asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the number of housing starts in the private sector in the last six months of 1974 as compared with the same period in 1973.
In the five months July-November 1974, starts in Great Britain were 38,900. Over the same period in 1973 there were 83,300 houses started. Provisional figures for December 1974 will be published tomorrow.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the building merchants' index shows that the decline in private house-building is likely to continue into the next six months of this year? What measures have he and the Department in mind to stimulate the building of houses rather than the demand for them, which the measures announced so far have had the effect of doing?
The implications of the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question are a little unfortunate in the present situation. He should recall, as was made clear when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made his announcement on 27th January, that the financial initiatives had been made after the fullest consultation with builders' representatives and building society representatives and that they were welcomed by both elements. We believe that the initiatives will contribute to boosting morale and the demand and provision of houses in the coming months. We in this House as well as the Government should be doing everthing we can to assist builders in that direction.
Does my hon. Friend agree that among the lessons to be learnt from the fluctuations in private house building is the complete inadequacy of private enterprise as a means of constructing homes for our people?
Certainly there are some basic structural problems on the financial side of housing provision and in the structure of the building industry as such. These matters will fall to be considered within our housing finance study, upon which we have already embarked, and in further consideration of other aspects of housing construction which we shall be initiating in future.
Does the Minister agree that under all Governments tens of thousands of housing starts are held up each year because of the actions of local authorities and his own Department? Does he accept that when permission is sought to erect a dwelling or to convert a property into flats it takes up to 12 months to obtain planning consent? Is he aware that that has nothing to do with planning as such, as every expert is aware, but is purely bureaucratic inefficiency? In order to help the homeless, will he try to be a reforming Minister and make a determined attempt to reduce the period that has to be spent in obtaining planning consent?
Both my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government and myself, and the Secretary of State, are very much concerned with the rôle of planning procedures. To deal with this matter in such generalised terms as the hon. Gentleman has put to the House is not helpful or constructive. If the hon. Gentleman likes to put specific case material to us I assure him that we shall probe all such cases to see whether there are lessons to be learnt and whether any action can be initiated. We shall certainly act.