Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I believe that I misunderstood. I came to the conclusion that the register of dwellings would include the statutory power. I accept the noble Lord's assurance that is not what he intended. I shall consider again what he said. Equally, if local authorities were to keep a register, that involves lists, and so on. I see no advantage over the documents and maps which the Government propose should form the statutory basis of the exemption scheme.

I have sought to explain how we propose to set about this task. Indeed, we have already begun. The Committee can see how we propose to set about it in the case of those parts of England and counties for which we have already produced the documentation. The proposals that we have put forward indicate quite clearly how the Secretary of State will use the power to designate areas and allow us the flexibility we need to ensure that designations make sense on the ground, thus assuring landowners who wish to give land in those areas that if they do so there is a certain fairly fixed permanence in the proposals that we shall put forward, and that change in designation will take place only in fairly exceptional circumstances.

With that explanation, the assurances that I have given, and the explanation of how we believe the amendments would impinge sometimes adversely on what we think is the correct way forward, I hope that noble Lords who have amendments in the group will feel able to withdraw them.

Lord Carter: Before the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, decides what to do with the amendment, having dealt with the point on Amendment No. 77, perhaps I may raise two brief points on what the Minister said.

11 Jun 1996 : Column 1586

For reasons that I entirely understand, it is becoming clear that the Government are concerned with the designation of areas. Those who wish to maintain the exemption are concerned with the designation of property, of the individual house. We seek to achieve some means of maintaining designation of a house which is exempt because it is in an exempt area. I understand the reasons for the Government adopting the attitude that they do. I shall return at Report stage to the issue of the designation of property once it is exempt. The Minister said that the problem would be considered through the 10-yearly census. I cannot believe that it would be so accurate that a car crash or a multiple birth would be reflected in the 10-yearly census.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may help the noble Lord. The only figures likely to be available if one wished to reconsider the problem are those from the 10-yearly census. I hope that I indicated firmly that it did not mean that we would review the situation every 10 years. We envisage that many areas would never be reviewed and those that may require review will be reconsidered perhaps because of new town growth or some other change that one cannot foresee at the moment. I hope that in the great majority of cases the permanence of the arrangements can be accepted.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: Before I withdraw Amendment No. 69, I wish to make two points. I may misquote my noble friend, but I believe that he said that the Government did not intend to alter the designations. He also said that once an area was designated as rural, it would remain so, or words to that effect. Those assurances are extremely helpful. However, being a somewhat doubting person, I believe that they are only assurances. Surely something on the face of the Bill as a real assurance would be better. Perhaps we can draft something later on at Report stage.

Apart from that, I am grateful to the Minister for all that he said and agree with him with the possible exception--to take the line adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Carter--that perhaps we should look at the individual house rather than the individual area. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 70 to 78 not moved.]

Lord Gisborough moved Amendment No. 79:

Page 11, line 21, at end insert--
("( ) The rural areas designated under subsection (1)(b) above shall include areas where--
(a) there is a shortage of affordable housing demonstrated by the local authority's housing register and other relevant evidence; or
(b) the release of land to provide replacement stock for dwellings in the social rented sector acquired under the right conferred by section 16 would be contrary to planning and environmental policies for that area.").

The noble Lord said: I am concerned that the effect of the Bill will be to reduce the supply of affordable housing in rural areas. It fails to take into account the environmental and land use implications of the proposals for the extension of the right to buy. The

11 Jun 1996 : Column 1587

Government recognise that there are particular problems in providing affordable houses in rural areas. However, I believe that the proposals to exempt small rural settlements, identified on the basis of an arbitrary population threshold, is too crude. It fails to recognise the large number of rural communities above 3,000 in population where problems of providing affordable housing are just as acute. The proposal also fails to recognise fully the factors which influence and determine the ability to meet affordable housing needs within the acceptable environmental limits.

In another place, the Government claimed that extending the right to buy to housing association tenants will not have any environmental consequences. I do not believe that that is the case. In areas where tenants exercise their right to buy, providing replacement stock could have important environmental implications. That will be particularly true in areas where suitable land or buildings in the locality to provide replacement dwellings is not available and green field sites have to be provided.

I am also concerned that the current proposals are creating a degree of uncertainty about the future status of social housing stock. This uncertainty is undermining the co-operation of landowners in providing suitable sites for local needs housing and risks exacerbating problems of supplying social needs housing in areas where suitable sites may be difficult to identify.

