HC Deb 19 January 1977 vol 924 cc322-4
18. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he next expects to meet representatives of the House-Builders Federation.

Mr. Freeson

The House-Builders Federation has accepted my invitation to join a DOE/HBF Working Group which now meets regularly.

Mr. Latham

Has not the federation said that private starts this year could be as low as 100,000, or under half the 1973 level? Does the Minister agree with that figure and does he not feel any sense of guilt or embarrassment about the present situation?

Mr. Freeson

I am a very worried man, as I hope all of us are, about this and many other problems. The figure quoted by the hon. Gentleman is correct. Such a figure has been used by the President of the House-Builders Federation. It is not a figure that I necessarily accept.

Mr. Heffer

Has my right hon. Friend had discussions with the House-Builders Federation and with various other bodies in the construction industry about import substitution? Are any studies being made of this matter? What efforts are being made to use bricks on a bigger scale, as well as other indigenous building materials, to save imports, which is a matter of great importance to the industry?

Mr. Freeson

I am aware that there is some importation of foreign materials and goods for construction in this country, not just for house building, but for other construction purposes. As far as I am aware—I shall check on this—no current study of import substitution is being made under our sponsorship.

Some equipment and fittings are imported because the industry does not provide comparable equipment able to be used by architects, engineers and designers. We are giving great emphasis, with some increasing effect, to exports by the construction industry, which are improving year by year. I shall take note of my hon. Friend's comments and see whether the matters he has mentioned require further study and examination.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Does the Minister agree that local authorities can play a part in helping to stimulate new private building for sale by providing sites of their own for private builders on a long leasehold basis and having joint schemes in that way?

Mr. Freeson

Yes, that is so. In a policy circular that we issued during 1974, about a month after we came into office—and again in 1975—we indicated ways by which local authorities could make these joint efforts. Quite a number of local authorities have embarked on such efforts in co- operation with private developers and a number are still initiating such projects. I would welcome continued efforts in this direction.

Mr. Michael Morris

Has not the number of improvement grants fallen year by year? When will the Minister bring forward his long-considered recommendations for revising improvement grants?

Mr. Freeson

It is correct that the number of improvement grant applications and approvals has gone down markedly in the past two or three years. That is largely due to the general recession in the economy. We cannot expect any dramtic change in that situation, whatever alterations might be made in the improvement grant system.

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