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Council House Sales

Volume 928: debated on Wednesday 23 March 1977

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any plans to encourage local authorities to sell more houses to sitting tenants.

The sale of council houses is an aspect of housing policy which must await the outcome of the current review.

Does the Minister appreciate that in survey after survey a substantial proportion of council tenants want the chance to own their homes and are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with a system that allows the State to interfere more and more in their daily lives, including owning the very roofs over their heads?

The present policy is working adequately, in the sense that we take into account waiting lists and unmet demands for rented accommodation in the council sector. Therefore, we have no reason to change the situation, but as I have said we are reviewing it. In the recent survey in Glasgow, 80 per cent. of the council tenants said that they did not want to buy the house in which they were living at present.

Will the Government consider further mortgage schemes to allow first-time buyers to buy private and council houses? What steps have been taken to introduce mortgage schemes, such as the half-and-half mortgage and rental purchase schemes?

Will my hon. Friend make sure that in any survey carried out more attention will be paid to the fact that we do not want council houses sold or bought only by sitting tenants in the so-called good areas? We want them spread throughout the city including, if necessary, the so-called bad areas, where the price will be more attractive to the tenants.

That presupposes that we are going to embark on a policy of selling council houses. I have not said that, and we do not intend to do it. But I take into account that it would be completely disastrous if council houses were to be sold only in the so-called good areas.

Will the Minister at least give us an assurance that if a considerable number of councils are elected with Conservative majorities, on a clear and specific mandate to offer council tenants the right to buy their own homes, he will not frustrate that policy?

That raises wide issues about the extent to which the Government have the right to dictate or lay down policy to local authorities. We have encouraged local authorities and given them the maximum amount of freedom, but there is a matter of serious principle involved here because of public investment, and I can give the hon. Gentleman no such assurance.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many council houses were sold to sitting tenants by district councils in the most recent annual period for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement.

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many council houses have been sold by local authorities in each of the past five years to the latest available date.

27.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what sales of council houses he has authorised; and how many he has refused to authorise in each of the past three years.

The information requested involves a number of figures, which I am publishing in the Official Report.

Will the Minister explain why, although the Question was tabled a fortnight ago, he is not prepared or, apparently, able to give the answer at Question Time today? Are not the figures absurdly low, given that more than half the people of Scotland live in council homes and that many council tenants will never have the right to become owner-occupiers unless the Government are prepared to encourage a scheme whereby they can buy their own homes at favourable prices?

I am merely carrying out the normal function of the House when there are a number of figures to be given.

If the hon. Gentleman reads the Question he will find that more than one figure is involved, because the Question refers to the past five years. Therefore, I am carrying out the normal convention.

As for the wider issue, I have already answered that point. It will be looked at in the context of the housing finance review and the Green Paper that we shall ultimately produce.

If the Minister were carrying out the normal conventions of the House he could surely answer the Question, because it refers to only one year. Would not that answer give an indication of the numbers involved? Are not the figures deplorably low, and a mere drop in the bucket compared with the total of council houses? Is it not true that the existence of owner-occupiers—where they could be created—would bring about a new social mix that would be extremely valuable in council estates and would save much money from maintenance on the rates? According to—

The right hon. Member will have his opportunity later, but I have the Floor now. According to the Glasgow Herald, 78 per cent. of Scottish people want council houses to be sold, so will the Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government, show a little more enthusiasm for this movement, which is in accordance with what the people want?

I am well aware that the hon. Gentleman regards all council tenants as second-class citizens. He is on record as having said that. I repeat that we are not against owner-occupation to the extent that it will help solve housing problems and achieve a better social mix. We shall look at the matter in a wider context.

If the Minister is not against the sale of council houses, will he say why he is not able to give me the number of applications that he has refused? If he is in favour of selling council houses, why has he refused any applications? If 80 per cent. of people want to buy their own houses, why does the hon. Gentleman not let them do so?

I am not refusing to give the figures. There is no secret. They will be published in the Official Report. The figures are consistent with the policy that we are now trying to operate—a policy of giving consent provided there are no lengthy waiting lists of people wanting accommodation.

As today's Press carries a report that Edinburgh District Council is putting a proposed sale to the Minister as a test case, will my hon. Friend confirm that he will regard the proposal on its own merits rather than as setting a precedent?

I know about this matter. If Edinburgh District Council is trying to be clever in putting up a test case in the hope that it will open the door, I say categorically that I shall not wear it. Obviously, if there are special circumstances regarding an individual house I shall look at the matter sympathetically.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the hon. Gentleman's refusal to answer a simple Question I beg leave to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

The following is the information:

Sales Authorised

1972
1973
197428
197551
1976195

Sales Refused

1972
1973
197430
1975105
197683

Sales Completed

1972645
1973744
1974171
197530*
197680*

* estimated