HC Deb 14 February 1973 vol 850 cc1257-60
2. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the level of local authority building, particularly in the West Midlands; and what steps he is taking to encourage local authorities to carry out their statutory duties in this regard.

Mr. Channon

My Department has written to all the conurbation authorities in the West Midlands to ask them for their estimates of the future need for new council housing in their areas. No restriction is placed by the Government on the number of houses which a local authority may build.

Mrs. Short

Does the hon. Gentleman not appreciate that the restrictions are those of finance for raising money to build and the cost of building land? Does he know how many families are on the housing waiting lists? Does he know the housing programmes of the local authorities? If he does not, will he get this information, because whenever we have asked for it we have been refused it?

Can he say, in answer to the last part of the Question, what he is going to do to encourage local authorities to build? How will he enable them to build at prices which people can afford?

Mr. Channon

What I did, first, was to write to local authorities asking for their estimates of the future need for council housing. We have to discover the need for council housing in a particular area. Where there is a need, I hope that local authorities will pursue an energetic programme to fulfil the need. If the hon. Lady has a problem about Wolverhampton, I hope that she will get in touch with me. I know of no substantial difficulties in Wolverhampton.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Will my hon. Friend define a conurbation authority? I looked in the Oxford Dictionary for the word "conurbation" and could not find it. Will my hon. Friend explain it?

Mr. Channon

I apologise for the use of that extremely ugly term. I have written to all the conurbation—I beg pardon—to all county boroughs. "Conurbation" is, I think, a well-known technical term. I have written to all the authorities in those areas and to all county boroughs, except for Greater London, where a special action group is already working.

Mr. Greville Janner

Does not the Minister know that many councils now controlled by the Labour Party—Leicester is an example—are making valiant efforts to increase the amount of municipal housing but are experiencing the greatest difficulty because of the Government's policy on finance? What will he do to help?

Mr. Channon

I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman's question. What policy on finance? Unlike the position under our predecessors, there is no restriction on local authorities wishing to build. They now receive substantial help under the rising cost subsidy, and no financial restrictions are put in their way. In fact, the Housing Finance Act helps rather than hinders local authorities with these problems.

Mr. Crosland

That is an incredible answer. We all know that many local authorities would like to build much more than they are building today. Will the hon. Gentleman answer the simple question: what is stopping them?

Mr. Channon

As they are virtually all controlled by the right hon. Gentleman's own party, perhaps he can give us the answer.

25. Mr. Arthur Jones

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many local authorities now have programmes which include the building of houses for sale, giving for London and the rest of the country the number of completions and starts during the past three years, and his estimates for the current year.

Mr. Channon

Information is not available in the precise form requested. In recent months 18 local authorities have had building-for-sale schemes approved. About 1,300 houses are involved. Last year about 800 houses built specifically for sale were sold by local authorities in England and Wales.

Mr. Jones

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he sympathetic to the scheme of council house building for sale? If that is the case, what encouragement is he prepared to give local authorities?

Mr. Channon

Where for any reason there is special need for houses for sale—especially for those in the lower income brackets—which is not being met, my right hon. and learned Friend is prepared to consider authorising local authorities to employ contractors to build for sale.

Mr. Heffer

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how a labourer in the gas industry receiving £19.10 gross pay per week will ever be in a position to buy any type of house, particularly in view of the staggering increase in house prices since 1970?

Mr. Channon

The hon. Gentleman must have heard my previous answers on this matter.

Mr. Heffer

Answer this one; never mind the previous ones.

Mr. Loughlin

What chance is there of local authorities replacing their housing stocks at a reasonable price for rent if they are encouraged to sell their existing low-priced houses? Will not the hon. Gentleman begin to understand that the local authority housing stock is of primary importance if we are to rehouse people who are not earning fabulous sums of money?

Mr. Channon

The Question on the Order Paper relates to the building of houses for sale and not to the sale of existing council houses. As I have ex- plained many times on the question of the sale of existing council houses, I believe that there is an overwhelming duty on local authorities to allow those of their tenants who wish to have the right and opportunity to purchase to be able to do so.