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House of Commons

Wednesday 9 December 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


River Humber (Upper Burcom Cooling Works) Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time tomorrow.

Oral Answers to Questions


Urban Programme

1. Mr. Mudie : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received from the local authority associations on the future of the urban programme.

The Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities (Mr. John Redwood) : I have received a formal representation from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and several letters from individual local authorities and others.

Mr. Mudie : Is the Minister aware of the widespread distress caused in Leeds and throughout the country by the cancellation of the urban programme? Is he further aware that, by that act, he has removed the one hope for the unemployed, the elderly and the very poorest in our inner cities? Does the Minister understand and accept the worrying possible consequences of compelling our inner cities to face next summer with no cash, no initiatives and no hope for our long-term unemployed?

Mr. Redwood : The hon. Gentleman has not looked at the statement. Some £176 million will be spent on the urban programme and capital partnerships for the inner cities next year. The hon. Gentleman may like to remember that, taking city challenge and the urban programme together, we plan to spend £408 million next year, compared with only £319 million this year. Of course I want to see action in the inner cities. We have many projects and plans, and with a Conservative Government we are going to do it.

Mr. Marlow : Would it not be better to spend large sums of our own money in our own deprived urban areas, rather than splashing out vast largesse into the Community cohesion fund?

Mr. Redwood : I agree with my hon. Friend that there are priority needs in our inner cities. That is why we are budgeting as I have described for next year--to produce

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better hope and life and more jobs in those inner-city areas. Of course Her Majesty's Government intend to drive a hard bargain with our Community partners. We believe in getting value for money wherever public money is spent and that must be true at Community level as well as here at home.

Ms. Lynne : How can the Government claim to be creating employment prospects while at the same time cutting urban programme grants to areas such as Rochdale?

Mr. Redwood : As I have explained, we have a number of programmes for the inner cities, many of which create jobs and job opportunities. Instead of whingeing and complaining, the Opposition should start taking an interest in city challenge, capital partnership and all the other schemes that are producing life and hope in the inner cities and generating many jobs and job opportunities.

Mr. Vaz : That is yet another example of ministerial complacency about a fundamental shift of Government policy which will directly affect the lives of thousands of people who live and work in inner-city areas. Now that the Minister has refused to commit the Government to support round three of city challenge, does not the cancellation of the urban programme put the Government's entire urban regeneration programme into a state of crisis? If the 57 urban programme authorities fail to raise the £500 million that he has predicted they will raise because of the change in the capital receipt regulations, will the Minister come back to the House personally, announce that he will give back to those councils the money that he proposes to take away, and apologise to the people whose lives and jobs and projects will be ruined by this appalling decision?

Mr. Redwood : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The £500 million that we hoped that local government will raise by way of extra receipts represents additional money for the inner cities. Instead of complaining, the hon. Gentleman should be encouraging his friends on Labour councils in those urban programme areas to ensure that they get the receipts money on time and spend it on good projects for their areas. That is what I want, and I hope that that is what the Opposition want. That is the way to make progress in the inner cities.

Rough Sleepers (Central London)

2. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will be renewing the rough sleepers initiative in central London.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Sir George Young) : We shall be making resources of £86 million available over three years from April 1993 to build on the achievements of the rough sleepers initiative which, since June 1990, has reduced the number of people sleeping rough in central London by more than a half.

Mr. Marshall : May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on securing additional finance from the Treasury in the autumn statement? Does he agree that the problem of rough sleepers in London would be eased if inner London councils would let their unlet council houses and collect their uncollected rents?

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Sir George Young : My hon. Friend is right. It is an affront to the many people in London who are homeless or in temporary accommodation that large numbers of local authority flats continue to be unlet after more than a year. My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of the Government's priorities, in a difficult public expenditure round, in finding the necessary resources to continue further the progress that we have been making in respect of rough sleeping in central London.

Mr. Tony Banks : Does the Minister not feel ashamed and embarrassed to see so many people sleeping on the streets of London when he is on his way to the opera? I do not suppose embarrassment is something that comes easily to Conservative Members because they could not care a damn about people who are sleeping rough. Does the Minister recognise that the problem of homelessness is not confined to inner London? How many outer-London severe weather shelters are being provided? Why has the Minister's Department turned down proposals for such shelters in Croydon, Camden and Newham?

