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Empty Houses

Volume 893: debated on Wednesday 11 June 1975

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4.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his latest estimate of the number of empty council houses in England and Wales.

The Department's last survey showed that at 31st December 1973 less than 1 per cent. of council dwellings were vacant and available for letting. Information relating to end 1974 will be collected later this year.

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the means of calculating this figure is accurate? As there is some doubt about this, will he consider establishing a new means of calculating the figure?

One can never be totally satisfied about the accuracy of methods of calculation. On the other hand, it is clear that our methods of calculation are about 10 times as good as those of Messrs. Booker and Gray, who got their facts totally wrong in the Observer.

What is the average period between the time when a council house is vacated and when a new tenancy is taken up? What steps are local authorities taking to reduce this period? This is a matter of concern in my constituency and in many others.

Including my own. I very much agree with my hon. Friend that although facts of this kind are not easily ascertainable, it is incumbent upon local authorities, despite the very low vacancy figure I have given, to make sure that every house is fully occupied throughout the year.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will propose the introduction of short terminable leases as a means of bringing empty residential accommodation into use.

I would refer the hon. Member to the answer my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction gave on 6th March to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman)—[Vol. 887, c. 512.]

Is the Under-Secretary aware that in some areas, of which my constituency is one example, there are many converted flats which will remain unused because of the lack of local authority mortgage finance? Why is he not prepared to consider a method to bring those flats on to the market which has been widely welcomed?

I am aware of two facts. The first is the hon. Gentleman's continual obsession in attempting to deprive tenants of security of tenure, which manifested itself during the passage of the Rent Bill. The second is that the Opposition attack the Government for public expenditure and then ask the House for additions to public expenditure, such as increases in local authority lending.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a home without security is not a home at all? Does he also agree that in view of the information which he has just given to the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Knox) about the relatively small number of void council houses it would be preferable to withdraw the circular which has just been issued relating to the acquisition and municipalisation of the empty properties now available on the market? Would he also consider an increase in the void rate to encourage owners to sell or let such property?

I should like to draw my hon. Friend's attention to what the Minister said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) about the various methods the Government are considering to achieve the necessary objective of bringing empty houses into occupation through tenancy.

The Under-Secretary must surely be aware that there are 9 million owner-occupiers in this country who now feel that their security—the security of ownership which they have bought—is severely and seriously threatened by the present law. If the situation continues there is little likelihood of a large section of that housing ever being made available for rent in circumstances where it is in the interests of both the owner-occupier and the lessor. Must not there be a change in the law now?

I am not clear as to the law to which the hon. Gentleman refers. If he implies that if it were not for Rent Act security 9 million owner-occupiers would rush forward to let empty rooms, and if he will bring that evidence forward, we may consider a change in the law.