HC Deb 01 December 1993 vol 233 cc1021-2
1. Dr. Spink

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many council tenants have now taken advantage of the Government's right-to-buy policy.

The Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction (Sir George Young)

More than 1.5 million public sector tenants have bought their homes since 1979, of whom 1,140,000 have bought under the right to buy.

Dr. Spink

Does my right hon. Friend' agree that the extension of home ownership has been one of the great developments of recent times? Will he press forward with his large-scale voluntary transfer initiative and look sympathetically at the application from Castle Point borough council, under that initiative, to transfer the whole of its small estate of council houses to the private sector, where the tenants will be well served?

Sir George Young

On the first point, I can confirm that introducing the right to buy has been one of our party's greatest achievements—so great that others have been obliged to copy it. On the second point, large-scale voluntary transfers bring real benefits to tenants and local authorities. We have received 14 applications for next year's programme, including the one from my hon. Friend's local authority. I am looking at the applications at the moment and expect to announce next year's programme in mid-December.

Mr. Betts

Would the Minister be surprised to learn that I was informed by a major building society yesterday that it had not yet received a single inquiry about the Government's rent-to-mortgage scheme? Is it not time that the Government set aside such gimmicks, which do nothing for the provision of social housing? Should not the Government concentrate on putting resources into the social housing sector, rather than making cuts of £300 million to the Housing Corporation, which we heard about yesterday, which will destroy the opportunities for homeless families and lead to the withdrawal of funding by major institutions because they do not believe that schemes will be viable on that basis in the future?

Sir George Young

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, he may regret calling the rent-to-mortgage scheme a gimmick. It brings home ownership within the reach of those local authority tenants not on housing benefit. All the surveys that we have carried out indicate that such tenants would like to be home owners, and the scheme brings it within their reach. As with the right to buy, the Labour party will be obliged to do a U-turn on the rent-to-mortgage scheme and introduce it as part of its election manifesto. The rent-to-mortgage scheme only came on stream in early November, so it does not surprise me that the particular building society that the hon. Gentleman mentioned has not processed an application. The large majority of council tenants will find the scheme attractive.

On the hon. Gentleman's final point, we will more than honour the undertaking that we gave in our manifesto commitment to provide at least 150,000 new homes through the Housing Corporation. That commitment will be exceeded by approximately 20,000.

Mr. Whittingdale

Is my right hon. Friend aware that local authorities in Essex are leading the way in taking advantage of the large-scale voluntary transfer scheme? I hope that, in addition to looking favourably at the application from the local council of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink), he will approve the application that he will shortly be receiving from Maldon district council in my constituency.

Sir George Young

The assertion that Essex leads the way in this area was challenged by a number of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench who come from Suffolk, where there have been a number of successful large-scale voluntary transfers. I will look sympathetically at the application made by my hon. Friend's local authority. As I have said, I shall come to a decision on next year's programme in the middle of this month.

Mr. Pike

The Labour party has always been in favour of extending the advantages of home ownership to as many people as possible—[Interruption.]—as the record of the 1964-70 Labour Government shows. Does the Minister accept that many people who are buying their council houses believe that it would be right and sensible for their local authorities to be able to use those capital receipts for housing purposes? Why are the Government now stopping the use of those capital receipts?

Sir George Young

I can only admire the courage of the hon. Gentleman's assertion. Many of us were in the House between 1979 and 1983, when the right-to-buy legislation went through. The hon. Gentleman's party fought it tooth and nail.

The assertion that the Labour party has always nurtured an ambition to bring home ownership within the reach of more people bears no relation to the facts. It so happens that I have with me an article from Roof magazine, giving the views of a younger hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), expressed in 1981. The article is entitled "My Vision for Housing". The hon. Gentleman's first vision was expressed thus: Repeal the law which allows tenants to buy their council houses.