Housing

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st June 1978.

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Photo of Mr Russell Fairgrieve Mr Russell Fairgrieve , Aberdeenshire West 12:00 am, 21st June 1978

I am not saying it is simple. I shall come later to other surveys and to what the Minister responsible for housing in Scotland has said. Once a person owns his house, it is his property and the market is bound to loosen and become freer. There can then be no objection to buying and selling between people who own their own homes.

There are two other reasons why we believe in increasing home ownership. First, it helps to improve labour mobility between different parts of Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole. Secondly, it gives people a stake in the community in which they live. This is of itself of value, but as a by-product it tends to discourage vandalism, which is a serious problem in Scotland. The incidence of vandalism is much lower on private estates than on public estates, because people have a vested interest in their properties.

Having been an elected member of a Scottish local authority for many years and for some years chairman of its housing committee, I remember those who came to us and asked why Scotland was so out of step with the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe over the proportion of State as against private housing. The answer is, of course, the predominance in Scotland of Labour-controlled local authorities.

One way to increase home ownership is to build more private sector houses. The only way to meet people's genuine aspirations is to give public authority tenants the right to buy the home in which they live.

The Scottish Minister concerned claimed: There is no great demand from council tenants to buy their houses."—[Official Report, 17th May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 453.] He cited the fact that in 1977 he received 406 applications to sell council houses and approved 350 leading to 59 sales. But that is not a realistic assessment. In 1973, 2,248 public sector houses were sold, including 708 local authority houses, 204 SSHA houses and 1,336 new town houses.

It is no good saying that people do not want to buy if the whole system is geared to discouraging them. For example circular SDD36 /1974 rescinded the previous circular of 1972 which gave local authorities a general consent to sell to sitting tenants. From then on, the Secretary of State's personal permission had to be obtained for each individual sale. What a job for the Secretary of State. That is hardly an encouragement. There would be quite a difference if mortgages were available readily. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) discussed this and mentioned some difference in England which I am unable to accept or understand.

I suggest that local authorities should submit schemes for sales to the Secretary of State as they did for comprehensive schools. If a discount were given to take account of a certain number of years' rent, a very different picture would emerge. Rents could also be turned into more or less mortgage payments.

The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) referred to two types of amenity. This is why we have asked for a tenants' charter and tenants' control. It amuses me to hear from the Liberals and the Scottish nationalists this talk of instant politics. We have heard one speech from the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) which was concerned mainly with summer lets. Is the Cornish summer holiday letting situation basically the way in which to treat the British housing problem?

It should be emphasised that not one person on the housing waiting list would be adversely affected by the sale of council houses. There is no evidence to show that if people did not buy they would vacate their houses for someone else.