Sustainable Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 5th February 2003.

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Photo of John Prescott John Prescott Deputy Prime Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Local Government and the Regions, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 12:31 pm, 5th February 2003

I get used to allegations without substance, and I hope that people will note what I have said. I have the relevant quotes, and the answers to them, but I will not go into that.

The right hon. Gentleman made great play of my being vindictive about the right-to-buy policy. My point about that policy, which has continued under this Government, is that the £36 billion of subsidies, which is the cost of the discounts to promote home ownership, is an awful lot of money. If one wanted to extend the right to buy, there are other schemes that are less expensive and, much more importantly, they reserve the public housing for people who cannot afford to buy. Perhaps Conservative Members are not familiar with those schemes. A number of them give people money to subsidise a house purchase but they also return their previous property to the local authority, so they do not reduce public housing. Hon. Members may disagree with that, but it happens to be a fact. That is a difference of choice in our housing policy.

The right hon. Gentleman complained about other such differences. It is true that the provision of social housing has gone down 1 per cent. every year since 1980; that happened under our Government as it did under other Administrations. [Interruption.] Hon. Members can go and look at the figures. I admit that social housing has declined during my time in office, but in defence I would say, first, that we have spent a lot of time dealing with economic problems to bring about stability.

Secondly, we decided to put money that was lying idle in the banks into refurbishing houses that had been allowed to decline. All the time the Conservatives were promoting right to buy, they were forcing down standards in our public housing. I chose to make a difference. I chose to use that money to ensure decent housing for people who were living in deplorable conditions. Those conditions had declined not because the money was not available but because it was being used to reduce the debts caused by the failure of central Government at the time. That, I readily agree, is a difference of choice in our housing policy.

The right hon. Gentleman said that no improvements had taken place. He should visit the new deal areas and the coalfield communities. We gave them the money after the previous Administration implemented a vicious policy to destroy the coalfield communities. We invested nearly £400 million in developing them. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman might live near them but he obviously has not got his eyes open. If he visits the new deal communities, he will see the improvements.

It is important to take refurbishment and changes in finances into account. The right hon. Gentleman accused us of being five years behind the previous Administration. Yet we are spending £22 billion, which is double the amount that was invested in housing when we came to power. If the right hon. Gentleman believes that that constitutes being five years behind, he takes a "Back to the Future" approach to analysing figures.

We could argue money for transport, but we have invested £180 billion in it—far more than at any other time. As for transport failure, I inherited the failure of the financing of the channel tunnel link. We had to refinance it, and many of the areas that are affected by the announcement depend on the new transport link. I am therefore happy to compare our record with that of the previous Administration.

Let us consider the record on brownfield sites. Under the Tories, there were fewer such sites. We increased them because that was our policy. Hon. Members may well move their hands. Raising them means "up" and lowering them means "down". Brownfield sites decreased under the previous Administration and increased under Labour. Again, our record stands against the rhetoric of the previous Administration. I am proud of what we are doing.

As I said earlier, the right hon. Gentleman's speech will not help him in his leadership bid. He should ensure that his statements match the facts. Today, it did not.