HC Deb 23 June 1982 vol 26 cc281-2
3. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment which local authorities are still not completing council house sales with what he judges to be sufficient speed.

Mr. Stanley

Those authorities whose right-to-buy progress is being monitored were listed in the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) on 13 May. To those authorities there should now be added the Wrekin district council and the Orbit Housing Association.

I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that there has been a substantial acceleration of progress in recent months; that last year there was the largest number of sales ever recorded; and that since the Government came to office the number of council house sales completed in Great Britain up to 31 March is estimated to be approximately 300,000.

Mr. Knox

Is there not a strong case now for introducing legislation specifying the maximum period between an application by a council tenant to purchase his house and the completion of the sale by the council? Why does it take some councils so much longer than the private sector to effect such sales?

Mr. Stanley

I have every sympathy with the spirit behind my hon. Friend's question. The problem of specifying a statutory maximum period is that there are enormous variations in the complexity of sales of individual houses and flats. To prescribe a practical and realistic maximum would give rise to the danger of its being applied to every property, when there are many simple cases that can be dealt with very quickly. We must rest on the basic provisions of the present legislation.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has powers to intervene in any case where the tenant's right-to-buy is not being applied effectively and expeditiously. He has already exercised those powers in respect of one authority. The possibility of exercising that power elsewhere has contributed substantially to the acceleration of the progress that has been made.

Mr. Winnick

When will the Government apply the same urgency to the building of council houses as they do to their sale? Should there not be some kind of hit-list or penal action against the Government for allowing the building of council dwellings to fall to its lowest level since the early 1920s?

Mr. Stanley

I do not think that that question arises on the right-to-buy. The Labour Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported allowed the construction of council houses to fall to the lowest level since 1945 before they left office.

On the general issue, I draw attention to the fact that in the last financial year local authorities underspent substantially. It is certainly our hope and wish that all local authorities will be able to make full use of the increased financial provision that is available this year.

Mr. Heddle

Notwithstanding the encouraging reply that was given to my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Knox), will my hon. Friend confirm that some Labour-controlled authorities are still employing intimidation tactics by imposing onerous restrictive covenants, black lists, and so on, to dissuade council tenants from exercising their democratic right to buy their homes?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend draws attention to the fact that some of the covenants that have been used by, I am glad to say, a limited number of authorities are not considered to be reasonable. We have taken up this matter in detail with certain authorities. In some instances, the local authorities concerned have agreed to make changes to their basic conveyancing documents. We are watching this aspect extremely closely.

Mr. Cartwright

Is the Minister aware that several of my constituents have been struggling for well over a year to buy their flats and maisonettes from the London borough of Greenwich? Now that a purchase price has finally been agreed, they are being asked for service charges which in some instances amount to £75 a week for an ordinary council flat on a not particularly attractive estate. Does the Minister regard that as fair and reasonable? If not, what will he do about it?

Mr. Stanley

I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that we have already taken this matter up with the Greenwich council and are actively pursuing it.

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