HC Deb 16 February 1972 vol 831 cc418-9

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about the current level of starts in local authority house building.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the number of houses built in the public sector in 1971; and how it compares with each of the previous six years.

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

With permission, and in response to the request from the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), I would like to answer Questions Nos. 9 and 25.

The latest figures for local authority housebuilding indicate a distinct levelling off in the downward trend—[Laughter.] which has prevailed since 1968. After adjusting for normal seasonal movements, starts in the last six months of 1971 were as high as in the second quarter. This suggests that the decline has stopped. Moreover, contracts let in the last quarter of 1971 were well up on the corresponding quarter of 1970. I am particularly concerned about the rate of progress in the stress areas, and the House will be glad to know that public authority housing in 1971 was 8 per cent. up in London. While it was down in Manchester, in Birmingham—where there is a progressive Conservative authority—public authority housing was up by no less than 37 per cent.

Mr. Crosland

May we congratulate the Minister on the fact that the disastrous housebuilding trend which began when the Tories took control of local councils in 1968 has at last been arrested, and none too soon? Is he aware that I very much hope that this limited improvement continues? Will he take very seriously the risk that the Housing Finance Bill now in Committee may destroy even the limited progress that has been made?

Mr. Amery

I am sure that on consideration the right hon. Gentleman will regret the partisan point he has made. In Manchester, where there has been a change of control in the local authority, starts were down by 18 per cent. In Birmingham, where there is a Conservative local authority, they were up by 37 per cent.

Mr. Kaufman

Since the right hon. Gentleman was so effervescently anxious to answer the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—comparing the latest figures with those for each of the past six years and as he refers to the City of Manchester, will he bear in mind that we were only able to get rid of the disastrous Tory council in May and, therefore, the figures which are so bad in Manchester are Tory figures? The new Labour council is at last putting this matter right.

Mr. Amery

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), whose absence I regret, asked me how the figure for completions compared with those for the previous six years, three or four of which were under the previous Administration. The figures for completions were low in each year and lower in this year than each of the preceding years. What I have tried to show the House is that it looks as though we may have turned the corner, and this I thought would be welcome news to the House. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having allowed me to make what is, in effect, a statement.