HC Deb 04 December 1974 vol 882 cc1527-30
1. Mr. Rooker

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what action he is taking designed to solve the housing problem, within the lifetime of this Parliament.

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

Our comprehensive review of housing finance will enable us to determine what needs to be done and to develop well-founded longer-term policies. Meanwhile we shall pursue vigorously the steps that we have set in train to revive both public and private housebuilding and, through the Housing Act 1974, we shall concentrate on improving conditions in the areas where housing stress is at its worst.

Mr. Rooker

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he accept that many people are still living in prefabricated dwellings which were supposed to have a life of only 10 years? Many people like them and many of them are little palaces, but is he serious, according to his widely reported speech two or three weeks ago, in flying a kite to the effect that a solution of our housing problem is to be by way of building many more fabricated dwellings?

Mr. Crosland

No, that was a misunderstanding of what I said. In my constituency there is a substantial estate of people living in prefabs. If we tried to move them out there would be an absolute riot. What I was reported as saying was not the main concept that I had in mind, which was to express a conviction that we could, by a better use of system building, for example, build substantially more houses not only more cheaply but, even more important, more quickly than at present.

Mr. Michael Latham

As expectations continually rise and as the demand for subsidised accommodation is limitless, what does the Minister understand by the expression, "solve the housing problem"?

Mr. Crosland

It is an expression which I have never used. I would not dream of using it, for precisely the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. As standards and expectations increase, so the demand for housing will increase.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Does the Secretary of State agree that for first-time buyers an even greater obstacle than high interest rates is the impossibility of finding a deposit? Will he consider helping local authorities and building societies with Government guarantees or loans so that they can provide 100 per cent. mortgages?

Mr. Crosland

I am distressed to be the Secretary of State and not my hon. Friend's right hon. Friend. I am not clear what I have done to upset him. I appreciate that I frequently upset him, alas. I agree that of the various factors inhibiting private house building—namely, 11 per cent. mortgages, the availability of mortgages, the price of a house and the deposit—the deposit is, in the majority of cases, the critical factor. I am now discussing with the building societies, with no commitment at all, how we can ease the situation for the first-time buyer.

2. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what advice he is giving to local authorities in connection with his stated policy about provisions of new forms of low-cost housing, mobile homes sites, &c.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Gerald Kaufman)

As the hon. Member is aware, the Department is conducting an urgent review of possible ways of getting more houses built more quickly and more cheaply. Policy questions and advice to local authorities will be considered in the light of the outcome of the review.

Mr. Ross

I thank the Minister for that answer. I should like him to know that I, for one—I am sure that many hon. Members and many people in various constituencies share my view—welcome the speech that the Minister's right hon. Friend made at Brighton at the end of October. The need is for immediate homes. Will the Minister and his right hon. Friend kindly issue some instructions to local authorities to get on with the job and provide mobile homes and prefabricated homes immediately?

Mr. Kaufman

My right hon. Friend is constantly making speeches which either are welcomed or should be welcomed. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his tribute. We are urgently considering the matter about which my right hon. Friend spoke. While we shall not issue instructions to local authorities, we shall issue advice.

Mr. McNamara

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a great deal of misconception about the nature of industrialised house building? Will he and his Department do all that they can to disabuse the minds of those people who associate industrialised building with postwar prefabs? In fact, there is no comparison, and many of our constituents would be delighted to live in such houses.

Mr. Kaufman

It is a fact that industrialised building can provide satisfactory homes, and people would cherish them. We want to ensure that such homes are built to a satisfactory standard. It is true that the percentage of industrialised homes completed has fallen dramatically in the past four years. That is why my right hon. Friend drew attention to the matter.

Mr. Fox

May I tell the Minister that there will be the fullest support from the Opposition for any attempt to provide the sort of low-cost housing which is necessary? However, in the review, which we hope will be brought forward very quickly, will he impress upon local authorities that a "wait-and-see" policy will absolutely ruin any proposals? Is he aware that local authorities are giving planning permission for permanent caravans but are refusing to give planning permission for the type of home that we are considering?

Mr. Kaufman

The Conservative Party when in office did not adopt a "wait-and-see" policy. It adopted a "do-not-build" policy, which was also its policy in the election campaign in October.