HC Deb 16 December 1970 vol 808 cc1319-22
4. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what measures he proposes to increase the number of houses started in the public and private sectors, respectively.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Julian Amery)

As I indicated in the answer I gave to the hon. Member on 25th November, measures already taken to help the building industry and our proposals for the reform of housing finance should benefit both the public and the private sectors.—[Vol. 809, c. 407.]

Mr. Allaun

The right hon. Gentleman will notice that the building trade employers are not very optimistic. Is it not obvious that if the Minister makes this really swingeing cut in subsidies there is bound to be a further reduction in council house building? Is that really what the Minister intends?

Mr. Amery

No, Sir. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we are starting from a pretty difficult foundation. House building output fell by 11 per cent. at constant prices in the last year of the previous Government. The decline in completions in 1969 was the worst since the war. There were 82,000 fewer houses started in 1969 than in 1964. So we are starting from a fairly difficult launching pad.

Mr. James Hill

Does my right hon. Friend agree that on difficulty has been the squirrel-like attitude of some local councils in hoarding land and not releasing it for development?

Mr. Amery

I agree that this is one problem. My hon. Friend the Undersecretary is in touch with a number of local authorities at the present time to try to ease this problem. We are optimistic about the outcome of these talks.

Mr. Crosland

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that when many Tory councils reduced their council building programme last year they were carrying out the advice given by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? Is he not further aware that we can make no sensible Projection about what is likely to happer to the housing programme until we have a statement amplifying his right hon. Friend's statement of 3rd November? Can the right hon. Gentleman give us some idea when we are likely to get further details?

Mr. Amery

On the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I beg him to believe me when I say that he has totally misunderstood what my right hon. Friend said earlier. He should make a study of my right hon. Friend's words. I hope to begin conversations with local authority associations next week.

22. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent consultations he has had with local authorities and other building agencies about future building programmes.

Mr. Amery

My Department keeps in close touch with housing authorities about their housebuilding programmes.

Mr. Eadie

But the right hon. Gentleman must be aware, in keeping in close touch with housing authorities or housing agencies, that there is at this moment substantial unemployment in the construction industry. Since his Government profess; to show some concern about this, would it not be more sensible to employ these construction workers on building houses?

Mr. Amery

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do the very difficult inheritance which we have received, and which the construction industry has received, from the previous Administration. I see signs of some pick-up in both civil engineering and private sector housing, and I am hoping that we shall presently see this reflected in the public sector as well.

Mr. Allason

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the fact that selective employment tax adds about £135 to the cost of an average house?

Mr. Amery

Yes, my hon. Friend is right about that—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, he is not."] As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is able to reduce it, so we shall reduce the cost of building and increase the demand for it.

Mr. Freeson

Referring to that part of the Question which deals with local authorities' housing programmes, is the Minister aware that the major cut-back in housing construction by local authorities has taken place since the advent of the Conservative Party to town halls up and down the country, which took advice from his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? What action does he propose to take with his own friends in the town halls this side of the elections next May to get them to reverse their policies and enlarge the programmes again?

Mr. Amery

If the hon. Gentleman will adopt perhaps a less partisan and more responsible attitude towards the problem, I think he will realise that he failed to secure co-operation with the local authorities. I believe that I shall succeed.

37. Mr. Arthur Jones

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if, in the course of his review of housing finance, he will have regard to the fact that the incidence of the present housing subsidy structure for local authority schemes favours redevelopment rather than conversion and renovation of existing properties; and if he will take steps to review this arrangement.

Mr. Amery

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Jones

May I have my right hon. Friend's assurance that in the review of housing he will have regard to the social advantages there clearly are of conversion and improvement schemes?

Mr. Amery

We regard improvement and conversion as central to our whole policy. There are four million houses which can be made comfortable homes but which, without this grant, could become slums.

Mr. Lawson

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be no retrospective cutting down of subsidies already in payment on existing houses?

Mr. Amery

I shall be making a fuller statement in due course after my dis- cussions with the local authorities on the course of our reform of housing finance, but it must be clear to the hon. Gentleman that we are going over from financing bricks and mortar to financing families who need the help.