asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will amend the present regulations so that loan sanction for local authorities may be given for both the purchase of second-hand as well as new houses.
Local authorities already have powers to buy new and second-hand houses, subject to Government financial controls and policy guidelines such as have been set out in Circular 70/74.
Is the Minister aware that this Question is prompted by the experience of my local council, which recently sold one of its council houses to a sitting tenant? The sitting tenant having been transferred to another part of the country, the council is unable under the present regulations to repurchase the house. Will the Minister look at the matter and consider whether amendment of the regulations could ease the problem?
I cannot answer that question fully without more detail. Under the general consent laid down in the circular to which I have referred, properties which stand empty for six months or so can be purchased without specific application to the Department anyway. Other applications outside the general consent, such as are described in the cate- gories in the circular, would need to be made to the Department.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Question on the Order Paper asking that local authorities should have the power to buy both new and second-hand properties makes the very idea propounded by the Opposition that councils should sell off council houses ludicrous in the extreme? How on earth can local authorities buy second-hand and new houses out of the private sector when they have only half the money that they would otherwise get by selling off council houses at about 30 per cent., 40 per cent. or 50 per cent. below the market price, which is what the Opposition want?
The policy of indiscriminate selling-off of council houses, such as was practised by the Opposition when they were in a position to practise it and which is still advocated by them, is to be deplored. I am unable to quote figures without notice, but there has been a considerable reduction in this practice by local authorities. There has been a massive run-down of this practice. There should be a policy of flexibility in housing provision relating to the needs on the ground. This indiscriminate policy pursued like a political gimmick by the Opposition is now at an end.
Returning to the original Quesion, I put it to the Minister that his policy is unrealistic in practice. Is he aware that in one block of flats in my constituency, bought by the GLC, not a single flat is vacant? All the flats are tenanted. Are the tenants to be evicted? If that is not the case, not one homeless family in the GLC area will be rehoused. Furthermore, does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is an extra burden on the already record rise in the GLC rate which my constituents have to bear without benefiting a single homeless family?
As a matter of fact, the hon. Gentleman has not returned to the original Question. I have already indicated to one of his hon. Friends that I shall be glad to consider the details of such cases. I repeat that among the priorities in expenditure for public ownership in this sector is the purchase of empty or largely empty properties—there are other factors as well—and not the purchase of properties in good condition and fully occupied. That may come later, but that is not the priority now. The hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) asked whether further powers could be made available for local authorities to buy properties.