropolitan borough and found that my criticism was entirely justified and could have been expressed more strongly than I put it.

It is clear that my area and other Labour-controlled areas, which traditionally have been concerned to promote dignity in living conditions, will be badly affected. The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) may sneer. He may not like that point. But Rotherham council, which has a strong traditional Labour record—as was emphasised at the local general election on 1 May—commands the support of people in the area, and it has never before had such a superb result as at that time.

When the House considered the guillotine motion, the Secretary of State clearly did not understand the position. The new clause rightly seeks to provide him with the information that he lacked at that time. We have seen nothing in the ensuing weeks to lead us to believe that he has learnt any better.

I also believe that the amendment could be useful in improving the flow of information from the Department. For example, Rotherham borough council received the response to its housing investment programme request five months later than it had hoped. Five months later than it had hoped it was told that it would receive only 59 per cent. of the amount that it had anticipated. The council had asked for £21·4 million for housing in 1980–81. It was told that it could spend only £12·68 million in devalued money for the current year.

That clearly means that the scope for doing anything further when existing contracts have been completed has disappeared. It means that we cannot build more houses and improve more houses than existing contracts allow. I believe that if the Secretary of State could devise a way of compelling Rotherham borough council to escape from its existing contracts, that possibility would be foisted upon us as well.

My local authority will be in serious difficulties and serious disappointment will be created. Eight new building schemes will have to be deferred and hope will be damaged or destroyed for thousands of people who occupy houses such as the hon. Member for Reading, North wishes to see improved. My local authority wished to improve a large number of houses, but 268 houses which should have been improved in the latter part of 1979–80 will not now be completed because of the Government's appallingly vicious policy.

My housing chairman—I believe that the hon. Member for Reading, North will recall him with affection—who has been the agent of my party for many years, said recently about Government policy——

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. Does the housing chairman have anything to say about statistics?

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this is absolutely relevant. My housing chairman, who is one of the most experienced housing chairmen in the country, said that the Secretary of State had no conception of the housing needs of the industrial North. As a long-serving member of the Labour Party, my housing chairman has dedicated many years to seeking to improve the conditions in which my constituents live. I can think of no better ambition for anyone involved in party politics than to seek to ensure that people—particularly the elderly—are decently accommodated. From his experience it is quite clear that he believes firmly that we need an improvement in the flow of communications since the sheer ignorance of Ministers in the Department needs to be remedied.

We were able to tell the Minister that on 31 March this year not only that 268 houses could not be improved, which should have been improved as a continuation of the 1979–80 contract, but that 566 houses which we had expected to build, or to start, this year would not now progress beyond the design stage. That represents as much a waste of resources as the fallow land mentioned by the hon. Member for Reading, North.

Some expenditure, care and planning had been devoted to those 566 houses which will not now proceed beyond the design stage, and the improvement of a large number of houses in the metropolitan borough will now be in abeyance. The council will not be able to do what it had hoped to do in the area of general improvements, energy conservation schemes and in other directions.

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

Since the hon. Gentleman has touched on the question of land, does he agree that vast tracts of the land lying fallow in his area are owned by the National Coal Board?

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

The land owned by the National Coal Board in my area tends to be land which has been used for spoil or changed by reclamation. I am glad that the hon. Member for Reading, North has raised this matter because he may not realise that the assisted area status policy being pursued by his Government has created serious doubts about the maintenance of the reclamation policy, which could have provided land for housing and economic activity in the future. The hon. Gentleman should not embark upon arguments which properly concern hon. Members in mining areas. He should pay another visit to Rother Valley before his memory becomes even more flimsy.

9 pm

I am proud of my local authority's achievements in the last three or four years. It is one of the best authorities in Europe in terms of providing houses for the elderly, whether these be bungalows or ground floor flats. However, hopes for the future have been dashed by the latest housing improvement figure. It was clear from the exchange in the guillotine debate that the Secretary of State had not the faintest idea about the implications of his policy. It is right that the House should improve the arrangements so that local authorities can make clear to the Secretary of State the exact implications of his policy.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman knows what he is after. In that case we must attribute his motives to malevolence. Whether the right hon. Gentleman is incompetent or malevolent, we must know the position. The new clause will provide that opportunity.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

The new clause is useful and necessary, because we must have an overall view. Each hon. Member has his own idea about the total demand. One can take a view from the state of the housing lists, although there are difficulties in that. Hon. Members gain impressions from their surgeries. In the past few months, my impression has been that there is an increase in the despair of young people who are forced to live apart because of the lack of council houses. There is despair among older people who are unable to transfer back to their community links. There is a degree of distress which does not equate with the Government's picture of over-supply. That is my genuine impression, although it might not be reflected by the views of Government Members.

As a result of the present policies and the cut in housing grants, the despair and distress will increase in the period covered by the public expenditure survey and beyond. We gain some idea about demand from statistics and from impressions in our constituencies. We have not such a clear view about supply. That is what the new clause is about. It will inform us about the scale of the problem and about the way in which the Government can meet the demand.

Perhaps the Government do not wish to know the answers because they would be too embarrassing. That probably lies behind their likely opposition to the new clause. The new clause will provide for the monitoring of Government performance so that we know the aggregate position that will allow a more informed debate at national and local levels. Local activists and ratepayers will then be able to assess what their local authorities propose to do, in the knowledge of the scale of the problem.

The Government cannot say "Do not blame us, blame someone else", as they say of steel and other issues. They cannot try to shuffle responsibility off on to the local authorities that they are starving of funds. The Government cannot escape blame if, as is likely, as a result of their own economic and housing policies, public sector housing collapses in the next few years. If it does, it will be directly attributable to the policies pursued by the Government.

We know that in the private building industry the omens are bleak. We recall, not a year ago, the vast sums that the private building industry poured into the Government election campaign. There were advertisements from a body that called itself CABIN. Where is CABIN now? What is it doing now that all those things that it pressed the Government to do are being ignored? I suspect that CABIN will be asking for its money to be returned. It is false pretences; those things that it asked the Government to do, and that it was led to expect, have not been done.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, although he did not give way to me. I shall show him a greater politeness than he showed me.

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not giving way on a previous occasion. I had given way to other hon. Members. I remind the hon. Gentleman that CABIN was organised to prevent the nationalisation of the construction industry. It had nothing to do with money for the Conservative Party. It succeeded. We are in power.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

The campaign was organised by a body that anticipated greater funds for its activities being provided by the Government, into whose coffers it poured money. It must be sorely disappointed. I refer to another matter mentioned by the hon. Gentleman during his speech. He said that public sector housing might collapse, that there might be an over-supply of owner-occupied housing, and that the real point for the future, following his visit to Denmark, was in the area of housing associations.

Has the hon. Gentleman taken the trouble to talk to officials in the Housing Corporation? Has he heard its assumptions about its new build programme over the years to come? Has he heard, as I have heard, that its projections are that the programme will fall by about 50 per cent. as a result of the Government's cutbacks?

If the hon. Gentleman is so keen on housing associations—the third arm—as the way of the future in housing, how does he square that with the fact that the Housing Corporation anticipates that its programme over the next year will be halved as a result of Government policy? Would he like to reply to that?

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

The country cannot afford these things at the present time. We have to face reality, and that is the position. As matters improve, that is the area to which I should like the money to go. That is the point that I was making.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

The hon. Gentleman said "As matters improve". He should read his Government's public expenditure White Paper, which shows that over the next four years the amount allocated to public sector housing will be halved both in England and in Wales. My priorities are different from those pursued by the Government. We shall not find salvation in the housing associations, the cause of which the hon. Gentleman espouses.

