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Oral Answers to Questions


National Park Authorities

1. Ms Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received regarding the new national park authorities.     [33371]

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Gummer): Our conclusions in response to the many representations we have received are reflected in part III of the Environment Bill.

Ms Ruddock: The Secretary of State will be painfully aware of the extent to which Britain's conservation bodies feel cheated by his decision to remove "quiet enjoyment" rather than accept the definition tabled by the Opposition on Report. When will his revised guidance be published, as promised? Will he give us his word that that guidance will make it crystal clear that a special quality of all national parks is their peacefulness and tranquillity?

Mr. Gummer: I am sorry that the hon. Lady should not have read with care reports of discussions in Committee, when it was made clear that, although the Government sought to find a way both to retain "quiet enjoyment" and to ensure that people could continue to do in national parks what they have done and want to continue to do, there was no way in which either the Opposition or the Government felt that that could be achieved. We have removed "quiet" and I have stated in the guidance, which I hope to publish as soon as possible, that we shall ensure that the tranquillity that is suitable for national parks is maintained while enabling people to continue to lead their lives in a reasonable manner. I think that that is reasonable, and most bodies agree with me.

Mr. Peter Atkinson: Does my right hon. Friend accept that his decision to increase the number of local people on national park authorities, especially parish councillors, has been warmly welcomed, particularly in the context of the Northumberland national park? Will he dissociate himself from the remarks made by an Opposition Front Bench spokesman in Committee to the effect that parish councillors are overly parochial and accountable to no one?

Mr. Gummer: I was surprised to read of the Labour party's assertion that parish councillors are accountable only to themselves. I was surprised also by the dismissive and contemptuous way in which they were treated by the Labour Front Bench. I hope that parish councillors notice that the Labour party does not consider them to be representative of local parties and does not believe that they are elected. I hope also that parish councillors will know what to do in future when the Labour party woos them.

Mr. Bennett: Does the Secretary of State agree that there are many people who enjoy walking in national parks? Will he encourage national parks to negotiate access agreements to increase the areas in which people can walk? Will he urge all national parks to achieve the target set out in the Edwards report by ensuring that, by the end of the year, all rights of way in national parks are free of obstruction and are signposted where they leave the highway?

Mr. Gummer: I am obviously pleased by the way in which we have improved the opportunity of access during

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the past few years. I know that most national parks are trying to do precisely what the hon. Gentleman has urged. We must recognise, however, that there is a balance to be achieved. Many other functions of the national parks must be carried out properly, such as conservation of habitat, protection of birds and improvement of agriculture. All those factors must come into the balance as well.

Building and Construction Industry

2. Sir Michael Neubert: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his latest assessment of the prospects for the building and construction industry; and if he will make a statement.     [33372]

The Minister for Construction and Planning (Mr. Robert B. Jones): I commend to my hon. Friend the latest state of the construction industry report, produced jointly by my Department and

representatives of the industry, which was published on 13 July. Copies have been placed in the Library.

Sir Michael Neubert: Does my hon. Friend agree that a thriving building and construction industry is usually a great contributor to economic recovery and should be a political imperative for a party that has always championed the idea of a property-owning democracy? Given the present flatness of the housing market, has my hon. Friend any ideas in mind, such as the upgrading of our substandard housing stock, which would revitalise the industry and restore the cachet of home ownership?

Mr. Jones: I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the construction industry. Of course we want to encourage it in every way possible to become more efficient and cost-effective so that it will continue to have an important place not only domestically but in terms of exports, which are going well. My hon. Friend should not forget that, despite gloomy pictures on the part of the construction industry, there are some better prospects and, in particular, exports are going well.

Mr. Betts: Does the Minister accept that the prospects for the building and construction industry are extremely gloomy because, in the public sector, the Government will do nothing to release local authorities' capital receipts which could lead to jobs and homes being built and, in the private sector, the Government are impotent and can do nothing because the real problem is the British people's lack of confidence in the Government and in Britain's economic prospects while they remain in power?

Mr. Jones: The hon. Gentleman behaves as though the receipts that accrue to local authorities are sitting under councillors' beds. A proportion is used for housing investment and much is used as a substitute for borrowing or lent on the money market. If that money was spent all at once, it would exert upward pressure on interest rates as well as causing other problems.

