HC Deb 07 July 1971 vol 820 cc1325-7
20. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will take steps to ensure that local authorities, when reversing a previous decision to sell council houses, will in future be required adequately to reimburse and compensate any prospective purchaser who might previously have entered into negotiations with the local authority with a genuine view to purchase.

Mr. Amery

It is a well established practice in this country, at all levels of government, for a new administration to keep the public faith when this has been committed by its predecessor.

I am confident that authorities will remember this when considering the expenses incurred by people who had been negotiating in good faith to buy their council houses and are now told that the council has decided to sell no more houses.

Mr. Tebbit

Will my right hon. Friend go so far as to write to local authorities reminding them of their moral obligation, as constituents of mine in the borough of Waltham Forest and the urban district of Waltham Abbey who have spent their savings on improving houses which they believed they would be able to buy are astounded at the ill-faith and the narrow partisan politics of those who deny them the opportunity of doing so? Is he aware that amongst my constituents are those who sold their cars and cancelled their holidays so as to carry out these improvements, and that they need satisfaction?

Mr. Amery

I want to lead a campaign for a genuine property-owning democracy with the right of those who are on the housing list to be able to buy their own homes from the council. These are not my words. These are the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Shadow Patronage Secretary.

Mr. Simon Mahon

Those of us who have been in local government for a long time have a high regard for it. Irrespective of political parties, are not most people who serve on local authorities highly honourable men? Will the Minister tell us how many such cases as described by the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) he has on his files?

Mr. Amery

I am afraid it is rather more than I should like to see. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many?"] The hon. Gentleman has not given me notice of that question. I have seen a number of these cases, and I should like to see right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite endorse the views expressed by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) when he was Minister of Housing.

Mr. Freeson

In view of that last observation, perhaps the Minister will consult his right lion. Friend who, shortly after taking office, forbade the building of houses for sale. This was the point my right hon. Friend the Shadow Patronage Secretary was making in the speech quoted by the Minister, which should have been quoted in full. Is the Minister aware that most local authorities which have this situation on their hands have pursued an honourable course and are arranging to pay compensation, including my own council governing Brent? It is wrong and misleading for this kind of smear campaign to be encouraged by the Minister.

Mr. Amery

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in suggesting that I am quoting his right hon. Friend's words out of context. The passage about the desirability of building for sale came about 10 minutes later in the same speech, and the passage I have quoted was strictly relevant to the question of the sale of council houses. This is what matters, and it is regrettable. I hope that I can interpret the not very buoyant but somewhat ambiguous phrase of the hon. Gentleman as indicating that he would hope that Labour councils which have gone back on previous arrangements will at least keep the contracts which have been made.

Sir R. Thompson

Will my right hon. Friend tell me whether he has any statutory powers to lay down the scale of prices which local authorities should charge when they seek to sell their houses? Is he aware that in many cases prices are being pitched too high, and is not this frustrating the intentions of the Government?

Mr. Amery

Regrettably, I have no powers in this matter, but the great majority of the councils have been prepared under covenant terms to sell houses at a discount of about 20 per cent.