HC Deb 27 June 1979 vol 969 cc414-6
2. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the number of (a) housing starts, (b) improvement grants in England and Wales during 1979– 80 and 1980– 81.

The Minister of State for Housing and Construction (Mr. John Stanley)

The public sector provision for the current year is sufficient to maintain last year's level of new building tender approvals and to allow an increase over last year's level of improvement work. The present level of private starts will, I hope, be improved as we continue to remove constraints on the house building industry.

Mr. Hooley

Will the Minister undertake to make a study of the effect on his figures of high interest rates, high land prices, cuts in public housing expenditure and cuts in the rate support grant, and high unemployment? Will he publish his conclusions in a White Paper?

Mr. Stanley

All those points are relevant. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the housing programme is essentially what we inherited. The house building programme is now at its lowest level for 30 years and improvements achieved last year were not much more than a third of what the Conservative Government achieved in 1973. Local authority mortgages are less than half of what we achieved in 1973. The programme is at a very low base as a direct result of the policy of the previous Government.

Mr. Michael Morris

Is my hon. Friend aware that the experience of local authorities in the past three years in dealing with the Department of the Environment has been wholly unsatisfactory? Does he realise that local authorities are now looking forward to a much more flexible approach from the Department of the Environment?

Mr. Stanley

I shall try to achieve the greater flexibility for which my hon. Friend asks. As part of that approach, we are carrying out a major review of all the elements of departmental control over local authorities.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Did not the Labour Government make resources available for 100,000 new council houses a year even though the local authorities did not take up those resources? Will the Minister give an undertaking that he will encourage local authorities to revert at least to the 100,000 figure as a target rather than make a cut of £180 million a year, maintaining a target of 60,000 new council houses a year, which is quite intolerable?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman has not appreciated that, in so far as there have been cuts, they do not represent cuts which reduce the build of the public sector. New house building tender approvals in the public sector last year amounted to 91,500. The provision we have made this year, which is still extant, shows a slight increase at 93,000.