There is clear evidence in all parts of the country of a collapse in public sector housing. The chairman of a council in the Principality confirmed that. I refer to the area that I know best. The Secretary of State for Wales said, in mitigation of the Government's cutbacks and the 100 per cent. fall in real terms over the period 1979–80 to 1983–84 from £217 million to £110 million, that over the next year the Government would meet 80 per cent. of the guarantee made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) when he had responsibility for housing in Wales. He made it quite clear that that 80 per cent. was for planning purposes only, and that the previous Labour Administration were prepared to finance the whole programme of housing authorities in Wales. My local authority was allocated less than two-thirds of the sum that it sought. It had already committed itself to more than the sum that it obtained from the Government and was denied at a late stage, when its HIP was announced in February, the 10 per cent. carry-over that it had assumed would continue as previously. The authority has a high proportion of pre-1919 houses. The number of properties lacking basic amenities is substantially higher than in Reading and other parts of the South-East.

The areas that are bearing the brunt of Government policies in other spheres will also feel the full effect of their housing policies. The Government try to say that council housing will increasingly be a specialist provision for the vulnerable—the old, the handicapped, and so on. But it is clear that the Government are making whole regions of the country vulnerable. There is, therefore, a greater need for public sector housing for those in, for example, steel areas such as my constituency who are feeling the effects of the unemployment brought about by the Government. Perhaps Reading is less vulnerable.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw Lieut-Colonel Dick Crawshaw , Liverpool Toxteth

Order. Perhaps at some stage the hon. Gentleman will come back to the amendment.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

Part of my general argument is that we need to know the overall picture in order to have a proper debate about the relationship between the demand that we know exists and the supply, which the Government are rapidly drying up.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdonshire

How many new homes does the hon. Gentleman expect to be provided simply from the provision of statistics?

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

We shall get no new houses simply from the provision of statistics, but if, as I suspect, they reveal a virtual drying-up of public sector housing, we shall hope that the hon. Member and his hon. Friends will be sufficiently reasonable to see the effects of the policies that their Government are pursuing, and may be drawn back from the brink.

The Government cannot get away with saying that it is a matter of local authority priorities. The finger points at them. Do they want to know the aggregates, the statistics and the figures? Perhaps they will be too embarrassing for the Government. I suspect that that is the reason why they do not want to know the figures.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George , Walsall South

Someone once said that everyone is entitled to his own views, but no one is entitled to his own facts. If there is information to be bestowed upon the world, local authorities or the Government should go out of their way to acquire that information not simply to provide ammunition for social scientists or statisticians but because politicians can make use of statistics not in a pernicious way or for propaganda but because statistics are an aid to decisionmaking. If information is made available, it will assist the Government and the Opposition in their attempt to appraise the housing situation throughout the country.

A few weeks ago, a conference was held in Newcastle where the publicists attached to the political parties gloated or commiserated over the result of the election. One piece of gloating was over the Conservative Party's advertising on film and television which showed a series of queues with a young man and his girl friend asking "Is this the queue for the cinema?" Those in the queue replied that they were in the queue for council houses, health treatment and other services, implying that the length of the queue was related to the Labour Government's policies, successes and failures. They suggested that if the Conservatives came to power those queues would diminish. Those who fell for those statistics a year ago now realise the error of their ways. Far from being halved, the queue for council housing is getting longer and longer. These are not people who are seeking ostentatiously to add their names to the list for the purpose of being on a waiting list. They are people who are desperately in need of accommodation and who are being denied it by this Government. I cannot believe that we are so deeply into a recession that we can deny people a basic human right of housing.

9.15 pm

When the housing investment programme decision was made by the Department of the Environment, it was obviously communicated to the Walsall metropolitan borough council. We have heard a great deal about local authorities being freer to make decisions and being freer to decide their own spending priorities. But if their budgets are halved, what freedom is that? It is the freedom to give a man 50p and tell him to go to the Ritz and buy whatever meal he chooses. The choice is deliberately and maliciously restricted.

We have not heard very much about statistics. If the statistics about my local authority were revealed, some interesting figures would emerge. The allocation to Walsall in 1979–80 was £19·3 million. In 1980–81, the allocation was £12·9 million. I remember complaining bitterly to Ministers of Housing that £20 million was not enough to deal with the problem of housing in my area—a problem of 40,000 municipal houses and about 10,000 houses requiring modernisation. In areas such as Walsall, South and North and Aldridge-Brownhills, there is much private property lacking any basic amenities. This is an area of deep housing stress, yet the Government have responded by dropping the allocation by 33 per cent.

Surely it is necessary to look clearly at areas and to ascertain their housing needs, and not to act as some sort of butcher almost without recourse to individual needs and problems in specific areas. I do not wish to play one neighbouring authority off against another. I hope I have not caused offence to hon. Members representing neighbouring Sand-well or Wolverhampton, but the problems of housing are as serious in my area as they are in Sandwell or Wolverhampton.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

I invite the hon. Gentleman to give offence to one of his other neighbouring colleagues—the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth. I invite the hon. Gentleman to agree with him that the housing shortage can be met by half-and-half schemes and by shorthold provisions within the private sector. It is not necessary for him to divide his borough or to divide the constituency of the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth into owner-occupiers, council tenants and people on waiting lists. The private sector can also pick up the demand for providing this accommodation.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George , Walsall South

I am not sure how to respond to that, except to say that I do not know where our half will come from in a half-and-half scheme. Our commitments are now equal to our allocation, [interruption.] The price of a council house will be equivalent to the price of a bottle of whisky if the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) has his way. In some cases there is not total disagreement on that—at least on the whisky side.

The point that I wish to make, without being guilty of playing one area off against another, is to ask when the problems of neighbouring areas are so similar, why should the reduction for Sand-well in 1979–80 be only 4·8 per cent., Wolverhampton 7·3 per cent. and the average for the whole of the West Midlands 23 per cent., with Walsall cut by over 33 per cent? The average cut in Wales is 24·8 per cent. [Interruption.] Conservative Members wanted statistics; now they are getting them. If I were representing an area such as Lichfield, perhaps I would be prepared to accept a 33 per cent. cut, but for an area possessing enormous housing problems to be cut way above the average is the un-kindest cut of all.

The freedom of my local authority to make decisions is, therefore, an illusory one. As for the freedom to build council houses, it is now no longer building council houses, although there are more than 6,000 people on the waiting list. Those of us who hold regular surgeries are inundated week after week by people wanting repairs done to houses which were built 30 or more years ago. We are also hearing constantly from people who want to leave an overcrowded house and to move into a flat. We have to tell them—in a way, we are the agents for the Government—" Sorry, there is nothing doing."

This freedom is a bogus freedom—a freedom to do nothing. When an authority's housing allocation is halved, there is very little that can be done. The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) said that in his area the authority could fulfil its existing commitments. He should thank God that it can, otherwise there will be legal recourse open to people who are being denied their rights. I know what is happening in my area.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George , Walsall South

With so many people on the waiting list and requiring every type of accommodation, the prospects of these problems being resolved are nil.

In conclusion, I very much hope—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may say "Hear, hear", but I represent many people who have been denied housing by this Government. I cannot believe that the problems are so acute that many of my constituents have no prospect of accommodation. It might be suggested that they can enter the private market, but what chance have ordinary people of accumulating the £20,000 necessary to purchase the kind of accommodation that is on the market in my area today?

I hope that in the near future, when the Government—I hope—make one of their numerous U-turns, one of them will be somehow to restore a building programme; otherwise, when the next Government come into office, whenever that might be, the problems that they will face will be enormous.

