Orders of the Day — Housing and Building Control Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 5th July 1983.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman , Manchester, Gorton 4:18 pm, 5th July 1983

I take it that my hon. Friend is referring to the timber-framed buildings which were dealt with by Granada television in a programme a few days ago, buildings which have been defended by Sir Lawrie Barratt, who may turn out to be the Sir Freddie Laker of home ownership.

As I said, the Government's only proposals for dealing with these industrialised building problems is to say, "Use subsidies"—which three-quarters of the councils do not have—"and put up rents"—when council tenants have already had their rents increased by 134 per cent. Then there is the mounting cost of the deterioration of other public sector houses built in the 1940s and 1950s by nontraditional methods. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities estimates that the cost of putting those right is yet another £5 billion.

The problems are so immense that they turn the right to repair in clause 23 of the Bill into a sick joke, particularly when that right to repair involves no inspection and may lead to the dwellings ending up in worse repair, especially as the tenant who exercises that right forfeits his right to have repairs done by his landlord.

That is only in the public sector. The house condition survey published last year by the Department of the Environment and quoted by the Minister today shows that 3,900,000 dwellings, many of them owner-occupied, require at least £24 billion to be spent on them. The Bill has no relevance to that problem either.

The nation is suffering from an unprecedented housing crisis. By 1986 there is likely to be a shortage of 517,000 homes. The building material producers are forecasting that building for owner-occupation is in decline. The Minister in his speech today boasted about local authority housing starts so far this year. Local authority starts in the first five months of this year were less than half those in the first five months of Labour's last year in office. That is how we must compare the figures, not with the miserable totals achieved under the Conservatives.

So far under the Conservatives the number of houses and flats which have been started by local councils is only one third the number started in the last four years of the last Labour Government. At the rate of building so far under the present Government, it will take nearly 12 years to start as many council houses as were started in those four Labour years.

Those are the dimensions of the Government's failure in local authority house building. They are also the dimensions of Britain's housing crises. It is a crisis for which the Conservatives are, to a considerable degree, responsible. It is a crisis which the Bill ignores. In the coming Session we shall use the debates on the Bill to put forward our considered, constructive policies to deal with the national housing crisis.