HC Deb 21 November 1966 vol 736 cc919-21
13. Mr. More

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works whether he will now make a statement on the operation of the Building Control Act, 1966, and the regulations made thereunder.

Mr. Prentice

I would refer the hon. Member to my speech on 1st November on the Motion to approve the Building Control (Cost Limit Exemption) Order, 1966.—[Vol. 735, c. 391–4.]

Mr. More

Bearing in mind, on the one hand, the frustrations and interference which these regulations have caused in sectors such as office building, how does the right hon. Gentleman explain, on the other hand, the complete failure to get any increased figures in the all-important sector, namely, private housing?

Mr. Prentice

The nature of the building control policy has to be seen in relation to the economic situation. Those of us who are prepared to take a responsible view—and that does not apply to every hon. Member opposite—will recognise that some limit on private building should be an essential part of our measures at the present time.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Were we not told that one of the consequences of this control would be to increase building work for housing?

Mr. Prentice

In the sense that there is still a shortage of skilled workers in the building industry in most parts of the country, any skilled workers who would have been engaged on projects for which we have refused licences are now available for housing and other more important work.

20. Mr. Chichester-Clark

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works what estimate his statistical Department has made of the number of additional houses built in Great Britain as a result of the refusal of building licences for casinos and gambling establishments under the Building Control Act, 1966.

22. Mr. Robert Cooke

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works, what estimates his statistical Department has made of the number of additional houses built in Great Britain as a result of the licensing provisions of the Building Control Act, 1966, as amended.

Mr. Prentice

None, Sir.

Although action under the Building Control Act, 1966 will reduce demand on the construction industry where this is too great, it is not possible to correlate the results of licensing activity with housing figures. Nobody has yet applied for a building licence for a casino or gambling establishment.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

Had not the Minister better come clean and tell the House that the talk of casinos and the excrescences of the dolce vita are the smokescreen put out by those whose housing policies are in a shambles?

Mr. Prentice

No, Sir. The hon. Member and some of his hon. Friends are whipping themselves up into more and more artificial emotion about this. The projects that we have refused to license in recent months include new racecourse stands at Haydock Park and Newton Abbot and a combined restaurant, bar and amusement arcade at Great Yarmouth, as well as two cinemas. They include, therefore, a number of projects which we would accept as being of less social importance than housing and many other essential kinds of building which we want to go ahead.

Mr. Cooke

Getting back to the subject of housing, would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that although no more houses are being built, the size of the staff at his Ministry has nevertheless increased?

Mr. Prentice

The effect of this particular control on the size of the Ministry's staff has been negligible. So far as houses are concerned, in the first nine months of the year 280,090 were completed as against 277,083 last year. That is an improvement, not a decline.

Mr. Rippon

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether these cancellations of what he calls inessential works account for the answer that he gave just now, in which he substituted the allegation that the Conservatives provided too few bricks for the allegation that we provided too many?

Mr. Prentice

No, Sir. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to debate bricks I will debate them at any time—he was wrong about the need for bricks as well. But I return to the point about the control. There has been a number of these projects and others that are of more importance, such as office and shop development, but which are nevertheless of less importance than housing and industrial building where we had to make a choice. In the present economic situation it was right to give ourselves the power to make that choice and to use that power.