I have seen estimates varying from £20 to £50 per house, depending on the method of construction and materials used. The increase in cost will almost all be attributable to timber, and will depend on how much of the timber used has been imported in a planed or manufactured state. My right hon. Friend estimates that the rise in cost of the average two storey, three-bedroom council house will be less than 1 per cent. of the total cost of building it.
As a great deal of this material has in any event to be imported, what justification, from the point of view of the balance of payments or otherwise, was there for imposing the impost?
The right hon. Gentleman should get this into proportion. We have carefully reviewed the question of the amount of timber being used in house building and I understand that the extra cost on a £2,300 house would be approximately £30, although 25 per cent. of the timber is what is called imported rough timber. It would be quite impossible, with the amount of timber coming into the country, to say how much is used for housing when it arrives in its rough state.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has said, and the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, that this surcharge will not reduce imports, will have no effect on the balance of payments and will only result in increasing the cost of housing—which is not what the party opposite promised at the election—will the hon. Gentleman consider exempting from the surcharge materials which must be imported anyway?
The increased import duties were imposed because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer found this country and its accounts in such a mess after the Conservative administration. We do not believe that the surcharge will adversely affect the number of houses that will be built.
Is my hon. Friend aware that certain timber merchants increased the price of timber right from the day the surcharge was applied? Is not this wrong? Will he take steps to ascertain that the surcharge is not levied on stocks which were held prior to the Government statement?
As it is clear from the hon. Gentleman's answer that there will be some increase in the cost of housing without any benefit to our balance of payments position, may I ask him to make representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the removal of the surcharge on vital materials used for housing?