My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the latest figures for the number of council houses sold to tenants in England and Wales under the May 1979 General Consent and what has been the demand since 3rd October 1980 for the right-to-buy application forms and booklets from the Department of the Environment.
My Lords, some 74,800 vacant or tenanted council dwellings were sold in England and Wales between April 1979 and June 1980, the latest date for which we have such information on a countrywide basis. Separate figures for sales to tenants are not available. Up to 31st October 1980, 389,000 right-to-buy claim forms and 675,000 booklets had been distributed by the department, mostly in response to requests from local authorities. These totals include some 57,000 copies of each document sent to individual tenants who had requested them by completing the coupon placed in national newspapers. It is not known how many tenants have asked their local authorities for the documents. The figures excluded the initial distributions of 341,000 claim forms and 691,000 booklets.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that very exact Answer. Will he agree that those figures are encouraging for the Government's policy of helping council tenants to buy their homes? Secondly, has he any information concerning certain press reports, alleging that some councils are endeavouring to obstruct the Government's policy by threatening tenants to withdraw work of maintenance or repair unless those tenants surrender their right to buy?
My Lords, on the first point, yes, it is interesting that so many people asked, and we shall have to see how many of those requests are translated into actual sales. On the second point, we know of what we read and what we hear, and we shall watch the situation very carefully. Of course, one would deplore a situation such as that which my noble friend described. I would only repeat what my right honourable friend has said—that we shall take all steps necessary to ensure that the statutory rights of individual tenants will not be frustrated.
My Lords, in view of the moratorium which was announced about a week ago on council building, and which will also include private building and improvements, do the Government not think that, certainly for the time being while this is going on, there should be not increased encouragement for people to buy their houses, together with the giving out of all these application forms and booklets, but a drawing back, because of the numbers of people who are on the waiting lists for houses and flats, who will not get them, and whose condi- tion will get worse because of the increase in sales?
No, my Lords, I do not agree. I should only like to reiterate what I have said before on this point, that because tenants buy the homes in which they live, and in which they have lived for some time, they make neither more nor less of such dwellings available to those who are on any waiting list.
My Lords, I am sorry to follow this up but it is important. With great respect, I was asking the Minister whether or not he agrees that it can make a difference, because many people who are unable to buy their council houses because of the present pressure on council houses for rent will go and find them somewhere else. If they buy them up, it means that people in flats cannot be moved into houses with gardens. This is exactly what is happening in all parts of the country.
My Lords, I do not accept that exposition.
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he agrees that Socialist-controlled councils and Conservative-controlled councils both have long waiting lists of people who want to buy their council houses?
My Lords, we shall have better intimation of that when the many forms which I described earlier have been processed and handled, but it is no secret that there are great numbers of people who wish to buy, as was indicated by the fact that 57,000 people have sent in a form directly from newspapers.
My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the local council valuation department or the district valuer's office settles the price?
My Lords, this is a matter for the individual authorities and it will be done either way. It just depends how they propose to operate the scheme in their individual areas.