HC Deb 17 December 1986 vol 107 cc1194-6
8. Mr. Colin Shepherd

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to publicise the new discounts for council flats under the Housing and Planning Act.

The Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction (Mr. John Patten)

The new discount scale will be brought into operation from 7 January. An information campaign to draw the attention of tenants of flats to the new scale and other changes in the right to buy will be launched early next year.

Mr. Shepherd

I welcome my hon. Friend's announcement, but can he give a little more detail about the publicity? Will it be sent to all council flat tenants personally, and will those who have already bought their homes be informed of the new discount claw-back periods?

Mr. Patten

We are doing everything that we possibly can to meet the second of my hon. Friend's requests. As for the first, we shall endeavour, with the co-operation of local authorities, to ensure that every flat dweller in England receives publicity about his or her new rights. I am happy to report that many local authorities, of all political colours, are co-operating freely with us. Only 40,000 of the 1 million public sector houses that have been sold thus far have been flats. We must improve that, and we must improve it fast.

Mr. Tony Banks

Does the Minister agree that, rather than put out more incentives to sell off council accommodation, it would be better to allow local authorities to spend the estimated £7 billion of accumulated capital receipts from earlier sales of council property? Newham has more than 100 tower blocks, which one could not even give away, let alone sell. People do not want them. We want to build houses and low-rise accommodation. Why will the Minister not let the local authority spend the money that it has in the bank just earning interest?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Gentleman is right. It is sometimes easy to give away the family silver, but I suspect that it is also quite easy sometimes to give away tower blocks to people who want to develop them. The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on it. There are 100 tower blocks in his constituency. They are the mistakes that we all made collectively in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The Government believe that one way in which to improve the environment of those tower blocks is to vary the tenure. That is why we are making certain that all tenants know their rights.

Mr. McLoughlin

Will my hon. Friend consider extending the scheme to enable all council houses that are empty for more than 12 months to be sold on a homesteading basis to people who live in the district, thus giving them the opportunity to improve those houses and the council housing stock?

Mr. Patten

That is a tempting suggestion. As I speak, there are 115,000 empty publicly owned flats and houses in England.

Mr. Loyden

When can we expect the Minister to extend his generosity to rented housing in the private sector and offer tenants of privately rented flats the discount that he is making available to council tenants?

Mr. Patten

The Government have a twin track approach to improving the lot of tenants of flats. In the public sector we are giving them a radically increased discount and incentives and, in a Bill which is to be introduced after Christmas, we shall do all that we can to help the condition of tenants in private sector blocks of flats following the recommendations of the committee chaired by Mr. Edward Nugee, QC.

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