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Local Authority Housing

Volume 958: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent discussions he has had with local authorities about their housing plans.

I have had discussions with six housing authorities in the last 6 months and my Department has reported fully to me on meetings which it has had with 48 authorities about their housing plans.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the ruling Scottish National Party group on Falkirk district council proposes to sell off 5 per cent. of that council's housing stock, which amounts to about 1,600 houses, at a time when there are at least 700 families on the waiting list, and that the council has no plans at all to build any council houses during the current year? Bearing in mind that certain SNP councillors who voted for this scheme have expressed an interest in buying a house from the council, will my hon. Friend step in to stop this municipal asset stripping? Will he also ask the Lord Advocate about the legality of SNP councillors voting in this way to feather their own nests?

The Lord Advocate has been listening to what my hon. Friend has been saying. Fortunately, I am not involved in making any judgments on criminal matters. I have to look at all the facts. I have this week received the housing plan from Falkirk which includes this proposition. It will be considered along with any other applications. On the face of it, however, Falkirk has a long waiting list and I should have thought it was unlikely that we would give approval in the way that Falkirk has requested.

As earlier this afternoon Ministers were urging the House to respect the autonomy of local authorities normally, will the hon. Gentleman say why this perfectly sound and excellent principle does not apply to applications by local authorities to be allowed to sell council houses?

If we ever have the misfortune to have another Tory Government, I hope the hon. Gentleman will remember that that would allow Labour local authorities to opt out of any national legislation. He should stop trying to be so slick and to score debating points.

In our whole approach in housing we have genuinely encouraged wider responsibilities for local authorities, but we are not prepared to give unlimited permission for the sale of council houses.

Does the Minister agree, however, that it would be desirable for a much larger number of Scots people, particularly young couples, to own their own homes? Further, does he agree that he should bring pressure to bear on or encourage local authorities not simply to sell council houses but to make more sites and land available to local people to enable them to buy or build their own houses?

That is a different question. The Government's record on that score is excellent. We have taken measures to encourage first-time buyers and young people. We have encouraged local authorities, even Glasgow, to make sites available for private building. In that respect our record is good.

Does the Minister agree that there will be greatly increased pressure on housing lists because of the Government's financial policy of putting mortgages out of the reach of many young couples, following last week's changes? There is now the lowest level of council building for many years. In the face of all their manifesto pledges, is it not true to say that the Government's housing policy is now a dog's breakfast?

No, I do not agree. It is not pleasant to have to admit that the cost of housing for owner-occupiers who have mortgages has risen. I hope that interest rates will not remain at their present high level. Nevertheless, overall our record in encouraging owner-occupation is good. Sometimes it is so good that I get into trouble with my colleagues.