Sir George Young : I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman might find it possible to congratulate the voluntary organisations in central London on their work in the past two years to reduce the number of people sleeping rough, but, instead, he saw fit to deliver the rather ungrateful rant that we have just heard. The Government focus resources on central London because that is where there is the largest concentration of rough sleepers. Roughly half the rough sleepers in this country are in central London, and that is where we are targeting our resources. Outside inner London, we are funding voluntary organisations to make progress. However, we would expect local authorities such as that of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) to recognise that they also have a responsibility and should make provision of the kind mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Harry Greenway : Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Salvation Army on its superb work with its soup run to rough sleepers? Does he also agree that the Salvation Army and others minister to a number of rough sleepers who generally refuse to come into accommodation available for them?

Sir George Young : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the sterling work of many voluntary organisations and charities in London which deliver help and shelter to those sleeping rough. There are a number of rough sleepers who have been approached by resettlement workers and outreach workers and have been offered accommodation in hostels with access to move-on accommodation, but have turned that accommodation down. It is a challenge for everyone who wants to see a reduction in rough sleeping in central London if there are people who turn down offers that are made to them.

Contaminated Land

3. Mr. Hardy : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what action he is taking to ensure that land that was contaminated and which has now been cleansed is brought into uses that provide economic or environmental advantage.

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The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Maclean) : The Government are keen to encourage all contaminated lanto be brought into productive use and I am looking carefully at my proposals on section 143 registers to ensure that we deal with the conflicting concerns voiced by local authorities, developers, lenders, valuers, insurers and, indeed, Members of this House.

Mr. Hardy : Does the Minister appreciate that considerable areas of derelict and contaminated land in my constituency and elsewhere have been cleared and reclaimed at considerable cost to public funds? However, while the Government maintain the contaminated land register as it is and insist on including the reclaimed land on that register, there will be no economic advantage as a result of the investment that has been made. Does the Minister accept that the needs of the areas concerned are such that the Government should be pursuing policies of assurance and indemnification to allow some hope and advantage to be brought to those very necessitous districts?

Mr. Maclean : Because of that concern voiced by the hon. Gentleman and by many others, I made a special visit to the black country recently to see the problem on the ground, and that point of view was impressed on me in no uncertain terms. I therefore intend to look at other areas of the country where there may be similar worries about the potential blighting effect if the registers went ahead. It is important for me to talk to the insurers and lenders, because we would not be able to bring the contaminated land back into use without their support. My intention is to deal with land that is actively contaminated and needs to be cleaned up, and not to cause unnecessary blight.

Mr. Thomason : I welcome my hon. Friend's statement today that he is reconsidering the permanent nature of the contaminated land register. Does he agree that if encouragement is not given to the development of derelict and contaminated land in the inner cities, greater pressure will be created in the countryside and on green belt land? Does he agree that that pressure should be avoided wherever possible by inner-city developments?

Mr. Maclean : That is yet another consideration as to why we must get our proposals on contaminated land right. As Minister for the Environment and Countryside, I should find it wrong if we created unnecessary pressures on the countryside because developers, for whatever reasons, were frightened away from using potentially useful land in inner cities. That is a matter to which we shall give careful consideration.

Ms. Short : When shall we know the outcome of the review? It is the strong view of the Confederation of British Industry in the west midlands that the present system acts as a barrier to the treatment of contaminated land and, therefore, leads to pressure on the green belt and great swathes of dirty land being left behind. Do we not need a graded register, incentives to treat, and then a way of coming off the register so that the land will be brought into use? The present system is a barrier to treatment and reuse.

Mr. Maclean : There are incentives to treat, and a variety of schemes funded by Government and local government to bring land back into productive use. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) has identified one of the flaws in existing legislation--that no

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matter what work is done to clean land up and make it suitable for a purpose, it will nevertheless be completely unable to come off the register. We are addressing that matter.

As the economy comes out of recession, I do not want this problem lingering for much longer. We want to deal with the matter and settle the concerns as soon as possible in the new year.


