HC Deb 11 November 1970 vol 806 cc370-2
15. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has for speeding up the house building programme.

18. Earl of Dalkeith

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he will now take to accelerate the house building programme in Scotland.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

The new policies and measures which were announced to the House last week are intended to provide a framework for achieving the best possible rate of building wherever there is a need to be met, and for promoting the improvement of existing houses.

Mr. Hamilton

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that those policies, in so far as they have been expanded—they have not been expanded by him at all—by the Secretary of State for the Environment, are bound to lead to a reduction in the number of new houses built? Can the right hon. Gentleman now come clean to the House and say exactly what floor and what ceiling there is to the figure of proposed housing subsidy cuts?

Mr. Campbell

On the first point, the procedure followed last week was similar to that followed by the previous Government when, on 18th March of this year, the then Minister of Housing and Local Government made a statement on housing which covered Scotland as well as England, and in which he specifically referred to Scottish housing aspects.

On the second part, it is not a question of withdrawing subsidies. It is a question of directing them to where they are really needed.

Earl of Dalkeith

Will my right hon. Friend make urgent representations in the Cabinet and elsewhere to relieve the building industry of two iniquitous burdens and penalties, namely, S.E.T., which is costing it £19 million, and B.S.T., which is costing it £8 million, so that it can get on with the job of building houses and making fuller use of a large number in the building industry who are at present out of work?

Mr. Campbell

I am aware of all that my hon. Friend has said. S.E.T. is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the Government's attitude has been made clear. The second matter raised by my hon. Friend is a subject on which a White Paper has been issued, and on which I understand the House should have an opportunity of taking a decision in due course.

Mr. Eadie

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a great air of uncertainty in the minds of local authorities about the future housebuilding programme? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that any details that we possess have been obtained not from this House, but through the medium of the Press? Can he tell the House what will be the scale of completion of houses in Scotland in 1972, 1973 and 1974?

Mr. Campbell

To answer the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question I should need to have the gift of second sight, which many of my constituents and others in the North of Scotland think I have, but to which I do not lay claim.—[Interruption.] I have made certain predictions in the past which, very strangely, came true at the appropriate times. I shall not, however, chance my arm on this.

On the question of uncertainty, if local authorities have any, they will soon find it ended in the consultations that we shall be having with them.

Mr. Ross

When the right hon. Gentleman refers to a statement, or a non-statement, by me about this, surely he appreciates that this was an occasion when we published a White Paper? Now we have no information at all about the Government's intentions in respect of the housebuilding programme and the effect which any proposals will have on local authorities. Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that between now and the publication of the details there is bound to be hesitancy on the part of local authorities, with the result that our record of achievements over the last three years, and again this year, of house-building completions will sink sadly, and we shall get the usual completions under the Tories going down year by year, with the housing programme for Scotland once again sinking into misery?

Mr. Campbell

If the right hon. Gentleman will look up HANSARD of 18th March he will see that it was not a question of a White Paper, but a statement by the then Minister of Housing, during which he covered the situation in Scotland as well. On the same day a statement was issued by the then Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes), and that covered the Scottish situation and answered Scottish questions, too—the very same day. So I cannot see what the right hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friend are complaining about, concerning the statement last week. On the second point, the question of completions and starts, as is shown by the records, a large drop in the starts of house building occurred many months before this Government came into office.