HC Deb 22 January 1992 vol 202 cc295-7
1. Mr. Turner

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to expand the number of housing co-operatives and other tenant-led initiatives; and what funds he intends to make available to the Housing Corporation to assist these projects.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Sir George Young)

The Department has increased its grants for the promotion of tenant-led initiatives on local authority estates by more than a third since last year. For the housing association sector, the Housing Corporation will shortly be issuing a comprehensive strategy paper on housing co-operatives and tenant participation. It is for the corporation to decide what funds to make available for those purposes from its promotional grants provision and growing capital programme.

Mr. Turner

The Minister will be aware that it is now two years since the Government produced their paper "Tenants in the Lead", which calls for significant progress to be made in the development of co-operative housing. Sadly, we have not seen much progress since receiving that publication. That led to the fact that today a new charter for housing co-operatives has been launched in the House of Commons—I know that the Minister is aware of that —which has received the full support of the all-party parliamentary group on housing co-operatives. Do the Government still believe in the development of housing co-operatives? If so, will the Minister meet a deputation from the Time For Action campaign to discuss the development of housing co-operatives?

Sir George Young

The short answer would be yes. As the hon. Gentleman knows, until recently I was the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on housing co-operatives, a vacancy which the hon. Gentleman now so ably and amply fills. I reaffirm the Government's commitment to the concept of "Tenants in the Lead". We remain deeply committed to the involvement of tenants in the management and, where appropriate, ownership of their homes. I should be happy to meet a deputation involving the hon. Gentleman and the all-party group. The Department is continuing to approve a growing number of tenant management organisations. We are increasing significantly the grant resources that are available for that project this year.

Mr. Gale

My hon. Friend's commitment to the housing co-operatives is well known. Indeed, as he said, he is a former chairman of the all-party group. What steps will his Department take to ensure that initiatives are not overcome or hidebound by unnecessary bureaucracy?

Sir George Young

If my hon. Friend comes across any unnecessary bureaucracy, I hope that he will be the first to bring it to the attention of Ministers. The Department is increasing the number of grants that we give to tenant management organisations. We are approving a significant number of estate management boards, whereby tenants will take over the responsibility for managing their estates. I understand that at its meeting yesterday the Housing Corporation reviewed its own strategy on co-operatives and that it is shortly to publish a paper outlining its future strategy.

Mr. George Howarth

The Minister and I have worked closely together on the subject of housing co-operatives, and I should like to share in the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) about the Minister's commitment to that movement, which is well known and appreciated in the House and elsewhere. For the immediate future—while the Minister is still in office—we hope that his support will be translated into rather more tangible assets for the movement than hitherto. Evidence of the bureaucracy that now seems to be strangling the co-operative movement, to which the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) referred, is now so overpowering that the Minister's commitment must be put to the test to resolve those problems.

Sir George Young

I am not sure that I accept the analysis that the process is hidebound by democracy. We need to distinguish between tenant management and tenant ownership co-operatives. Progress on ownership co-operatives has indeed been slow, for a number of reasons. Management co-operatives, however, have made extremely good progress. I envisage tenant management co-operatives as the first step towards tenant ownership co-operatives. I envisage a continuous process from consultation to management and thence to ownership, and I believe that an unstoppable momentum is building up.

Mr. Dunn

Are not the best tenant-led initiatives those that allow tenants a greater say in their own destinies, leading possibly to increased owner-occupation? Will my hon. Friend consider introducing the rents-to-mortgages scheme on a national scale?

Sir George Young

As my hon. Friend will know, two pilot schemes are now under way, in Milton Keynes and Basildon. The initial analysis of those schemes is positive, and when the Government have completed that analysis we shall indeed consider extending the scheme nationwide.