HC Deb 22 February 1995 vol 255 cc348-9
12. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many council houses have been sold under right-to-buy legislation.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

At the end of September 1994, more than 300,000 houses had been sold by public sector landlords in Scotland to sitting tenants under the right-to-buy legislation. This has opened up the opportunity for home ownership for many people, and I am delighted that the Government overcame opposition from the Labour party to secure it for them.

Mr. Marshall

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, which confirms that every fifth Scottish family is living in a home bought under the right-to-buy legislation. Is that not remarkable progress from the days when Labour local authorities were loth to co-operate and Labour Members said that no one would want to buy? Does that not show that Conservative policies work to the benefit of the people of Scotland?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If one takes into account voluntary sales as well as right-to-buy sales, the figure is nearly 310,000. We have now substantially overtaken England, as 30 per cent. of Scottish public sector stock has now been sold compared with 27.6 per cent. in England. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who is in his place, should remember when he and his party strongly opposed the right to buy. I believe that they now regret the stance that they once took.

Mr. Watson

The Minister has given us the figures for right-to-buy legislation, but what about those people who choose not to buy but want the right to rent? Will the Minister provide the figures for the number of council houses that have been built since the Conservatives came to power in 1979? Why does he consider it necessary to narrow the right to rent to those authorities that the Government have established? Many people wish to remain council house tenants and want the right to rent a modern house. How many have been built since 1979?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The number of houses built in Scotland since 1979 is nearly 300,000; the number of council houses runs into many tens of thousands. If local authorities wish to choose as their priority to build more council houses, they have the right to do so. Of course, Scottish Homes is giving priority to providing rented housing through housing associations that are especially geared to the needs of priority groups throughout Scotland.

Mr. Foulkes

Is the Minister aware that large rent increases have turned the right to buy into the need to buy? Is he aware that Scottish Homes has increased rents by 4.2 per cent.—twice the rate of inflation? How does he expect ordinary working people, whose wages are either pegged or reduced, to pay those huge rent increases?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that some £800 million a year is being spent on housing benefit targeted on those who need it and who are paying rent. The hon. Gentleman wishes to reduce rents in Scotland, which on average are £7 or £8 below those south of the border, but if less rent is paid, less will be spent on management and maintenance and the housing stock will suffer. If rents are reasonable, management and maintenance can also be reasonable and houses will be in better condition.