Mrs. Ann Winterton : Does my hon. Friend agree with the Prime Minister who, when addressing the Manufacturing and Construction Industries Alliance on Monday this week, said that, with interest rates and inflation under control and with falling unemployment, housing has rarely been more affordable, and that the only stumbling block was lack of confidence? What does my hon. Friend believe he should do to get over that stumbling block in order to encourage the first-time buyer, thereby enhancing the prospects for the construction industry?

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Mr. Jones: I read my right hon. Friend's excellent speech and I commend my hon. Friend's husband, the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), on his role in that organisation. My hon. Friend refers to the 20-year low in the ratio of prices to incomes and therefore rightly highlights the fact that housing is more affordable. Instead of talking down the housing market, Opposition Members should be emphasising that fact to encourage sales.

Mr. Raynsford: Will the Minister now come clean? In the past week we have seen figures from the National House-Building Council that show that starts in the first six months of this year are 15 per cent. down and figures from the Corporate Estate Agents showing sales down by a similar amount. Everyone in the industry knows that the house-building industry is in difficulty and that confidence has been further weakened by the crass decision to cut the income support safety net. When will the Government face up to their

responsibilities? There was nothing in the White Paper to restore confidence in the market. When will the Government come to the help of the hard-pressed house-building industry and the millions of home owners who are in difficulty?

Mr. Jones: No one has any illusions about the fact that the house- building sector is going through a difficult period which will be overcome only as confidence continues to gain strength. That depends on how the economy performs and on how the message--that private sector housing has not been as affordable as it is now for 20 years--is put across.

House-building Industry

3. Mr. David Nicholson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the business prospects for the house-building industry.     [33373]

Mr. Robert B. Jones: The Government remain firmly committed to a policy of sustainable home ownership and we anticipate recovery in the house-building industry as the wider economy continues to grow.

Mr. Nicholson: The national interest and the Conservative party's interest depend on a flourishing housing and building industry in the widest possible sense--home ownership and encouraging mobility. Does my hon. Friend agree that the present situation--which has complex causes, notably the over-borrowing of the late 1980s--is not sustainable for long? It is desirable for the reasons that I have given that my hon. Friend's Department should work closely with the Treasury to bring forward specific, urgent and early measures to encourage the house-building industry.

Mr. Jones: I shall certainly draw my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor's attention to my hon. Friend's point, but I return to the fact that the health of the house-building industry depends crucially on the performance of the economy as a whole. As my hon. Friend says, it would serve no one any good if we returned to the days of hyper-inflation in house prices.

Mrs. Helen Jackson: In view of the Minister's new responsibility for health and safety, has he yet had time to look at the appalling health and safety record of building workers in the house-building industry? What will he do, particularly about the deregulated sector, commonly known as the lump?

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Mr. Jones: The hon. Lady sounds like a voice from the 1960s. We are, of course, keen to see improving safety standards in the construction industry. As someone who worked in that industry, I am more aware of the matter than most, and we will continue to place emphasis on it.

Mr. Dover: Does my hon. Friend agree that a key factor in the house- building industry is the level of interest rates? Does he applaud the action taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 5 May when he resisted increasing interest rates? Will my hon. Friend try to ensure that, like the Chorley building society, other building societies do not always put up their rates when the larger ones do?

Mr. Jones: I am pleased to hear about the building society in my hon. Friend's constituency. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor has to balance all the considerations, including the climate for inflation, as well as the performance of the economy as a whole. As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, that is not an easy balancing act.

Houses in Multiple Occupation

4. Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his reasons for deciding not to introduce a national licensing scheme for houses in multiple occupation.     [33374]

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration (Mr. David Curry): The rules that we are proposing will permit effective action to ensure safety where that is necessary without imposing universal rules that may not be necessary everywhere.

Mrs. Campbell: Will the Minister admit that three out of every four people who responded to the Government's consultation paper supported the case for a national licensing scheme for houses in multiple occupation? By refusing to introduce such a scheme, are not the Government putting their ideological hostility towards regulation ahead of the proper concern for public safety and the need to save lives?

Mr. Curry: It is true that a large number of people wanted a licensing scheme, but they wanted different things--there was little agreement on the shape of the scheme that they wanted. We have decided to build on the powers that local authorities have rather than impose duties on them. There are parts of the country where there are relatively few problems, and it is not necessary to introduce a compulsory universal scheme. Where it is necessary to introduce a scheme, local authorities already have the relevant powers, and we shall give them enhanced powers.

Mrs. Lait: Can my hon. Friend assure me that he will advise local authorities that houses in multiple occupation are precisely that and that the term should not be applied to large houses that have been converted into a few flats with relatively few residents?

