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Council Dwellings (Inner London)

Volume 983: debated on Wednesday 30 April 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the latest estimates of the number of council-owned dwellings standing empty in inner London boroughs.

Local authority estimates, in housing investment programme submissions, are that there were about 21,000 vacant dwellings owned by inner London boroughs at 1 April 1979. Figures for individual boroughs are available in the Library.

Will the Secretary of State consider taking powers to prevent Socialist-controlled councils such as Camden and Lambeth from decanting their populations to such towns as Stevenage at a time when many of the houses in their own boroughs are unoccupied and while there are no plans to put people into them?

I believe that we have now got the balance wrong between the new town policy and the inner city policy. That is one of the reasons for our decision, stated in the public expenditure review announced by the Government.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many of those houses are being kept empty with a view to their being sold? Will he say how many of these houses have been kept empty pending a decision by his Department on a loan to a housing association? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that two wrongs do not make a right?

Since the vast majority of those houses are, of course, in Labour-controlled boroughs it might be relatively easier for the hon. Gentleman to find out the answer to that question than it would be for me.

Is not one of the most shameful records that of the London borough of Islington? Will my right hon. Friend take firm action to ensure that no further approvals are given for new dwellings in that borough until the thousands of empty properties now in council control there have been modernised and refurbished?

I am about to publish the vacant properties survey which has been undertaken for my Department by OPCS. The House will then be able to make an informed judgment. I say at once that I am prepared to do all that I can to bring influence to bear—but not to take powers—to persuade local authorities to use these properties effectively by the proper management of their estates.

Does not the Secretary of State accept that an additional reason for these houses being empty is that boroughs have been denied the money with which to improve their properties, and that that is the fault of the right hon. Gentleman?

That is a devastating condemnation of the policies of the Labour Administration, under which the decisions to keep such properties empty would have been taken.

So that the Secretary of State may have the opportunity to redeem the appalling answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann), may I ask him to recall that some months ago I told him that the city of Birmingham—under Conservative control—was holding 643 houses empty so that they could eventually be sold? Has the Secretary of State——

Order. I think that I can anticipate the hon. Gentleman's point of order. I hope that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is about to relate his remarks to the inner London boroughs.

I was referring, Mr. Speaker, to a parallel case in which a borough in the city of Birmingham was holding 643 houses open and unoccupied in order to sell them. If London boroughs were doing that would the Secretary of State condemn them?

In Birmingham, at least, they have an argument for doing that. The inner London boroughs, I do not doubt, have no excuse whatever.