HC Deb 15 May 1978 vol 950 cc6-8
5. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many houses were started in Wales in the public and private sectors in the first quarter of 1978; and if he is satisfied with the figures.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Alec Jones)

About 1,500 houses were started in the public sector and 1,450 in the private sector. These figures are significantly higher than those for the corresponding quarter of 1977, but I reserve judgment on whether the level is adequate until I have had an opportunity to study the housing strategy statements and investment programmes which are now coming in from all housing authorities.

Mr. Roberts

I am grateful to the Minister for those figures. However, he has to realise that the annual rate which those figures imply is even lower than the annual rate last year, which was the worst year for house building since 1959. What do the Government intend to do about it? What encouragement is the hon. Gentleman giving to house builders in both sectors?

Mr. Alec Jones

Among the matters which should be taken into account is that the limiting factor on house building in the public sector in Wales during the past two years has not been the failure of the Government to allocate resources. In two consecutive years it has been the failure of housing authorities, for one reason or another, to take up and use all the money allocated for that purpose.

Mr. Anderson

Given that underspend on the public sector side to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention, can he say what lessons the Welsh Office has learnt in terms of closer liaison with local authorities to ensure that the underspend which has occurred over the past two years does not continue in future?

Mr. Alec Jones

I hope that not only will the lessons of the past two years be learnt but that the fact that we have now set up the Welsh Housing Consultative Committee will give us the sort of liaison and co-operation between the Welsh Office Housing Division and local authorities in Wales to which my hon. Friend refers. But it is important to recognise that no authority in Wales this year has had any scheme cut out from the programmes which the authorities submitted to us in November.

Mr. Wigley

In view of what the Minister has just said, can he confirm that no authority will be held back from any house construction scheme because it is approaching the limits of its provisional allocation of finance, in line with what he told Dwyfor District Council last summer for the last financial year? Can the hon. Gentleman also indicate whether there is any updating of the cost yardstick data on which housing plans are judged, in view of the very tight nature of these yardsticks in rural areas?

Mr. Alec Jones

As regards building this year, every housing authority in Wales submitted its physical programme to us and we told each of them that it could carry on and build the whole of its programme. Now the responsibility is on the local authorities to show that they can use the money available.

The question of the yardstick has been raised with me on several occasions. However, if one examines the tenders which are coming in, one sees that the evidence presented by those tenders indicates that the cost yardstick is not proving a serious obstacle in those parts of Wales which have submitted evidence to me. However, if any hon. Member has further evidence which he cares to submit to me, I shall certainly want to look at it, because in fact we have increased the cost yardstick every quarter since 1975.

Mr. Kinnock

Is my hon. Friend aware that gazumping is back in Wales and that it is being practised most maliciously by house construction companies in the private sector which, in my constituency and probably in others, have put up house prices by as much as £2,000 and £2,500 to prospective purchasers, thereby causing great distress whilst undertaking great profiteering? Has my hon. Friend any suggestions which could be introduced in law to prevent companies from engaging in practices of this kind?

Mr. Alec Jones

I shall be grateful to my hon. Friend if he can give me details of some specific cases, because it is difficult to talk about these subjects in general terms. But, of course, one reason why the building society lending levels were reduced was to discourage the sort of activity to which my hon. Friend has referred.