Class VIII, Vote 5

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 4th July 1984.

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Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood 9:30 pm, 4th July 1984

This has been a mixed debate. Some hon. Members have addressed themselves to the uncaring attitude of some towards dogs and the welfare of animals generally. I shall return to the theme that was adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) by taking up his remarks about the Government's uncaring attitude towards and neglect of human beings and placing them in the context of the housing Estimates.

It is the Opposition's view that the moneys provided in the Estimates for housing purposes, whether for housing associations—a cut has been announced in the money to be made available to the Housing Corporation — for local authorities for their own building and renovation programmes or for owner-occupiers for repairs or the provision of new amenities, are grossly inadequate for the current year. There has been a cut of 60 per cent. in the moneys provided for housing benefit since the Government took office. The money that will be spent next year by the Government on housing subsidies and capital expenditure will be only 35 per cent. in real terms of housing expenditure for 1979–80. Those figures—I realise that sometimes figures are not absorbed —demonstrate a massive and growing housing crisis. That is why the Opposition are discontented with the moneys that the Government are providing this year.

There remains great suspicion that during the current financial year the Government will impose a moratorium on local government capital expenditure on housing. There are a number of reasons for that suspicion. First, local authorities were urged last year not to underspend. That being so, they may have slightly exceeded last year's spending limits. That overspending could be carried forward into the current year. Secondly, there remains the massive pressure that was built up by the 90 per cent. repair and improvement grants. There are probably several hundred thousand applications in the pipeline. The pressure created by the payment of grants could lead to overspending in some local government areas, which in turn could lead to a moratorium and cuts.

Thirdly, the imposition of VAT on house alterations could increase even further the commitments of local authorities which have agreed to give housing improvement grants. That in turn could put further pressure on the Government to introduce a moratorium.

Lastly, it appears that the Government may have underestimated the amount of money coming in from capital receipts from the sale of council houses. A large part of the £700 million for the housing investment programme for the current year is financed by the sale of council houses. The Government were banking pretty heavily on local authority tenants getting mortgages from building societies, and every time a local authority tenant chooses to get a mortgage from his local authority instead of going to a building society, there is a cut in the housing investment programme. That could intensify the pressure for a moratorium to be announced during the year.

The moneys are inadequate because of the risks to which ordinary members of the public are exposed, including the further atrophying of the building industry which could take place if the Government announced a moratorium. I agree with the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) that the building industry is especially damaged by any Government's stop-start policies.