HC Deb 10 November 1980 vol 992 cc12-4
8. Sir Raymond Gower

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with local authorities in Wales concerning organisational and staff changes which may be required for the effective implementation of the provisions of the Housing Act extending the rights of tenants to buy their homes; and what progress he is able to report.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Organisational and staff changes are matters for individual local authorities. We are not formally monitoring sales, but my impression is that good progress is being made.

Sir R. Gower

Does my hon. Friend recognise that while a minority of the authorities have the experience and organisation to deal with such work, many have not sold houses for many years and some have never done so? In such circumstances is it not obvious that a strengthening of their legal departments and possibly some alterations in their housing departments will be required? Will account be taken of that when a judgment is made of the staff sizes and the cost of staff?

Mr. Roberts

I do not agree with all that my hon. Friend says. He is right to say that some councils already have experience of selling council houses. Those embarking on sales for the first time should find their job easier if maximum use is made of private solicitors and valuers. In the longer-term, council house sales should lead to a significant decrease in the number of staff engaged on housing management and maintenance.

Mr. Anderson

Does not the Minister recognise that concentration on the sale of council houses is a grotesque diversion from the real housing needs of Wales? Does he realise that if sales abound there will be a reduction in the supply of public sector housing at the very time when, because of unemployment and a number of other reasons such as Government cutbacks, the tremendous housing needs of Wales will increase? Does he further realise that he is presiding over the greatest housing crisis in Wales since the Second World War?

Mr. Roberts

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to appreciate that a council house sold still remains part of the housing stock. I wish that he would encourage his council in Swansea to give mortgages so that more council houses, including prison officers' houses, could be sold to would-be owners. Does he not realise that if local authorities sell council houses they can increase their allocation and thereby meet real housing needs?

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Will the Minister say why his Department is not monitoring sales?

Mr. Roberts

There is no need to monitor council house sales. That would add both to the administrative burden in the Welsh Office and to the administrative burden of local authorities. The Welsh Office currently receives monthly statistics from local authorities giving details of sales of council houses. As from the end of the year authorities will also provide quarterly returns giving details of the right-to-buy applications and the sales.

Mr. Best

Does my hon. Friend agree that, apart from giving the greatest economic opportunity in the history of council housing to those whom the Opposition have always purported to represent—but has manifestly failed to do so in the past—the sale of council houses will also reduce the amount of administration and, therefore, the overhead costs of local authorities? Does he further agree that that would ensure that the appalling subsidy that is funded by the taxpayer and ratepayer every year on a new council house would be better spent?

Mr. Roberts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It will reduce the burden on local authorities when significant sales take place. It is of tremendous benefit to would-be purchasers who want to become owner-occupiers and have a stake in the wealth of our country.