HC Deb 04 April 1984 vol 57 cc948-50
5. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many council properties were sold in 1982–83 other than to sitting tenants.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)

An estimated 5,700 dwellings were sold, other than to sitting tenants, by English local authorities and new towns in 1982–83.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Minister aware that Wandsworth council—and this may have been done by others—has recently approached tenants on a local council estate and told them that they will have to leave their properties because they are to be done up, repaired or improved, and then sold? Will the Minister condemn this action by Wandsworth council as typifying a kind of latter-day Rachmanism which should have no part in British local government?

Sir George Young

Certainly not. The question which the hon. Gentleman tabled deals with the sale of vacant dwellings, whereas the issues that he has just raised—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]The question relates to dwellings sold other than to sitting tenants, and the question which the hon. Gentleman just posed relates to dwellings where there are sitting tenants.

Wandsworth council has raised about £9 million by selling dwellings other than to sitting tenants, which has enabled it to make faster progress. I have seen an article in The Standard today which I think relates to the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. I have to say that the allocation and management of the housing stock is a matter for Wandsworth council.

Mr. Heddle

Does my hon. Friend agree that those 5,000 people who bought their homes under the homesteading scheme, or under the half-and-half scheme, should be eternally grateful to the Government in the last Parliament for allowing them to do so? Does my hon. Friend also agree that a large proportion of those people bought their homes with the benefit of a mortgage from the local authority? Would not his advice from the Dispatch Box today be that they should transfer their mortgages to a building society at perhaps a lower rate of interest?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is correct. Not only may there be advantages to the owner-occupier in such a transfer, but there would be a real benefit to the local authority, which would then be able to apply the capital received to make faster progress in tackling the housing problems that remain.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the Minister accept that often it is in the interests of local residents that property should be filled rather than left empty for years, and that if, as a result, it is necessary to sell that property to local residents, so that it can be occupied and they are willing to buy at a fair price, that should be encouraged?

Sir George Young

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I only wish that more authorities had acted as promptly as Wandsworth council in putting vacant houses to good use.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know that it is getting close to Easter, but there is a great deal of unnecessary noise.

Mr. Mawhinney

When does my hon. Friend intend to give council tenants, whether sitting or not, a statutory right to buy council shops in which they are trading?

Sir George Young

We have no plans to introduce legislation along those lines.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Is the Minister aware that Sefton metropolitan district council is allowing people on the waiting list and, worse, people whose houses are being demolished by the council to view empty council properties, and then telling the families that they cannot have the properties because they are to be sold with vacant possession at a profit? Is it not a scandal, when there are so many people in housing need, that people who can afford to pay for council houses, and those in need in slum clearance areas and on waiting lists, are refused the opportunity to do so?

Sir George Young

The important thing is that vacant houses should be occupied. In many cases it is to the advantage of the local authority and those on the waiting list if those houses are occupied by owners. Most local authorities in those circumstances give first preference either to those on the waiting list or to sitting council tenants who wish to move. If they do that, they get the benefit of the re-let. What is needed in this area is a determination by local authorities to put the houses to good use, and in many cases owner-occupation is the answer.

Mrs. Rumbold

Would it not be helpful to inform local authorities that it would be good for tenants to purchase not only the homes in which they have been living but those which are vacant, so that there can be an overall policy whereby local authorities are made aware that property can be bought not only by sitting tenants but by other council tenants?

Sir George Young

Local authorities have been given a general consent to sell vacant properties into home ownership. They can grant discounts of up to 30 per cent. off market value to buyers falling within defined priority categories, such as first-time buyers and job movers. Anything that can be done to remind local authorities of those powers would be warmly welcomed.

Mr. John Fraser

Does the Minister recognise that there is an appalling problem of homelessness and housing need which most often occurs among people who cannot afford to buy homes? Will he undertake to restrict local authorities in the sale of empty houses and housing land to neighbouring local authorities or to housing associations which have as their prime objective the meeting of housing needs, not the making of profit?

Sir George Young

No. I cannot see the objection to vacant property owned by local authorities being sold to people who wish to live there, especially if first preference is given to those on the waiting list.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We have not got very far with questions today. May I ask for shorter supplementary questions, which may possibly lead to shorter answers?

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