HC Deb 21 May 1986 vol 98 cc345-7
4. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received and from what bodies concerning the proposal to sell off whole council estates or parts of estates to private developers.

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

My right hon. Friend has received many representations on this general issue. They have come from organisations representing interested parties, from individual Members of this House, and from members of the public.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Minister appreciate that the proposals are causing particular anxiety among tenants because of the threat of eviction? Does the Minister recognise that as time goes on developers will invariably choose the better sites? What is happening about waiting lists, tranfer lists and the homeless? What assurances can the Minister give about these sensitive issues?

Mr. Patten

Some tenants have been unnecessarily alarmed by the literature put through their doors during the recent local government elections campaign. Much of that literature was not factually correct. Under the proposals to which the hon. Gentleman refers tenants will enjoy a high measure of protection, on all fours with the protection that council tenants receive when councils move their tenants from one council property to another, and similar to the protection that private tenants get when private landlords move their tenants from one place to another with the approval of the courts.

Mr. Dover

Is my hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members fully support the proposals because they will end the often inhuman and remote management by housing authorities and lead to much better management in the private sector?

Mr. Patten

I believe that the private sector, and, perhaps, new institutional forms of management can provide a lot. It is interesting that a substantial number of Labour-controlled local authorities are seeking to involve the private sector in the interests of the people who live in their areas.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Minister confirm, or deny, recent reports in the press about a speech that he made that he intends to allow council housing not only to be sold off against residents' wishes, but to force such property to be sold by councils against the wishes of the councils?

Mr. Patten

The best thing that I can do is to send the hon. Gentleman a copy of the speech so that he can see exactly what I said. I can sum up exactly the feeling and sentiment of my speech by quoting one sentence, in which I said: The Government's goal is to recreate in our cities a diverse and socially welcome pattern of different types of housing available for rent which will match and complement the diversity and richness of our owner-occupied stock. I shall send the hon. Gentleman a copy of my speech.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

Was not my hon. Friend too mealy-mouthed in his response to the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes)? Is my hon. Friend aware of the unscrupulous propaganda circulated in my constituency during the recent local government elections by the Labour party in Manchester about the threats that the Government were holding over the heads of tenants in my constituency and stating that it was an absolute fact that when the Housing and Planning Bill went through they would be evicted? Perhaps my hon. Friend should beef up his answer in response to my intervention.

Mr. Patten

I can see that I need some training in this approach from my hon. Friend. He will be aware of the letter that I wrote to him a day or so ago condemning in clear and unequivocal terms the leaflets that were put through so many doors in Manchester. However, in my characteristically, I hope, subfusc and reasonable approach when answering questions, I was seeking to say that we should put the recent local elections behind us with the scaremongering leaflets that were circulated during those local elections. Let us tell tenants in public sector stock, particularly elderly tenants, exactly what the facts and the truth are. That is so important in politics.

Mr. John Fraser

Does the Minister accept that the best way to add to the diversity and choice of housing is to allow local authorities and housing associations to continue with the task of building homes for rent, on which the Minister and his Department have been screwing them down for the last seven years? If he wants to assure tenants about houses being sold off to the private sector, should he not give to tenants the same veto on sales to the private sector as he has promised tenants in respect of the privatisation of management? Will he give that assurance and change the Housing and Planning Bill in another place?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Gentleman, who served on the Standing Committee on the Housing and Planning Bill, will be well aware of the considerable assurances that I have given during the examination of the Bill. I think that the hon. Gentleman, who is a London Member, is, to a great extent, playing the wrong tune over new building. In London and our other great cities we should be finding ways of bringing back into use the scandalously large number of empty council houses and flats to house the people who need that accommodation.

Mr. Cartwright

Is the Minister aware that there is widespread support for the case to break up centralised, monolithic and remote local authority housing management? Will he be taking practical steps to encourage the development of housing co-operatives, housing associations and neighbourhood housing trusts rather than taking the easy option of simply selling the estates off into the private sector?

Mr. Patten

On some occasions the option which might be appropriate could well be selling off part, not necessarily all, of the accommodation on an estate. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) that a variety of ways of breaking up monolithic tenures would be very appropriate, especially if they are the sorts of tenures which the people who live in those flats and houses want. That is why we need a radical re-examination of our policies towards rented housing in the public and private sectors.