Mr David Gibson-Watt: A task force does not seem to be appropriate to deal with the problems of house building. I will be writing to the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) about their request for a discussion on certain housing problems in the two constituencies.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: I do not consider that a task force is the right answer. I admit that the problems of the building industry in Wales, as elsewhere, are extremely complicated. They have been further complicated by the fact that there was a 12-week strike last year during July, August and September, which builders have always considered to be the best building months.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: There were 3,502 out of 4,135 public sector completions.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: We must deal with the housing problem as a whole. If we take the total of public and private sector housing and add to it those houses which have been modernised by improvement grants—[Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite did not laugh at improvement grants when they were helping their figures. If we add those houses which have been modernised by improvement grants in the public and private...
Mr David Gibson-Watt: The number of houses in the private sector has gone up by leaps and bounds. The demand is obvious.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: The Welsh Council is already studying housing in Wales.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: The Welsh Council is already considering housing in Wales. The main subjects which the Welsh Council is at present investigating are second homes, housing for special needs, slum clearance and the overall supply of housing.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: I should be surprised if any member of the Welsh Council, or indeed any hon. Member of this House, was unaware of the fact that what we are after is a better total supply of good homes for the Welsh people.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: That comes a little strangely from the right hon. Gentleman since I well remember him standing at the Dispatch Box on the Government side in 1970 explaining why public sector housing was going down. The reason he gave was that the demand had gone down.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: The responsibility for fixing rates must remain with the individual local authority. The Government are taking power in the Counter-Inflation Bill to enable increases in rates to be monitored. Where it appears that increases may be unnecessarily high, local authorities will be asked to reconsider them.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the grant for 1973–74 has been increased to a higher figure than ever before—to over £3,000 million. It will account for 60 per cent. of expenditure. The domestic element—the direct subsidy to domestic ratepayers—has been increased for 1973–74 by some 50 per cent.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: I am glad to confirm what my hon. Friend says. A circular is about to be issued to local authorities explaining the proposed arrangements and the information we shall need. Where we consider that their expenditure proposals are too high, we shall ask them to reconsider those proposals. The powers taken in the Act will facilitate reconsideration and, if necessary, the substitution of a lower...
Mr David Gibson-Watt: I have already given the figures and have told the House what they mean in terms of the increase in the domestic element of rate support grant, which should go a long way to satisfy the hon. Gentleman.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: There are continuing ing discussions between the local authorities and the Welsh Office. These are important matters in our various considerations.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: I have had representations from several local authorities, from two local authority associations and from some hon. Gentlemen opposite. In reply I have generally noted the representations and referred to the Housing (Amendment) Bill now in another place.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: I am pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman thinks so well of the Government's policy in this direction. However, so long as the Bill is in another place it is not opportune to discuss yet another extension.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: The most recent information is that given in the first issue of the Digest of Building Land Prices, sponsored jointly by the House Builders' Federation and the Estates Gazette. The digest showed that the price of land varied greatly from area to area.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: I agree that the price of land is a matter of concern to everyone. However I have some good news for the hon. Gentleman. In two areas in South Wales, Llantrisant and Cardiff, considerable acreages have lately become available for building—
Mr David Gibson-Watt: One of the main ways of bringing down the price of land is to get more land available for building.
Mr David Gibson-Watt: I shall have to look at the second part of my hon. Friend's suggestion. Certainly I agree with the first part of it, and 320 acres have lately been made available in the Cardiff area.