Public Sector Housebuilding

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th November 1986.

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Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 12:00 am, 19th November 1986

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the latest yearly figures for public sector housebuilding; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

A total of 33,500 new public sector dwellings were completed in England in 1985.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Is the Minister aware that during the last full year of the Labour Government three times that number of public sector dwellings were completed? Is it not a scandal that when we have an aging population and when many old-age pensioners are crying out for public sector bungalows, the Prime Minister can build a £500,000 house for herself at Dulwich? At the same time, the Government arc refusing to allow duly elected local authorities to spend £6·5 billion of capital receipts on building bungalows for the pensioners which would put construction workers back to work and get some people off the dole queue.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

We have to consider the total number of completions rather than only public sector completions. Last year the private sector completed 129,000 houses, making a total of 162,000 houses for the whole country. That is a very fine record. It is always a good idea to consult one's local authority before coming to the House and asking silly questions. Bolsover district council has said that in general there is no unsatisfied demand for rented family housing within the district. The district council went on to say that it is also encouraging private builders and looking to the Housing Corporation to fund further sheltered housing for the elderly, so I advise the hon. Gentleman to find out the facts before he comes to the House and asks such a question.

Photo of Mr Philip Oppenheim Mr Philip Oppenheim , Amber Valley

As the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is so clearly interested in the state of housing in Derbyshire, perhaps my right hon. Friend will inform him that the hon. Gentleman's Socialist friends on the county council allowed a large number of houses in the town of Alfreton, which borders on Bolsover, to remain empty for many years and that they deteriorated until public pressure on the county council forced it to put them on the market. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have a word with his friends on the county council.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

My hon. Friend confirms that it is desirable for hon. Members who come here to ask questions to get their facts right first.

Photo of Mr John Cartwright Mr John Cartwright , Woolwich

The Secretary of State advises lion. Members to consult local authorities. Is he aware that the Conservative-controlled Association of District Councils has seen through the Chancellor's conjuring trick and has worked out that what is presented as extra Government spending is in fact an 11 per cent. cut in real terms? What possible hope will such a policy give to the many thousands of homeless families, to those on council waiting lists and to those who have to wait for years for essential repairs to be carried out?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

That is not the case. The resounding success of the Government's right-to-buy policy has greatly increased housing receipts, which in turn has enabled about £450 million of additional gross provision to be made for housing. That is a wonderful result, but it has been made possible only by the recycling of public capital through the right to buy.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Staffordshire Mid

Does my right hon. Friend agree that building more and more council houses over the years has not reduced housing waiting lists and that the cure for homelessness is a greater and better utilisation of the existing housing stock, with existing council tenants being encouraged to take in single people on short stay accommodation through the tenants' charter? Is it not a national scandal that nearly 30,000 council houses have been standing empty for nine, 12 or 18 months? Will my right hon. Friend do something to encourage councils to bring those houses back into use?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I agree that before talking about housing shortages we should ensure that all council houses that can be occupied are occupied. Some councils have a disgraceful record in this respect. I have given the Housing Corporation an additional £20 million for 1987–88, which will enable it to attract private finance and to spend £60 million or £70 million on the provision of sheltered housing for the homeless in stress areas. That is the best contribution that this Government could have made, and they have made it.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Has the right hon. Gentleman had time to read the answer to the excellent question that was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) in today's Hansard? It suggests that stress areas, particularly Liverpool, have faced very serious problems over a long period. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during the last three years Liverpool city council has built over 3,000 houses and has put on over 5,000 construction workers? Should not local authorities that have tried to deal with their housing problems in that way be given the fullest support instead of the Government trying to restrict the amount of financial assistance that they receive?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I have not had an opportunity to read the question to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I shall respond to him, as I have great respect for him, by making sure that I read it. I gather that Liverpool council owns nearly 10,000 vacant houses. Surely the right way to deal with the Liverpool problem is for the council to stop playing Militant politics and fooling around and to get on with putting the houses right for people to live in.

Photo of Mr John Powley Mr John Powley , Norwich South

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that most district councils and local authorities own great acres of land in small and medium-sized parcels, of which they could easily dispose to private builders and developers, thus allowing the private sector to build houses for owner-occupation? Would this not relieve many housing waiting lists?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I agree with my hon. Friend. Approximately 60,000 acres of land are owned by local authorities which could and should be put to productive use. We intend to seek extra powers in the Local Government Bill, which will be coming before the House shortly, to ensure that those acres are used for the benefit of the people instead of being sterilised by the local authority.

