HC Deb 23 July 1975 vol 896 cc545-7
22. Mr. Newton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his policy towards the purchase by local authorities of houses built by private developers.

Mr. Armstrong

The Department's Circular 24/75 suggests that local authorities may in certain circumstances be able to maintain their normal house building programmes by purchasing dwellings already under construction or by employing builders with land to build for the authority.

Mr. Newton

Is the Minister aware that this is the third Question today which arises from concern about the policies of the GLC, which are causing anxiety to local authorities and others throughout Essex? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in my constituency the GLC has recently bought a substantial block of privately-built houses without even honouring its obligation to consult the local authority, let alone residents? Is he aware that it has done so at a time when it has many unoccupied houses in the area? When will a stop be put to this imperialism from across the river?

Mr. Armstrong

If the hon. Gentleman has a particular transaction in mind, and if he contacts me or the Department, I shall deal with it. I remind the House that many families are in desperate need of homes. This is the greatest social problem that the nation faces. As well as consulting local authorities the GLC has to bear in mind, as does every other authority, the real human needs of families.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Will my hon. Friend remind local authorities that one of the most productive ways of obtaining new houses for those who are in housing need, on a pound-for-pound basis, is to buy up not houses which have been built by developers but empty houses which have formerly been let by way of private tenancies and which are now standing empty? The empty housing stock is a disgrace to the country and to local authorities, and the authorities have it in their hands to remedy the problem.

Mr. Armstrong

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's observations. Last year, to meet a real emergency, we initiated a new policy. That policy has been somewhat revised, but we are willing to consider individual applications against the background of a real desire to rehouse all families in desperate need.

Mr. Moate

Does the hon. Gentleman understand that in some areas there is considerable resentment, in that the district authorities seem to have limitless funds to expend on the purchase of privately constructed houses, or on houses yet to be constructed, at a time when there is supposed to be restraint on public spending, when the authorities do not have the funds to maintain or improve their own council houses, and when they are purchasing the majority of private houses in their areas to the deprivation of prospective purchasers? Is this not an indication of what the Minister said earlier, namely, that his colleagues prefer municipalisation to private mortgages, regardless of the cost?

Mr. Armstrong

I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman were at my desk receiving representations from district housing authorities, he would know that there are not limitless resources available. All these matters are related to available resources and to the extent of human need.

Mrs. Renée Short

Will the Minister take the opportunity to clear up some confusion that still exists when local authorities wish to purchase flats incorporating high alumina cement? Is he aware that because of a Press campaign generally against the use of this material, many people are finding difficulty in attracting purchasers willing to buy their

Mr. Armstrong

This is a serious matter and there has been a drop in confidence because of statements in the Press and so on. If my hon. Friend has any particular case in mind and refers it to me. I shall do my best to deal with it.