HC Deb 03 April 1974 vol 871 cc1232-3
1. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will hold an urgent inquiry into the delays being encountered in house building because materials in short supply are going to the construction of office blocks; and what action he will take to prevent this.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

The production of building materials is getting back to normal, and once the difficulties arising from the recent short-time working are overcome I do not expect the supply of building materials to hold back house building, although there may be occasional difficulties. I am nevertheless considering what the Government's policy should be on official and commercial property.

Mr. Allaun

May I wish my right hon. Friend every success in his vital task of obtaining more houses for the country? Is he aware that, despite what he says, many local authorities are encountering delays of eight to 12 months in the completion of urgently needed houses? Is he also aware that some building firms are making the excuse of shortage of building materials for local authority housing while diverting materials to their own commercial contracts?

Mr. Crosland

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his good wishes, which I greatly appreciate. While we are recovering from the period of three-day-week working there will undoubtedly be difficulties, but I hope that these will clear themselves up before too long. In a way, I wish that the supply of materials was the biggest constraint on the house building programme, but I am afraid that there are far more serious constraints which are basically legacies which we have inherited from the previous Government.

Mr. Emery

The whole House will wish the Minister well and will support him in obtaining more houses and house building. Can he indicate to the House what the new Government's target for house completions will be to the end of 1974 and, if possible, 1975?

Mr. Crosland

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his sincere good wishes. I fear that I cannot satisfy him on the second part of his question.

Mr. Bates

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these delays are occurring not only in new building but also in house improvements, where delays have occurred because of shortage of materials and difficulties in obtaining certain types of skilled labour? Is he aware that the 75 per cent. grant for house improvement is to be reduced to 50 per cent. in June and that many people and local authorities are likely to lose the 75 per cent. grant because of these delays? Will he therefore consider paying grant at the 75 per cent. rate on improvements which have been started but not completed by June?

Mr. Crosland

I am only too well aware of the terminal date for the 75 per cent. grant. It is a matter which I am considering, but I must say that I am considering it without any definite commitment.