HC Deb 04 March 1981 vol 1000 cc268-70
11. Mr. Durant

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many letters his Department has received from council tenants complaining that their local authorities are hindering their right to buy.

17. Mr. Lawrence

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is now satisfied that tenants of all councils are exercising their right to buy effectively and without hindrance from their local authorities.

22. Mr. Alexander

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he is taking in connection with those local authorities who delay in processing the sale of council houses to their tenants who wish to buy.

Mr. Stanley

The Department has received approximately 2,000 letters from tenants complaining about delay in a small minority of local authorities. Each of these individual complaints is being pursued by the Department with the authority concerned. In addition, the Department has now taken up formally with the following 16 authorities their rate of progress in implementing the right to buy. The authorities are Bolsover, Bristol, Doncaster, Great Yarmouth, Hull, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland, Wolverhampton and the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Camden Greenwich, Lambeth and Newham.

Mr. Durant

May I thank my hon. Friend for that depressing reply, bearing in mind that this is the law of the land? Will he examine the situation in which some local authorities are not passing documents to the valuation departments to enable the purchasing process to be continued? Following the exchanges on Lambeth, will he come to the House when he has investigated the matter and make a statement about the scandal that is mentioned in the newspapers today? Will he even consider putting in commissioners, bearing in mind that this is the law of he land and that we are here to defend the rights of the citizens?

Mr. Stanley

On the general point that my hon. Friend rightly makes, I can assure him that the Government are concerned to see that all local authority, new town and housing association tenants with the right to buy are able to exercise that right. The Government will ensure that they are not denied that right through delays or administrative inaction by Labour-controlled local authorities.

In regard to my hon. Friend's points about valuation, I agree that there are signs of a bottleneck in some authorities in processing valuations. It is incumbent on all local authorities to make instructions available quickly to district valuers or other valuation services that they use to get the valuations carried out. We wish to continue our inquiries with Lambeth council. The Government will be glad to inform my hon. Friend and the House what the position is there.

Mr. Lawrence

What advice does my hon. Friend give to the many thousands of tenants of Labour-controlled authorities that are dragging their feet, and have not yet contacted his Department about what they can do about this matter? What positive assurance does he give that the Government will take action to oblige those recalcitrant councils to perform their rights and duties?

Mr. Stanley

It is open to any tenant who has submitted a right-to-buy application form and who has not received a response notice to it within the statutory period, to tell the local authority and also to tell the Department. We have made that clear in the right-to-buy application form. Any tenant can make direct contact with the Department of the Environment and give the Department information about the application.

So far as intervention is concerned, my hon. Friend will be aware that under section 23 of the Housing Act it is open to my right hon. Friend to intervene where it appears to him that tenants have, or may have, difficulty in exercising the right to buy effectively and expeditiously. I assure him that my right hon. Friend is assessing progress in each and every authority againt that yardstick.

Mr. Alexander

Will my hon. Friend consider adding to the list the district council of Gateshead where, it is understood, threats are being made to potential purchasers regarding the type of neighbours that they may receive if they proceed with a purchase? Is not this a subtle threat to a would-be purchaser and an infringement of the rights that exist under the Act? If my hon. Friend considers it as such, will he. in this type of case, exercise his powers under section 23 and intervene with the local authority concerned?

Mr. Stanley

I shall be glad to consider any information that my hon. Friend cares to send me about the rate of progress in that authority. I assure him that I deplore absolutely any steps taken by elected councillors to try to intimidate or prevent people exercising their rights under the law.

Mr. Stoddart

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he has also received correspondence from people who are against the sale of council houses? Will he confirm that he has received from me a petition from the Townswomen's Guild and many other people, including the whole council in Swindon, against the proposed sale of the Railway Village, a listed building, erected in 1840, which proposal has aroused fears that our heritage will be destroyed?

Mr. Stanley

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the electorate as a whole had a chance to express a view in this matter in May 1979 and decided to give council tenants the statutory right to buy their homes.

Mr. Garel-Jones

Is my hon. Friend aware that nearly 1,000 of my constituents in Watford have applied for the right to buy from the local authority but have now received a letter from the local authority informing them that no repairs will be undertaken in their homes? Since the local authority, they believe, is dragging its feet, they find themselves in a position where no repairs can be made to their houses while no offers for them to buy have been made to them? What does my hon. Friend say about that situation?

Mr. Stanley

I can assure my hon. Friend that the statutory responsibility of a local authority in respect of repairs to a given council house continues for such time as that council house remains in its ownership.

Mr. Eastham

The hon. Gentleman persists in attacking Labour local authorities over the sale of council houses. Will he admit that his Department and its civil servants are responsible for compiling the statutory forms which have resulted in such confusion in Manchester that 29 per cent. of the 4,000 applications have had to be returned? This is a direct result of the guidance given by the Department of !he Environment. Is he aware that at the same time, in Manchester, the housing aid department has seen a doubling in the number of applications for a house in which to live?

Mr. Stanley

I can inform the hon. Gentleman that I had the pleasure last Friday of meeting representatives of the Manchester Tenants Housebuyers Association. The entire burden of their remarks was that many thousands of applications for the right to buy have been submitted to Manchester council and many hundreds of applications—which I hope will soon become some thousands—have been acknowledged. The difficulty tenants experience is getting an adequate rate of progress from Manchester council.