HC Deb 16 June 1971 vol 819 cc417-21
3. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he can now state the total number of houses started during the first four months of 1971 and how this compares with the number of starts for the corresponding period of 1970.

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

The number is 101,700 in the first four months of 1971 against 88,000 in the same period of 1970, an increase of 15.6 per cent.

Mr. Rost

I congratulate the Minister on this further evidence of the acceleration of the house building programme, after years of disgraceful neglect by the previous Administration. Would the Minister bear in mind that if the momentum is to be kept up, he will now have to concentrate his efforts on stabilising the price of housing and keeping availability of finance at a reasonable rate so that people can afford to purchase their own homes?

Mr. Amery

Yes, I am aware of the problems mentioned by my hon. Friend, and they are not the only ones. I was in Birmingham yesterday and discovered that there is now a shortage of bricks.

Mr. Lipton

After 12 months of Tory rule!

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is it not a fact that the number of council houses started this year has fallen in comparison with the number for last year?

Mr. Amery

I think not. The number in the first four months of this year compares quite well with that in the first four months of last year. The April figures show a sizeable increase on the March figures, and the February figures were, as the hon. Gentleman knows, quite good.

Mr. Freeson

Will the right hon. Gentleman state the figures and also give an indication to the House about the prospective number of housing starts estimated by his Department for 1971? Will they reach 350,000, go beyond that figure or be below it?

Mr. Amery

The hon. Gentleman has asked a number of questions not related to the Question on the Order Paper. If he cares to put down Questions I shall be glad to answer them. The number of starts which we shall reach is considerably better than the number reached under the Labour Government.

6. Mr. Pavitt

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will seek to make additional funds available to encourage a crash programme for providing new homes by local housing authorities in areas of acute housing shortage.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)

The Governments proposals for the reform of housing finance will enable local authorities with the worst housing problems to deal with them more effectively than is now possible.

Mr. Pavitt

Will the right hon. Gentleman give special consideration to Willesden? Is he aware that homeless-ness has now reached heartbreak proportions? We have never had anything quite like this before. A number of families being put out into the street are having to be put into guesthouse accommodation by the local authority. In the light of the Labour Government's approach to the urban aid programme, particularly in areas of high immigration such as Willesden, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in addition to what he has promised, to consider making a special extension of extra finance for housing for such areas?

Mr. Walker

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction is calling a conference of all London boroughs. I hope that this is one topic which it will tackle and try to do something about.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that as part of the general immigration policy of the Government considerably more help for those urban areas with large immigrant populations would be extremely valuable and would do much to allay the fears which have arisen in some quarters about the Immigration Bill?

Mr. Walker

I recognise that there is a serious housing aspect to the problem. I am anxious that, both in the general proposals for housing finance and in the specific details being discussed by my right hon. Friend, we should give aid in that area.

Mr. Crosland

This is not solely a matter of housing finance. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is also a matter of the structure of local government, the character of the urban aid programme, and many other factors? Since we have recently had the Greve Report with its full analysis of the problems in these areas of acute stress, would it not be appropriate for the Government to make a special statement on their attitude to the conclusions in that report?

Mr. Walker

I do not think a special statement is warranted. If there are any specific aspects about which hon. Members want to ask, I will do my best to answer them. We are trying to develop a total approach in the worst urban areas. We are discussing it with local authorities in the areas concerned, and I am anxious to find practical remedies.

Mr. Crawshaw

Is the Minister aware that I am delighted that extra houses are being built, whoever builds them? Will he look into the problem in Liverpool, where there has been a cutback on the programme on the assumption that there will be a surplus of houses in the next five years? At present 2,500 a year come back to be let because of people leaving, and so on. Does this still apply if the council's policy of selling off council houses takes full effect? Has this been taken into account in making the assessment?

Mr. Walker

The sale of council houses gives added resources to local authorities in tackling their housing problems. Regarding the reform of housing finance, the worst areas for housing are cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Greater London. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that our proposals are specifically designed to help those areas.

35. Mr. Blenkinsop

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will now make a statement on his discussions with the local authorities regarding housing policy.

Mr. Amery

I expect that these consultations will be concluded shortly.

Mr. Blenkinsop

After all these months, is it not time the House was at least given some information as to the broad lines of the policy? Months have passed since the initial statement was made.

Mr. Amery

I am anxious to give the fullest report to the House but it should be a full report. I hope that I shall be able to do this shortly.

Mr. Crosland

When the right hon. Gentleman gives the full report, will he include in it an explanation, first, of how the likely doubling of rents is consistent with what the Tory Party said about prices and the cost of living a year ago, and, second, how the fact that a particular rent policy will now be imposed on every local authority in the country is consistent with all that the Conservative Party has said about greater freedom for local authorities?

Mr. Amery

I do not accept the assumptions in the right hon. Gentleman's question, but I will give the fullest possible information to the House.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the Minister ensure that the outcome of these consultations will result in sufficient funds being available to Manchester City Council to make good the neglect of the Conservative Party during its four years in control of that council, so that the thousands of my constituents who are ill-housed can be rehoused quickly at rents which they can afford?

Mr. Amery

I reject indignantly the allegations made against Manchester City Council. It was under Conservative tenure that a rebate for tenants in need was introduced. But I assure the hon. Gentleman that he will get the fullest possible information and that this will include details of improved subsidies for areas of stress.