Total housing starts for England in 1983 were 187,000, of which 146,000 were in the private sector, the highest figure for 10 years. Housing starts in the first nine months of this year are slightly below those for the same period last year, but completions are up. It is not the practice to make forecasts for future years.
Does the Minister not agree that the figures are a wholly inadequate response to the housing crisis facing the country? Can he explain why, with 250,000 construction workers unemployed and with housing authorities such as mine in Stoke-on-Trent desperately anxious to build more houses, especially for the growing elderly population, the Government will not put in more finance and will not even allow local authorities to borrow money in the market place through their housing investment programmes?
Total capital housing provision in the public sector for next year is in excess of £3 billion. That is a substantial figure. The hon. Gentleman and the House must understand that a growing proportion of our people —now 63 per cent. in England—are owner-occupiers. The policy which the Government have followed has responded to the needs and aspirations of the people, while continuing to make substantial provision for public sector housing.
Is there not a significant and laudable reason for the slightly fewer housing starts; namely, that under this Government local authorities have been able to provide more resources for special needs housing and for improvements?
My hon. Friend is right. Within the housing investment programme allocations it is for each authority to decide its own priorities. I agree with my hon. friend that priority should be given to the categories that he mentioned.
Some of the figures for local authority housing waiting lists are the reverse of accurate. Those figures should be revised in very many cases. I do not accept the premise of the hon. Lady's question.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that private sector starts would be substantially higher if it were not for the fact that many Labour authorities hoard and sit on land for building because they believe that private sector building is bad and that only public sector building is good?
My hon. Friend is right. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has made his first directions for the sale of unused or under-used land, as recorded on the registers which the Government introduced. Of the land on those four sites, 45 acres are suitable for housing. I certainly intend to follow up the Government's initiative of directing, where appropriate, the sale of unused or under-used land.