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Council House Sales

Volume 115: debated on Wednesday 6 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many council houses have been sold to sitting tenants in England since May 1979.

From April 1979 to December 1986 about 769,000 tenants bought their homes from English local authorities and new towns.

Does my right hon. Friend intend to take any further steps to draw the attention of the public to the Housing and Planning Act 1986? Does he expect the provisions of that Act to have a big effect on future sales?

Yes, we have tried to get a circular to every council tenant who is living in a flat. I do not think that we have had a 100 per cent. success rate, but we have done our best to distribute a leaflet to them and the matter has been publicised in many respects. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that much more could be done. We shall seek other ways of making it clear that under a Conservative Government everybody will have a right to buy their house or flat at a discount. I refrain from adding to the leaflet that under either of the two Opposition parties that opportunity will depend on whether the local authority is prepared to give them the right. That is disgraceful backtracking from one of our most successful policies.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the seriousness of selling off so many local authority houses when his Government are building only about 130,000 a year, which is about half the number that the Labour Government built before 1979? Does he not understand that the more houses that are sold off to sitting tenants, the longer those who want to rent their local authorities will have to wait?

The hon. Lady is putting her desire to be a municipal landlord before the wishes of the people.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that later this month in Darlington the 1,000th council house will be sold to the existing tenant? In view of the fact that many other families in Darlington wish to purchase, will he establish from the Opposition, as a matter of urgency, in which local authority areas the right to buy will be suspended and in which it will not?

I am delighted to hear about the sale of the 1,000th council house in Darlington and I am waiting for the Labour party to declare from which authorities this right will be removed. However, it is a pretty academic question, because I do not think that it will be in a position to remove that right.

The Secretary of State's description of Labour's policy is a perversion. Our policies on these matters were stated fully in Committee on the Landlord and Tenant Bill. Does the Secretary of State recall that in 1983 the Government estimated that the discounted price at which homes were sold was £9,000, so, on the figures that he has given, does he agree that about £7,500 billion in capital receipts has been generated from sales, which is enough to build about one third of a million homes to rent over the last eight years? Why, with all those extra resources, have the Government built 500,000 fewer homes to rent instead of a third of a million more? Does he not agree that the story of the last eight years with regard to housing is one of squandering the resources for providing homes to rent for the people?

If I have misdescribed the hon. Gentleman's policy on giving local authority tenants the right to buy from their local authority, I would be glad if he will make that clear. I thought that there was a Lib — Lab pact on this matter and that they were in agreement. I have heard Opposition Members say many times that they will give local authorities in stress areas the right to refuse this opportunity.

The hon. Gentleman always talks about council houses, but he knows that private sector house building is at an all-time record. We are encouraging the Housing Corporation, with funds as well as legislative improvements, to go into the independent rented sector and build a great many more houses.

Would my right hon. Friend care to tell the House whether, on the heels of the great success of the municpal right to buy, he can hold out hopes to private tenants of private landlords that they might expect legislation to enable them to become home owners as well?

I would certainly like to tell my hon. Friend that we are very keen to increase the number of houses to rent and in due course we shall bring forward proposals to do just that in the private sector.