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22 Oct 2002 : Column 156continued
There would be widespread agreement that more work needs to be done. I also suspect that there would be agreement as to the need for the privately rented sector to play a greater role in meeting the need for affordable housing. I note that the Conservatives' amendment refers to that point, although they might not agree with some of the measures that we think should be introduced to assist in increasing that rolefor example, the use of tax credits to encourage landlords to provide accommodation at sub-market rents.
However, the hon. Member for Cotswold and I might agree that we can see no way at all in which the latest announcements about revisions to housing benefit can help. As my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) has pointed out, the Government seem to believe that there is a world in which those on housing benefit are happy tenants, surveying a wide range of quality affordable accommodation with the opportunity to sit down with landlords to discuss the rent over a mug of coffee. That is certainly not the world in which I and many of my constituents live.
Much help could also be given to enable the private sector to work with others. There are many useful self-help and part self-build schemes throughout the country that need more encouragement. I draw the Minister's attention to the excellent habitat for humanity team, which is doing good work in Southwark with the private sector, the local authority and would-be tenants to develop and build affordable housing in the area.
There will not be agreement, however, about the right to buy. I return to the question put by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink). More than 1.5 million houses have been sold under the right-to-buy scheme since it was introduced in 1980, but the receipts have been wholly insufficient to replace the stock of affordable homes that were lost. In the current year, although 52,000 properties were sold, fewer than 20,000 new affordable homes were built. The Government are right to consider changes, not least to end some of the unacceptable exploitation that currently exists.
Sadly, however, that is not the only scam. In this month's edition of London Housing magazine, Julian Blake describes anothera legal exploitation of the ruleswhich he claims involves about 20 companies in London alone. Those companies cash in on the discount of up to #38,000 offered to tenants exercising their right to buy and sidestep the laws on resale. A company offers cash incentives to tenants to buy under the right to buy, subject to the tenants signing an agreement immediately to vacate the property so that the company can rent it out. The tenants formally sell the house to the company only after the three-year period during which they would normally have to repay the discount. As a result of that scam, valuable homes are being snapped up for private gain at sub-market prices, with the permanent loss of valuable, affordable housing stock. That scam should end. It cannot go on. Rather than row back on the right-to-buy scheme, however, the Conservatives want to extend it.
Mr. Gray: There is no doubt that the type of scam described by the hon. Gentleman must be stamped out. However, does he agree that if he does away with the 60 or 70 per cent. discount under the right-to-buy scheme and replaces it with the 25 per cent. scheme proposed by the Liberal Democrats, it would make homes much less affordable? Secondly, does he recall the Liberal Democrat document entitled XA Home of Your Own", which stated that
Mr. Foster: We changed our view in the run up to the last general election and we changed it for the reasons that I have giventhat increasingly we began to be concerned that in some sensitive areas of the country there were growing problems associated with the shortage of affordable housing. We changed it because we recognised that, under the rules introduced by the Conservative party, there was no possibility that the money released from the right-to-buy scheme would be sufficient to provide a one-for-one matching with a new affordable home. We also recognised that, in any further moves in that direction, such as those which the Conservatives are now proposing, there was no possibility whatever of a matching one-for-one proposal. I therefore believe
I hope that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire will acknowledge that anyone who is sensible, having reviewed how a policy has worked and its implications and effects, would be prepared to change their mind. [Hon. Members: XWrong."] Sadly, that is what the Conservative party is not prepared to do. It is very interesting[Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire will listen, because both the leader of the Conservative party and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), at their recent party conference, announced their so-called Xnew" right-to-buy policy. The right hon. Gentleman said:
But 1 million is also, for the Tories, a rather flexible number. They claim that 1 million people will benefit from their policy and yetI hope that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire will correct me if I have got this wrong, but the figures are very clearalready 300,000 housing association tenants have the right to buy under the 1980 legislation, and 200,000 have the slightly different right to acquire under the 1996 legislation. So for the Tories, for new read old and for 1 million read 500,000.
Mr. Tyler: Is my hon. Friend aware that under the Conservative rules, a further scam has taken place in areas of considerable housing shortage, whereby some properties have ended up, under the right to buy, as second homes? Is he also aware that that has exacerbated the situation in areas such as the south-westCornwall and Devon? Is he further aware that if the Conservative party's proposals were pursued, it would be central Government dictation to local authorities to do something that they know is completely mad in local circumstances?
Mr. Foster: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why, first, we have made the proposalshortly, we hope, to be accepted by the Governmentin relation to council tax subsidy, and secondly why we will continue to urge the Government to introduce the planning requirements at a local authority level for a change of use to a second home.
There is no doubt whatever that the Conservative party proposals to extend the right to buy are totally uncosted. It is clear that they will never, under their proposals, be able to help to solve the affordable housing crisis. We have a very significant crisis in affordable homes, and it is not just the homeless, the overcrowded, the poorly housed or the poorly paid who are losing out. We all lose out, because if key workers cannot find housing, the crucial public services on which we all depend will collapse.
Everyone deserves a decent home; it is a scandal that not everyone has one. Despite many fine words[Interruption.]although not from the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), not enough has been done. Now we must act.