If, as we have been told, a sign of virility in the Cabinet is that a Minister has made cuts, the present incumbent is indeed an exceedingly potent Minister. I hope that other people will see the light and provide for those in my area the kind of accommodation they deserve and need and, I hope, will one day get.

Photo of Mr Graham Bright Mr Graham Bright , Luton East

Some Labour Members were telling the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) to sit down because they were waiting to get into the debate. I assure the House that I shall be very brief.

Several hon. Members have talked about the overall view of housing, yet the new clause tends to seek the provision of statistics purely on local authority starts in building houses.

As I see the position in terms of needs, there are needs existing over a very wide area. There are many people on council house waiting lists whose names are there "in case ". Many of them go on to buy their own homes. This applies particularly to young engaged people who have put their names on the list. There are many old people living in council houses, and many more living in the private sector, who have put their names on the council list for housing in elderly persons' accommodation. Very often, when one analyses the list of a local authority, it is possible to cut it in half. I know of some authorities that have looked carefully at lists and cut them even by two-thirds.

We should look at the question of need, therefore, on a much broader basis. Other parts of the Bill tackle this. Short-hold tenancies will add considerably to the amount of housing stock coming onto the market. We must consider that aspect.

One must also look at the private sector. I appreciate that it is going through a difficult phase, but here as well needs should be recognised. Many of my colleagues have talked about the needs of the elderly. Smaller flats and patio bungalows should be built for old people, thus releasing larger houses for families. In the private market, there is a need to build such small flats, bungalows and complexes for old people who are living in large houses of their own. If such complexes were available, old people could move into smaller units. We all know of cases in which Labour councillors have opposed and decried such schemes and refused to help private developers in the provision of wardens.

The new clause tries to put the future of housing in the hands of local authorities. That is far too narrow a view. We must look at a broader basis and consider the private market, and people's needs—particularly of those of first-time buyers and others who wish to move into short-hold tenancies and save up for mortgages.

There are many points which this clause tries to brush aside and overshadow. If the Opposition are playing a game of statistics, they must know that statistics can prove anything that anyone wants them to prove. In most instances, housing lists are far larger than they should be, but we could cut them down if we examined needs. We must look at needs, not only in the public sector, but in the private sector as well. That is something that the new clause fails to do.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Merioneth

This new clause attempts to introduce a data base of rationality between local housing authorities and the two Government Departments in England and Wales that are responsible for allocating funds. For that reason I support it. It means that in future there may be a rational data base produced by each housing authority as a projection of its likely targets for the number of housing starts in each financial year. The reason why this is essential is that housing starts have been such a haphazard factor in housing policy over the years under successive Governments.

Therefore, I welcome the conversion of the Labour Opposition to more rational policies on housing. It would be churlish of me at this moment to go at great length into criticisms of the housing record of the Labour Opposition. I could and will do so at another time. But I should put on record that a 25 per cent. cut betwen 1974 and 1979 balances neatly a 30 per cent. cut in 1980.

When the housing investment programmes were first introduced, the Green Paper of the previous Government said: We can only establish how much needs to be done, when and where, by local assessment. The crucial contribution of the new clause is that it lays down clearly the likely performance of a local authority on the basis of its local assessment of the need.

In the 1977–78 financial year when the Welsh Office was allocating funds on the basis of centraly determined indicators of needs, the introduction of the concept of local authority bids for funds was regarded as an advance on centrally imposed needs formulae. But of course, as is so often the case in the relationship between local government and central Government, what is initially sold as greater flexibility locally ends up by being yet another more sophisticated device for central Government to control local authority spending and local authorities' own estimates of their needs.

9.30 pm

This Bill compels local authorities to dispose in an irrational way of their public sector housing stock. At the same time, in another part of the same Bill, and in parallel with that, the Secretary of State for the Environment, through his clampdown on the housing investment programmes, is reducing substantially the ability of local authorities to complete their current programmes, let alone to meet their local needs.

The alleged aims of local flexibility when HIPs were first introduced have to be balanced against the use of the HIP system to control public expenditure on housing. Indeed, the previous Labour Government made clear in their Green Paper that HIPs would be a means of controlling public expenditure. The difficulty that so many of us on the Left in Britain generally have in what we regard as an alternative approach towards public expenditure and the State's role in the economy, is that our arguments are undermined by the failures of Labour Governments to adopt a strategy which would extend rather than retract public expenditure. Therefore, upon the introduction of the HIP policy there was the clear implication in the Labour Government's policies that these forms of expenditure control were available as instruments of reducing public expenditure. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to the spokesman for the official Opposition that these strategies are being adopted for those very purposes and are being taken to their logical conclusion by the present Right-wing Conservative regime.

The basic problem with the HIP data is that too often the definition of needs set down by central Government is inadequate to give us a profile of what the true situation is locally. That is where the provision of local statistics by each housing authority of its projected starts is an essential component of local housing planning, which is brought forward in the new clause. Far too often the definition of needs and the request for information on the local housing profile made by central Government Departments is inadequate. This is particularly so with the Welsh Office, which is a worse offender in this respect than even the Department of the Environment. The requests made of housing authorities in Wales in Welsh Office circulars are for less full statements of statistics on local needs than those made of the English authorities by the Department of the Environment.

For example, in the Labour Government's circular 158/78, which began to request key statistics for the compilation of HIPs, the request for the statistics in Wales differed substantially from the requests relating to England. I fail to see how this can be justified. It is essential for any housing district, whether in Wales or England, to have a comprehensive assessment of housing conditions in its area at a disaggregate level.

Housing authorities are relying on the 1976 Welsh house conditions survey, which sampled only 8,000 dwellings—1,000 per county—out of 1 million-plus dwellings in Wales. This means that when authorities compile their housing statistics and make their bids under HIPs, and when those bids are being assessed by the Welsh Office—and when the projected housing starts—if the new clause is accepted they will be relying for their estimates of their own problems, let alone the projected solution under the new clause, on inadequate data. The data used in the house conditions survey are totally inadequate as a measure of the housing conditions in the various districts. If Cardiff had accepted the Welsh survey on housing conditions as the basis for its HIP claim, the number of houses considered fit but lacking amenities would have been underestimated by 12,000. That is a clear indication that the data are totally inadequate.

The same problem exists in Swansea. However, Swansea is to be complimented on its local initiative. It sought funds to undertake its own survey into its housing needs. If local authorities widen their definitions of need when putting forward their HIP allocations and providing data, the Welsh Office will be able to make better estimates. Local authorities must have clear profiles of their individual housing needs before they can embark on an effective programme.

Welsh HIP data should take account of improved data for waiting lists, involuntary sharing, overcrowding and homelessness. Such information is already available in England on form No. 16314. Perhaps the Minister will explain why there is a discrepancy between the statistics requested by the Welsh Office and those requested by form No. 16314.

Welsh HIPs do not assess rates of housing deterioration. Our housing stock is older than that found in any region in England, with the exception of the North. The measure of deterioration must be set against the rates of improvement, repair and maintenance. That is essential if we are to clarify the projected deterioration and if additional resources for improvement and building are to be allocated.

The measurement of need is inadequate. The data produced by local authorities are also inadequate. In addition, the Welsh Office allegedly introduced the HIP system as a more flexible tool for local authorities. However, it puts a substantial constraint on the work of local authorities. In Wales, the HIP will lead to allocations being made on the basis of a local authority's ability to spend, rather than on that of need.

When the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) was at the Welsh Office, he conducted a vigorous campaign against local authority underspending. One such problem of underspending involved the form of the allocation system. Cuts were made. Additional funds were then found in the Welsh Office's budget. Housing authorities were therefore urged to spend late in the day. That is contrary to the rational system of housing starts that we favour.

