Council Housing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 30th June 2004.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby 9:30 am, 30th June 2004

Absolutely. That is such a glaringly obvious point that I am surprised that the ODPM has ignored it for all these years—public borrowing is cheaper. That is why it is cheaper to renovate, repair and rebuild council housing, and indeed to provide new council houses, than it is for the RSLs to do so. On that basis, most local authorities can balance their housing books and can use the money to renovate, repair and build anew to make their contribution to tackling the housing crisis that has arisen. Why are they not being allowed to do that? Previous Labour Governments have been so proud of the record of Ministers and local authorities in developing, expanding and improving council housing. Why are we shuffling away from it? Why are we shuffling it off the box? Why are we getting rid of it as if it were some broken-down car to be sold on the second-hand market? That is the present position of the ODPM.

The fourth option will come, because I do not think that even the Minister for Housing and Planning is daft enough to go on banging his head against a brick wall in this fashion. I doubt whether he will be allowed to abrogate the manifesto commitments or to go on with this war against council housing as we approach the election. I am sorry that he is not present to reply today; he probably finds it easier to sit in the office and write letters to the Grimsby Evening Telegraph telling the people of Grimsby that their MP is a liar. That is matter of taste on his part.

My hon. Friend, who is the acceptable face—the very acceptable face—of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, is present and will reply. I hope that she will consider the questions that arise. First, I hope that both she and her Department will seriously examine the costs of the fourth option and my assertion that it will be cheaper than the waste of money of going through the present rigmarole of privatisation, the real costs of which are so heavy. I hope that she will tell us definitively and authoritatively what will happen to tenants who reject the three options with which they are provided. Will they be left without the improvement up to the decent housing standard to which the manifesto commits us? Will they be left to rot? What will happen? It is crucial that that question be answered. I hope that she will give us an assurance that under these policies of privatisation the Government are confident that they can reach the decent homes target by 2010. I very much doubt it and I doubt whether tenants will be coerced in that direction.

Finally, I hope that my hon. Friend can give us the declaration of confidence that we need from this Government in council housing and in the ability of the councils to run efficiently and effectively the housing that they have provided and built up over generations for the benefit of the less well-off people in their areas. I cannot understand the prejudice that exists against councils and council housing, and I am sure that, in view of her constituency, she will not share it. I hope that she will tell us that the ODPM is proud of Labour's record on council housing and that it wants to think again about the attempt to coerce, bully and freeze councils and tenants out of council housing and into handing over the stock at a cost of wasting millions of pounds to give away billions of pounds worth of public property.