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Matthew Green : Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the issue of social housing and registered social landlords, will he confirm whether it is still Conservative party policy to extend the right to buy to all RSL tenants?

Mr. Curry: I notice in the Housing Corporation's report a recommendation that the right to buy ought to be extended across the social sectors because it is clearly unfair that somebody in a local authority house should have the right to buy and that, for a local authority house that has been transferred, the right to buy is carried with that transfer, whereas for a housing association property it is not, generally speaking, although there are some exceptions. We shall develop a policy that seeks to fulfil that objective of creating a level playing field, and the Housing Corporation has come up with some extremely sensible ideas for the way forward. Had it given more mechanisms on how to move

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forward, it would have been even more helpful. There are some fine aspirations in that report, but the mechanics need to be put in place.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that his policy would allow RSL properties in rural villages to be sold?

Mr. Curry: We have never sold RSL properties in villages. There has always been a prohibition on such sales in villages of fewer than 3,000 inhabitants. That was built into the very first right-to-buy proposals, and it would remain the case. I am a rural Member of Parliament, and I know precisely the problems of providing housing for local people. I support those measures that allow local authorities and social providers to limit access to people from the local community and to maintain that access.

Mr. Steen : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in rural areas such as south Devon, there is a shortage of greenfield land, the only area where there is any spare land to build houses, with the result that councils are not building on such sites? There is therefore great scarcity and prices are going up. The Government are failing because they cannot build affordable or social housing—scarcity leads to the prices rising too high.

Mr. Curry: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is the problem everywhere. The Barker report says that 39,000 additional houses ought to be built every year, merely to keep up with population growth and household formation, and that is almost certainly an underestimate. The work was done by Shelter in co-operation with the Barker inquiry.

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Do I take it from the right hon. Gentleman's advocacy of all this extra housing that he is prepared to reverse the policy of the Conservative party, which was critical of Labour, claiming that we were going to concrete over the green belt? Is he now committing himself to putting all those new houses into the green belt?

Mr. Curry: Nobody is talking about the green belt. We all recognise that there is a major demand for property. We know that it comes from a number of sources, one of which is household formation—that is sociology. Immigration in south-east England causes a significant demand for housing because people are spilling out of London into the region. We also know that in the major metropolitan areas, with the possible exception of Leeds—it depends whether the census people have got their facts right—people are spilling out of the centre into the suburbs. I do not dispute the fact that there is a significant demand. The question is how and where we meet that demand. The idea that demand in London and the south-east is created by people from Yorkshire and Lancashire marching down the M1 or the A1 with soot or snow on their boots is entirely illusory; indeed, sane people are moving in the opposite direction.

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The Government claim that the measures in the Bill will have no impact on the volume of sales. The explanatory notes, which are normally almost as incomprehensible as the Bill itself, state on page 61, at paragraph 361:

I have to say that I treat that with a degree of scepticism. The changes to the discount already implemented may well have stopped the right to buy in its tracks in London—it remains to be seen whether that is so—and the Bill's other measures, including the extension of the qualifying period, a consequence of which is that discounts are repayable in the event of resale within that period, add to a significantly steeper barrier to right to buy.

I accept that some of the measures make sense. I agree that if a property is to be demolished within a reasonable period, people should not be allowed to buy merely in order to be able to claim compensation. I have no problem with giving rights of first refusal to social landlords on a market basis—provided that the process of putting property on the market is not delayed. Nor do I have a problem with the penalisation of deferred resale agreements, although it is worth stating that the Heriot-Watt university study showed a very limited use of companies and that many people used them because they had no access to finance from conventional sources, so one has to be careful how one uses that argument. However, I have still to be persuaded that the Bill does not form another chapter of the insidious Labour attack on the right to buy, which the party has never really approved or embraced. I hope that the measures are genuinely targeted on abuse and that it will be demonstrated that the volume of sales has not been significantly affected.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): May I reiterate the incredible problems that the right to buy has caused in areas such as Tower Hamlets? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that extending the policy to housing associations, for example, would involve additional public subsidy of about £1 billion? Where would that money be found?

Mr. Curry: I really do not think that the hon. Lady has got it right in this instance. The people who produced the Housing Corporation report were not a bunch of card-carrying Conservatives, and one of the clear points they made in the report was that we had to consider some means by which we could create equal conditions across the social field. That is especially important given that the burden of development of social housing has passed from local authorities, and may pass from housing associations as well under the Government's proposals to bring in private developers, albeit into schemes that, I suspect, will be managed by housing associations. It therefore makes sense to search for a reasonable way in which housing opportunities can be made more generally available.

Jeremy Corbyn: Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware of the vast ongoing scandal whereby council properties are bought under right to buy with money loaned to the tenants, then rented out at exorbitant rates to people, many of whom are entitled to housing benefit

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and whose rents are paid by the public? Does he not think that someone who exercises their right to buy should be limited to renting out the property for no more than the council or housing association would have rented it out for?

Mr. Curry: I have already said that in so far as the measures are designed to stop such practices, I support them. I am not in the business of promoting manipulation or abuse of the system—I want people's natural and normal aspirations to be fulfilled. I said that we would support the Government in so far as they are trying to deal with abuses.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman mentioned how he would like to standardise the right-to-buy regime across the social housing sectors. Does he think that we should standardise the discount regime as well?

Mr. Curry: The hon. Gentleman is using "standardise" falsely. I want people to have opportunities across the right-to-buy spectrum. Those may well be equivalent opportunities—

David Wright: So, continuing variable discounts.

Mr. Curry: That is one of the recommendations in the Housing Corporation report, "A home of my own", but although the corporation was strong on possible sensible directions in which to move, it has not yet provided any of the landing lights showing how to arrive at our destination, so we must all try to work out the details.

The Minister may recall that when we were in government we toyed with the idea of introducing a social housing grant for private sector developers, but did not proceed. The Government believe that housing associations have grown lazy on the fat of the land and are failing on output, productivity and value for money. One only has to talk to people in the sector to realise that that message is coming over loud and clear, particularly from the Treasury. The idea is that the private sector will be brought in, particularly because of the need to meet targets in the communities plan. The measure must be seen against the background of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill and the introduction of a tariff system to commute section 106 agreements into cash payments. After all, the majority of social housing is the result of planning gain. Registered social landlords and housing associations fear that private developers will build on easy sites, many of which will be in the green belt, such as areas around Milton Keynes, undermining their ability to recycle surpluses from, for example, shared ownership into social housing construction. Housing associations and the private sector are developing partnerships in which developers have responsibility for the land and housing associations grant and management functions. They are working together effectively, especially in areas where land values are high, within the framework of section 106.

As with much of the Housing Bill, a great deal depends on the detail of how it works. Can section 106 agreements be replaced across the board with cash or tariff payments, or is it the intention that section 106 will

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remain a requirement for social housing provision? There is a lack of clarity about what is intended in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, but it is crucial that we know whether section 106 agreements can be replaced in principle with a cash payment at the demand of a developer or whether local authorities can insist that a quota of social housing be met when private developers are given planning permission?

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