Class VIII, Vote 5

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 7:49 pm on 4th July 1984.

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Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton 7:49 pm, 4th July 1984

I shall not follow too closely the remarks made by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), and certainly not what he said about dog licences. I noted that he said very little about game licences, which is a matter of some interest. However, I shall not participate in that debate as I know that other hon. Members will.

We are discussing not only the second report from the Select Committee but the Estimates, and in particular Class VII, Vote 1, which is the one about which I shall speak. It concerns expenditure by the Department of the Environment on subsidies, the option mortgage scheme, improvements and investment, grants to housing associations and the Housing Corporation and sundry other housing services. In other words, we have the opportunity and the right to examine the Government's attitude to housing when they drew up the Estimates. It is important that we spend a little time on this.

On page 51 of "The Government's Expenditure Plans 1984–85 to 1986–87", in the section on housing, it says: The Government's policy priorities for housing are:

  1. (i)to increase the level of home ownership;
  2. (ii)to encourage the repair and improvement of existing stock; and
  3. (iii)to concentrate public resources within the housing programme on capital provision for those in greatest housing need."
I shall examine that last point first. Page 53 shows that the number of permanent new dwellings completed have gone down steadily, as has the money available for local authorities. Page 50 shows that the total general subsidies will be down from £945 million to £703 million. The total current expenditure is also down.

We are told that total capital expenditure will be the same, but increased inflation means that, in real terms, there will be a reduction. It is this about which we are concerned, as it is a reduction in housing. The Government have to answer some important questions. Something that has been floating around for some time, which I know is greatly worrying the construction industry, is the question whether there will be a moratorium. I am constantly getting letters from various bodies that are worried about this and the effect that this will have on the construction industry. We are entitled to have some early replies on this matter.

In its election manifesto for the last general election campaign, the Labour party made it clear that Britain faces a major housing crisis. We put forward our policy on this. We also said: The Tory recession has seriously damaged the construction industry…Nearly 400,000 construction workers are on the dole. While private sector housing has improved, public sector housing has gone from bad to worse. Now, in local authorities, people want homes but the waiting lists are getting longer and longer and more and more people are suffering as a result.

I am glad to see the Minister of Housing and Construction in his place. He recently went to my city of Liverpool, having been preceded by the Secretary of State. When the latter went round the city he said that he had never seen worse housing in all Europe. The Minister said that the position in Liverpool was the same as in other great cities. Let us take those two statements together, as they are not entirely contradictory, and assume that they are both correct. That means that the Government should be pumping more money into the construction industry. They should be helping local authorities on a much greater scale than they are, so that local authorities can build more homes, get more repairs done and achieve a better housing programme.