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Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for the statement. Although it was inconvenient not to have a copy much beforehand, there have been so many leaks in the press that much of what he said was hardly news.
May I, unusually, congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on one thing: his victory over the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? I welcome the fact that, with his proposed HomeBuy policy, the Deputy Prime Minister has effectively adopted the Liberal Democrat right to invest policy for housing association tenants. Is he aware that the Minister for Housing and Planning wrote to the Liberal Democrats last April expressing interest in our proposed right to invest, which is strikingly similar to HomeBuy? Does he recognise that such schemes can both help people on to the ladder of home ownership and protect the future of social housing? Will he give an assurance that, under HomeBuy, housing associations will be able to reinvest all capital receipts in new social housing?
Given Britain's affordable housing crisis, is not the real challenge to build more homes, not to cut funds going into housing, as the Conservatives propose? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that there are serious doubts about the legality of extending the right to buy to housing associations, as many are charities and few are owned by the Government? Does he agree with the National Housing Federation that it would cost the taxpayer about £1 billion a year to subsidise the sell-off by housing associations and undermine their future ability to build the social housing that we so desperately need?
On the Deputy Prime Minister's proposal to use surplus public sector land for new home building, are not his plans rather timid and cautious? Why has he
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failed to secure more land from Departments such as Defence and Health? Why is Whitehall clinging on to so much unused land when people are crying out for affordable homes? Why has he limited his scheme to Government land ownership? Why is he not prepared to co-operate with the mutual sector and establish new community land trusts that could ensure that the land was properly used for new homes?
During the passage of the recent Housing Bill, ODPM Ministers eventually accepted our arguments for new powers to tackle the scandal of empty homes. When reusing empty properties offers a cheap, fast and sustainable way to provide affordable housing, why are the Government dragging their feet on the regulations needed to introduce those new powers?
On homelessness, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that his new target to halve the number of homeless households in temporary accommodation by 2010 will simply take us back to the numbers inherited by Labour in 1997? Is he proud of that? Will he reassure the House that the target will not be met by changing the definition of "homeless", as some have proposed?
It has taken the Government far too long to wake up to Britain's affordable housing crisis. Although the Deputy Prime Minister has done well to resist the Minister for the manifesto, his strategy falls far short of the new approach that Britain's families need.
The Deputy Prime Minister: I repeat: do not believe everything you read in the press. I say that constantly. The hon. Gentleman can be assured that I do not talk to the press. I can't stick 'em, frankly. Did they get that right? The hon. Gentleman should judge by the statement that I made today, not by the tittle-tattle he gets in the press. I have made a balanced judgment about what is the best policy.
As for adopting Liberal policy, why is it that whenever Liberal Democrats see something similar to their thinking they automatically call it Liberal policy? The hon. Gentleman referred to a proposal for dealing with empty homes. That came from the Empty Homes Agency. He is a jackdaw, pinching one of the agency's ideas and claiming it for the Liberals. It does not matter how many times he proposes different policies, because he is never going to be in power to implement them. He has the luxury of being able to say what is popular without doing it.
The hon. Gentleman made a number of serious points that I will address. Receipts will be kept by local authorities. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that that is a new departure. Housing associations will be able to do that for social housing. That is absolutely right. I do not think that my thinking should not stop there, but it is an interesting step towards levelling the ground.
I recognise the point made by the hon. GentlemanI do not think that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) doesthat there was tremendous controversy when the previous Conservative Administration tried to introduce the right to buy in housing associations. That is why we ended up with the right to acquire and the legislative problems that went with itthe proposals were thrown out by Conservative Members in the House of Lords, if I recall correctly. We will wait and see what happens. The Conservatives can
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forget about the past and propose something for the future. They can ignore the fact that they gave us the housing crisis that we are trying to deal with now.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) said about land. I hope that he will understand that I had arrived at the idea before I heard what he had to say about what should be done with land. Land is an important factorthe more of it we own, the better. He will have noticed that I have bought 100 plots of landor rather, the Government havefrom hospitals. I had better get that right in case somebody goes to the Register of Members' Interests. I have bought more plots from the Ministry of Defence and I am in the market to buy many more through English Partnerships, which acts as the agency. The aim is to increase the amount of land that is available and to use it much more effectively.
I do not accept what the hon. Member for Meriden seems to want to do, which is to get a quick buck by selling off land. Perhaps we should own the land and use it much more effectively than at present, so that the price of land does not mean that the cost of the house increases. There is another factor. I have found myself constantly asking my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for more subsidies for the housing programme. Prices were being forced up as a result of increases in land pricesland that was often sold at the market rate by Government Departments. We have shown that it is far better to change that policy. This does not include every piece of land that is owned by the Government, but certainly some of it. If we build houses on that land, we will separate the land from the construction price, with mortgages relating to the building. There is an equity share. I do not think that this approach has been proposed before. However, I have done it, and I think that it makes a lot of sense because prices have increased so much that it is beyond the ability of many to purchase, even if they want to. It is common sense for the community to use its land in the way that I have described to provide housing.
At the same time, the land and the house return to the public sector. They will not be lost to the public sector. People can use this as a first rung on the ladder and then move on to the private sector once the increase in the value of the land is available for a deposit. I am also giving that right to social tenants. There were tenants who could not afford the full market price or the right to buy. A greater opportunity will be presented for these people to get a house. We all know that having a house and owning an asset makes a difference to our quality of life. Many people borrow against it and the growing differential in wealth is between those who have houses and those who do not. What we are proposing will make a change.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend knows that in the Yorkshire and Humber region 10 years ago, only about 7 per cent. of first-time buyers paid stamp duty. Now, more than 70 per cent. of first-time buyers pay stamp duty. It is rumoured in today's press that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will consider that before making his pre-Budget statement. Is the Deputy Prime Minister prepared to add his support to introducing a rebate on stamp duty for house
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buyers who invest in energy efficiency measures, as proposed in my private Member's Bill? That would not only help first-time buyers to get into the market but assist the Government in hitting their climate change programme targets.
The Deputy Prime Minister: I appreciate the point made by my right hon. Friend. I say to him, as anyone would on the Treasury Front Bench, that judgments about tax changes are best left to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
I understand the difficulties about stamp duty and I know how strongly people feel about it, but it still represents only about 1 per cent. of the total purchase price. My priority is to get construction prices down so that people can afford to buy a house. Taxation matters will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Has the Treasury changed its policy on the disposal of public assets? Until now, public bodies have been required to get best value from the sale of property. If that is no longer true, that could affect their ability to raise money for use in, for example, the health service. Will they be compensated for that? The Deputy Prime Minister said that as little as 50 per cent. could be bought. Is that intended to be the minimum purchase? If that is purchased at a discount, people will sell it, by definition, at market value, otherwise there is no point to the scheme. The housing association might well find itself constantly repurchasing at market value to own the same house. Given that only 30 per cent. of those who live in housing association properties are in work, is that a realistic proposition?
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