I will, with permission, answer this Question and Question No. 3 together.
In 1975, English authorities reported the sale of about 2,000 council dwellings not built specifically for sale. In Humberside five such dwellings have been sold since January 1976.
As was the case with Lincolnshire some weeks ago, is that not a disgracefully low figure? Will the Minister assure the House that in view of the recent local government elections the Government will now actively encourage local authorities to sell council houses to sitting tenants?
The Government stand by the policy advice issued in Circular 70/74 soon after we came into office and which was discussed in a recent debate. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman turns his attention to the local authorities in question before asking me what their particular policies should be.
Will my hon. Frend stand firmly by the circular to which he has referred, which stated that it was generally wrong to sell council houses where there was a substantial need for them? There are very few places in the country where there is not a substantial need. Will he insist on all councils, including Conservative-controlled councils, observing that ban, just as the Conservative Government insisted on Labour councils raising rents and actually punishing councillors who did not do so?
I can only repeat what was made clear in the course of the recent debate and on other occasions: that the Government certainly, as my hon. Friend requests, stand by the advice issued in that circular.
I do not know who has permitted the Minister to answer Questions Nos. 1 and 3 together, because they are totally different. Does he accept that the sale of council houses will not have much effect on council house waiting lists, because the people in those houses will stay on to rent them if they are not allowed to buy them? Will he therefore withdraw Circular 70/74 and issue a new circular asking local authorities to get on with the job of selling council houses to sitting tenants?
There are two or three points in the hon. Gentleman's question. It would be wrong to generalise about the effect of sales on council house lists. One has to look, as we have advised and urged and will continue to urge, at particular local situations. I would only make the point—it is difficult to go into detail at Question Time—that the hon. Gentleman must take account of the fact that there are remits which vary from one area to another. However, they are an important factor to take into account alongside the building programme that a particular local authority is undertaking in relation to the demand on the waiting list—growing, static or whatever it might be—in a particular situation.
Will the Minister accept that where there is surplus housing in the private sector it makes more sense to give council tenants grants to enable them to move from council housing into the private sector and so leave the council housing available to others who are on the waiting list?
If I understand the background to the question correctly, it would be a mistake, and it would be politically and policywise stupid, to sell off rented accommodation which is required to meet local waiting lists while empty accommodation is available in the owner-occupied market in the same area.