In tabling the amendment, I sought to ensure that the Bill is sensitive to the different circumstances of different rural areas. I believe that the amendment will allow for the continued extension of the principle of the right to buy while safeguarding the supply of affordable homes in rural areas. It addresses two key concerns: first, retaining a supply of affordable homes in areas where shortages already exist; and, secondly, ensuring that the replacement of dwellings purchased under the right to buy does not contradict existing environmental and planning policies.

The amendment defines on the face of the Bill those areas where the right to buy will not apply. It adopts a criteria-based approach in which environmental and land use criteria, as well as evidence of housing shortages, are taken into account. Its effect would be to ensure that in identifying areas which should be exempt from the right to buy, the particular circumstances of individual rural areas would be considered. This would help reduce the impact of tenants exercising the right to buy on affordable housing stock in areas of constraint and avoid conflict with other planning and environmental policies for that area. It would also create a greater sense of security about the future status of social housing stock in exempted areas than the current proposals which rely entirely on the use of statutory instruments. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My name is also to the amendment. I do not wish to repeat the detailed arguments put by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, with which I agree. I support the amendment in particular because it allows, within proper constraints, for local

11 Jun 1996 : Column 1588

diversity. It would reflect local needs and, most important, it would allow those needs to be determined locally by those who are best placed to analyse them.

Lord Carter: My name is also to the amendment because if we consider the discussion on the previous group of amendments, this is another example where we might be able to obtain more flexibility and diversity in the approach, as the noble Baroness said. We should be able to ascertain whether there is a shortage of affordable housing which we agree would be the triggering factor in granting the exemptions. That is what it would be about; it would be another arrow in the Government's quiver when dealing with the problem. If we have the provision on the face of the Bill, it would help.

Lord Hylton: I support the amendment for the reasons that I gave as regards the previous group. The problems are particularly acute in what one might describe as affluent areas where housing prices are already high and will tend to rise still further. I give one example of where I live which is within the commuting area surrounding Bath and Bristol. There the problem is quite severe.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My noble friend's amendment seeks to extend the application of the rural exemptions. It proposes that rural exclusions should cover areas where there is a high level of housing demand or where releasing land for replacement properties would be against planning and environmental policies for that area. I cannot accept the justification for either of those cases. We are now entering a number of small debates in which we must be careful that we do not pay lip service to the idea of the right to acquire property by a tenant of a housing association and then salami-slice away that right until we are left with half a dozen tenants in a small part of the country.

We must be careful about the exemptions we bring forward and put into the legislation. Every time we make an exemption, we are saying that the tenants in the exempt area will not share with tenants in other areas the right to acquire their house. If we have all signed up to the principle that the tenant should have the right to acquire, then we should remember that we are taking away that right from tenants. We should only do that when we feel it is absolutely justified. We all feel that it is justified in certain rural areas and we have already had a debate about them.

The first part of this debate concerns housing demand. The scheme should in fact help landlords to meet housing need. I do not believe that my noble friend's concern has any basis as regards that aspect. If a tenant buys the property in which he is living, he thereby provides a receipt which can be re-invested in a home for a family on the waiting list. That is either by new build or by purchase. That should solve a problem rather than create one.

As concerns environmental and planning policies, I must stress again that replacement properties do not have to be newly built. It is the same point. Existing properties can be bought on the open market. Since the receipt will be the market value of the property sold, it

11 Jun 1996 : Column 1589

should be sufficient to buy another similar existing property in the same area which can then be used for social renting.

The purpose of rural exclusions, to which my noble friend's amendment would add new exclusions, is to exempt small country villages and rural areas where land is limited and where there is also limited scope for buying existing property. In larger rural towns, we believe there is ample scope for buying replacements on the open market or for new build. Therefore I do not believe we should extend the "protection" of the rural areas policy to the areas falling within the definitions my noble friend suggests. I hope with that explanation my noble friend will be able to withdraw his amendment.

4 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Will my noble friend clarify one point that I do not quite understand? He said that the proceeds from the sale would enable someone to buy a comparable property in the same area. As I understand it, the proceeds will be discounted. I know that a grant is to be given to enable people to buy. Would the grant make up the value sufficiently to purchase a similar property?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page