HC Deb 12 June 1974 vol 874 cc1600-2
12. Mr. Stanley

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many newly-built unsold private houses have been purchased by local authorities since 28th February.

Mr. Freeson

Full information is not yet available. Circular 70/74, which contained details of the Government's initiative in this matter, was issued only on 19th April. A number of proposals have, however, already been approved and local authorities are in negotiation with builders on a substantial number of schemes.

Mr. Stanley

Is the Minister aware that the unfortunate but predictable result of the Government's policy is that private developers are tending to withhold estates from private purchase and, instead, are seeking to protect their profit margins at public expense by sales to local authorities? Instead of the Secretary of State instructing local authorities to extend municipalisation to these properties, will he instruct private builders to reduce their profits?

Mr. Freeson

I am tempted to use a rather blunt word in answer to the comments which we have just heard. The hon. Gentleman's remarks are totally at variance with the facts. What is more, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the house building industry has welcomed this initiative, as it is a means of getting properties in use which, under the previous Government, were remaining unsold and uncompleted under construction to the extent of approximately 30,000 dwellings. The important objective which the Government set themselves was to get the cash flow moving and to get such houses into use, so that the builders could continue to build.

We have also taken steps, which the hon. Gentleman seems to have overlooked, to try to get mortgage funds flowing more rapidly after they had sunk through the floor as a result of the previous Government's ignoring the problem for about six months before we came into office.

Mr. Rose

In considering this policy, will my hon. Friend look at the sordid series of events in my constituency, where the Conservative Government prevented the purchase of land by the local authority and allowed a private purchaser to buy the land and then sell it to another private purchaser, with the result that the newly-built houses on the Failsworth golf course, built by private enterprise, cost £2,000 or £3,000 more than if they had been built by the local authority, and are now being offered for sale to the local authority by the private purchaser, who cannot sell them? Will my hon. Friend ensure that the kind of abuse and profiteering permitted by the Conservative Government is not allowed to continue.

Mr. Freeson

I am aware of the case to which my hon. Friend refers and his sustained concern and interest in it. He raised it in the House during the last Parliament. We cannot undo what has been done and what we have inherited. The Government's proposals for land policy are primarily being prepared by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government, and will, when eventually put before the House and approved—

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

The hon. Gentleman will not be here much longer.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That sort of intervention only delays Question Time.

Mr. Freeson

Does the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Archer) want to take us on? We should be glad for him to do so. The kind of sordid events to which my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) has referred will be taken care of in the proposals for land policy which we intend to introduce.

Mrs. Thatcher

But if the hon. Gentleman is anxious to help first-time purchasers, why does he provide grants to local authorities to purchase the very houses which those first-time purchasers want to buy?

Mr. Freeson

The right hon. Lady should stop talking nonsense. The average number of dwellings remaining unsold at the end of any particular year in the private sector has usually been about 10,000, spilling over into the following year. The figure we inherited at the end of last year was about 30,000. Our task was to get those houses into use as quickly as possible. It was also to try to get mortgage funds flowing more rapidly again. It was also to get house building in the public sector on the upturn again. In all three directions we have taken the initiative, and they are all related. They will all assist in getting the country's housing situation out of the disastrous mess in which the Conservative Government left it.