HC Deb 04 February 1997 vol 289 cc781-2
1. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the level of activity in the housebuilding industry [12500]

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Gummer)

The housebuilding industry is benefiting from strong recovery in the wider housing market. Private housing starts in the three months to December 1996 were up 33 per cent. on the same period a year ago.

Mr. Winterton

Given that planning delays have been a major factor in the inactivity of the housebuilding sector, will my right hon. Friend proceed as rapidly as possible to implement the proposals that he recently announced to remove inefficiency and, in some cases, deliberate delays in the planning process? Does he accept that action must be taken if we are to achieve the strategic demand of 4.4 million houses over the next 20 years?

Mr. Gummer

I very much welcome my hon. Friend's support for our proposals, and certainly I shall seek to implement them as fast as possible. He will know that now is a particularly favourable moment in his own constituency, as information from Macclesfield shows that private starts were up 63 per cent. in the past quarter, year on year. I very much hope to be able to expedite the proposals in the sense that he requires.

Mr. Mackinlay

While the upturn in housebuilding is good news, it also reflects the previous deep depression, in which—during the stewardship of this Tory Government—the housebuilding industry looked like Armageddon, with bankruptcies and people being put out of work, simply because there was no demand for houses. There was no demand because people lacked confidence, as they were unemployed and unable to purchase new homes. Is it not time that the Government realised that they have presided over a massive failure of the house building industry, which has meant the impoverishment and homelessness of countless families?

Mr. Gummer

That is rich coming from the party that voted against the right to buy; the party that has done everything possible to stop people buying their own houses; and the party that has new tax proposals up its sleeve—should it come into power—which would hit every home owner in the country. The hon. Gentleman is unbelievable, as usual.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important influences on the level of house building is the level of interest rates? Has he contemplated what would happen to interest rate levels and to the house building industry if we were ever to have a Government who were determined to spend an extra £30 billion?

Mr. Gummer

Low interest rates and low inflation are the result of the Government's extremely good financial stewardship. The Labour party is committed to signing the European social chapter, which would increase unemployment. It is also committed to supporting a series of measures that would increase interest rates and put Britain back in the position that it was under the previous Labour Government—as the laughing stock of Europe, instead of as the leader of Europe.

Mr. Sutcliffe

How will housing needs be met? Housing association grants have been cut, and, because of political dogma, the Government will not allow councils to build houses. So how will the Government achieve the 4.4-million target in new houses by the turn of the century? Who will build those houses when the Government will not give local authorities the opportunity to do so?

Mr. Gummer

Of course, the only reason that all would need to be social housing is if there were a Labour Government pushing down people's ability to buy their own houses. So the hon. Gentleman will have to explain why his party has now announced that—in the next two years, which is what we have been discussing—it would not provide any more money for social housing. He had better ask those questions of the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), who has clearly shot him out of the water.