4. Mr. Alan W. Williams : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what effect the adoption of the principle of subisidiarity in environmental policy in the European Community is expected to have on United Kingdom standards.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Howard) : The principle of subsidiarity requires that decisions should not be taken at Community level unless effective action cannot be taken by member states. It does not affect standards. We shall continue to maintain high environmental standards in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Williams : Does the Minister agree that there are two types of environmental problem? One type, involving the atmosphere and the seas around our coasts, is international in its impact. The other involves problems such as the quality of drinking water, contaminated land and recycling, which are much more localised in their impact. Is there not a danger that, under the cloak of subsidiarity, a cynical Government, such as we have at present, could use that loophole to mouth platitudes at international conferences about environmental regulations while in their own back yard it will be business as usual as the dirty man of Europe?

Mr. Howard : I have some sympathy for the distinction with which the hon. Gentleman commenced his question, but the inference that he drew from it was entirely misplaced. I suspect that the difference between us is that I have greater faith in the institutions of this country to take the necessary decisions to safeguard our environment.

Mr. Robert B. Jones : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that some of the steps being taken at European level are wholly inconsistent with the principles of subsidiarity as advocated by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams)? For example, draft directives on landfill do not seem to take into account the fact that the position in the United Kingdom is entirely different from that in continental Europe. Would it not be better if the European Community stuck to international environmental issues such as air pollution rather than getting into the detail of things which are better dealt with a member state level?

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend has cited one example, and there are a number of other examples which one should scrutinise carefully in the light of the definition of subsidiarity to which I referred earlier. That is something that Her Majesty's Government will do.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Given that the then Minister for Housing and Planning, on introducing the legislation in 1988 to give effect to the directive on environmental impact and assessment, said that it was "thoroughly commendable", can the Secretary of State give a cast-iron

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guarantee that neither at Edinburgh this week nor later will there be any change in the full commitment to and implementation of the present environmental impact directive so that woods such as Oxleas wood which is 8,000 years old are entirely protected and not at risk from a weakening of European Community-inspired legislation?

Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman should know by now that the assumption on which his question was based is wholly mistaken. The dispute over Oxleas wood has nothing whatever to do with Britain's acceptance of the environmental impact assessment directive. It is a purely technical dispute about the moment at which that directive came into force. It is about time that the hon. Gentleman and his friends stopped misleading people about the attitude of Britain to that directive.

Mr. Wilkinson : In view of the highly egregious and probably unjusticiable nature of the phrase "subsidiarity", even as defined by my right hon. and learned Friend, will he simply make sure that British environmental standards are at least as good as any of those set on the continent?

Mr. Howard : I believe that our standards are already at least as high as those on the continent. Any objective comparative assessment would support that view. We shall continue to ensure that environmental standards in Britain are of the highest.

Mr. Chris Smith : Does the Secretary of State agree that, especially with the impact of the single market coming in on 1 January, it is vitally important that environmental standards across Europe are kept consistent and high? How does he explain the internal Government documents recently leaked to the European Parliament which show that the Government seem intent on blocking Community initiatives on landfill, water quality and, perhaps most importantly, the environmental impact assessment of Government policy making? Is it not the case that the Government seem determined to become the bargain basement of Europe environmentally as well as socially?

Mr. Howard : No, that is not true. If the hon. Gentleman and his friends spent less time scavenging around for leaked documents, they would be less familiar with basements, bargain or otherwise. We should have high environmental standards in Britain. Where it is appropriate for the Community to take action, it is right that environmental standards across the Community should be high and consistent. However, there are many matters on which it is perfectly legitimate to leave nation states to take the necessary decisions. We shall seek to implement that approach wherever it is appropriate to do so.

Peak Park Planning Board (Elections)

5. Mr. Knox : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to introduce direct elections to the Peak park planning board.

Mr. Maclean : We have no plans to do so. The national parks review panel did not recommend direct elections to the park authorities as it felt that the long-term national interest would not be served. The Government intend to legislate to create independent authorities for all the national parks. We also intend to take steps to ensure that local interests are properly represented on them.

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Mr. Knox : How does my hon. Friend justify the fact that the Peak national park is one of only two areas in the country where planning decisions are taken by people who are not directly elected? How does he justify that? Does he think that it is fair to the people who live in the Peak national park?

Mr. Maclean : Councillors on national park bodies were elected in their districts or county councils. Although they were not directly elected to the national park authorities, they were elected in their council areas. The national parks review panel considered the matter and decided that it was not appropriate to follow the model of direct elections, and I am inclined to agree.

