We are getting a good response. The Department's contacts with local authorities in the region show that they, that is the local authority, recognise the need to provide more houses for rent and are stepping up their previous building programmes. A number are also considering buying new unsold houses from developers.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the National Economic Development Office has forecast a further decline in the number of completions and suggests that by the end of 1977 we shall have built only 7,000 local authority houses in the whole of the West Midlands? This is a serious situation. Does not my hon. Friend think that advice should perhaps go to the local authorities about the more adventurous use of system building for example? Does not this also underline the need to make progress with the public ownership of building land?
The forecasts are very serious indeed and I cannot underline that fact enough. The immediate position in the West Midlands on information that I have is more hopeful than it has been in the past. I could follow up my answer to the Question by saying that there is in prospect the submission of schemes which would involve, if they are all approved for tender in the coming 12 months, about 10,000 housing starts as compared with 6,500 last year.
I cannot say now that that figure will be achieved, but it is our information that there is a good hope that it will be. If so it will show an increase of 35 per cent. in the West Midlands region. As for building techniques, I am in touch with the National Building Agency to see whether we cannot look further at system building to assist in this direction.
Is the Minister aware that the need for rented accommodation is at least as strong in the private sector as in the public sector? Is he aware that the recent Government restrictions have further reduced the amount of rented accommodation available? Can he tell us whether the Government believe in the need for a healthy and buoyant private-rented sector to help the housing problem?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is not aware of the facts of the position. Generally, over a number of years now, there has been an average decline of about 100,000 lettings a year in the rented sector market. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] During the last three and a half years it has been at the rate of about 150,000. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] That was under a Conservative Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] We shall have an opportunity to discuss this matter in greater detail, I think, during the coming week. We shall then be able to hear from Conservative Members why, under their Government, there was such a massive increase in the loss of rented housing. For the present, the way to hold the rented market is by increasing social ownership to prevent such properties going out of the market into the speculative area.