When the right hon. Member for Rhondda was at the Welsh Office, his great adversary was the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts). The latter made speeches that were critical of local authorities, and critical of the Welsh Office for its underspending. That hon. Member is now a Minister and has taken over responsibility for housing in Wales. It is not surprising that he has undermined his own rhetoric. However, he is also undermining the basis of the allocation system that he used to support.

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conway

We are not undermining the allocation system. The hon. Gentleman has spoken about reallocation. Does he not think that that is the proper action to take when quarterly checks reveal underspending by certain authorities and overspending by others? Surely it is sensible to reallocate, taking patterns of spending into account. As for the difference between English HIPs and Welsh HIPs, I assure the hon. Gentleman that Welsh housing authorities have the freedom to state in their HIPs any fact additional to those contained in answers that they consider to be relevant.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Merioneth

The Minister's intervention has confirmed all that I have said. The hon. Gentleman has indicated that the statistical basis provided for the Welsh HIP formula is inadequate. He has invited local authorities to add other fact" of interest. The hon. Gentleman talks about the reallocation of resources according to spending patterns. I was arguing that HIP allocation is being made in Wales on the basis of historic spending patterns since the system was introduced and not on need. Authorities which historically have been prepared to spend more are being allocated more.

It is significant that authorities that underspend are those that appear to have the most severe housing problems. We have a system of allocation based on spending which is diverting resources not to authorities which most need them, which is the most objective criterion, but to authorities which for various reasons—mainly accidental reasons of recent history rather than reasons connected with housing need—are most able to spend the resources. A Government who are allegedly in favour of the efficient use of resources in the public sector are demonstrating yet again an example of contradiction in their housing policy.

In Wales there are more than 200,000 houses lacking in amenities or in a state of disrepair. There are 60,000 householders on the housing waiting list and 6,000 becoming homeless. These severe housing problems can be made only substantially more critical by the Government's policies. I welcome the fact that the Opposition are trying to obtain a more rational relationship between local housing authorities and the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Wales for the projection of housing starts. I remind the Labour Opposition of their disastrous performance when in office on housing starts in Wales and England.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdonshire

It is a narrow clause, but it has been a wide-ranging debate. I did not expect to take part in it when I walked into the Chamber. I shall make only a briet intervention. I shall endeavour to remain entirely pertinent to the clause. Before doing so, I must say that I am astonished that so much time has been spent on such a relatively trivial clause in substance when we consider the substantive matters of genuine dispute between the parties that are yet to be debated.

The substance of the clause is to seek to compel local authorities to estimate the number of new dwellings the construction of which they expect to start in any particular 12 months.

I return to what may have been considered a flippant point that I introduced during the speech of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). It was not clear to me as the hon. Gentleman spoke—it has not become clear to me subsequently—why or how the submission of new constructions will provide any more houses or be of any material benefit in adding to the information that the Secretary of State has, or could obtain, without statutory backing and without any great difficulty.

I understand that the clause might provide more jobs in housing departments of local authorities. I can understand that it would provide more information at the Department of the Environment. I understand that it would provide more information for pressure groups. However, I cannot understand how it will make a material contribution to the construction and availability of more houses. I can see circumstances in which the statutory requirement to provide this information is positively counter-productive to the provision of stable accommodation in certain parts of the country.

9.45 pm

Let me indicate why I believe that to be the case. If, as a sort of housing virility symbol, local authorities are to be judged solely, as it is reasonable to presume from the clause, on the amount of new starts that they have in any year, I can see, first, that local authorities may be tempted to direct their funds solely into new starts when perhaps they would be better used elsewhere, or solely into low-cost starts so that over a period of years they produce more dwellings but not necessarily dwellings to meet the needs of their areas. On this ground alone, therefore, the clause as it stands offers nothing to the housing programme and may possibly be counter-productive.

To put it bluntly, it does not seem sensible to offer an incentive to local authorities to spend all their money on new construction when, in order to meet a higher number of new starts, they may at the same time allow other properties to fall into disrepair.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East, who has probably retired for a well-earned dinner, spoke briefly of the despair of young people. All of us in this House understand the despair of people living in bad housing conditions. To varying degrees, most of us have had some direct or indirect experience of people who suffer from those conditions. But I doubt whether that despair is despair at the absence of statistics. I know that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ard-wick (Mr. Kaufman) is an assiduous constituency Member who runs an extensive advice bureau on a weekly basis. I am prepared to accept that his constituents come to talk to him about the absence of homesteading, about the level of mortgage rates, and so on, but I doubt whether young people come to his advice bureau saying "I have noticed the absence of statistics on new housing starts in Ard-wick "—in Manchester, or anywhere else. That seems to defy logic.

If this amendment was a wider one, if it sought not only the statistics of starts on new construction, if it sought figures on improvements, if it sought perhaps also for the local authority to endeavour to determine how many shortholds had been brought into operation in the preceding year, and so on, it might begin to aggregate to information that was worth while having. But the very narrowness of the clause and the possible danger that it could be counter-productive renders it a clause eminently worthy of not being passed by the House.

As the clause stands, it is a monument purely and solely to the intention of the Opposition of providing a party political point on an annual basis. The Opposition have no special concern about whether the money has been spent in the best way by the local authority concerned. The clause is simply a virility symbol on numbers alone which the Labour Party hopes to hang up in the wind to make a political point or two year after year. To my mind, that is not a justifiable basis for the imposition of this statutory requirement, and on that ground as well as the others to which I have referred, if the Opposition press the clause to a Division I trust that it will be soundly defeated.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

The hon. Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Major) gave the game away, did he not? If the Conservatives were not fearful of what the figures would show, they would not be so reluctant to accept the proposed new clause.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdonshire

Either the hon. Gentleman misunderstood or he deliberately misinterpreted what I said. I said quite categorically that if this clause had asked not only for figures of new construction but for improvements and other information, it might have been worth while. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

The importance of the clause is to illustrate what is happening in local areas and to give a guide both to the Secretary of State and to this House. I believe that the clause is a very important part of the suggested improvement to the Bill, and I hope that it will be supported by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.

Undoubtedly the major brunt of the cuts announced in the White Paper on public expenditure will fall on housing.

Housing expenditure will fall from £5,372 million in 1979–80 to £2,790 million in 1983–84. In the next four or five years, there will be a reduction of some 48 per cent. in public expenditure on housing. It is extremely important to know what is happening in local areas, to know what is being built, what is being modernised and what other housing work is being undertaken by local authorities. Of the total public expenditure cuts over the years from 1980 to 1984 of some £3,700 million, £2,582 million will come from housing alone. This will be a shattering, devastating blow at the construction and modernisation of council dwellings.

If the Secretary of State, in giving the figures for the housing investment programme for 1980, for 1981 or for any other occasion, had been frank and said that there was to be a vast reduction in council dwellings, we would have known where we stood. But the Secretary of State was careful to camouflage what was being done. Council house construction is now at its lowest level since the war. The Secretary of State will perhaps comment on the figures. It has been estimated that, by 1981–82, about 18,000 new council houses will be in the process of being built.

Much has been made of the fact that the situation is virtually the same as under the Labour Government. The Secretary of State, the Minister for Housing and Construction and Back Bench Conservative Members say that the decline is a continuation of what occurred under Labour. I cannot deny that there was a decline under the Labour Government. There were reasons for that decline.