Mr. Clelland : Is the Minister aware that the Peak park planning board is just one of many quangos which run various aspects of our lives at no small cost to the taxpayer? Often the people who serve on such quangos do so for no other reason than that they are in the favour of Tory Ministers. Is it not time we moved Britain into the 21st century by the election of a democratic tier of regional government which could encompass organisations such as the Peak park planning board and bring them under the control of the people whom they are supposed to represent?

Mr. Maclean : I am pleased to acknowledge the large amount of expenditure on our national parks to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded. In the past five years it has increased by 50 per cent. in real terms ; that is recognition of the Government's commitment to some of the finest areas of this country. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been, but I have met many chairmen of national parks and members of their boards. Many have long and distinguished records as Labour councillors in Labour areas. Our boards are a mixture of members from all political parties and from none. On balance, they are doing a pretty good job and the hon. Gentleman does a disservice by suggesting that there is party-political favour in such appointments.

Caravan Sites Act 1968

6. Mr. Clifton-Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the responses to his Department's consultation paper concerning reform of the Caravan Sites Act 1968.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry) : The Department has received more than 1,200 responsesto the consultation paper from local authorities, gipsies, land-owning interests and other organisations and individuals. We are considering the responses carefully, and will make an announcement in due course about implementing the reforms.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : My hon. Friend will recognise that that problem causes misery in many rural areas and I urge him to take whatever action is necessary before there is a repeat of last summer's activities. May I also urge him to communicate to his colleagues in the Home Office the need for reform of the Public Order Acts to relieve the problem ?

Mr. Baldry : We intend to take action, and we shall proceed as soon as we have had the opportunity to consider responses to the consultation paper. It might be

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helpful to make it clear to hon. Members that our proposals for reforming the Caravan Sites Act 1968 do not cover public order problems caused by large congregations of new age travellers. Home Office Ministers, in consultation with other Government Departments and the police, are urgently considering what practical measures--including changes to the civil and criminal law--can be taken to deal with mass trespass.

Mr. Gunnell : The Government have spent more than £50 million since 1979 on the development of caravan sites. Will the Minister explain how he intends the quality of those sites to be maintained and how spaces will be made available for travellers ? Can he explain how the legislation being contemplated can assist with homelessness, as it seems to me that it threatens to make the situation a good deal worse ?

Mr. Baldry : I think that the hon. Gentleman should allow the gipsy organisations to speak for themselves. In response to our proposal the National Gypsy Council has said :

"Having been in the forefront of official site provision ever since the implementation of the 1968 Act, and as originators and the strongest advocators of the concept of private site initiatives for gypsies, the views of the National Gypsy Council are well documented. In our opinion private sites are beneficial to all concerned, to gypsies because they offer them the security of a legal home and a base from which they can send their children to school, to local authorities and central Government who are spared the expense of developing and managing sites and to local settled communities by the reduction in the number of unauthorised encampments. Furthermore, private gypsy sites are in locations where the gypsies who will live on them want to be. They suffer none of the problems due to incompatibility which are sometimes found on local authority sites and once a private site has become established, the families on it quickly prove themselves to be good neighbours."

Mr. David Nicholson : Is my hon. Friend aware that there will be a widespread welcome for his proposed measures to deal with illegal camping? Is he also aware that some of my constituents have strong reservations about aspects of his consultation paper, which appear to enable local authorities to evade their responsibilities? Will he do all that he can to protect my constituents in North Curry and Wrantage, who may be disadvantaged if neighbouring local authorities are able to evade their responsibilities in relation to gipsy encampments?

Mr. Baldry : We are determined that no local authority shall evade its responsibilities under this or any future legislation.

Mr. Pike : Will the Minister give an assurance that the Department is not working to a rigid timetable in considering responses to the consultation, as it is important to consider the complexities of such a broad issue before the Government respond and take action?

Mr. Baldry : We will consider all the responses very carefully, but there is no doubt that the 1968 legislation, which was brought in for the best possible reasons, has failed the travellers and local communities. It is time for a reform and we are determined to bring that about.

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Rent-a-room Scheme

7. Mr. Hendry : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the number of additional units of accommodation that will be brought into use by the rent-a-room scheme.

Sir George Young : It is not possible to give a precise figure. The nature of lodging makes it difficult to measure accurately the size of the sector. We hope, however, that the new scheme will encourage an increase in the number of people who take in lodgers.