Several Hon. Members:

Where is the family silver?

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

At least the family silver is safe in my hands. I do not intend to sell it off.

Is the Secretary of State aware that in the London borough of Newham in 1984 only 10 families were in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, but today 300 families are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation? Is he also aware that the cost next year to Newham ratepayers will be £3 million? If that £3 million could attract the normal money from the Government for house construction, it would finance a programme of £125 million, which would enable us to build 2,000 houses in Newham. Does the Secretary of State not realise that the Government's housing policy represents, not collective responsibility, but collective lunacy?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I do not know whether it would be sub judice to ask the hon. Member a question. We have been accused of selling the family silver, but he has been accused of stealing it.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I think that the words are "taking care of".

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

I am not letting that pass. The Secretary of State should apologise for that comment.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. We shall deal with this later.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want the right hon. Gentleman to apologise. I am not sitting down until I get an apology from the Secretary of State.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I understand. The hon. Gentleman did not get his answer.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I am on my feet. I know what happened. It is my fault. I did not call the Secretary of State to answer the supplementary question.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I am delighted to say that the hon. Gentleman is taking control of the family silver, as you suggested, Mr. Speaker. I was careful to say that I did not wish to make a remark that was sub judice. I owe the hon. Gentleman an answer to his substantive question about housing in Newham. The record of Newham borough for collecting rents is deplorable, and if it were a better record it would be possible for Newham to afford to refurbish and build more houses.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. No, I cannot take points of order in the middle of questions. I shall take them at the end of Question Time.

Later

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I tried to raise this point of order at the time, and I still believe that it would have been more appropriate if the Secretary of State for the Environment had been asked to withdraw the totally groundless allegation that he made against my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). The Secretary of State was given the opportunity to withdraw and to apologise. He has not done so. I hope that you will invite him to do so now, Mr. Speaker, especially since "Erskine May" makes it clear that unfounded allegations or imputations against Members should be withdrawn immediately and if not, that the Chair should act.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. It might be appropriate to say that I gave a lead to the Secretary of State. Perhaps he will now respond.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

In response to what you said, Mr. Speaker — I repeat it now — I did withdraw the allegation of stealing and substitute your suggested form of words, of taking care of the family silver, just as someone took care of my silver two years ago, but he has not returned it yet.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. One can take many things in the House, and I am more than ready to take more than my fair share of common abuse coming from Conservative Benches. Today, during Question Time, the Front Bench has descended to levels that none of us in the House have heard for a long time — and I include the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), for what he recently said. My point of order is this. I find that what the Secretary of State has said is unacceptable. He made an imputation of the most serious nature against me. He actually used the word "stealing". He has not withdrawn it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] He has merely rephrased it. I must insist that he not only withdraws but apologises, or comes outside and says the same thing.

Hon. Members:

Oh.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I do not think that hon. Members can help with this matter, and I do not think that it has anything to do with the hon. Members who are now rising. [Interruption.] Order. I am on my feet. The whole House knows that any charge touching upon the integrity of an hon. Member is out of order. The Secretary of State has withdrawn what he said. I ask him now if he will specifically withdraw the word "stealing".

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

At the third time of asking, I do.

Photo of Mr David Ashby Mr David Ashby , North West Leicestershire

Would the situation not be resolved if the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) were to put the swag in the Petition Bag and we promised not to watch?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had an apology and I do not think that I can do any more about the matter.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

It is a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I view this matter so seriously, and as I have heard the Secretary of State's somewhat reluctant withdrawal, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is possible for the withdrawal to be inserted in the Official report at the point at which the allegation was made. It was at that point that the right hon. Gentleman should have made a withdrawal.

Photo of Mr Peter Bruinvels Mr Peter Bruinvels , Leicester East

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I had the misfortune this morning to hear the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) on LBC. He was interviewed about the non-return of the silver and he referred to various employees of the London Residuary Body in a threatening manner. I should like your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on whether it is ethical or correct for an hon. Member to threaten unnamed employees of the former GLC and the London Residuary Body in the most menacing way on the radio.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

This matter was raised earlier and I repeat what I said at that stage. Let us all take great care about the way in which we use our words in making charges against those outside the House who do not have any redress if parliamentary privilege is involved.

I tell the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) that I shall ensure that the passage to which he referred is put in the proper place in Hansard. I think that that can be done.