§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Reginald Eyre)
In each of the years ended September 1970 and September 1971, 69,100 houses were demolished or closed under slum clearance powers. The National House Condition Survey conducted in September 1971 indicated that there were some 1.2 million unfit dwellings in England and Wales of which 700,000 were in existing or potential clearance areas.
§ Mr. Hardy
In view particularly of the low rate of public sector building, is it not now clear that the Government's pledge to clear all slums by 1980 cannot be achieved? Will the Minister therefore retract that promise which was so frequently made, and inform the House when we can expect total clearance to be achieved?
§ Mr. Eyre
I think that the hon. Gentleman is ignoring the stimulus to slum clearance and house building in case of need which will come as a result of the Housing Finance Act 1972. An important relevant point is the rate of improvement grants, and the rate of approvals for such grants is still rising.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman
Does my hon. Friend agree that the critical point is not only to clear the slum housing but to prevent normal dwellings becoming slums or becoming sub-standard? As well as other measures, will he more forcibly encourage the addition of general improvement areas and, perhaps more importantly, the implementation of the scheme of general improvement areas?
§ Mr. Eyre
Yes, my hon. Friend is quite right in attributing great importance to this matter, first with regard to the general improvement of houses—our improvement grant programme has been highly successful in this respect—and secondly in emphasising the special areas of general improvement areas. Local authorities are beginning to co-operate extremely well in this work and we are giving them every possible encouragement.
§ Mr. Freeson
Does the Minister accept that the introduction of improvement grants is directed mainly to properties which are not classifiable as slums'? Will he tell the House what annual rate of slum clearance the Government expect to achieve in the coming eight years, and how that will clear approximately 1,200,000 slums which, as the Government accept, exist in England and Wales alone?
§ Mr. Eyre
The Question refers to "slum and sub-standard houses". As the hon. Gentleman will know, that includes two categories, and the only way of trying to answer the Question accurately and informatively was to deal with slum clearance. As I have said, there is every hope that with the extra impetus given to slum clearance by way of the extra subsidies under the Housing Finance Act, very good progress will continue to be made. But slum clearance is not the only answer. The rate of improvements in unfit houses is relevant, and that is rising.
§ Mr. Heffer
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that some of our larger cities have carried out a fair amount of slum clearance but are now finding it increasingly difficult to obtain the necessary finance, despite the improvements that have been made, to get ahead with building the houses required to face the widespread slum clearance? Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Prime Minister—perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have a word with him—will meet a deputation from the leading cities to discuss the whole question of future finance for these cities?
§ Mr. Eyre
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not answer on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about deputations. To deal especially with the problem of housing in Liverpool, I should like to congratulate the city on the development of general improvement areas, which are of great social importance, and on making a good contribution in those areas where we are trying to improve the environment and conditions of housing.
We are asking all local authorities to bring forward plans for getting on with their new house-building programmes, and they can do that confidently knowing that under the Housing Finance Act we can 449 see to it that resources are available to meet their needs in respect of new building.