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Lord Berkeley: I shall not detain the Committee too long at this hour. Our discussions over the past two hours or so have indicated a major concern about the supply of affordable housing. This clause allows associations to sell off houses to tenants to whom government subsidy is given. There is no obligation on the associations to purchase or build new stock in the same area; and there is no assurance, as we have just heard in relation to planning, that land is available. The Government seem a little unsure about how much affordable housing for rent should be provided.
A Department of the Environment memorandum dated 17th May 1995 suggests that a range of between 60,000 and 100,000 new social homes a year are needed; but the expenditure plan targets the lower end of the scale. That is no great surprise.
At a conference yesterday (I quote from the Independent, as a previous speaker quoted from the Telegraph) the Secretary of State for the Environment said that there was a need for 4.4 million new homes in 20 years' time. He said that that was in general largely due to the greater increase in single occupancy. He said that 80 per cent. of the new homes (3.5 million) would be for single occupancy. That leaves only 900,000 homes with more than one person in them over 20 years.
As we have already heard, the Housing Corporation encourages full occupation of social housing. Therefore we must assume that the 900,000 quoted by Mr. Gummer is yet a further reduction in the number of affordable houses. By my calculation that brings the figure down to 45,000 a year, less than half the figure quoted by the Select Committee.
Do the Government have a plan as to where these affordable houses should be built? One hopes that it will be where the need is, because targets are going down and down--120,000 to 55,000 new lettings in just a year. That is an extraordinary reduction in the likely market.
This clause seems certain to reduce significantly the supply of affordable housing, for whatever reason. I genuinely support the right to buy; but I believe that the provision of an equal and increasing number of affordable rented houses is an essential prerequisite before selling off the present stock. I am afraid I am not persuaded that the clause as it stands will achieve any of those objectives.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: The same fallacy arose in the remarks that we just heard as seems always to exist. People imagine that, because someone owns a house, it has suddenly vanished and is no longer there as a dwelling--whereas, whether it is rented or owned, it is still the same house and is still there. We may be talking about the need for more houses, but the fact that they will be sold will not make those houses that exist vanish.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I also read the speech yesterday of my right honourable friend Mr. Gummer, in which he looked forward to the year 2020 and the likely growth in the number of households in the UK. I may have read the speech rather hurriedly, but I did not get the impression that the figure was 4.4 million households which all needed social housing. Quite the contrary, that was the total extra that may be needed because of the number of households coming about for a number of reasons. The figure always strikes one as odd in a fairly static population. But there are considerable social factors involved which mean that more and more people wish to live on their own and not in the more traditional family arrangement. However, that is a very much larger debate and I do not want to begin it.
This clause, which the noble Lord has decided to oppose, is the very centre of the way in which we wish to give tenants in the social housing sphere the right to buy, the same right to buy that we gave in the early 1980s to council tenants. If I were to look up the speeches that I gave in the other place during the Committee stage of the first Tenants' Rights (Scotland) Act, I should then have been countering what I fear are exactly the same arguments this evening; namely, that suddenly the housing disappears, as my noble friend said. There are not great gaps in the council estates around the country where people have bought their houses. There are houses there which are still occupied by people. That is the fundamentally important thing.
The Government's right-to-buy policy has helped over a million families in England. Indeed, without going on for too long at this time of night, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that if he checks, he will find that it is the policy of his party to continue the right-to-buy policies. So he will have to be careful when he opposes Clause 16 of the Bill. We are trying to extend the right that council tenants have had to the tenants of housing associations and tenants of the new social landlord. We believe that those tenants should
The noble Lord seemed to suggest that anyone in social housing who wishes to buy his own home has to move out and buy in the open market. In fact, the new purchase grant scheme addresses the housing associations' concerns; namely, that they tend to lose the more economically active tenants if that happens. It is important that we try--and we have succeeded in many council estates--to get a better mix of tenancy and owner-occupation. That is to everyone's advantage. We want to help tenants to buy on that open market. Indeed, the successful tenants' incentive scheme has helped over 22,000 tenants since 1990 to buy privately.
As I tried to explain, we give as much importance to the need for social housing as does the noble Lord. But we believe that we can marry together the two principles: the principle that the tenant ought to have the right to buy and the principle that the social landlords ought to be able to keep up their rented stock. That is why the tenants' discount is funded by government grant, ensuring that the landlord selling receives the full market price and, once he has settled any private loans,
We shall discuss the problem of rural areas, small rural villages and sparsely populated areas on the next Committee day. I believe that our proposals there ought to satisfy anybody who is concerned about these matters. I hope that with the discussions we have had the noble Lord will see that we take seriously the need to preserve social housing and keep it going. But equally we believe that tenants in social housing have that right to buy. With those remarks, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his objection to the clause.
Lord Berkeley: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. When I referred to 4.4 million new houses there was no question of saying that they should all be affordable or were affordable. I am not against the right to buy. I support it fully. My concern is that there should be no reduction in the amount of affordable houses for those people who will still need them. New people will need affordable houses but cannot afford to buy just yet. The stock should be there and should be increased.
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