§ 23. Mr. Clinton Davis
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what effect the policies of the Government with regard to the provision of housing have had on the price of houses for sale.
29. Mr. R. C. Mitchell
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he is now taking to halt the rise in house prices in southern Hampshire.
§ Mr. Davis
When does the right hon. Gentleman intend to announce constructive proposals to deal with this housing ramp? Is he not aware that as a result of his abdication of responsibility, thousands of families of working-class people who would like to own their own homes cannot afford to do so because of astronomical prices? When will he do something about the situation instead of 1536 sitting back and allowing property speculators to benefit?
§ Mr. Amery
I could make a constructive proposal in answer to the hon. Gentleman's question—[An HON. MEMBER: "I doubt it."] Last year 60,000 to 70,000 council tenants moved into private owner-occupation. If local authorities were prepared, as we are prepared to authorise them to do it, to sell council houses at a 20 or even 30 per cent. discount, the pressure at the lower end of the owner-occupied market would be immensely relieved.
Is the Minister aware that house prices in south Hampshire have almost doubled in the last five years? Has he read the statements by local representatives of building societies that it is almost impossible for young couples in south Hampshire to buy their own houses? When will he do something about the situation?
§ Mr. Amery
I am very aware of the problem—and perhaps in some cases more aware than any right hon. or hon. Member in this House, because the matter is on my desk every day of the week and it is something about which I feel very deeply. The fact is that in south Hampshire and elsewhere the moment a house comes on to the market it is taken up. We have today a situation where demand is backed by effective finance—a very different situation from the one with which the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) was dealing in 1966 when he drew attention to the number of houses standing empty for sale which people could not afford to buy. Now people can afford to do so.
§ Mr. Fidler
In view of the comment made about the thousands of people who are unable to buy houses because of the increased prices, would my right hon. Friend care to comment on the fact that thousands of council house tenants who would like to buy houses have been prevented from so doing by labour-controlled authorities?
§ Mr. Crosland
Is the Minister aware that in this context the question of the sale of council houses is a complete red herring? When he says that the rise in the price of land is fundamentally due to greater demand because of greater house-building, is he not aware that the rate of starts this year is substantially lower than it was five years ago, whereas land prices are far higher? When will he realise the basic and fundamental fact that the problem of land prices is not soluble if left entirely to market forces?
§ Mr. Amery
The right hon. Gentleman amusingly refers to the situation which existed five years ago when he was still getting the benefit of measures taken by a Conservative Government. The impressive fact is that last year private house starts were up 26 per cent. on the year before, and the rate at which they have been going over the last three months shows that they are doing a good deal better than the average figure last year. The supply is coming into balance with demand, but this process takes time, following the trough into which the Labour Party drove the construction industry.