At the end of June local authorities and new towns in England and Wales had 123,000 houses and flats under construction, 4,600 more than a year ago, and many of them were complaining that shortages of building labour were delaying completions. The first thing, therefore, is to get these finished, and also the 47,000 in tenders approved but not yet started. I shall slow down the rate at which I approve further tenders, particularly in areas where housing need appears less urgent, but I cannot say by how much it will be necessary to do so.
Does not the Minister realise that that is an absolutely deplorable announcement, as he has refused to take any action to stop luxury building and to divert building labour from enormous office blocks, and so on, but is now announcing that he is to cut the most urgent part of the programme, namely, the provision of homes for the people, which is essential to the development of productive industry and the mobility of labour? Will he not immediately reconsider his announcement as the programme of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is supposed to promote productive industry, must have as its base a large-scale housing programme?
I am very anxious to continue the large-scale housing programme. The hon. Member must be unaware that the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week included severe measures against speculative building of various kinds, which are almost certain to slow it down. My concern with housing is to get the large number of houses now under construction finished as soon as possible, because a house half built is of no use to anybody.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement will cause great dismay in my industrial town where the majority of the houses were built during the Industrial Revolution and are hardly fit to live in? He has not answered the latter part of my Question about on what grounds he will refuse loan sanction.
I said that I would have to slow down the rate at which I approve tenders, particularly in areas where the housing needs appeared to be less urgent. I am extremely anxious that those of first priority, slum clearance, for instance, should carry on.
Why, then, did not the Minister answer the last part of my Question which was on that point? If he is to slow down where the housing need is not so great, will he give an assurance that he proposes to take some definite action to assist where there is a housing need? Will he give an assurance that there will be further financial assistance, or increased subsidy, or some other positive step to help those slum areas which are in urgent housing need?
Perhaps the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis) has not read the Housing Bill, now before Parliament, which would increase the subsidies available to those authorities most in need of further money.
Does not the Government's policy mean that the building industry is overloaded and that unneces- nary building is to be rebuked but that necessary building like housing is to be positively hindered? Would the right hon. Gentleman care to specify which are the areas in which the action he describes will be taken?
No. We shall examine all the programmes of all the authorities concerned. It is no use my continuing to approve large programmes when the local authorities have under construction great numbers of houses which they cannot finish for sheer lack of building labour.
I have been making it my business to visit local authorities with substantial slum clearance problems, to see for myself and to discuss their progress on the spot, and I intend to resume these visits next month. I have no detailed statement to make, but I have a clear appreciation of the tremendous effort entailed in closing or clearing nearly 60,000 slum dwellings a year and rehousing their inhabitants, and I welcome this opportunity to pay tribute to it.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having taken the trouble to go round some of these areas, but do not the visits he has already made make it clear to him that one reason why local authorities cannot get labour to carry out slum clearance and other housing schemes is that this labour power is being used on unnecessary speculative building? Is he not aware that the Chancellor's statement will not in any way affect the wasteful building but will, in fact, mean that there will be still further hold-ups in necessary building and the clearance of the slums? Will he take some positive action to help the local authorities in their position arising from the effects of that statement?
First, I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman how much I enjoyed my extremely interesting visit last week to the borough he represents. Having said that, however, I would add that I take the very opposite view to his about what is likely to happen following my right hon. and learned Friend's statement last week.
I explained in answer to a previous Question what we intend to do about the housing programme. I was referring to the remarks of the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis) who insinuated, quite incorrectly, that the Chancellor's proposals would not bite at all on the private sector.