HC Deb 12 December 1990 vol 182 cc944-6
8. Mr. Dunn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many council and new town commission homes have been sold to sitting tenants since 1 January 1980.

Mr. Yeo

It is estimated that between January 1980 and September 1990 almost 1.2 million council and new town commission homes have been sold to sitting tenants in England.

Mr. Dunn

First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment. As Conservative Members believe in giving village people a stake in society through the extension of home ownership, will he confirm as soon as possible when he intends to introduce legislation to extend the rents-to-mortgages scheme throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Yeo

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. His question demonstrates that he, like my other hon. Friends, has the interests and aspirations of tenants at heart. We intend to monitor carefully the progress of the rents-to-mortgages pilot scheme in Basildon which, during the short time that it has been available, has aroused considerable interest. My hon. Friend's encouragement to us will be an important factor to be taken into account when we decide whether to extend the experiment, although, as he acknowledged, to extend it to all local authority tenants would require primary legislation.

Mr. Clelland

Is the Minister aware that his reply demonstrates that, despite recent events, nothing has changed and that we are being subjected to the same old claptrap from the Dispatch Box? Is he further aware that, contrary to the recently expressed opinions of the Minister for Housing and Planning, local authorities' ability to use the receipts from council house sales to provide additional council housing has been severely restricted, which has led to a complete standstill in the provision of council housing, in Newcastle and Gateshead in particular and in other local authority areas? What will the Government do about the growing army of homeless and inadequately housed people that they have created?

Mr. Yeo

When it comes to claptrap, the Labour party has a monopoly. The new system that we have introduced this year for dealing with capital receipts is designed to ensure that they are recycled so that they can be used in the areas of greatest housing need. There is no particular reason why those areas should be the same ones as where the receipts arise.

Mr. Thurnham

Now that the Labour party has changed its policy in favour of the right to buy, will my hon. Friend, whom I very much welcome to the Dispatch Box, make it his first priority to ensure that more council houses are sold? Will he have a word with Bolton council —which, in 10 years, has succeeded in reducing its stock of houses only from some 26,000 to some 24,000?

Mr. Yeo

We know that hostility to the right to buy is never far below the surface in any Labour local authority. If my hon. Friend knows of any cases of difficulty in his constituency involving people being obstructed in their right to buy, I shall be happy to look into them.

Mr. Soley

In welcoming both new Housing Ministers to their posts, may I first remind them that the average life expectancy of a Housing Minister is only six months, so perhaps they should first negotiate a secure tenancy? Having done that, will they give some hope to the people of this country and recognise that since 1980, 1.5 million homes have been lost from the rented sector, half because of the right to buy and the other half because of the collapse in the private rented sector? Will the Minister now give people some hope by allowing local authorities to replace the homes that are sold, because a right to buy without a duty to replace equals cardboard city? That is the problem.

Mr. Yeo

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome to me and my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning. I remind him that local authority lettings to new tenants, which are running at 228,000 in the latest year, are very close to the average for the past decade. There is no clear evidence that the effect of council house sales is to reduce the availability of accommodation to tenants. The fastest and the cheapest way for the hon. Gentleman to increase the supply of public sector housing would be to ensure that some of the 100,000 properties in local authority control which are currently empty are put back into use.

On the private rented sector, if the hon. Gentleman is really interested in helping us, he should stop most of his hon. Friends undermining that sector.