I said earlier that local authorities may spend 20 per cent. of their housing receipts per year, which means that they can spend money, but over a period of time. That sum, together with the allocations, results in the high total of about £6 billion a year for local authority capital investment. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has noticed that both figures should be added to give the real total.
Will my right hon. Friend consider forcing local authorities that have empty houses to ensure that those properties that have been empty for longer than six months go on to the housing market for homesteading purposes? One of the problems of public sector housing is that many properties on housing estates become dilapidated. Young people would like the opportunity to buy those properties at prices they could afford, for the purpose of doing them up themselves.
I agree with my hon. Friend. There is every possibility of homesteading taking place. I have listened to the pressure from my hon. Friends that we must do something more with empty council houses, and I certainly take their comments seriously.
Does the Minister agree that the rate of renovation and new building when taken together should at least equal the rate of deterioration, otherwise, whatever figures the Minister may quote at the Dispatch Box today, matters will only get worse? Will he dismiss and completely repudiate the comments of his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) talked of people—and he must have meant the elderly—under-occupying their homes, saying that they ought to be chucked out to make room for others?
It is for my hon. Friend to look after himself, as I am sure he can do very ably. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that if he adds together allocations and the amount spent from receipts he will find that the total is running at a very high level. Furthermore, it has been increased because of the success of the right-to-buy policy, which has produced more receipts.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that we await firm decisions on the future of improvement grants with some concern? First, such proposals would, we hope, minimise the invasion of the statutory and non-statutory green belt. Secondly, I hope that they would help the owners of Woolaway homes in my constituency, about which I have corresponded with the Minister of State and which face severe deterioration as a result of non-traditional building methods.
I can tell my hon. Friend, first that proposals to reform the system of improvement grants will be the subject of legislation at the earliest possible opportunity, so that money can be concentrated on the cases of greatest need.
Secondly, considerable extra allocations have been made for defective housing, and a further £20 million has recently been released for the very purpose of trying to gain ground against the large number of defective houses that need to be put right. Most councils with such houses will find that they have recently received a large new allocation.