HC Deb 15 March 1995 vol 256 cc891-2
10. Mr. Simon Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the Government's plans for reviews of housing policy in the areas of (a) obligations and rights of leaseholders who have acquired their homes under the right-to-buy legislation, (b) local authority housing, (c) housing associations and (d) housing co-operatives.

Mr. Curry

We keep our housing policy under continuous review.

Mr. Hughes

That is a really helpful answer. If it is the case, will the Minister be a bit more explicit about when he will publish his proposals on the review of the right-to-buy legislation and its working for people who bought their homes from local authorities? A study is being undertaken, but he knows that many people are now trapped—they are unable to sell and unable to move and have extremely high service or capital charges. It is not a dream; it has turned out to be a nightmare. When will the Government introduce proposals to make the right to buy a realistic opportunity for the many who took up the option?

Mr. Curry

There are no plans to revise the right-to-buy legislation. Some 45,000 people a year are still moving from social housing to owner-occupation under the right-to-buy proposals, but I think that the hon. Gentleman was referring more particularly to leaseholders who bought their properties. I recognise that there is a specific problem. Up to now, we have consulted on three elements. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is familiar with the good practice guide, with the rules governing mortgage indemnity offered by local authorities and an exchange sales scheme. We are looking to see whether we need to develop that package to deal with what I accept is a real problem for a number of people, although perhaps not for thousands, as is sometimes claimed. I accept that some people have a real difficulty, and we are anxious to find a way through for them.

Mr. Dunn

When my hon. Friend reviews housing policy, will be consider what steps he can take to bring pressure to bear on the local authorities that have the worst record in terms of rent collection and poor management of housing stock and the largest number of empty units of accommodation, and that are largely Labour-controlled?

Mr. Curry

My hon. Friend is right. The basic management skills—making sure that one does not have voids and that rent and taxes are collected—are all part of raising legitimate funds to be spent on services, something that local government should never forget is its prime and essential function.

Mr. Raynsford

Why does the Minister not recognise the disastrous impact of current Government policies on almost every aspect of housing? Will he acknowledge that his Department published figures this week showing that the output of new private homes is down by 11 per cent., that new council and housing association starts are down by 31 per cent. and that, on current trends, the output of new rented homes this year will be down to 20,000, the worst figures for any year since the end of the second world war? When will the Government recognise that their policies have failed the nation and need to be revised comprehensively?

Mr. Curry

It is just not true. The hon. Gentleman should examine what is happening. He will see, for example, major growth in the role played by housing associations in the past 10 years and that tenure has been diversified away from local authorities, although he wants to lodge all housing construction with the local authorities again. He will also see that there have been major advances with the right to buy, which is creating a new generation of owner-occupiers.

The hon. Gentleman will see that housing policy has moved on from the grey monolithic policy which was espoused by the Labour party and to which it would want to return; we now have more diversification, with the private rented sector playing its part. He will find that Conservative housing policies are more effective, more diversified and deliver more choice to people and responsibility than the grey uniformity which is Labour's hallmark.

Mr. A. Cecil Walker

Is the Minister aware that senior citizens in Northern Ireland are not permitted to buy their Housing Executive bungalows, although those bungalows may be in areas of very low demand?

Mr. Curry

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I shall examine the point that he makes and get in touch with him.