HC Deb 30 June 1971 vol 820 cc382-3
20. Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the working of his present policy on the sale of council dwellings to tenants; and if he will make a statement.

23. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what advice he has now given to local authorities who have recently ceased to sell council houses to sitting tenants.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Paul Channon)

Since the Government removed all barriers to the freedom of action of local authorities to sell their council houses, the quarterly rate of sales has doubled.

I regret, however, recent decisions by certain local authorities to discontinue sales despite the wish of tenants to own their homes. As the law stands, the decision whether or not to sell rests with the local authorities themselves.

Mr. Finsberg

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that the practice by some local authorities of going back on their word is deprecated by hon. Members on both sides of the House? Would he confirm that in the past the view has been that when political decisions are taken it is usual not to allow the innocent to suffer?

Mr. Channon

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is true that our predecessors in 1968 exempted from the restrictions imposed in that year any transaction where a firm price had been offered by the authority and accepted by the purchaser. I hope that all local authorities will take that line now.

Mr. Tebbit

Is my hon. Friend aware that when the council of the London Borough of Waltham Forest changed hands, the decision to end sales was made before the council had even met, and it was not until it was pointed out that two Labour councillors had themselves purchased their council houses during the period of Tory rule in the borough that the Labour Council backtracked sufficiently to allow sales in the pipeline to go through? Would he advise councils that what is good for Labour councillors who wished to buy their council houses is good for the electorate as well?

Mr. Channon

I am extremely glad to hear that, no doubt owing to my hon. Friend's pressure, that London borough reversed its previous policy.

Mr. Crawshaw

But surely the hon. Gentleman must hope that this policy would fail in Liverpool? Does he realise that each year we get into the pool about 2,500 houses which come up for re-letting? If one takes the argument to a logical conclusion, those 2,500 would not now be in that pool and the cut-back in the Liverpool programme at the moment would have been based on a false premise if the council were successful in selling off all the houses.

Mr. Channon

The hon. Gentleman bases his remarks on a misapprehension. If authorities did not sell their houses, there is no guarantee that those houses would become vacant, as he appears to assume. In fact, I regret that any borough or authority should refuse to sell houses to people who wish to own their homes and who have been led to believe they could do so.

Mr. Crosland

Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of greater or less freedom for local authorities to do as they wish?

Mr. Channon

I am in favour of local authorities acting in the interests of ratepayers and tenants.