§ The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration (Mr. David Curry)
There were 34, 300.
§ Mr. Pope
Tens of thousands of people live in unfit housing across east Lancashire. They struggle to get the grants to which they are legally entitled and, later today, the Government will seek to remove their legal right to mandatory improvement grants. Why is the Minister intent on taking away the only chance that my constituents and many other people have of getting a decent home?
§ Mr. Curry
The hon. Gentleman clearly has some difficulties with chronology—that does not happen in the Housing Bill, which we are to consider today. If he holds his breath and submits an application, he may be able to serve on the Committee that considers the next Bill, which will replace mandatory grants with discretionary grants. First, he should get his documents in order. Secondly, we cannot sustain a system that has a cash-limited grant and unlimited entitlement to it—the sums do not add up. Therefore, the sensible thing to do is to make a discretionary grant and to give local authorities the ability to focus it on the areas of greatest need so that they can serve the genuine interests of regeneration. That is what the Bill will do.
§ Mr. Pickles
Does my hon. Friend recognise that, sometimes, we need to go beyond these grants and that some housing estates require fundamental reorganisation? Is he aware that, for the past 10 years, an estate in Islington has been promised renovation work? Is he further aware that, for the past 10 years, Islington council has pontificated and promised the tenants some work, but that it has failed to fulfil its promise because of its incompetence?
§ Mr. Curry
My hon. Friend is right: some of the older estates require much more substantial work. The Government have an estates renewal programme that is specifically designed to tackle the worst estates. What he has said about Islington council will surprise no one—it has a dismal record, which no doubt continues.
§ Ms Eagle
Will the Minister admit that the 1.5 million people who live in homes that are unfit to live in will be disappointed that the Government are abolishing this scheme and that they are replacing it with a discretionary scheme? When will the Government provide money so that people can look forward to having their homes made fit to live in? That is not really such a big ambition as we reach the end of the 20th century.
§ Mr. Curry
First, there has been a substantial programme for the improvement of homes. Secondly, many homes are unfit for simple or minor reasons. Thirdly, public expenditure constraints have to be observed. Fourthly, when the second Bill comes to this House, it will be interesting to see whether the Labour party will do what it did in the other place—refuse to give any commitment whatsoever to restore full mandatory grants. If the Labour party wants to make an effective point on this, it would be awfully nice to know what it plans to do in this area of public expenditure and on taxation. The two are linked, and we still know nothing.