Mr. Curry: We shall exempt from the regulation places such as long- term leasehold blocks, houses with self-contained flats and university halls of residence. They will be caught by different regulations that achieve the same purpose.

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Air Quality Monitoring

6. Mr. Ainger: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many monitoring stations capable of recording levels of PM s or lower provide information for his Department.     [33376]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. James Clappison): There are currently 16 stations. Another nine wilcome on stream by the end of 1996. On top of that, local authority sites will be integrated to increase the coverage.

Mr. Ainger: I welcome the Minister to his new post, but I am extremely disappointed with his reply. Professor Seaton's report in The Lancet in January established a direct link between the number and level of PM10s in the atmosphere and high levels of death as a result of cardiovascular problems and respiratory disease. I understand that the expert panel on air quality standards will report later this year. Is not the number of monitoring stations wholly inadequate? Does the Minister agree that his plans do not address this serious problem?

Mr. Clappison: The hon. Gentleman should take into account the fact that, in addition to the automatic monitoring stations, there are 250 non- automatic stations around the country. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that particle matter causes concern. That has been recognised by the expert panel, which is taking the matter seriously. No doubt particle matter will be one of the pollutants that we shall aim to reduce as part of our national air quality strategy that will be put in place by the Environment Bill. That strategy will be taken seriously; certainly it will be put into force.

Mr. Congdon: I warmly welcome my hon. Friend's appointment. I am sure that he is aware that pollution causes particular difficulties for those with health problems such as asthma. What further action can his Department take to ensure that existing laws and those that are passed in this Session are used to try to reduce the number of lorries and buses that belch out filthy black smoke?

Mr. Clappison: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind comments, as I am grateful to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) for his. My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Diesel exhausts, buses and cars are responsible for a large volume of the pollution he describes. He will be aware that tighter standards are coming into force in 1996. They will result in a reduction of that type of pollution in the way that other measures, including the introduction of catalytic converters, have reduced other forms of serious pollution. All those measures will help to achieve the high standards for which we aim.


7. Mr. Sutcliffe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what additional new measures he proposes to take to combat homelessness.     [33377]

Mr. Curry: There will be a further rough sleepers initiative in London and we are considering how to apply the experience of the rough sleepers initiative outside London.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Is not it the case that, during the past 16 years of Tory government, homeless households have more than doubled and housing for rent has fallen to its

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lowest level? There are no real programmes offering homeless people what they really want--permanent homes. Why will not the Government let local authorities build affordable social housing?

Mr. Curry: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is trapped in a time warp. That comment is typical of the whole Labour party, which wants only to build council houses and does not seem to take any interest in any other aspect of housing policy. The Government have shifted the emphasis for construction to the housing associations because we think that they do the job better than local authorities. We have also shifted the emphasis towards getting an increasing number of houses for rent available to people by making sure that we have vacancies for them.

We have encouraged people to move into their own property if they can afford it so as to liberate that property, and we have a campaign to deal with the problems of empty property. We have achieved a much better balance in housing than existed before. Those policies offer to homeless people, specifically through the rough sleepers initiative and through the programmes that will be in the housing White Paper, a far better balance in housing policy across Britain as a whole.

Mr. Anthony Coombs: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the ways in which to tackle homelessness is through a thriving housing market? Given the current difficulties in that market, and especially its low margins, does he sympathise with the significant concern of the housing industry about the draft part M building regulations and about the additional cost brought about in particular by the insistence on ramp accesses for every new house? Those measures will inevitably impose costs on the housing sector and that will be completely against the interests of those who want to own their own homes and, ultimately, act against the interests of the homeless.

Mr. Curry: We are not insisting on that. That is merely one of the options.


8. Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about the advantages of large-scale voluntary transfer of housing stock.     [33378]

Mr. Gummer: As my hon. Friend will know from the recent transfer of Maldon's housing stock to the Plume housing association, large-scale voluntary transfers mean more investment in housing stock and better services for tenants.

Mr. Whittingdale: My right hon. Friend mentions the transfer of Maldon district council's housing stock. Is he aware that, following that transfer to the Plume housing association, tenants will this year pay a rent increase of 3.9 per cent. rather than the 12 per cent. that was projected by the council and that the council has benefitted by £21.5 million? Is not that an excellent demonstration of the way in which large- scale voluntary transfer can benefit council tenants, the local authority and the council tax payer?

