HC Deb 18 July 1984 vol 64 cc302-3
6. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is satisfied with the progress being made with the sale of council houses in Scotland.

Mr. Ancram

Over 50,000 sales have been completed so far and many more applications are with councils. But my Department is writing to five councils which still appear to be taking oer 12 months to process sales—Aberdeen, Dumbarton, Monklands, Renfrew and Stirling — to stress the serious consequences for their own housing programmes.

Mr. Knox

Can my hon. Friend say what percentage of the stock of council houses in Scotland has been sold?

Mr. Ancram

The percentage of the whole public sector, including the new towns and the SSHA, which has been sold is about 5.8 per cent. Taking only council houses, sales amount to some 3.6 per cent. The first figure compares with more than 10 per cent. over the whole of the public sector in England, and it shows that a vigorous sales campaign of the kind that we are seeking in Scotland will produce not only more sales but additional resources for councils to spend on problems in their housing areas.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Is it not significant that the Minister named my authority, Monklands, in reply to a question from an hon. Member representing an English constituency? Is the Minister aware that people in Monklands still take local government seriously? So long as we have the number of damp, rotten houses that we have and the council is denied the capital that it needs, the district council in Monklands will set the housing priorities that it does at present.

Mr. Ancram

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that, because of the delay in selling council houses in Monklands, that council will forgo £749,000 this year. The council has estimated that the cost of treatment of condensation and dampness would be about £100,000. Therefore, if it had sold its houses it could have dealt with the problems.

Mr. Hirst

Is my hon. Friend aware that some councils are insisting, before modernisation programmes take place, that tenants give an undertaking not to apply to purchase their houses? Does he agree that it is an unreasonable interference in the statutory rights of tenants, bearing in mind that the capital cost of the house will be accordingly higher after modernisation?

Will my hon. Friend urge non-housing authorities such as Strathclyde, which are disposing of their surplus stock, to pay due regard to the SDD circular, which recommends that such authorities should offer the same discounts on homes to sitting tenants who want to buy them?

Mr. Ancram

I shall deal with my hon. Friend's second point first. I am concerned that there is inconsistency in the way that regional councils across Scotland are selling their surplus houses. I am seriously studying the matter. Secondly, I understand that Glasgow district council has asked tenants to sign an agreement that they will not apply for purchase within 10 years of modernisation. I have made it clear that that agreement would have no validity and in no way undermines the right to buy.

It is worth reminding tenants that such councils would have gained more than £1 million if they had sold their council houses, which would have been sufficient to provide 32 sheltered dwellings for the elderly.

Mr. Kennedy

As a firm supporter of the right to buy, may I ask the Minister to have due regard to the Highland local authorities, especially those in areas such as Ullapool and Kyle of Lochalsh, where the cost of construction of council houses is becoming increasingly high because of the additional expenditure incurred in the costs involved in transporting timber and construction materials? Will the Minister give preferential treatment to those councils which, in a non-dogmatic way, are implementing the Government's policies?

Mr. Ancram

Obviously, we look at the bids from housing authorities in the autumn before we decide the allocation. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is a supporter of the right-to-buy policy, but there is no evidence to suggest that the sale of council houses diminishes the total stock. In most cases, those who buy would not have bought a home if they had not had the opportunity to buy their council homes.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

If a miner who has moved from a National Coal Board house to a council house wishes to purchase that house, would it not be possible for the time that he spent in the NCB house to be taken into account? Will my hon. Friend consider that point?

Mr. Ancram

I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Foulkes

Can the Minister confirm that in some cases local authorities are having to take back houses which they have sold to tenants because the owners are defaulting on payments and, in some cases, doing moonlight flits? Does he agree that that position will become worse because of the huge increase in mortgage interest rates? Does not the Minister have a guilty conscience about forcing people to take on huge debts and are now having to meet a substantial increase in the repayments?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman is taking a different line from that usually taken by Opposition Members, who usually complain about the level of discounts and claim that we are giving away council houses. There is nothing to suggest that the houses sold with discounts do not offer a good investment for the tenant. We would be interested to know whether the Opposition have yet made up their mind on whether they believe in the right to buy.