Mr. Hendry : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that building societies and the Council of Mortgage Lenders, which have traditionally discouraged people from taking in lodgers, not only welcome the scheme but are actively encouraging people to take advantage of it? Does that not show what a useful and valuable addition it is to the range of policies already in place for tackling homelessness?

Sir George Young : I very much welcome the new approach by the Council of Mortgage Lenders and other lenders. We must make the best possible use of our housing stock. The scheme also provides an additional source of income for those who own those properties, which may be useful at the present time.

Mr. Soley : Having reduced the private rented sector from 14 per cent. of the total housing stock in 1979 to 7 per cent. now, is it not time that the Goverment came up with a proper private rented sector instead of subsidising private landlords, whether in mortgaged properties or otherwise, via housing benefit, and even subsidising some who are in prison because they have harassed their tenants? Would it not be better to have a tax-break system in exchange for the registration of landlords? We could then strike off those who were bad landlords, instead of using public money to subsidise them.

Sir George Young : Few people have more responsibility for the decline of the private rented sector than the Labour party, whose wholly hostile approach to the private landlord was responsible for many leaving that sector. It is interesting to note the hon. Gentleman's U-turn ; he is now suggesting a tax break for private landlords, after the Labour party has spent decades harassing them. That is real progress.

Basel Convention

8. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects the United Kingdom to ratify the Basel convention.

Mr. Maclean : Ratification of the Basel convention is dependent, first, on adoption of the European Community waste shipments regulation by the Council of Ministers and, secondly, on the Council's decision on the timing of ratification.

Mr. Coombs : Although my hon. Friend rightly says that this is a matter mainly of European competence, does he agree that early ratification is particularly important because the Basel convention confirms the self- sufficiency principle, which means that developed countries should not transport their hazardous waste unnecessarily? That

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convention gives developed countries the opportunity to receive waste from developing countries that do not have the recycling facilities necessary for hazardous waste.

Mr. Maclean : My hon. Friend is right. Ratification is a matter for the EC and we shall want to see that achieved as early as possible. We are committed to the self-sufficiency principle and I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for successfully negotiating that when he took over the presidency of the European Council. We shall now develop our own national plans to ensure that developed countries that are large enough to deal with their own waste do not transport it here.

Mr. Denham : Is the Minister aware that millions of people in this country are still deeply concerned about our continuing role as the toxic waste-bin of Europe? Does the Minister accept that, despite all the fine words about the Luxembourg agreement and the Basel convention, no unequivocal statement has ever been made by any Minister to the effect that the Government will use those powers to ban the import of toxic waste from developed countries? No committed timetable has ever been set for achieving such a ban. Will the Minister make that unequivocal commitment and present that timetable this afternoon?

Mr. Maclean : I fear that the hon. Gentleman is very muddled. First, he should look to see which countries are the toxic waste-bins--it is certainly not this one. We have just negotiated a regulation in the EC which will, for the first time, give this country the power to turn off the tap of waste coming from developed countries for disposal here. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the convention, he will see that it does permit developing countries, that do not have the facilities to deal with their waste safely to send it to developed countries where it can be treated properly. That is a sensible part of the convention.

Mr. Rowe : Is it not the height of irony that the Labour party makes such a song and dance about importing toxic waste for treatment from developing countries that do not have the technology to deal with it safely, when it spends most of the rest of the time posing as the party most concerned about environmental damage being done around the world?

Mr. Maclean : My hon. Friend makes a good point. All developed countries agreed that it was morally right that they should not instantly cut off the ability of poor developing countries to have their waste properly treated in developed countries. We shall certainly not take waste from other developed countries that can deal with it themselves. Waste for final disposal should be dealt with in developed countries. That is what we have negotiated and we are implementing national plans to ensure that it is put into place when the directive is ratified.

Local Authority Staff (Pay)

Mr. Mandelson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about the application of the policy on pay increases in 1992-93 for staff working in local authorities.

Mr. Howard : I expect local authorities to play a full part in achieving pay restraint to maximise the potential

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for investment and employment. The chairmen of the local authority associations have undertaken to do their very best to settle within the zero to 1.5 per cent. range.

