14. Mr. Bowls
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he last met representatives of housing associations in London; and what matters were discussed.
§ Mr. Ridley
I recently met the chairman of the Housing Corporation and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier) will hold a meeting of representatives of the London Housing Associations Council next week.
§ Mr. Bowis
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many thousands of former council tenants have lost their right to buy by being transferred to housing association tenancies? Is he aware that in London the transfer discount scheme is not a realistic option because of house prices? Will he and his hon. Friend ensure that discussions take place with housing associations in London to ensure that possibly 20 to 30 per cent. of such properties are in share purchase schemes?
§ Mr. Ridley
As my hon. Friend knows, the Government had always hoped that they could persuade another place to agree that charitable housing associations should be subject to the right to buy. They have not so far succeeded in that objective, and that has been the root cause of the trouble that my hon. Friend quite rightly mentioned. It denies rights to buy to some people which are granted to others who happen to be tenants of non-charitable housing associations. I agree that the home ownership for tenants of charitable associations scheme—HOTCHA—is hardly likely to fill its place as it is at present. I could not agree more strongly that the answer is that there should be more shared ownership schemes brought forward by such charitable housing associations. We cannot compel them to do so, because housing associations are voluntary bodies, but we can encourage them. I have already asked the Housing Corporation to allocate sufficient funds for this purpose if the housing associations will take them up.
§ Mr. Hughes
Does the Secretary of State accept that there is increasing difficulty for housing associations in London in seeking to acquire any land or build any houses because of the extremely high cost of the land? Will the Secretary of State ensure in future that they are given the resources through the Housing Corporation to have a 100 per cent. grant, so that they can continue to meet the need that they were established to meet, which is low cost housing for rent for those in need?
§ Mr. Ridley
I read that SERPLAN believes that some 260,000 houses can be accommodated in London up to the end of this century. Therefore, I believe that there is still land available to build more houses in London. The vastly increased programme of funding for the Housing Corporation that my right hon. Friend and I announced yesterday in the public spending review should help to provide housing associations with the funds to build more.
There are still large numbers of empty houses and large numbers of council houses that are being abused. For instance, Brent council has now discovered that a large number of its council houses have the keys traded in Nigeria for £500 a go. If those houses were available, it would help the hon. Gentleman's constituents and other London homeless people. It is another example of the gross inefficiency of Labour authorities in the centre of London.
§ Mr. Winterton
Indeed, Mr. Speaker. I am well aware of that.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that some specialist housing charities provide much-needed specialist accommodation in areas where housing costs are very high, so there could be a danger in introducing legislation to give people the right to buy because that could remove such accommodation from certain areas, thus depriving many deserving people of the opportunity of living there?
§ Mr. Ridley
My hon. Friend is quite right. That was the reason why the other place did not wish to grant the right to buy to tenants of charitable housing associations. However, it is a difficult decision, because at the same time large numbers of people, such as the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), are denied the right to buy where the objections that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) rightly mentions do not apply. Therefore, I hope that charitable housing associations will adapt their policy on the ground according to whether they are in the category of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield or that of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Is the Secretary of State aware that an undertaking given by the Government at the time of the abolition of the GLC in respect of seaside and country homes has been reneged on by the Government? Old people were told that when their homes went over to housing associations the rent levels would remain broadly what they were at that time. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that since the London Residuary Body has sold on those homes to housing associations those old people are now having to pay staggeringly high rents? Is the Minister not ashamed of what he has done?
§ Mr. Ridley
I have some of those houses in my constituency. Those rents are not fixed unless the rent officer agrees any change. But it must be right that rents should rise to the general level of rents in the area concerned. I am still waiting to hear from the hon. Gentleman whether he will withdraw the word "scandal" that he used on Monday [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]