One factor was the refusal of Tory controlled councils to build new council dwellings. There were other factors that I would not wish to deny, such as the economic situation and also the cuts of which I did not always approve. However, even in the last full year that Labour was in office, in 1978, there were still 107,000 starts in the public sector, and 132,000 in 1977. Never, while Labour was in office, did the figure in a full year go below 100,000. Those figures should be compared with the present situation and the likely possibility that within two years the number of new council dwellings will amount to 18,000. There is no comparison between what happened under Labour and what is planned under the Tory Government.

At the time of the Labour Government, Labour MPs and councillors were constantly urging the Government to reverse the decline in housing. Now the situation is very different. Listening to the speeches of Conservative Members, I did not detect concern or anger over what was happening. If anything, I heard excuses. There did not seem to be any wish to urge the Secretary of State against entering upon a situation that will amount to a virtual stoppage in the construction of new council dwellings. The Conservative Party clearly does not feel strongly on the issue.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Lichfield and Tamworth

Perhaps the reason why Conservative Members are not as agitated as the hon. Gentleman on this point is the realisation on the Government side that increased council house building year after year has not solved the nation's housing crisis.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

It may not have solved the housing crisis nationally. But, if we reduce the number of council dwellings, we increase, not reduce, the difficulties. Even more so—this is the point to which I was coming before the hon. Gentleman intervened—at a time when it is becoming more difficult for people to buy, because of property price inflation and a 15 per cent. mortgage rate, there is a need for more, not fewer, council dwellings. In certain areas—the West Midlands, London and so on—people find it impossible to buy. Perhaps a few years ago they would have been able to do so. Because of their difficulties now, they will look to the local authority to assist them in finding accommodation. We have a housing crisis now, and it will get much worse on the basis of the Government's White Paper on public expenditure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) mentioned the position in our area. The allocation in the housing investment programme for 1980–81 has been reduced by 33 per cent. It is not an easy matter for the local authority. This is a housing stress area. We desperately need more council accommodation. Moreover, many older council dwellings need to be modernised.

Recently I received a petition from some of my constituents. They said "The local authority has promised that our houses, built before the war and in very bad condition, will definitely be modernised during 1980–81. Now it is likely that they will not be modernised." The tenants are very upset. Conservative Members would be upset if they lived in properties which needed to be modernised and a promise had been made that they would be modernised, but, because of the reduction in the housing investment programme, the local authority was unable to carry out that promise.

In Walsall, of the £13 million allocated in the housing investment programme, all that will be left for new work is some £234,000. After Walsall's commitment, that is the sum that will be left. How many new council dwellings can be built, how many modernisations can take place and how many major repairs and conversions can be undertaken with that sum of money? People in the area are bitterly angry at the reduction that the area has suffered. Local councillors have been to the regional office of the Department of the Environment in Birmingham to try to explain the position. Indeed, I have written to the Secretary of State, but the reply that I have received is not very satisfactory.

The housing crisis would normally be of great concern to the Government of the day. Unfortunately, this Government seem to be totally indifferent to housing. If anything, they have declared war on council housing. The Tories always seem to wage a vendetta against council housing. This has been going on for some time in Tory-controlled local authorities.

I hope that, even at this late stage, the Secretary of State will recognise the need to increase the funds in the housing investment programme for 1980–81. If the situation continues as it is, if the expenditure cuts in housing take place, many people—far more than in the past—will find it impossible to obtain decent accommodation. They will suffer the agony of the cuts being inflicted on the community by the Tory Government.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill

I begin by echoing some of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Major). He said that the new clause did not go as far as it might go. Of course, I support what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is asking for. I think that this information is essential if we are to plan our housing economy properly. However, we also need additional information on house improvement, house renovation and all the other activities relating to housing in which local authorities engage. I wish that the amendment went further, but on balance I think that it would add to the Bill rather than detract from it. I think that was the conclusion reached by the hon. Member for Huntingdonshire.

The National Federation of Building Trades Employers—I think that the Secretary of State would, perhaps, do well to take note of a letter that I received, of which I am sure he has had a copy—in the Merseyside region says: massive public expenditure cuts in the past have undermined the industry's long-term planning, investment and recruitment and training programmes. I refer to that letter because if the National Federation of Building Trades Employers does not know how many houses will be built in the next financial year that inevitably means that its members cannot plan in terms of their building material requirements, their employee requirements, and how they should organise their activities for the year ahead. To treat an industry that, after all, is probably the largest in the country in this stop-go way is ensuring that that industry goes into decline.

10 pm

The construction industry is the single largest productive industry and employer and accounts at the present time for one-eighth of the nation's output. It has a work force of about 2½ million people. It provides the social and economic infrastructure essential for future prosperity. Since the last war 10 million new homes, 20,000 miles of new roads, schools, hospitals, power stations and water and sewerage works have been built by the industry. We accord far too little respect to the contribution that the industry makes to the economy of this country in treating it in this haphazard way.

I do not play the numbers game in housing and say that one Government have built more houses than another Government. I am more concerned about the quality of the homes provided than about the quantity. When we look at the mistakes that were made, particularly during the 1960s, by politicians and planners of all persuasions, we see that it is obvious that this country was gripped at the time by a "more-and-more" mentality, which produced some of the worst housing ever provided in the United Kingdom.

In my constituency, and in the city area of Liverpool, we are still living with properties aptly known locally as "the Piggeries ". They were built only 12 years ago. The Secretary of State has been approached by my own local authority to sanction the pulling-down of properties built only 10 years ago. Those properties were constructed on the say-so of a Conservative Administration. They consist of spine blocks, cluster blocks, high-rise blocks and all manner of blocks. They were built purely because people had a fixation about the number of homes rather than the quality of homes.

Perhaps we are, nevertheless, ignoring the way in which we can plan for future home construction. I have had cause to write to the Secretary of State within the last week about people living in Liverpool who have been offered houses and had those offers withdrawn as a result of Government directives that the local authority has received. I moved an early-day motion on this subject.

There is nothing worse than offers of housing being made to people who are told that they will get a new home, who build up their hopes and expectations, and then receive a letter from the local authority telling them that they cannot now have a new home. These are not statistics. They are human beings who thought that they were going to move to a new home. They had measured up their carpets and bought new curtains. They got their furniture ready for the move, only to be told that the offer of a home was being withdrawn.

That speaks far more eloquently than anything that I can say, and far more eloquently than any number of statistics. It is only when we know what will happen in the years to come that we can ensure that people such as those constituents of mine will be properly catered for.

At present the total output of the construction industry is about £19 billion—one-eighth of our national gross domestic product. Two and a half million people are involved in activities associated with construction. In the North-West about 30 per cent. of those people are either on the dole queue or facing the prospect of the dole queue at the present time. We should compare that figure with the national employment level of about 6 per cent.

Firms ranging from the largest household name to the one-man band, with specialities equal to every construction need, are facing the same problems and having to make skilled men unemployed. There is work to be done and new homes to be built. Over 1 million people still live in houses without inside sanitation and yet people with skills to build houses are left in the dole queues.

Builders can survive only if they can rely on a supply of skilled manpower. That depends upon construction companies being able to plan confidently and to invest in the long process of recruitment and training. That can happen only when the industry's work load remains reasonably stable from year to year. Recently that has not been possible. Builders have lacked the confidence to plan and invest. Employment in the building trade has declined steadily and men have ceased to see any future in working in that industry.

I want local authorities to build more council houses, but that is not the whole answer. I believe that there is a need in areas of great stress to provide homes. There is a need to provide a mixture of homes for sale and for rent. We must know how local authorities plan for that provision.

In some areas thousands of empty council properties stand idle and yet in other areas there is a deficit of council accommodation. We must have the information. Neither local government nor central Government can plan properly without the information. The Secretary of State wrote to me saying that he was worried because Liberal-controlled authorities had not provided him with the necessary figures. He urged me to make representations to my local authority. I arranged for the information to be sent to him.

