HC Deb 04 February 1976 vol 904 cc1193-5
21. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the most up-to-date figures for house building in the public sector; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Crosland

I estimate that 173,000 new dwellings were started and 160,000 completed in the public sector in Great Britain in 1975. Starts were therefore up by 18 per cent. on 1974 and 53 per cent. on 1973, and completions by 24 per cent. and 49 per cent. This is encouraging progress and indicates the success of the measures we have taken to reverse the disastrous trend of 1970 and 1973.

Mr. Skinner

There is no doubt that these are better figures, but will my right hon. Friend accept that they are simply not good enough and do not compare with the three years 1966 to 1969 when about 1,200,000 houses were built? To achieve that, we had to take certain decisions with regard to stopping office building. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is now a need for a change in the financing system to enable local authorities to improve upon these figures? [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long.") Will my right hon. Friend take all possible steps—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has asked two question—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Three."] Two, according to my reckoning. Perhaps he would get the answers to those first.

Mr. Skinner

I shall save the next until tomorrow.

Mr. Crosland

I thought that that was a rather grudging response on the part of my hon. Friend and that he might have been a little more enthusiastic. I am certainly not satisfied with the figures yet, despite the fact of a major improvement. I should certainly like to see the figures rise.

It would be wrong to suppose that, with a regrettably large amount of unemployment in the construction industry, the current tiny amount of office building is having the slightest effect on the house-building programme.

Mr. Michael Latham

As one of the Minister's senior statisticians is represented on it, does the right hon. Gentleman accept the recent report of the NEDC forecasting panel that council house building will drop in 1977?

Mr. Crosland

No, I do not accept it. I read it with some care. I think that forecasts of what are likely to happen two years ahead are rather pointless. I am glad to see that the NEDO has revised substantially upwards its July figures of the likely level of starts and completions for 1976.

Mr. Raison

Before the Minister becomes too complacent, may I ask him whether he accepts that the total housing figures at present are below those at the comparable stage of the last Conservative Government and, taking into account the number of improvement grants, way below those?

Mr. Crosland

The figures I have announced are much higher than those which the Conservative Government left to the incoming Labour Government. The peak figures of new house building occurred not under the Conservative Government but under the last Labour Government.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. James Callaghan)

When I was Chancellor.