Starts and completions in the public sector are likely to be higher this year than last, when they were 174,000 and 162,000 respectively. In 1977, starts will be lower but completions are again expected to exceed the 1975 figure.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the likely level of future starts by English local authorities will be around 100,000 a year in future years? Is he aware that that figure is only three-quarters of the level achieved by the Labour Government of 1966 to 1970? Is he aware that in many quarters of the Labour Party there is concern that the Government are abandoning their commitment to maintaining a house-building programme which was an essential feature of their first two years of office?
I accept that the starts will be lower next year than they have been in 1975–76. There is no point in disguising that, and I would not dream of doing so. But there is a contrast between the Labour Governments of 1964 to 1970 and this one. Under the earlier Governments there was a massive emphasis on new building. The emphasis now is on rehabilitation and improvement as well as on new building.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Liverpool the local Labour-controlled authority is faced with the Liberals and Conservatives combining to stop the development of local authority housing because of an argument about the sale in the past of council housing? Will he look into this and ensure that the local authority is given support?
I included Liverpool in the stress areas. By definition, therefore, it is an area in which we judge new house building to be clearly required. I do not know of the obstacles that my hon. Friend has mentioned in terms of the disagreements within the council, but if it is appropriate for me to intervene in a helpful way I shall consider doing so.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden) that the figure of 100,000, which he quoted for starts in England next year, is too high? Will he confirm that the Government's own figure is about 85,000?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is nearly right on starts. We have said that on average we expect to achieve 100,000 per year over the two years. This year the figure looks as thought it will exceed 100,000—it could run to 110,000. This would mean, therefore, that there would be proportionately fewer starts next year. The figure could be 90,000, but it would depend upon the balance between the two years.
Will the Secretary of State take on board the earlier questions about co-operation between local authorities and private house builders? Is he aware that this is one way of surmounting the inevitable shortfall which lies ahead? Is it not important for local authorities and private builders to get together to build houses in the lower price range, and should not greater encouragement be given to housing societies which can renovate older types of properties more cheaply?
If it would help to sustain the house-building programme within the inevitable constraint on public expenditure, we should be anxious to look at any suggestions, including those of the hon. Gentleman.