In the same spirit the Secretary of State should accept the need for politicians of all persuasions, planners, architects and people in the construction industry to know the scale of the problem with which they must contend. They should be given the information. If such a provision is good enough in terms of the number of employees in local government, it should apply to the number of housing starts by local authorities.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Penistone

The new clause represents a start in the provision of necessary statistical information. Information about the whole spectrum of housing should be provided, so that we know exactly what is going on. Some hon. Members believe that council housing is unnecessary. They should bear in mind that many young couples who have bought houses recently now find that they cannot afford them, because of Government policies. They have to turn to local government for rehousing in council properties. Their houses are being repossessed.

The Government do not seem to appreciate the size of the cut in council house building. I encouraged my local officials to conduct a census to discover the extent of the housing problem and what it will be in the year 2000. A report on the census was produced. We are able to make a realistic bid based on strategy rather than having to apply for an unrealistic allocation.

A number of changes are being made in the housing investment programme. The allocation is in the single-block system rather than the three-block system used in previous years. That has given some flexibility within the allocation, but because the money has not been provided the drawing up of the new starts programme for 1980–81 will cause a number of problems to my local authority.

The Secretary of State proposes to replace the present yardstick with a new system. There is a lack of hard information about the new system. That will cause a problem to authorities when they try to plan schemes for future years, especially those where they wish to maximise the subsidy entitlement as well as provide value for money.

The tolerance arrangements have been varied from previous years, so that authorities may anticipate the allocation for 1981–82 only by a sum equivalent to 5 per cent. of the 1980–81 allocation. In addition, the 5 per cent. tolerance may be used only with the express consent of the Department. The reduction in tolerance is not conducive to a balanced and efficient programme, without a further restriction of the specified approvals to tolerances later in the year. There is no doubt that the revised programmes and procedures are designed to reduce total spending rather than to produce a balanced programme. To that extent, it frustrates the two principles of the tolerance system.

My authority has been allocated 87·48 per cent. of the 1979–80 figure, but because of inflation that falls to a figure of about 64 per cent. at the present time, and inflation is increasing.

Government procedures and policies cause many other problems. I would like further statistics. There is a problem of condensation which should be realistically considered. Its solution is a costly procedure, and there is no allocation from the Government to overcome that. Because of lack of money the condensation problems will gradually become slum clearance problems, and will add to the statistics of new build.

We established a local strategy covering the period to the year 2000, and tried to plan ahead. The areas for which we have planned should be improved and upgraded, but because of the Government's policies we shall not be able to carry out that plan. They will gradually degenerate into slum properties. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, in that authority no new build contracts will be made before 1980–81. Our objective to provide central heating in the dwellings of elderly persons has been postponed until 1982, and will be subject to reallocation.

We established a programme to acquire old properties to modernise and to improve housing stock—properties that private landlords had allowed to run down. We have now discovered that there will be no finance available for that programme. It is a sad reflection on an authority such as Barnsley, which will be able to build only 100 houses. The other half of the authority that I represent in Sheffield also will be able to build only 100 houses. That is a sad reflection on an authority of that size.

There is a speed-up effect. I spoke recently to the leaders of the construction industry and to the leader of Sheffield council. They said that there would be no construction programmes for the next year. Therefore, it is vital that the statistics should be provided. The areas concerned are having to lay off joiners, bricklayers and plumbers because there will be no work for them next year. If we are to plan efficiently for employment not only in the construction industry but within local authorities, it will be necessary to have the statistics. I support the amendment, and I hope that the House will do likewise.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

We have had a wide-ranging debate about virtually every aspect of housing policy. I was not convinced that my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Major) received an answer to his question, namely, how the improved statistics that the new clause is intended to produce would contribute to better housing or better investment in housing. My hon. Friend was on the right track in asking that question.

The generality of the Opposition's case is that there is less money to spend on housing in the foreseeable future than there was last year. However, in terms of new construction that has been the position for the past few years. There has been a declining rate of investment in new local authority housing. We have debated the issue at length on many occasions and I doubt whether the attitudes of either side are likely to be influenced by a repetition of the arguments.

10.15 pm

The previous Labour Government came to power believing that they could achieve certain results in the public housing sector. They failed dismally, and the position deteriorated year by year. That is the background against which we must judge all the claims and assertions of the Opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) said it all. The Opposition's case was a vast deployment of substantially hypocritical, repetitive accusations.

If the statistics would produce better results, why were they not produced when the programmes were falling substantially under the previous Government, when, presumably, statistics would have been able to bring about a transformation?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw , Blackburn

Labour Ministers published statistics on future projections in the housing consultative document and elsewhere. Why is the right hon. Gentleman refusing to publish statistics that previous Labour and Conservative Ministers have published?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Member advised Labour Ministers on the figures that they published and he must realise, that no sooner had they published them—indeed, sometimes even before the figures were published—than they were proved to be irrelevant to the way in which money was spent.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The new clause concerns the publication of figures for individual authorities. If that is such a good idea, in order to reverse the decline, why did Labour Ministers, who had the chance to do it and who were responsible for the decline, not use that device? We have heard no explanation of that. It is a good question to ask.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman , Manchester Ardwick

May I answer it? In clause 85 the Secretary of State has removed from local authorities the duty that they were required to fulfil under the Labour Government of making regular proposals to the Government on how they would fulfil their duty for rehousing. The statistics that were available anyway were not necessarily to be supplied by statute. The Government are removing that duty and we at least want the figures to see what the removal of that duty does to housing programmes.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

If the powers already existed and could have helped in the production of more homes, why did the Labour Government never use the powers on the statute book? The right hon. Member must understand that there was never a return of the sort listed in the new clause. The Labour Government never attempted to use the powers on the statute book. Their removal would presumably be as acceptable to a Labour Government as it is to this Government. We do not believe that it is necessary to have those powers.

Before the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) goes to a tome of references, I may be able to help him and to take the House a little way down the road that we should have been taken down in the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). The statistics about every housing authority in the country are available and readily accessible to all hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) kindly got for me the basic background information. I have here the return from the housing authority of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. That is the return—it comes from the House of Commons Library—that gives the most detailed profile for the city of Birmingham for the years 1976 to 1983–84. There is virtually no question that is not answered. All the figures are available.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw , Blackburn

Is it not the case that the Secretary of State has the housing improvement programme bid by Birmingham, and not the details of what Birmingham will build following its allocation?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The document is in two parts. First, there is the historical fact of what Birmingham has done; secondly, there is the current year's anticipated figure; and then there are the figures for later years, which obviously have to be speculative. These figures are updated every year. Indeed, I am about to write to the housing authorities—as was the convention under my predecessor—asking for this set of figures to be updated. Then they will be able to move the process further forward. The only difference between what I am doing and the new clause is that I am doing it now, in midsummer, whereas the new clause would have performed the same exercise in March in relation to the same year.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

The Minister for Housing and Construction will confirm the truth of my remarks. When this clause in the 1957 Act was removed in Committee, Labour Members moved an amendment seeking to reinstate it. That request was turned down on the vote of Conservative Members. Why?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

Because we already have the information that Labour Members are requesting. There is no point in having a new clause in a Bill to achieve what the previous Government and this Government are already achieving. In respect of all the authorities represented by all Labour Members who have spoken, the most detailed information is available about their past expenditure, future expenditure and housing stock problems in each area. Yet there is not one Labour Member who knew that the information was available in the Library. If that is not a real indication of the humbug and hypocrisy that has been paraded by Labour Members, I do not know what is.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman , Manchester Ardwick

If the Minister has this information, will he now give it to the House? How many new houses does he expect local authorities to start building this year?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The right hon. Gentleman has only to go to the Library. If the House wishes me to look down the figures in front of me for the city of Birmingham, I shall have to add up the total of all these forms. That is something that the Government could be asked to do by parliamentary question. These figures are published, and all hon Members know that there is detailed accounting throughout the procedure.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman , Manchester Ardwick

Since the Secretary of State does not have time to add up the figures when he is on his feet, will he give me a commitment that if I table a question asking for an estimate of the number of local authority housing starts in England for the coming financial year he will give me a figure in his reply?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman what the local authorities have told me. That is the only basis of information that I have. Of course I shall answer that question, but it will achieve absolutely nothing in adding to the certainty of what will happen on the ground. That is precisely the trap that Labour Members fell into in their housing assessment. They made assertions about what would happen, but the results were different. The only purpose of the debate is to ascertain whether we should try to get different information from that available to this House and to every right hon. and hon. Member in his local housing area. I have not heard a single argument to suggest that better information than this, or different information, would advance the cause of housing.

