HL Deb 22 February 1982 vol 427 cc747-9

2.54 p.m.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will estimate the number of council tenants who have purchased their homes since May 1979.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, in the period April 1979 to September 1981 local authorities and new towns in Great Britain sold 194,000 dwellings, most of these to their tenants.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend the Minister for that Answer, may I ask him whether he is aware that according to figures in my possession a sum of approximately £539 million was obtained from the sale of council houses during that period, which appears to have remained in the coffers of the local authorities? Is it not the fact that the whole purpose of the sale of these houses is for the construction of other houses? May I ask him whether this is not thwarting the housing policy of the national Government?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, so far as I am aware, the figure which my noble friend states is correct as regards the amount of money, but the purpose of sales is not, indeed, to lead to the building of further houses. Indeed, one of the major arguments in the whole debate that has ranged round this matter is that by selling to a sitting tenant you make neither more nor less available the house to another person, because the same person continues to occupy it and, therefore, there is no need to build another house to replace the one you have sold. But what authorities do with that amount of money which they now have is up to them. They have a whole range of options in the housing field. They can indeed build, they can also repair, they can maintain or they can offset a debt which is outstanding. There are many things which they can do with the money.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that mobility of labour is vital in obtaining the maximum employment we can, with industries dying in one area and another? Does he also agree that council houses, and new council houses, are a very important factor in making mobility possible?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I think the noble Viscount is making a completely different point. I would say that the provision of housing, the rehabilitation of existing housing, the bringing back into use of houses which are standing empty—these matters also play a vital role in the whole field of housing, to cover the point which the noble Viscount makes.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that many local authorities which have very large waiting lists believe that the sale of council houses presents a bitter problem for them, particularly in the light of the fact that the housing "starts" in 1981 were the lowest since the 1914–18 war?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I thought that in my Answer to the first supplementary question I had really answered the point which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, makes; namely, that you do not make the dwelling more or less available because you sell it to the sitting tenant. Therefore, I cannot accept, basically, what he is saying on that.

Lord Taylor of Mansfield

My Lords, can the noble Lord say what, in terms of percentages, the 194,000 represent?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I think we are talking in total of a stock of some 6 million dwellings. As a percentage, it is a very small percentage. I think the noble Lord would also like to know, perhaps, to help him on the figures, that there have been certainly some 450,000 applications, and now, as the momentum is growing and authorities are starting to process them more quickly, then the number of sales will grow.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, the noble Lord said that 194,000 houses had been sold, most of them to sitting tenants. With whose permission were they sold to people other than sitting tenants?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, there has long operated what is called a voluntary consent, which allows the authorities to sell, if they so wish, within certain parameters which were set down. Indeed, Peter Shore, when he was Secretary of State, also operated on this same basis.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, could my noble friend say whether there is a broad condition by councils on the sale of their houses—I am talking of the claw-back condition—or whether some councils lay down such punitive conditions as to make it unattractive to buyers?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the right-to-buy scheme now gives tenants a very wide option, and r would have thought that there are very few limitations now that could make them feel either unable or unwilling to buy. I think the incentives for them to do so are very great. I do not think that is any reason why people should hesitate.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, could the Minister tell us whether the sales have been evenly spread throughout the country? Has the take-up of council tenants been even? Further, has he any figures to let us know whether unemployment is having a slowing down effect on housing sales?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, If do not have the information that the noble Baroness requests. I know from my own area experience that where sales were made they were made across a very broad spectrum in terms of the types of estates in a city. T would have to update that considerably before giving the noble Baroness a proper answer on that point. As to the second point, about the unemployment factor, unfortunately I am not able to help with that either.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, will my noble friend tell the House the proportion of local housing authorities that are operating the scheme and those that are frustrating it or seeking to do so?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, there has been much publicity in this field recently. All authorities are operating the scheme; they are required to do so by law. All tenants have a legal right to buy. The concern has been the dilatory way in which some authorities have been dealing with the matter. I can assure my noble friend that the Government are in touch with all authorities where they feel that they have been going more slowly than they ought. We are watching the situation carefully.

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