HC Deb 19 February 1992 vol 204 cc314-6
2. Mrs. Maureen Hicks

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to make an announcement on a national scheme for the conversion of council rents to mortgages.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Sir George Young)

My right hon. Friend is considering a statutory rents-to-mortgages scheme in the light of the results of the pilot schemes in Basildon and Milton Keynes.

Mrs. Hicks

Is my hon. Friend aware that since 1980, 10,075 council tenants in Wolverhampton have become the proud owners of their council houses? Does he recognise that many people want to be proud owners, but cannot afford to buy their council homes outright? They would warmly welcome the opportunity, which they hope that the Government will give them, of being able to convert their rents to mortgages. I ask my hon. Friend, please, to give us that opportunity as soon as possible. When he does so, I hope that he will ensure that he legislates to ensure that Labour cannot operate delaying tactics as they have in Wolverhampton. Labour does not want people to own their own homes.

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to her many constituents who are now home owners and thus have the privilege of owning their own homes—a right which would have been denied them if we had listened to the advice of Opposition Members. If we decide to extend the rents-to-mortgages scheme and to make it nationwide, we shall take steps to ensure that no recalcitrant local authority can deny people rights that have been given to them by the House.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Minister aware that a number of people in the west midlands and elsewhere who took the opportunity of buying their accommodation now find that their homes have been repossessed as a direct result of Government economic policy? The essential need in housing is to provide far more rented accommodation. Before the Minister gives us, once again, the sterile old argument about the number of empty council properties, I point out that the number of empty council properties is far fewer than the number of empty properties owned by the Government.

Sir George Young

No one in temporary accommodation who sees empty and unused local authority accommodation thinks that that is a sterile argument. On the first point, local authority tenants who bought their homes are among those least likely to have been repossessed. They tend to be people who are used to making regular weekly payments and they have a substantial equity in their homes because of discounts. They are not a significant element among those who have been repossessed. We shall continue to put pressure on local authorities with stock that has been empty for more than a year. We shall persuade them to bring it back into use for the benefit of those in temporary accommodation.

Mr. Hind

My hon. Friend will be aware that I have often urged him to follow the Basildon project with the Skelmersdale project. Skelmersdale is a new town with many former council houses which would be ideal for conversion from rents to mortgages. When he considers his share of the Conservative party manifesto, will my hon. Friend give a promise to my Skelmersdale council tenants that they will be able to purchase their houses under such a scheme in the future?

Sir George Young

We are, indeed, reflecting on precisely that proposition. We believe that the tenants about whom my hon. Friend has spoken are responsible people who are capable of taking a mature decision. I was appalled to see that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) referred to the rents-to-mortgage scheme as a "facile and short-term measure". That is a patronising approach which would deny widening choice to many local authority tenants.

Mr. Soley

Is not the reality that the scheme is an enormous flop? Is not it true that throughout the United Kingdom, only about 100 such cases have been pursued despite the enormous amount which the Government have put into advocating the scheme? Is not the reality that there is a far greater interest at present in a mortgages-to-rents scheme? Does the Minister agree with the figure given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Dispatch Box when he told us that there would be 40,000 mortgage rescues this year? If the Minister does not agree with that figure, will he tell us how long it will take to introduce any rescue schemes? Are we talking about months or years?

Sir George Young

As to the rents-to-mortgages scheme, 568 people in Milton Keynes and Basildon applied to buy their home under the scheme; and 100 applicants have switched to the right-to-buy scheme. They would not share the hon. Gentleman's view. Labour adopts a dogmatic approach to the rents-to-mortgages scheme, as it did to the right to buy and will abandon it in the same way.

Mr. Dunn

Does my hon. Friend accept my view that the Labour party would really like tied workers living in tied cottages? Will he confirm that tenants who decide to buy under the provisions of the rents-to-mortgages scheme will pay little more than they do in rent?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right. They would pay exactly the same under the rents-to-mortgages scheme as they currently pay in rent—but they would be acquiring their homes, rather than simply being tenants. I could do no better than use the graphic terms in which my hon. Friend described Labour's position. It has a paternalistic approach to local authority tenants. We seek to enfranchise them.