asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what evidence he has received as to the average time it is taking in England to complete the sale of a council house; and if he will make a statement.
I have no evidence as to the average time taken by local authorities to complete council house sales. I am aware that in certain areas, including my hon. Friend's constituency, there have been substantial delays in processing applications. I am considering what more I can do to help before the Housing Bill becomes law, and I hope to make an announcement shortly.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether he will shortly be in a position to help certain council house tenants in my constituency whose properties were valued in 1978–79, and who, through no fault of their own, have still not been able to complete the purchase of their houses?
I am very much aware of the problems in my hon. Friend's constituency, and in other areas. I ask him to bear with me. I hope to make a statement shortly.
:Does the Secretary of State accept that the sale of houses involves surveying each house, valuing it, selling it, and arranging a mortgage for it? How can that he done without taking on a vast number of extra officials, or paying solicitors to do the job, both of which involve public expenditure?
Of course there is a public expenditure cost. Since the gain to the people concerned is immeasurably greater I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the fact that I am prepared to countenance this small public expenditure for the massive benefit to the tenants that will follow.
Will the Secretary of State, in his review of the matter, consider encouraging local authorities to make more use of estate agents when selling oil council houses?
I would encourage local authorities to make more use not only of estate agents but of all other private sector concerns, particularly solicitors. I go even further. I would encourage local government to adopt the opportunities of greater flexibility and economy that the use of private sector services could undoubtedly make available to them.
Is the Secretary of State aware that in Southampton approximately 500 people wishing to purchase their council houses have been gazumped? Because of delays in completing contracts, partly due to the local authority, and partly due to his Department, those people, who have already spent considerable sums on arranging mortgages and so on, are now being asked to pay up to £3,000 above the originally agreed contract price. What does the Secretary of State intend to do about that?
I can give the hon. Gentleman two answers. I am going to make a statement shortly on the general problem. The hon. Gentleman is drawing the attention of the House to the phenomenon of the changes in house prices that took place between the time when people originally applied to buy their houses and when the valuations took place. I am the first to regret the increases which, as the hon. Gentleman will remember, took place largely under the previous Labour Government.