HC Deb 04 June 1996 vol 278 cc396-7
13. Mr. Mans

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to encourage more local authorities to transfer their housing stock to alternative landlords. [29784]

Mr. Clappison

Our successful voluntary housing transfer programme will continue with help for the poorer estates in the form of the estates renewal challenge fund.

Mr. Mans

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate the Conservative group on Wyre borough council, which initiated the scheme that resulted in Wyre borough's entire housing stock being successfully transferred to the Wyre housing association after a successful ballot which revealed that the local Labour party was hopelessly split on the issue?

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The group deserves congratulations, because the scheme will benefit tenants in the form of repairs, improvements and rent guarantees. However, it is not only on Wyre borough council that there seems to be a split in the Opposition ranks. Local housing companies offer an important opportunity to attract private finance, but an attack on such companies, in the form of amendments to the Housing Bill, seems to have been mounted by Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen in another place—at least, they sought to mount an attack until the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) put them under a curfew. We wait to see whether this is an example of old Labour being put under a curfew alongside 10-year-olds, 16-year-olds or whoever else Labour plans to treat in this way.

Ms Walley

Is the Minister aware that former National Coal Board homes in my constituency were sold to private landlords—to such companies as Banana Bliss—who are now asking tenants to pay rent increases ranging from £28 to £50? Can he justify that? Can he provide us with guarantees on rent control in the light of the Spath Holme court case? What guarantees will there be for tenants of privately rented properties?

Mr. Clappison

There is a rent guarantee in the case of transfers to housing associations or local housing companies, and tenants are aware of the situation. In all cases, the transfer is subject to tenants' approval, and a large majority of tenants—as in the case of Wyre—have given their approval.

Mr. Thurnham

Does the Minister agree that it is deplorable how many council houses are left empty and boarded up? Should not they be sold off to landlords who would make the effort to let them—thereby housing the homeless?

Mr. Clappison

There is a problem with some empty council stock. The performance of some councils, under certain political control, falls well below that of the best performance in other cases. If those councils—some of which are in east London, such as Hackney—could put their houses in order, they could provide housing for many more tenants.

Mr. Raynsford

Does the Minister recall that the Walterton and Elgin tenants in Westminster rightly sought to transfer their homes out of the control of Westminster city council, and that they are now replacing the asbestos-ridden slums of Westminster with decent quality housing for local people? Why are the Government therefore making it impossible for any organisation led by tenants to be registered as an approved social landlord in future? Why are they making impossible the very transfers they supposedly support?

Mr. Clappison

Because, in the type of organisations with which we are concerned, it is very important that no single group, whether the council or tenants, should have such a majority. It is important that tenants should be represented. The hon. Gentleman is aware of the advantages that tenants across the country have taken through tenant management organisation to have a say in the running of their own estates. Those are reforms that we put in place, often opposed by the Labour party.