The only conclusion that I can draw is that because Labour Members did not know of the existence of these documente they tabled the new clause, believing that they would somehow add to the sum of human knowledge, when the Library of the House already had all the information.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to comment on the estimate, which I mentioned when I was speaking earlier and which has been mentioned in a number of other places, that by 1981–82 it is quite likely that the number of new council dwellings will be as low as 18,000? Would he agree that on the basis of the cuts in the White Paper that is quite likely?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is always making these forecasts.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to comment on the estimate?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

Yes, I shall do that. I am simply setting the scene for the hon. Member. His right hon. Friend the spokesman for the official Opposition says that there will be no house building at all, so we have advanced by 18,000 in the course of the last couple of hours.

We have now given a great deal of flexibility to housing authorities. I shall wait to see what judgment they exercise, because I reckon that that will be the most prudent way of telling the House what local authorities have decided to do in their own areas, where they know their own problems. That is the lesson of the last few years, where central Government have tried to tell the House what local government was intending to do but local government was doing different things.

I am concerned that local authorities should get the best value for money out of what money is available for housing. I happen to believe that the flexibility that we have given them provides a much better chance of that happening than under the previous policies that we have seen. The judgment about how it should be done will be better exercised by each authority, with a total flexibility as to how authorities deploy their resources. The way in which they decide to do it, under the new freedom, is not predictable. I do not know the answer to the question what they will do now that they have this freedom. We cannot know what they will do. We shall have to wait and find out. My own belief is that we are as likely to get a satisfactory result in that way as in any alternative way, which must be based on the civil servants of the central Government trying to second-guess and instruct local authorities on deploying their resources.

The choice that the House is being asked to make tonight is not about housing policies but about whether we need better information, or different information from that which is available to every hon. Member about his own housing authority. As far as I can see, we have the information that we require. The Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill provides total power to get any information that we require, in any form that is acceptable to the House, concerning any local authority activities. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, who is leading for the Opposition in the Committee on that Bill, well knows that the powers about to be put on the statute book are vastly more comprehensive than the powers embraced in the new clause that we are debating today, which talked only about new buildings—a very shortsighted way of looking at housing policy.

I should have thought that people wanted to know about improvements, about mortgages, about slum clearance, and about new building in that context. Why Labour Members should try to single out new construction I do not understand, but that is is the one test that they seem to apply to housing policy. It is not the one that would be applied by anyone who had an understanding of the problems.

I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends that on the evidence before us and on the evidence of the debate today there is not a shred of argument in favour of the new clause. If the Opposition wish to press it, I shall have to recommend my colleagues to reject it.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman , Manchester Ardwick

We have received from the Secretary of State during the last few minutes a very important commitment—that when, as soon as the Division is over, I table a question to him asking him for details of the estimated number of council house starts for the coming financial year, he will provide that information to the House—because he tells the House that he already has it. That is a very important gain and we are grateful for that, but we are angered by the cavalier attitude of the Secretary of State to the whole question of public sector housing. For that reason, we shall vote for the new clause.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Secretary of State for Environment

The right hon. Gentleman—unintentionally, I am sure—has repeated what he thought I was saying. As I was not saying anything of the sort, I think that it is very important that I make absolutely clear what I have said.

I receive the HIP statements from local authorities. They are available in my Department, as they are in the Library of the House. If any hon. Member wishes to ask me about the content of those HIP statements, I shall do my best to add the figures together, which will be an aggregate of the judgments of local authorities, and I shall provide that information.

That is not the same thing as saying that that is what I believe will happen. I have to tell the House that if one had done that exercise previously and had simply added together the views of the individual authorities to give one total, the outturn would not have coincided with the projection. Certainly, in the terms in which I gave the assurance I shall stick to it, but I want the right hon. Gentleman to understand fully the terms in which I gave it.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman , Manchester Ardwick

The House has now seen the shiftiness with which the Secretary of State has dealt with this issue. That being so, and since he wishes to deny to the House information that a few moments ago he pretended he was willing to give us, we shall certainly vote against the Government on this issue.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 236, Noes 304.

