HC Deb 15 December 1971 vol 828 cc451-3
26. Mr. Arthur Jones

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will consider encouraging local authorities to build houses for sale to applicants on housing waiting lists wishing to purchase.

Mr. Amery

I am anxious that there should be a good supply of new homes for would-be owner-occupiers, particularly those with modest incomes, and I am accordingly encouraging local authorities in the pressure areas to do all they can to that end by releasing land for private building. Private builders and local authorities should co-operate in this objective and I am convinced that private builders will do the job most efficiently. Nevertheless if a demand exists which cannot be or is not being met by private builders, I would be prepared to consider proposals from a local authority to build for sale.

Mr. Jones

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply, but it puts the onus upon local authorities. I had hoped that now that the building industry was concentrating more on the top end—that is, on the more expensive type of house—the Minister would recognise that it was necessary to give encouragement to local authorities, not by a direct labour force arrangement but by going out to contract to the building industry to look after the lower end of the market. I hope my right hon. Friend will feel that he can encourage that type of provision.

Mr. Amery

I agree with my hon. Friend and I have tried, in a number of speeches that I have made, to make it clear to local authorities that if they cannot get developers to do the job I am prepared to entertain proposals for building for sale.

Mr. Freeson

Will the right hon. Gentleman say how many local authorities are listed in his Department as wishing to undertake this kind of activity?

Mr. Amery

If the hon. Gentleman would like to put down a Question on that, I shall look into the numbers concerned.

Mr. Maddan

Will my right hon. Friend say that he will not allow any local authority which is not willing to sell council houses to start arrangements of the kind suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones)?

Mr. Amery

That supplementary question goes a bit wider than my hon. Friend's Question. I am all for local authorities selling council houses. I want them to encourage the maximum amount of private house-building by private development, but if, for one reason or another, the private developer does not come in, I am prepared to entertain suggestions for building for sale.

Mr. John Fraser

Without conceding for a moment that any contribution can be made by selling council houses, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he realises that once a council house in a stress area is sold it is probably lost for a long time for the purpose of helping the housing problem? Will he consider amending the present arrangement whereby a local authority has the option to repurchase a house by extending the period from five to at least 10 years?

Mr. Amery

The hon. Gentleman has voiced one of the greatest illusions that is current in this field. If the tenant of a council house is not allowed to buy his house, the odds are that he will go on living in it and in that case no vacancy is created.