Homes for All: Five-year Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 24th January 2005.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Spokesperson (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) 3:30 pm, 24th January 2005

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 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.