Mr. Mandelson : How can the Secretary of State justify a policy that asks some of the lowest-paid in our community to pay the price for the Government's economic incompetence? When hon. Members are lobbied this afternoon by representatives of the National and Local Government Officers Association, they will know that many public sector employees--in the health service and local government--already receive wages below the Council of Europe's decency pay threshold. If belts must be tightened, would not it be fairer for the well-off to feel the pinch, rather than making those who are already low paid experience the pain from the Government's policies?

Mr. Howard : The fairest approach is for those in work to accept some sacrifice to maximise the opportunities to create jobs for those out of work. The fact that the Opposition fail to recognise and support that objective shows the extent to which they are out of touch. That objective behind our policy has won the support of the chairmen of the local authority associations to whom I referred.

Mr. Alexander : As public sector pay in local authorities accounts for 70 per cent. of the cost of local authorities, if people working in local government accept the public sector norms which the rest of us have accepted, does it not follow that the settlement announced only the other day means that local authorities should not need to raise their charges by any more than they received from the community charge last year?

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a measure of the dimension of what can be achieved through that policy that every 1 per cent. on public sector pay costs an additional £800 million a year. If local authorities sought those savings by manpower reductions, 50,000 jobs would be put at risk.

Mr. Henderson : Given that the Secretary of State has already acknowledged that pay accounts for 70 per cent. of local authority costs, does he accept the assessment by the stockbrokers, Robert Fleming, that the suggested Government spending total for next year is less than 1 per cent. above what councils expect to spend this financial year? If that is the case and if inflation is only 3 per cent. in the next financial year, does he accept that, given his financial regime, capping and the 1.5 per cent. pay limit which he will impose on local authorities, the inevitable result will be cuts in vital services? If so, will he now withdraw his statement to the House on 26 November that no service cuts in local authorities are needed?

Mr. Howard : As long as the Labour party and its Front-Bench team continue to base their assertions on comparisons that do not compare like with like, they demonstrate how unfit they are to be taken seriously. We have to compare the total standard spending for next year with the total standard spending for this year, not compare the total standard spending with budgets. When the hon. Gentleman demonstrates that he has understood that, we shall take his arguments seriously.

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Social Housing

10. Mr. Wells : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what estimate he has for the amount of social housing which will be provided from public funds over the next three years.

12. Mr. Moss : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how much the Government will be investing in social housing over the next three years.

Mr. Howard : Our manifesto promised that 153,000 houses would be provided over the three years beginning April 1992 ; we now estimate that the Housing Corporation should be able to provide some 170,000 additional homes in that period.

Mr. Wells : I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and his team on obtaining that additional money for social housing. Will he find innovative financial methods to use the additional money from taxpayers to lever the private sector into social housing? That would enable us to extend social housing provision to constituencies such as mine where there are poor people who are equally in need of housing for themselves and their families.

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend has made an important point. The autumn statement was based on the assumption that we should be able to increase the private sector contribution to social housing. We intend to do that with the additional money made available for the remainder of this financial year ; taking into account the private sector contribution, we shall provide nearly £1 billion worth of additional social housing in the period to the end of the current financial year.

Mr. Moss : I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the fact that the autumn statement commits us to exceeding our manifesto pledge for the provision of social housing. However, does he agree that the needs of rural regions such as my constituency of Cambridgeshire, North-East are just as pressing as those of urban districts? Does he accept the need to encourage private sector houses to be made available in the rented sector at affordable rents?

Mr. Howard : I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, and I hope that his constituency and other rural districts will benefit from the package announced with the autumn statement. He is right to emphasise the importance of encouraging the revival of the private rented sector, which the policies of the Labour party have done so much to damage for such a long time.

Mr. Raynsford : Will the Secretary of State tell the House of the estimates of housing need in Britain that have been produced by a series of organisations, including the Institute of Housing, and, most recently, estimates produced for the Housing Corporation by Mark Kleinman and Christine Whitehead? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that they all make it clear that at least 100,000 new homes are needed each year for rent? Therefore, on the basis of the Secretary of State's projections this afternoon, there will be a serious shortfall over the next three years, which will mean that the problems of homelessness will get worse. When will the Government recognise that their programme is inadequate?

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Mr. Howard : Estimates of need vary widely. If the hon. Gentleman is seriously interested in making a constructive contribution to the resolution of such problems, I invite him to devote a little more of his time and attention to the solutions to the problems--solutions such as those that I mentioned earlier.

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