Mr. Gummer: I agree with my hon. Friend. Perhaps he shares my experience. Now that LSVTs have been made in Suffolk Coastal, I receive from council tenants in a year the number of complaints that I used to receive every month. The improvement in the management of

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housing and the money available for improvements in housing stock have had a remarkable effect. I hope that other local councils will take heart.

Rev. Martin Smyth: While we welcome the moves towards greater mobility in the housing market, is it true that housing association are permitted by law to sell tenants their own homes, or are they forbidden from doing so? I am not speaking about special purpose housing, but normal housing.

Mr. Gummer: The constitutions of some charitable housing associations have arrangements that make it impossible for them to sell, but, for the most part, associations can, if they wish, sell to their tenants. We are encouraging that. In future, housing associations that receive money from central funds will get it on condition that they provide a right to buy. The money that they make from those sales could, of course, be recycled immediately into new housing.

Mr. Stephen: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if Labour and the Liberal Democrats had had their way, local councils would have had no capital receipts because no council houses would have been sold?

Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend is perfectly right. He may also notice that the Labour party has been extremely careful not to say, were it in power and were it to allow local authorities to spend their capital receipts, that it would maintain the same amount of capital allocations as we now provide. What the Labour party is saying is entirely untruthful. It might well allow capital receipts to be spent, but it would ensure that the same amount of money was not handed out by the Government to the councils that really needed it.

Disused Mines (Water)

9. Mr. Clapham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what access his Department has to studies on the effects of the cessation of pumping at disused mines conducted by British Coal before privatisation.     [33379]

Mr. Clappison: British Coal has discussed with the National Rivers Authority the implications for the water environment of potential mine closures, and has made available any studies relevant to the responsibilities of the NRA.

Mr. Clapham: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but that conflicts with what I and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) were told when we recently met members of the NRA and local business in my constituency. We learnt that the NRA is finding it difficult to gain access to the impact studies that were conducted following the closure of each colliery and that they did not have access to the mine plans. Will the Minister ensure that the NRA and the new Environment Agency, which will take on that duty next April, have access to those mine plans and the impact studies carried out by British Coal?

Mr. Clappison: I am happy to talk to them about that. The hon. Gentleman will of course derive reassurance from the fact that the Coal Authority has confirmed that it will continue pumping operations at abandoned mines where the NRA considers it necessary. It is doing just that at a former pit, Wooley colliery, in the hon. Member's

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constituency. My hon. and noble Friend Viscount Ullswater gave an assurance that the authority will go beyond that and seek the best environmental outcome in the circumstances.

Mr. Illsley: Is the Minister aware that the Coal Authority has said that it does not consider itself to be responsible for the pollution from abandoned mines? Given the problems of the NRA not having access to certain information and insufficient resources to deal with the problem, the Government should devote more resources to combat pollution, which is causing a great deal of concern in former mineworking areas.

Mr. Clappison: I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman has put that interpretation on what the Coal Authority has said, because he is completely wrong. As I said, the authority has guaranteed to continue pumping operations. It is clearly important that it should do so. The hon. Gentleman is aware that those operations are continuing at a number of pits, including some close to his constituency.

Home Energy Efficiency Scheme

10. Ms Lynne: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to extend the remit of grants available under the home energy efficiency scheme.     [33380]

Mr. Robert B. Jones: This year, about 600,000 homes will be insulated under the scheme. Since 1993-94, we have increased the money going into it by 185 per cent., and we are now seeing whether there are any further ways in which to make it more effective.

Ms Lynne: However welcome the home energy efficiency scheme is, does the Minister agree that, if the Government gave wall insulation grants as well, it would help the environment and help to fight fuel poverty?

Mr. Jones: I agree that cavity fill is worth considering. There are many cases where it might be more effective than other forms of insulation. It is one of the areas that I want to consider during our review.

Mr. Brandreth: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent promotion, which was richly deserved in view of his sheer brilliance and because of the time and attention he has given to the City of Chester, which he visited recently in connection with this very scheme.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the scheme will benefit 600,000 homes in the coming year? Will he further confirm that the people whose homes in Chester I visited are saving several pounds a week in fuel costs since taking advantage of the scheme, as well as enjoying greater comfort?

Mr. Jones: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind comments. It is sad that we are discussing this subject so soon after the death of his predecessor, who was a leading figure in the home insulation sector and president of the neighbourhood energy action group. I confirm that we estimate that 600,000 homes will be insulated this year, bringing to well over 1 million the number that have benefited from the scheme.

