HL Deb 16 September 2004 vol 664 cc1344-8

(1) To monitor sales resulting from right to buy, local authorities will be required to formulate and publish publicly a yearly marketing plan for right to buy sales.

(2) The marketing plan will include—

  1. (a) figures on the number of properties sold through the right to buy scheme in the last 12 months,
  2. 1345
  3. (b) a target figure for the number of properties to be sold through the right to buy scheme in the coming 12 months, and
  4. (c) plans for how to achieve the target figure under paragraph (b)."

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 212ABA would introduce a marketing plan for local authorities in regard to the number of right to buy sales within their area. The clause was discussed at some length in the other place. However, by putting it before this Committee, I hope that the Government will have had a change of heart and will look more favourably on its merits.

Consistent with the spirit and intention of the original right-to-buy legislation, it is important that we simultaneously put proper demands on local authorities that may not be carrying out their proper obligations in respect of the right to buy as enthusiastically as they might. It is clear from a study of local authorities across the country that some drive the right to buy with enthusiasm while others are reticent in encouraging people to take it up. That can involve the speed with which they deal with inquiries, how they market their local policy and how they value their properties.

The plan would include targets on the number of properties that the authority planned to sell and how many it had sold, as well as how it would achieve that target. That seems to me a sensible, constructive and measured way to encourage local authorities to think creatively about how to deal with the right to buy. Few local authorities would think that it could not be taken on board at small cost. It would not be a massive exercise because good local authorities are doing much of that work already. I beg to move.

Lord Rooker

This is a request for more red tape and burdens on local authorities. It is also worth pointing out that the way in which the amendment is drafted excludes more than 800,000 housing association tenants who have the right to buy following stock transfer from local authorities. If it is thought that there should be marketing for the rest of the local authority tenants, I do not see why those 800,000 are missed out.

On the other hand, we do not agree with it anyway. By its nature, the right-to-buy scheme is demand led. Tenants have a legal right. Notwithstanding what was said earlier, the Labour Party may have come late, but it was 1986 when we changed our policy on that. The snag is that we forgot to tell anyone at the ensuing general election. I know that because I was the shadow housing spokesman.

In 1999–2000 and 2000–01, more than 90,000 tenants applied for the right to buy and were accepted. In 2001–02 the number rose to 102,000; in 2002–03 it was more than 149,000; and the figure fell back to 110,000 in 2003–04. The number of completed sales has increased from about 40,000 a year some seven years ago to between 52,000 and 54,000 in the next three years, 63,000 in 2002–03 and almost 70,000 in 2003–04. Given those facts, it is somewhat surprising that the right to buy scheme needs to be marketed.

Lord Hanningfield

We were not suggesting that local authorities should have a marketing plan. As the Minister knows, I am the last person to suggest further red tape for local authorities. It would have to be done without much of that. I have heard the Minister's answer and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 166 [Information to help tenants decide whether to exercise right to buy etc.]:

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 212AC:

Page 117, line 35, at end insert "including an initial one-off delivery of it to all existing secure tenants"

The noble Lord said: While, on the whole, we can lend our support to Clause 166 which deals with the provision of information to tenants, Amendments Nos. 212AC and 212AD are simply designed to aid and to clarify the process a little further.

As the Bill presently stands, it is up to the Secretary of State to decide when information regarding right to buy should be provided to tenants. It appears to be a degree of centralisation that is one step too far. Surely, it should at least be left to the relevant local authority in question. Additionally, it would appear sensible that a tenant, on completion of a tenancy agreement, be provided with such information as is the intent of Amendment No. 212AD. Furthermore, Amendment No. 212AC would ensure that there is a one-off delivery of such information to existing tenants. That would appear to be a sensible and rational way forward and one that I would hope that the Minister could support. I beg to move.

Lord Rooker

Clause 166 supplements the existing duty placed on landlords by Section 104 of the Housing Act 1985 to provide information about the terms of their secure tenancies and the landlords' repair obligations. It also replaces the duty to provide information in respect of right to buy. Clause 166 requires landlords also to supply information to tenants on the responsibilities and consequences of being a home owner. The aim is to help them to decide whether to exercise their right to buy. The Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales have consulted separately on what information should be provided, and when. The vast majority of respondents supported the proposals.

In consulting stakeholders, we stated that we envisaged, as soon as reasonably practical after Clause 166 comes into effect, getting landlords to provide the specified information to all new secure tenants as soon as they take up the tenancy and once every five years thereafter, or after any substantial changes are made to the right to buy scheme, the home buying and selling process, or the regime for service charges payable by leaseholders.

We are currently considering our response to the consultation paper. Our proposals are very similar to those in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, and therefore I ask him to await our final decision. I cannot say whether that will be on Report, as I do not have advice on that.

Lord Hanningfield

I thank the Minister for that answer. As I said, we support the principle behind the Government's initial move—we were merely trying to improve its presentation. I note from what he said that consultation is still going on, and it may be that our amendment is what ultimately ends up in the legislation, so we will wait for further news. I beg to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 212AD not moved.]

Clause 166 agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 167 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Hamwee

I have an extensive note. It says: "Why?". The clause deletes provisions on rent-to-mortgage. The matter was barely touched on in the Commons. I believe the scheme has not been terribly widely used, but that in itself is no reason to bring it to an end. We seek simply to ask the Government to justify on the record the inclusion of this clause—in other words, the termination of the scheme.

Lord Rooker

The amendment would remove Clause 167, which itself terminates the little-used rent-to-mortgage scheme from the Bill. Rent-to-mortgage enables tenants to buy a share in their houses if they cannot afford to buy them outright under the right to buy. The effect would be to leave on the statute book a scheme that has seen very little take-up since it was launched 10 years ago—and is expensive to administer—as well as thwarting the Government's policy of streamlining the number of low-cost home ownership schemes, a key recommendation of the Home Ownership Task Force. That is the answer to the question, "Why?".

Clause 167 agreed to.

Clauses 172 and 173 agreed to.

Clause 174 [Local authority's right of first refusal]:

[Amendment No. 212AE not moved.]

Lord Rooker moved Amendment No. 212AF:

Page 125, leave out lines 10 and 11 and insert— (10) The limitation imposed by a covenant within subsection (3) is a local land charge. (11) The Chief Land Registrar must enter in the register of title a restriction reflecting the limitation imposed by any such covenant.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 174, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 175 and 176 agreed to.

Clause 177 [Registered social landlord's right of first refusal]:

[Amendment No. A212AG not moved.]

Lord Rooker moved Amendment No. 212AH:

Page 130, leave out lines 18 and 19 and insert— (9) The limitation imposed by a covenant within subsection (2) is a local land charge. (9A) The Chief Land Registrar must enter in the register of title a restriction reflecting the limitation imposed by any such covenant.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 177, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 178 to 180 agreed to.

Clause 181 [Housing action trust's right of first refusal]:

[Amendment No. 212AJ not moved.]

Lord Rooker moved Amendment No. 212AK:

Page 135, leave out lines 30 and 31 and insert— (10) The limitation imposed by a covenant within subparagraph (3) is a local land charge. (11) The Chief Land Registrar must enter in the register of title a restriction reflecting the limitation imposed by any such covenant.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 181, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 182 agreed to.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 213:

Before Clause 156, insert the following new clause—"

"Assignments by way of exchange