HC Deb 11 July 1989 vol 156 cc821-3 4.19 pm
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

I beg to move That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish discrimination against elderly persons in access to the "right to buy" provisions of the Housing and Planning Act 1986 by providing elderly persons with full rights to buy their own homes in local authority or housing association rental schemes, except where the accommodation has been specifically adapted or designed for elderly persons and where no such accommodation has been allocated to persons below pensionable age; further to provide no-fee arbitration by reference to the Housing Corporation in England and Tai Cymru in Wales in the case of any dispute between tenant and public sector landlord on the applicability of the exclusion of accommodation defined as specially suitable for elderly persons. Especially in the context of the preceding debate, it may seem strange for a Labour Member to seek to introduce a Bill to extend the right to buy. Let me explain what my Bill is intended to do. The purpose of the Bill is to remove discrimination against elderly persons who are excluded by law from purchasing accommodation that is especially suitable for them whole young persons who are allocated identical accommodation can exercise the right to buy although that accommodation was not designed specifically for them. That is illogical, and the Government must face the fact that they have created an anomaly in the Housing and Planning Act 1986. My Bill represents a modest attempt to put that right and to introduce some logic into the right-to-buy legislation.

I hope that the Bill will encourage the Government to face up to the implications of the right to buy in general and to the legislation that contains it in particular. We all have to face the fact that there is an increasing number of elderly people in our society; it is sometimes called "grey power". The size of the elderly population will be doubled and trebled in the next decade. We also need to consider our view of the exact purpose of property ownership and to ask ourselves whether we consider it as particularly suited to young people and as something from which elderly people should be excluded. We must try to avoid the division of our society into a two thirds-one third society, of which we have seen serious signs in the United States and, in the past decade, increasing signs in this country, too. We must avoid at all costs introducing any legislation that would do anything to encourage that.

We must work towards the sustainability of the social housing stock and fluidity of the boundary between that social housing stock and the people who occupy it and the so-called private housing stock, albeit subsidised in a social fashion through the mortgage payment subsidy.

Accommodation for elderly persons poses particular problems. An elderly person's concept of private ownership is no longer necessarily the concept of 100 per cent. equity ownership. The elderly person's sub-group of the National Federation of Housing Associations recently did some excellent work on the problems of the 25 per cent.—75 per cent. equity stake, which is particularly suitable for the elderly. Problems also arise in the exact definition of service charges for elderly persons' accommodation, given that elderly people require many more services than others. They may seek greater security and they may have problems with additional heating bills. All those factors mean that housing for the elderly will not necessarily be identical to the accommodation that is most appropriate for younger people.

The problem will grow and grow. In addition to the increasing number of elderly persons, we have an increasing number of elderly persons surviving for about 25 years after their retirement—about the same time as the term of most people's mortgage. It is not unusual for the elderly to be alive and kicking 25 years after their pension starts to be paid. That means that, in terms of time, at least, they are perfectly capable of paying off a mortgage. Ten years ago, people would have said, "What is the point of a woman of 60 or a man of 65 taking out a mortgage?" But, subject to the person's income, that is now a perfectly sensible proposition.

Most important of all is the increasing concentration of local authority and housing association activity on housing for the elderly. That is the direction in which the Government want their efforts to go. That being so, they must also think through the implications of the right to buy in this area of increasing effort.

An additional consideration is that there are now many people in areas such as mine who cannot get on the housing ladder. One of the ways in which they can do so is if their elderly parents acquire an asset through exercising their right to buy, pay a mortgage and pass it on. Nobody on an industrial wage in my area can start on the housing ladder because there are no houses left at under £30,000.

My Bill attempts to solve some of the incompatible and irreconcilable objectives of the present law. All are perfectly valid bits of social engineering, but they do not add up. My Bill attempts to make them add up There are charitable housing associations and local authorities who want to build for the elderly. The Government want to support them, but the market does not. Housing associations and local authorities do not necessarily want to create ghettoes for the elderly. That is another important aspect of social engineering. Flats in blocks built for the elderly are occasionally let to young persons. Immediately that happens, one gets into difficulty. If a local authority nominates a young person into an elderly persons' block of flats, that young person can normally exercise the right to buy, but the elderly people for whom the flats were designed cannot. Jealousy and social discord arise in what was previously a happy community. Elderly people then ask why they cannot have the same right as the young person. The answer may be to refuse to allocate elderly persons' flats to young people. That is covered in my Bill. It restricts local authorities' or housing associations' ability to mix the young and the elderly.

Local authorities and housing associations may say, "We want to build enough accommodation of this kind so that even though some of it is allocated under the right to buy there is sufficient left over that can be rented."

It is now time for the Government to accept that they must consider the consequences of their attitude to the right to buy. There must be a sustainable housing stock. That has to be the first priority. The right to buy, if it is to be a genuine benefit, must he sustainable and not a one-off phenomenon of the 1980s to shrink local authorities down to size—euthanasia for the municipal housing sector. We must avoid creating massive homelessness.

If we extend the right to buy, we have also to extend the right to build, or there will not be any social housing. Homelessness and an inability to accommodate the elderly will be the inevitable consequences.

If the right to buy is not to be exercised as a political benefit that is just available to the first in the queue in the 1980s, we cannot exclude the elderly. We had the right to buy mark one—simply the right to buy a local authority house regardless of what the local authority thought. Mark two extended the right to a discount. Mark three extended the provisions to housing associations, prison officers and some disabled people. We have not faced the logic of mark four—why should it be restricted at all? It has to be restricted only because we do not have the right to build. The right to buy and the right to build should exist side by side. I hope that this Bill will force the Government to think through the consequences of the right to buy.

If we are to cease to exclude the elderly from the right to buy, we have to accept that there must be a comparable right to build so that there is a sustainable housing stock. There should be an ability to rent, an ability to rent with a view to eventual purchase, and an ability to rent and continue to rent.

This is a modest amendment to the Housing and Planning Act 1986. It will bring some equity and justice into the provision of housing for the elderly. It removes discrimination in the provision of accommodation for young and elderly people, removes the present nonsensical state of affairs, and raises the issue of whether we are building enough social accommodation or whether the right to buy was simply a temporary political benefit intended to achieve the re-election of the Conservative Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Rhodri Morgan, Mr. Paul Flynn and Mr. Frank Field.