HC Deb 21 July 1982 vol 28 cc395-6
21. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many council houses and flats are standing empty; and what proportion of this total are (a) awaiting repair and (b) awaiting purchasers.

Mr. Stanley

According to the authorities' own estimates, 97,000 council dwellings were vacant in England on 1 April 1981. The reasons for vacancy are available only for the 24,000 local authority dwellings that have been empty for more than a year. Of these, 11,700 were awaiting or undergoing repair or improvement and 4,500 were awaiting sale.

Mr. Dubs

Does the Minister agree that the hundreds of thousands of badly housed and homeless families find it extremely offensive that there are so many empty properties around them? They find it particularly offensive, when they live in areas such as Wandsworth, to see the numbers of empty council properties that are awaiting a purchaser. Does the Minister agree that that is a scandal? Will he monitor the situation more carefully and take steps to bring it to an end?

Mr. Stanley

Wandsworth council has a number of empty dwellings awaiting sale. The hon. Gentleman referred to a scandal. However, in the Labour-controlled city council of Manchester, of the number of dwellings that have been vacant for more than a year, the number awaiting sale was 596. Many people who are seeking houses find offensive the political position of the Labour Party which, in undertaking to repeal shorthold, will deliberately deprive many people of short-term rented accommodation.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would make a great deal of sense for local ratepayers if every council were required to publish a list, not only of council homes that have been standing empty for more than three months, but of any council homes that have been refused by two sets of people to whom they have been offered, so that other people can take over the homes and, if necessary, do the repairs themselves?

Mr. Stanley

I agree that more attention should be given to the number of local authority dwellings that are subject to two refusals. In some cases there are more than two refusals. The number of properties that have been standing empty for a long time feature in local authority HIP returns. If my hon. Friend would like to table a question on that matter, I shall give him details of all the empty properties.

Mr. John Evans

Is the Minister aware that in my constituency more than 100 excellent houses are standing empty which belong to the Home Office and were formerly prison officers' houses? Does he regard that as a scandal? Will the Minister suggest to his right hon. Friend, who is sitting next to him, that he should do something about those houses?

Mr. Stanley

As my right hon. Friend is next to me, I am sure he heard what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Squire

In view of the plethora of statements that my hon. Friend mentioned as coming from Labour hon. Members, can my hon. Friend name one that will in any way reduce the problem outlined by the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs)?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend is right. It is the Government who have introduced shorthold and encouraged homesteading and improvement for sale. It is a Conservative Government who have sought to resolve the problem of empty dwellings.