HC Deb 15 February 1995 vol 254 cc985-6
6. Mr. Bill Michie

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the likely take-up of the rent-to-mortgage scheme in 1994–95 and. 1995–96.

Mr. Curry

Returns so far received from local authorities for the period to 31 December 1994 report that five sales have already been completed, and that almost 100 more applications have been accepted under the scheme.

Mr. Michie

This is yet another case of the Government getting themselves into a fine mess. Why do not they accept that the scheme is not working and that it has been expensive—the cost is estimated to be about £400,000 of taxpayers' money, which is not helping the cause? Why do not the Government admit that Labour predicted that? Instead of messing about with half-cocked schemes, the Government should start investing in new and refurbished homes to get our people off the streets and into decent housing.

Mr. Curry

As the scheme is part of the right to buy policy, I am sure that people will be interested to hear the hon. Gentleman refer to it as a half-cocked scheme. Giving people the opportunity to buy their own homes, whether through the right to buy or rent-to-mortgage schemes, gives people what many of them want. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not believe that that is a valid objective.

Mr. Matthew Banks

Does my hon. Friend agree that the relatively low take-up is not the point? The Government give people choice. The Labour party would take it away.

Mr. Curry

The relatively low take-up is due to two things: first, the scheme has been in existence for 18 months only; and, secondly, the relationship between house prices and rents. The economic circumstances have meant that, for many people, it has made more sense to take advantage of the right-to-buy scheme, which is still yielding some 46,000 sales a year. That is what roost people want. We should ensure that they have the opportunity. I am surprised that the Opposition do not believe that that should be the case.

Mr. Raynsford

Does the Minister recognise that this is an issue not of choice, but of integrity and a sense of probity in public life? The Government have wasted £414,000 promoting a scheme that the Opposition warned in Committee would be a costly flop. Does the Minister now recognise that, with a rate of one taker every three months, and with a cost, as I estimate it, of £83,000 for every person taking up the scheme, it is high time that the matter was referred to the Public Accounts Committee?

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman appears to be enunciating the somewhat curious doctrine that we should introduce a scheme and then ensure that no one knows about it. If one introduces a scheme, one publicises it. This scheme is in its early stages. It is intended to be an adjunct of the right-to-buy policy. No one expected that major volumes would arise from the scheme, but it is a useful way for people in particular circumstances to have access to buying their own homes which they might not otherwise have. It is, therefore, a sensible part of a poky that is highly successful, and which the Opposition parties have opposed during the past few Parliaments. People will remember that.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will my hon. Friend accept that another acceptable method of choice would be introduced if his Department accepted the proposal of Wyre borough council to transfer its stock to a housing association, and to consult, and ballot, the tenants?

Mr. Curry

That is a sensible way of diversifying tenure because it rests on tenants' consent. It liberates resources for the refurbishment of houses that are transferred to the housing association, and it liberates resources for the local authority to use to maintain properties that remain in its possession. Everyone gains, therefore, from a sensible policy, and I commend it to the House.