House Building

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th January 1977.

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Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend 12:00 am, 19th January 1977

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his latest estimate of the number of housing starts in the public sector for 1977.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the latest housing statistics both in the public and private sectors.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Waltham Forest Chingford

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he remains ratified with the outlook for private sector house building during 1977.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the latest position regarding housing construction.

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his forecast of public and private housing starts in January to March 1977.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

There were 164,200 housing starts and 149,600 completions in the public sector in Great Britain for the first 11 months of 1976, and 147,300 starts and 138,500 completions in the private sector. Those figures show increases over the levels of house building achieved in the same 11 months of 1975. In 1977 the public sector programme will be running somewhat below the 1976 level. There has been some improvement in the past few weeks in the general economic prospects for 1977, and I hope that this will continue and strengthen. This will of course help private house building as well as other sectors of the economy.

Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, even though he has not given us the figures for 1977 public sector starts. Will he indicate what proportion of the public sector starts for 1977 will be in so-called stress areas, and how many will be left over for the less favoured areas? Is he aware that in many so-called non-stress areas there are very long housing waiting lists, which include hundreds of families in desperate housing need? What hope do they have of decent housing under his present policy?

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

It is a little difficult to forecast for 1977 what the breakdown will be between housing starts in the priority areas which have been listed and in the other, non-priority, areas, and I should have to check what we have estimated the position provisionally to be. If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I shall write to him on that point.

Concerning the general position, all of the priority areas listed can assume that their programmes as proposed will be substantially approved. We cannot be absolutely sure on every particular scheme, but that will be the general position.

Concerning other areas, we shall seek wherever possible to give priority to pockets of stress and pressure in areas which have not been put in the general list of priorities, although again I hope to be able to assist the kind of families to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the sunshine talk about the general improvement in the economy is not much good when set against the backcloth of restrictions and moratoria arising from the mini-Budget of 22nd December? As my right hon. Friend knows, pipe workers and manufacturing workers of all kinds who produce essential goods for building houses are being thrown out of work as a result of public expenditure cuts in housing and other forms of moratoria. Will my right hon. Friend not merely talk about the improvement in the economy but give housing priority over and above some other less essential services to ensure that manufacturing jobs are not placed at risk as they are at present?

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

Generally speaking, I take the description that my hon. Friend has given of the consequences of cuts in public expenditure in various capital investment projects that involve building workers. It still remains the position that, within the general constraints and cutbacks in public expenditure, housing has maintained a priority. Whatever else has been said about the consequences of the moratorium to which my hon. Friend referred and which arose from the December announcement, housing was not included although other building works were.

Photo of Mr Anthony Durant Mr Anthony Durant , Reading North

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the problems of the construction industry and the large number of bankruptcies now taking place? Is he further aware that he should consider persuading the Chancellor of the Exchequer to shift the emphasis of the cuts to current expenditure and not so much in respect of capital expenditure, which he has already mentioned?

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

That is a view that has been put forward from a number of quarters. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will expect me to announce today any changes in the decisions that we made and that were announced on behalf of the Government by the Chancellor in December. Those decisions stand.

Photo of Mr John Watkinson Mr John Watkinson , Gloucestershire West

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in both the public and private sectors the level of interest rates generally is of pivotal importance? Does he accept that interest rates are unnecessarily high and that he should use all his abilities to persuade the Chancellor, for the sake of housing at least, to bring down their level?

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

I certainly agree that this is a matter of central importance. I do not think that it would be a question of seeking to review and reduce interest rates merely for the benefit of housing construction. Whatever my particular interest may be ministerially, it is an important matter for the general economic activity of the country. As for the burden of my hon. Friend's question, I must say that it should be directed to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer rather than to me.

Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Haringey Hornsey

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, despite the figures he has given us so optimistically, the latest figures published by his Department show an alarming decline in the past three months? For example, in the public sector there was a 26 per cent. decline in the number of starts compared with the equivalent period last year and a 14 per cent. decline in the number of starts in the private sector. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the housing construction industry does not share his complacency?

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

Nor do I share any complacency in this matter. It is correct that the figures we published ourselves showed declines in starts in recent months both in the public and private sectors. In the public sector that may be due largely to the feed-through of the temporary halt when the July cuts were announced and while we were preparing to introduce a control system, which had to be introduced in the early part of September. There will be a feed-through of figures as a result of the cut-back. Nevertheless, it remains true, whatever may be the decline in recent months, that the total figures for 1976 will be an increase over 1975, as will be shown when the final figures for the year are published.