Local Government (Prescribed Expenditure)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:16 pm on 13th March 1985.

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Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Shadow Secretary of State 10:16 pm, 13th March 1985

I think that it was a waste of House of Commons stationery and as an accountant the hon. Gentleman should have known better.

The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) said that the Government are increasingly interfering in local government.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Mellon (Mr. Latham) made a speech which indicated great insight into the building industry. His was a devastating critique of Treasury accounting procedures. He predicted the seizing up of the ministerial car, as it were. He said that the Government's ministerial car, that is, the Government's engine, had poor clutch control. His was the best metaphor of the debate, and he indicated that the Government had a moral duty to the homeless. He said that the builders were dissatisfied with the Government. He predicted the bankruptcy of many builders.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) made a detailed criticism of the regulations and quoted eminent churchmen to aid his case.

The hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) indicated that he would not support the Government. He, too, made a courageous speech. He said that he feared the impact of the loss of £600,000 of capital receipts in the town that he represents. He was worried about the effects of a 17 per cent. unemployment rate on his constituents. He said that the Secretary of State was a victim of Treasury policy.

The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), another Conservative, scourged Ministers and called for a better Government. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark), yet another Conservative, spoke up clearly for those living in rotten housing. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), also a Conservative, expressed concern for the fall in the budget of his housing authorities.

The Association of Metropolitan Authorities in England estimates that housing authorities face a £19 billion housing repair bill. The Association of Chief Housing Officers in South Wales estimates that about £8 billion is needed for a 15-year programme to update and replace housing. The Building Employers Confederation says that 20 per cent. of all housing is in need of basic repair or improvement.

A top level inquiry headed by a member of the royal family, the report of which was published in January, says that Britain faces a serious housing crisis, with the poor suffering most of all. There is evidence, the report says, of a decline in the condition of older housing and some of the newer stock, mostly in the public sector.

It is certain that in England and Wales there is a housing crisis. The debate has told us that, and hon. Members in all parts of the House are witnesses to it. Millions of our fellow citizens are living in frustrating or degrading conditions. Tens of thousands of building workers will lose their jobs because of the regulations. The Building Employers Confederation puts the figure at 150,000 The Association of Welsh District Councils says that more jobs will be lost. Despite that, billions of pounds belonging to local authorities in England and Wales stand ready to be used to tackle the housing crisis.

In the matter of fact, offhand tones of cool city accountancy, Ministers effectively tell the House that they intend further to restrict the already unsatisfactory attack on our housing problems. That happened today. Bad housing is a festering and growing wound in British society. It enhances our social divisions, it divides the north from the south, it is unjust and it is unforgivable at a time when Britain spends £17 billion on funding a dole queue of 4 million people yet holds untold wealth from the North sea.

Do Ministers really comprehend the human consequences of the regulations? I will describe briefly some of them as they exist in Wales. Aneurin Davies does not have a bathroom. His home is also without an inside toilet. His one sink does not have a proper waste pipe. A few doors away from Mr. Davies' Cardiff road, Aberavon, home, 64-year-old Jack James bathes in a galvanised bath in the living room. His toilet is one of a mini terrace of outside loos. In Abertillery, a pensioner was moved from his house because it had no electricity or lighting. For them and thousands like them, that is home in Wales today.

Housing officials and hon. Members far too often interview sobbing old ladies who suffer interminable delays in plans to stop up leaking roofs. Officials calculate that some elderly pople will die before their homes are made draught and waterproof. In Wales, more than 40 per cent. of our housing stock was built before 1919, compared with 29 per cent. in Britain as a whole. Clearly, those houses are in urgent need of repair. The problems with the Welsh housing stock can best be appreciated by a close examination of one particularly hard hit area. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), in a compassionate and informed speech, referred to the problems faced by the Cynon Valley authority. The alarming figures which my hon. Friend quoted showed how out of touch Welsh Office Ministers have become in their assessment of the housing problems of Wales. It is insensitive to propose the implementation of the regulations in Wales. Government statistics are woefully inadequate to identify the real housing needs on the Principality. It is reasonable to assume that the Cynon Valley survey conclusions will be repeated elsewhere.

The regulations will hit the Welsh people hard. While the English proportion of receipts that can be spent is to be 20 per cent., Wales must suffer a proportion of 15 per cent. The previous proportions were equally wrong. England had 40 per cent. and Wales was down to 25 per cent. Are the proportions fixed at those levels because we trounce the English public schoolboys at Cardiff Arms Park? I hope that even at this late stage Ministers will be prepared to think again about the figures for Wales.