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Social Rent Homes

11. Mr. Khabra: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the total number of social rent homes which will be started in 1995; and what were the figures for 1979.     [33382]

Mr. Curry: In 1995-96, we estimate that about 46,000 new social rented homes will be started or released by home ownership grant schemes, together with a further 4,000 shared-ownership properties. There were about 77,000 starts in 1979-80.

Mr. Khabra: The Minister is being evasive. Why does not he face the fact that the Government's housing programme has been a shambles? In the first five months of the year, housing association starts were down by 31 per cent. Does he accept that the output of new houses for rent is the lowest since the end of the second world war? Will the Minister confirm that his Department's estimate of housing need shows a requirement for between 60,000 and 100,000 new houses for rent each year? However, new starts this year will be only half of the bottom end of that range. Does he admit that his housing policy has been a disaster and does not meet the country's needs?

Mr. Curry: To equate housing need and housing starts is a wholly false comparison. What matters is how many people acquire homes as a result of policies. Housing starts are obviously part of that equation, but so is people's ability to move into empty property, people taking up the incentive schemes and people taking shared ownership. I can think of no Government who would calculate the figures purely on the basis of housing starts. The hon. Gentleman should look at the entire pattern of the housing programmes to see what is being done to help the private rented sector and appreciate how the housing associations have been given a much greater role in the provision of housing. He should also look at the provisions in the White Paper, which are intended to bring greater capital into the programme. I am sure that he will find that, far from being what he described, the Government's housing policy is coherent. We are all waiting for the Opposition's housing policy. We have been told that it is about to be announced, but I suspect that, yet again, they are having a spot of trouble with Gordon.

Mr. Jenkin: Is not the most effective way for local authorities to promote the construction of social housing--and, indeed, to release housing capital receipts--to adopt the large-scale voluntary transfer of council housing stock? They could then pay off their debts and invest their housing capital receipts in new construction, in conjunction with housing associations.

Mr. Curry: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The large-scale voluntary transfer programme provides one of the avenues through which significant resources can be released for the benefit of the tenant and the local authority. I draw his attention equally to the Government's recent proposals on the creation of housing companies, which will provide another avenue. We are anxious to find as many ways as possible to provide the sort of houses that people want and to get the best value for money in providing them.

Mr. Dunn: Given that housing need and homelessness are greatest in inner-city areas, will the Minister please confirm that Labour-controlled inner-city councils are

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mismanaging many thousands of empty houses and flats, to the detriment of people in real need? The Opposition want to run the country, but they could not even run a bath.

Mr. Curry: My hon. Friend is right. Some inner-city authorities forget that the basic management skills involved in filling voids, doing repairs and keeping people moving up the waiting list are essential in the provision of homes. If they do not have those management skills, they are not likely to be able to embark on any of the more ambitious programmes.

Mr. Dobson: Behind all the Minister's waffle, is it not the case that, in the first five months of the year, there were only 11,000 council or housing association starts and that we are therefore heading for the lowest number of such starts in any year since the second world war? Is it not a bit rich for the Minister to announce suddenly that the Government have seen a blinding new way to deal with the demand and need for housing when their predecessors took the simple-minded view that if there were people with nowhere decent to live, it would be a good idea to build them some houses? Is it not a fact that the Government's housing policy is letting down people who have nowhere to live and people who live in overcrowded conditions? Is it not also letting down owner-occupiers by the million through the record level of negative equity and mortgage arrears and, now, record low levels of house building? It is all very well for Ministers to laugh, but the fact is that, whether people are renting, or buying, or have nowhere to live, the Government are letting them down, and the recent housing White Paper offered no solutions to any of the problems.

Mr. Curry: Before the hon. Gentleman gets too frantic, and before he turns his attention to persuading the shadow Chancellor to allow him to publish his own housing proposals, for which we are all waiting with bated breath, perhaps he might consider what is actually in the White Paper. It is amazing that, even when a document is leaked, the Labour party cannot understand the leaked version. We have significant proposals for the development of the role of housing associations; we have proposals that will help the development of the private rented sector; we have proposals for the diversification of tenure; and we have proposals to bring new money into the social rented sector and the private rented sector. [Hon. Members:-- "That is privatisation."] There is a great deal to be said for privatisation. The hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that in, for example, our proposals for housing companies, we intend to allow local authorities a significant stake. I noticed that one of the Opposition's Treasury team speaking at Harrogate--at the same conference at which the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) spoke--said that we should not expect the Labour party to allow local councils to have a majority stake in housing companies because it does not believe that they should. When he reflects on things, the hon. Gentleman will have great difficulty seeing anything in his document apart, of course, from proposals for more council houses built by the same councils on the same old dreary estates.

