HC Deb 26 February 1975 vol 887 cc476-7
9. Mr. Joseph Dean

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further proposals he has in mind to increase the number of starts in the local authority house building sector this year.

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

Our encouragement to local authorities to build more houses will continue. We have already achieved a considerable upturn in public sector house building and my right hon. Friend will shortly be issuing a further circular to local authorities advising them on various measures to produce more houses, more quickly and more cheaply.

Mr. Dean

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply and I congratulate him on the measures that have been taken so far, but does he not agree that they are only palliatives and that a huge building programme is needed in view of the wreckage of the building programme left by his predecessors—namely, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker)? Does he agree that the incentives so far offered are inadequate? Will he consider the whole situation in view of the fact that we need the biggest building programme in our history unless we are to be faced with the same housing problem at the turn of the century? Will he consider raising immediately the 66 per cent. grant on the capital programme as an incentive for a start to be made? Further, will he make sure that the Land Bill, which is shortly to come before Parliament, will contain adequate powers for local authorities to take into immediate control such building land as they require for building houses?

Mr. Kaufman

My hon. Friend will not expect me to anticipate the Land Bill which will be published shortly. I certainly agree that a very great deal more needs to be done to increase local authority and private house building programmes. My hon. Friend will be glad to know that at three minutes to 11 o'clock last night the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill received Royal Assent. That measure repeals some of the most obnoxious provisions of the Housing Finance Act. On that basis we can now go forward with the new subsidies to improve upon the already excellent record of the present Government. There were 151,000 tender approvals in 1974 compared with 114,000 in 1973. That is the highest total for any year since 1968.

Mr. Fry

Is the Minister aware that even when the latest legislation is in force many councils will find that with the maximum subsidy available there will be a deficit of approximately £20 a week on each new local authority house that is built? Is he aware that that deficit can be provided for only by other council tenants in the area or by the ratepayers? Is it not time that the Government came clean with ratepayers and council house tenants and told them of the full implications of their legislation?

Mr. Kaufman

We have dealt with this matter at length. The fact is that local authorities put forward their own proposals for rents based upon their own assessment of their financial position. They are no longer compelled by the Government to fix arbitrary rents based on diktats from Whitehall.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must point out to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) that the length of his supplementary question has cut out his colleagues.