HC Deb 09 June 1976 vol 912 cc1422-5
10. Mr. Rifkind

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how often since February 1974 requests from district councils in Scotland relating to the sale of council houses have been refused.

14. Mr. Fairgrieve

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking to encourage local authorities to allow tenants to buy their council houses on attractive terms.

15. Mr. Younger

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what consultations he has had with Scottish new town corporations regarding the sale of houses to their tenants; and what encouragement he has given to local authorities to allow tenants to buy their own homes.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

Since July 1974, when our present policy was announced, requests for the sale of 258 local authority houses have been received and 161 have been refused.

Local authorities are in the best position to assess the part that council house sales might play in meeting the housing needs of their areas, and I do not intend to anticipate any outcome there may be from the current housing finance review about any increase in owner-occupation.

As regards new towns, my right hon. Friend met the chairmen of development corporations last January and agreed that they should continue to have discretion to sell houses originally built for rent, subject to the availability of an adequate stock of houses for rental and to an annual review of progress towards the target of 25 per cent. owner-occupation set in 1965.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the Minister realise that there is less home ownership in Scotland than in any other country in Western Europe? How does he reconcile the Government's lip service to home ownership and the belief, stated by the Minister just now, that it should be left to local authorities to decide these matters with his statement, also given just now, that more than half the requests from local authorities have been refused by his Government?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman can do better than that if he tries a little harder. We are not paying lip service to anything. The housing problems of Scotland are too serious to be sloganised about. Part of an overall strategy could perhaps include the building of more houses for sale, even by the public sector, and possibly include the sale of some council houses. But the problems must be seen in the context of a wider and more fundamental approach to the housing problem.

Mr. Tom McMillan

May I congratulate my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend on coming to office and recognising so soon that the most deprived area in any country in Europe is the East End of Glasgow. I also congratulate them on the swift manner—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Whoever is to be congratulated, it is not me, at the rate at which we are moving. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to ask a question?

Mr. Brown

I have no objection to being congratulated. It does not happen too often. However, I welcome what my hon. Friend said. I think that there has been a marvellous response to the initiative taken by my right hon. Friend. Even within that area we shall be giving consideration to the extension of private ownership as part of the overall strategy.

Mr. Fairgrieve

In view of the very serious problems in Scotland, compared with any other country in Western Europe, does the hon. Gentleman realise that if he encouraged and advised local authorities in this matter he would give them a chance to cure the lack of mobility of employment in Scotland, create a personal interest in home ownership, and also encourage more variety in the supply of houses?

Mr. Brown

The only point the hon. Gentleman makes that is worthy of consideration is the one about mobility. I accept that. It is quite wrong to think that the selling of some council houses will provide us with an instant solution to many of the social and environmental problems in some public sector housing. The financial implications in housing revenue accounts, subsidies and the availability of mortgage funds have all to be taken into account.

Mr. Younger

Does the hon. Gentleman recall the Government's circular issued on 7th July 1974 deliberately discouraging the selling of council houses? Is he aware that since then sales have dropped from 2,248 in 1973 to only 277 last year? In view of the fact that a recent survey in a Scottish newspaper showed that 80 per cent. of Scots wished to own their own homes, does he not think that the Government are flying in the face of what people in Scotland actually want?

Mr. Brown

That is cheek, coming from the hon. Gentleman. The Daily Record survey did not publish the number of people who had been consulted. I am awaiting those details with interest. It is all very well to say that that was the view of 80 per cent. of those who replied. They may have been only a handful of people. Among the disastrous policies which the hon. Gentleman pursued when in office were his Government's housing policies during the period between 1970 and 1974. We are not discouraging local authorities, but we certainly thought that that was not the right priority in providing housing for the people of Scotland.

Mr. Small

Will my hon. Friend consider recommending sales of casual vacancies with vacant possession in order to test the market?

Mr. Brown

I am not too sure what that means. I had better give a qualified answer and say that if my hon. Friend has any ideas on it I shall look at them with great interest.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that all he has done today has been to confuse the issue? Why, on the the one hand, does he say that he is giving discretion to local authorities and, on the other hand, refuse something like half the applications that local authorities make to him?

Mr. Brown

We have not given complete discretion to local authorities. I never said that we had done so. I am merely saying that they are required to submit applications and that we look at them in the light of a number of factors, including building programmes and waiting lists. I think that that is eminently satisfactory, and most local authorities accept it.