Division No. 3111AYES[10.30 pm
Abse, LeoGarrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Newens, Stanley
Adams, AllenGeorge, BruceOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Allaun, FrankGilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnOgden, Eric
Alton, DavidGinsburg, DavidO'Halloran, Michael
Anderson, DonaldGourlay, HarryO'Neill, Martin
Archer, Rt Hon PeterGrant, George (Morpeth)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Ashley, Rt Hon JackGrant, John (Islington C)Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Ashton, JoeHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Palmer, Arthur
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Hardy, PeterPark, George
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Harrison, Rt Hon WalterParry, Robert
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithPendry, Tom
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyPenhaligon, David
Beith, A. J.Haynes, FrankPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodHealey, Rt Hon DenisPrescott, John
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Heifer, Eric S.Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Bidwell, SydneyHogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Race, Reg
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertHolland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)Richardson, Jo
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)Home Robertson, JohnRoberts, Albert (Normanton)
Bradley, TomHomewood, WilliamRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Bray, Dr JeremyHooley, FrankRoberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Horam, JohnRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Howells, GeralntRobinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Lefth)Huckfleld, LesRooker, J. W.
Buchan, NormanHudson, Davies, Gwilym EdnyfedRoss, Ernest (Dundee West)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Hughes, Mark (Durham)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Campbell, IanHughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Rowlands, Ted
Campbell-Savours, DaleHughes, Roy (Newport)Ryman, John
Canavan, DennisJanner, Hon GrevllleSever, John
Cant, R. B.Jay, Rt Hon DouglasSheerman, Barry
Carter-Jones, LewisJohn, BrynmorSheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Cartwrlght, JohnJohnson, Walter (Derby South)Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Short, Mrs Renée
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Cohen, StanleyJones, Barry (East Flint)Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwlch)
Coleman, DonaldJones, Dan (Burnley)Silverman, Julius
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldSkinner, Dennis
Conian, BernardKerr, RussellSmith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Cook, Robin F.Kilroy-Sllk, RobertSnape, Peter
Cowans, HarryLambie, DavidSoley, Clive
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)Lamborn, HarrySprlggs, Leslie
Crowther, J. S.Lamond, JamesStallard, A. W.
Cryer, BobLeadbitter, TedStoddart, David
Cunliffe, LawrenceLeighton, RonaldStrang, Gavin
Cunningham, George (Islington S)Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Straw, Jack
Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West)Lltherland, Robert
Dalyell, TamLofthouse, GeoffreySummerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Davidson, ArthurLyon, Alexander (York)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzll (Llanelli)Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Davis, Clinton, (Hackney Central)Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)McCartney, HughThomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Deakins, EricThome, Stan (Preaton South) Tllley, John
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)McDonald, Dr OonaghTinn, James
Dempsey, JamesMcElhone, FrankTorney, Tom
Dewar, DonaldMcGuire, Michael (Ince)Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Dobson, FrankMcKay, Allen (Penlstone)Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Dormand, JackMcKelvey, WilliamWainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Douglas, DickMacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorWainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Douglas-Mann, BruceMaclennan, RobertWatkins, David
Dubs, AlfredMcNally, ThomasWeetch, Ken
Duffy, A. E. P.McWilliam, JohnWellbeloved, James
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Magee, BryanWelsh, Michael
Dunwoody, Mrs. GwynethMarks, KennethWhite, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n)White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
English, MichaelMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Whitehead, Phillip
Ennals, Rt Hon DavidMarshall, Jim (Leicester South)Whitlock, William
Evans, loan (Aberdare)Mason, Rt Hon RoyWigley, Dafydd
Evans, John (Newton)Maxton, JohnWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Ewing, HarryMaynard, Miss JoanWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Faulds, AndrewMellish, Rt Hon Robert Mikardo, IanWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Field, FrankMillan, Rt Hon BruceWinnick, David
Fitch, AlanMiller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)Woodall, Alec
Flannery, MartinMitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Woolmer, Kenneth
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMorris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)Wrigglesworth, Ian
Ford, BenMorris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)Wright, Sheila
Forrester, JohnYoung, David (Bolton East)
Foster DerekMorris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)Morton, GeorgeMr. Ted Graham and
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMoyle, Rt Hon RolandMr, James Hamilton.
Garrett, John (Norwich S)
NOES
Adley, RobertFletcher-Cooke, CharlesMarland, Paul
Aitken, JonathanForman, NigelMarlow, Tony
Alexander, RichardFox, MarcusMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Amery, Rt Hon JulianFiaser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Marten, Nell (Banbury)
Ancram, MichaelFraser, Peter (South Angus)Mates, Michael
Arnold, TomFry, PeterMather, Carol
Aspinwall, JackGalbraith, Hon T. G. D.Maude, Rt Hon Angus
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Gardiner, George (Reigate)Mawby, Ray
Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)Garel-Jones, TristanMaxwell-Hys up, Robin
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMayhew, Patrick
Banks, RobertGlyn, Dr AlanMellor, David
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyGoodhew, VictorMeyer, Sir Anthony
Bendall, VivienGoodlad, AlastairMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Gorst, JohnMills, lain (Meriden)
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Gow, IanMiscampbell, Norman
Best, KeithGower, Sir RaymondMitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Bevan, David GilroyGray, HamishMoate, Roger
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnGreenway, HarryMonro, Hector
Biggs-Davison, JohnGrieve, PercyMontgomery, Fergus
Blackburn, JohnGriffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)Moore, John
Blaker, PeterGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Morgan, Geraint
Body, RichardGrist, IanMorris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasGrylls, MichaelMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
Boscawen, Hon RobertGummer, John SelwynMorrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)Mudd, David
Boyson, Dr RhodesHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Murphy, Christopher
Braine, Sir BernardHampson, Dr KeithMyles, David
Bright, GrahamHannam, JohnNeedham, Richard
Brinton, TimHaselhurst, AlanNelson, Anthony
Brocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherBrooke, Hon Peter
Brotherton, MichaelHastings, StephenNeubert, Michael
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelNewton, Tony
Brooke, Hon PeterHawkins, PaulNott, Rt Hon John
Browne, John (Winchester)Hawksley, WarrenOnslow, Cranley
Hayhoe, BarneyOppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally
Heddle, JohnOsborn, John
Bruce-Gardyne, JohnHenderson, BarryPage, John (Harrow, West)
Bryan, Sir PaulHeseltine, Rt Hon MichaelPage, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham
Buchanan-Smith, Hon AlickHicks, RobertPage, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Buck, AntonyHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.Parkinson, Cecil
Budgen, NickHill, JamesParris, Matthew
Bulmer, EsmondHogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Burden, F. A.Holland, Philip (Carlton)Patten, John (Oxford)
Butcher, JohnHooson, TomPattie, Geoffrey
Butler, Hon AdamHordern, PeterPawsey, James
Cadbury, JocelynHowe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyPercival, Sir Ian
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)Peyton, Rt Hon John
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Pink, R. Bonner
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Hunt, David (Wirral)Pollock, Alexander
Chalker, Mrs. LyndaHunt, John (Ravensbourne)Perler, George
Channon, PaulHurd, Hon DouglasPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
Chapman, SydneyIrving, Charles (Cheltenham)Price, David (Eastleigh)
Churchill, W. S.Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPrior, Rt Hon James
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Johnson Smith, GeoffreyProctor, K. Harvey
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelRaison, Timothy
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushclifte)Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithRathbone, Tim
Cockeram, EricKaberry, Sir DonaldRees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Colvin, MichaelKing, Rt Hon TomRees-Davies, W. R.
Cope, JohnKnight, Mrs JillRenton, Tim
Corrie, JohnKnox, DavidRhodes James, Robert
Costain, A. P.Lamont, NormanRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Critchley, JulianLang, IanRidsdale, Julian
Crouch, DavidLangford-Holt, Sir JohnRifkind, Malcolm
Dickens, GeoffreyLatham, MichaelRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Dorrell, StephenLawrence, IvanRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLawson, NigelRost, Peter
Dover, DenshoreLee, JohnRoyle, Sir Anthony
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardLester, Jim (Beeston)Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Durant, TonyLloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)Scott, Nicholas
Dykes, HughLloyd, Peter (Fareham)Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnLoveridge, JohnShaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)Luce, RichardShelton, William (Streatham)
Eggar, TimothyLyell, NicholasShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Elliott, Sir WilliamMcCrindle, RobertShepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
Emery, PeterMacfarlane, NeilShersby, Michael
Fairgrieve, RussellMacGregor, JohnSilvester, Fred
Faith, Mrs SheilaMacKay, John (Argyll)Sims, Roger
Farr, JohnMacmlllan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)Skeet, T. H. H.
Fell, AnthonyMcNalr-Wllaon, Michael (Newbury)Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Fermer, Mrs PeggyMcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Speed, Keith
Finsberg, GeoffreyMcQuarrie, AlbertSpeller, Tony
Fisher, Sir NigelMadel, DavidSpence, John
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)Major, JohnSpicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Sproat, lainThorne, Nell (Ilford South)Warren, Kenneth
Squire, RobinThornton, MalcolmWatson, John
Stainton, KeithTownend, John (Bridlington)Wells, John (Maidstone)
Stanbrook, IvorTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd a Stev'nage)
Stanley, JohnTrippier, DavidWheeler, John
Steen, AnthonyTrotter, NevilleWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Stevens, Martinvan Straubenzee, W. R.Whitney, Raymond
Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)Vaughan, Dr GerardWickenden, Keith
Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)Viggers, PeterWiggin, Jerry
Stokes, JohnWaddington, DavidWilkinson, John
Stradling Thomas, J.Wakeham, JohnWilliams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Tapsell, PeterWaldegrave, Hon WilliamWinterton, Nicholas
Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)Wolfson, Mark
Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)Walker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester)Young, Sir George (Acton)
Tebbit, NormanWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir DerekYounger, Rt Hon George
Temple-Morris, PeterWall, Patrick
Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretWaller, GaryTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)Walters, DennisMr. Spencer Le Marchant
Thompson, DonaldWard, JohnMr. Anthony Berry.

Question accordingly negatived.