HC Deb 12 December 1979 vol 975 cc1281-4
5. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the public expenditure implications of his policy on the sale of council houses.

Mr. Heseltine

I intend to publish an appraisal of the financial effects of the sale of council houses for the parliamentary consideration of the forthcoming housing Bill.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Secretary of State confirm that over a period of about 20 years the short-term gains from selling council houses could be converted into a loss of about £8,500 per house? Does he accept that his policy of selling council houses is denying homes to many couples and families in high-rise flats? Does he also agree that, by failing to give similar purchase rights to private tenants, he is busily supporting the principle of private affluence and public squalor?

Mr. Heseltine

If the hon. Gentleman is so interested in the figures, I do not understand why he did not press his own Government to publish the figures that were obviously available to them. As I, unlike Ministers in the previous Government, am to publish a detailed assessment of the matter, it would seem reasonable to await publication before trying to analyse the contents.

Mr. Farr

Will my right hon. Friend be in no way deterred from implementing our election pledge on the sale of council houses? Does he recognise that by implementing that pledge at the earliest date we shall be fulfilling the dreams of tens of thousands of would-be council house buyers?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend puts the matter extremely accurately. I am sure that those buyers will understand that we are implementing our policy in the teeth of Labour opposition.

Mr. Eastham

Does the Secretary of State recognise the problem that he is introducing for local authorities when he instructs them to curtail expenditure? As a consequence of the Government's policy, more manpower will be required by local authorities in facilitating transactions for the sale of council houses. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to make allowances to local authorities in their public expenditure to offset the burdens that he is imposing upon them?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that all local authorities will wish to make their own judgments on where the priorities for expenditure lie. Equally, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the authorities that have already sold council houses on a considerable scale have often produced large revenue surpluses as a consequence.

Mr. Durant

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures on which the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has made his judgment are based on the assumption that rents will rise in line with inflation, which has never happened? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is now pushing the idea of increasing council rents all round.

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that many hon. Members have come to regard with some suspicion the figures upon which the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) bases his judgment.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

Does the Secretary of State intend to sell, or persuade people to buy, at least one-third of the total stock of municipal houses? If that is so, is he aware that existing statistics indicate that rents will increase by one-quarter. Does that worry him?

Mr. Heseltine

If I were able to persuade one-third of council tenants to buy their homes, I should add 2 million owners to the present total. I should regard that as a remarkable achievement.

Mr. Hill

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the position in Southampton, where some tenants have been waiting for one year to 18 months to buy their council homes? Is he further aware that, through no fault of their own, their homes have been revalued in the meantime and the properties are costing between £2,000 and £3,000 more than the original verbal agreement? Is my right hon. Friend considering taking steps to reduce that problem? Is he finding that some local authorities' staff are slowing down the process through dogma?

Mr. Heseltine

I ask my hon. Friend to await publication of the Bill, which will answer his question clearly. There are two ways in which delays may take place. The first is administrative delay, which I deeply regret although in some circumstances it is understandable. What is totally unforgivable is the wholly doctrinal and dogmatic position of Opposition Members.

Mr. Kaufman

Is the Secretary of State aware that a crucial ingredient of the public expenditure implications of the sale of council houses is the cost to the Exchequer of tax relief on mortgage interest payments? Is he further aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told me that it is impossible to make a meaningful estimate of the cost to the Exchequer of the tax relief on the sale of any given number of council houses? As the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that it is not possible to make such an estimate, how does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do so?

Mr. Heseltine

I find the right hon. Gentleman's question difficult to square with the fact that we understand that a detailed paper was put to Ministers in the previous Administration which achieved exactly that purpose. Perhaps the question offers an answer that is important to the House. When I produce my financial analysis the House will realise that, according to the figures fed into the assumptions, so the results will vary dramatically. As one looks ahead for many years, one can make more or less whatever judgment one likes. That is purely a matter of personal opinion. It is for that reason, presumably, that the Labour Government considered the matter and decided that it was not worth publishing an estimate.