HC Deb 21 July 1982 vol 28 cc387-8
10. Mr. Heddle

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his latest estimate of the number of local authority and other public sector tenants who have bought their homes since May 1979.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. John Stanley)

It is estimated that up to 31 March the number of local authority, new town and housing association dwellings sold in Great Britain since the Government came to office was approximately 300,000.

Mr. Heddle

Does my hon. Friend agree that 300,000 tenants will now be grateful to the Government for having enabled them to realise their lifetime's ambition? Does he also agree that there may well be a further 100,000 to 150,000 tenants who would like to exercise their democratic rights and buy their own homes but who are frustrated in that wish by Labour-controlled local authorities imposing exorbitant service charges and onerous restrictive covenants and moving difficult tenants into houses next door to those who wish to buy their homes?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As there are about 2.5 electors per council dwelling, about 1 million electors will now be very grateful to the Government for the opportunity to buy their homes. I also agree that many more will be able to buy their homes during this Parliament. Council tenants should also be aware that the Labour Party's publication "Labour's Programme '82" proposes that a future Labour Government should have the right in perpetuity to oblige council tenants who have bought their homes to sell them back to the local authority, thus denying owner-occupiers who were previously council tenants the right to sell their own homes at a price of their own choosing.

Mr. Alton

How many homes have been sold in areas of high unemployment and how many were designated as hard to let?

Mr. Stanley

I cannot say how many were designated as hard to let, but it is extremely encouraging that in a number of areas of high unemployment there has been a substantial demand for the right to buy, not least in areas such as Liverpool, Skelmersdale and Knowsley.

Mr. Foster

While the Minister is berating Labour authorities for their lack of activity in this direction, will he bear in mind the activities of the Teesdale district council, which is controlled by Tories and Independents, and is now attempting to rob tenants of gardens which they have enjoyed for the past 30 years and which should be covered by the right to buy legislation? Will he deal with that problem?

Mr. Stanley

The definition of what land tenants may buy with their homes is set out in the Housing Act 1980. I shall be glad to look at the specific case to which the hon. Gentleman refers if he will write to me about it.

Mr. Squire

Has my hon. Friend read the report of the attitude of Sheffield council to would-be home purchasers and its use of service charges? Will he ask his Department to investigate whether there has been a deliberate breach of the 1980 Act?

Mr. Stanley

I am well aware of the concern among tenants in Sheffield about the council's policy on the imposition of service charges. My hon. Friend will be glad to know that I met representatives of the council on Monday this week.

Mr. Graham

Although it is true that some housing associations have been selling their houses, will the Minister congratulate Ken Livingstone, leader of the GLC, on revealing this week the disgraceful affairs of the Strongbridge housing association, which has enjoyed subsidies from both taxpayers and ratepayers for many years? Will he also comment on the effectiveness of the Housing Corporation's monitoring function, particularly in relation to the 1980 Act, which seeks to avoid relationships of the kind that have now been revealed, and the way in which the provisions of the Act have been treated with contempt nowhere more clearly than by his Conservative friends who are GLC councillors?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Housing Corporation is conducting a fact-finding exercise into the housing association that he mentioned. So far as I know, in all the matters raised by the gentleman to whom he refers, the right to buy is not an issue.