Rented Accommodation

12. Mr. Winnick: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps are being taken to encourage the availability of affordable rented accommodation.     [33383]

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Mr. Curry: This year, public funding will produce 70,000 new social lettings. Around 250,000 existing tenancies become available for reletting each year.

Mr. Winnick: Does the Minister not realise that what he has said this afternoon to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and other colleagues does not alter the fact that tens of thousands of families are being punished--there is no other word for it-- because they cannot get a mortgage and are unable to obtain a council house, as a result of Tory dogma? Why should those people be punished and have to live in the most dire circumstances, often in a single room, or even be homeless with their children, while Ministers have perfectly adequate accommodation? Is it not time that we allowed local authorities to build again, thus giving people who cannot afford a mortgage the opportunity to live in the kind of accommodation available to Members of Parliament?

Mr. Curry: I would be rather more concerned about the hon. Gentleman's indignation if I felt that he was being a little more useful in tackling the situation in Walsall, where the incoming Labour council is seeking to overturn a tenants' ballot in favour of taking the management of the estate under its control, not to speak of management changes that have even the Labour unions protesting against the Labour council. When he has addressed himself to the problems on his doorstep, he might be more qualified to address the problems of the nation.

Mr. John Marshall: Does my hon. Friend accept that, in Hackney, the Monklands of the south, some 9 per cent. of the housing stock is empty? Is he aware that many Labour-controlled councils have a large number of empty council houses and that also they have not collected huge amounts of rent and rate arrears? If they collected rents, would they not be able to do something about improving the housing stock? Does he also accept that many people welcome the proposals of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to deprive illegal immigrants of the right to social housing?

Mr. Curry: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right on all counts. It must be the first task of local authorities to ensure that they manage their stock correctly. That means that they get down voids, they manage their repairs, they move people through on the waiting list and they collect the rent. The rent which is not collected is simply a resource being ignored, and that means that somebody suffers. Usually, people who are in the worst circumstances suffer from those inefficiencies.

Mr. Dafis: Is it not difficult to justify paying housing association grants to private sector providers of social housing, as the White Paper proposes? If the Government insist on proceeding with that proposal, will the Minister confirm that such private developers will be subjected to exactly the same requirements as housing associations and local authorities on the selection of tenants and being required to accept nominations from local authorities, and so on? Do the Government have any concrete evidence that the private sector can provide social housing more efficiently than housing associations, bearing in mind that, of course, it will take its cut of profits?

Mr. Curry: The hon. Gentleman should realise that if private-sector builders enter this process and therefore get Government subsidy, they will have to sign a contract with the Government that will govern the conditions

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under which they receive grant, get tenants and quit the sector and it will govern what happens to any profit that they might make over the very long-term from that activity. It is our absolute intention to ensure that housing associations and private developers in that sector are put on an exact equal basis and that the standards of the properties that they are required to build will be the same.

Mr. Harry Greenway: Does my hon. Friend accept that there is an unfairness because tenants of social housing and private rented accommodation qualify for housing benefit, and those who are in protected tenancies do not? Does not the landlord of the protected tenant have to subsidise that tenant, whereas taxpayers and council tax payers subsidise tenants in social and private rented housing?

Mr. Curry: I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that one of the central purposes of the White Paper is to encourage more landlords to come into the housing sector. The evidence is that a large number of landlords-- many owning few properties--would like to be able to rent their properties but they are concerned about whether they would get possession of the security. Being given rent guarantees, having an intermediary who can act on their behalf and being given the assurance that if things go wrong they will be able to get their possession, for example, is an essential and important way of ensuring that more properties are made available for people to rent. A vigorous private rented sector is an important aspect of a successful economy because of the sheer mobility that it can introduce into our labour market.

Social Housing (London Docklands)

13. Mr. Spearing: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what policy guidelines he has given to the London Docklands development corporation concerning the provision of social housing within its area of jurisdiction.     [33385]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir Paul Beresford): The London Docklands development corporation is noa housing authority. As part of its broad regeneration remit, the corporation works in partnership with the local housing authorities, housing associations and others, to assist the provision of new and improved social housing.

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