1 September 2014

When the Deregulation bill was before the Commons Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton, move an amendment, a new clause 8. to the bill (Hansard 23 June 2014 column 125). This required of the government:

(1) Within one year of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament a plan to
(a) replace the homes lost through the preserved right to buy;
(b) review the effectiveness of the current right to buy policy.
(2) Before making any further changes to right to buy, the secretary of state must carry out and publish an assessment of the impact of right to buy policy on affordable housing supply since 2012.

That was a very sensible and desirable proposal. Her speech for it is at column 116 in Hansard 23 June 2014.

Why replace houses
It is a commonplace criticism of the Tory-initiated sale of council houses that, whether one approved or disapproved of it, the failure to ensure replacement houses were built was a disaster. The stock of public housing fell, the building of replacement affordable houses fell, as indeed did that of other houses, and we now have around 1.8 million households on waiting lists for affordable homes. Each year we are building around 140 000 too few houses for the population we have.

The Tory Libdem government has increased the financial discounts to council and housing association tenants who wish to buy their house; and have reduced the qualifying tenancy period of tenancy. Consequentially, the take up of right to buy of public housing has vastly increased of late. The government’s claim it would use money from the sales to replace each sold house, one for one, turns out to be less than it seems and the early replacement figures look grim.

Caroline Lucas’s proposal would have ensured that the grievous error of the past was not repeated. It would ensure houses lost through right to buy were replaced.

Cornwall MPs vote No
Her amendment was backed by Labour but defeated by the Tory Libdem MPs by 208 to 274 votes. Among those voting against the amendment for replacing lost houses, were Andrew George and Dan Rogerson, Libdem MPs for Cornwall seats. All the UK Libdem MPs who voted, voted against. No vote is recorded for Libdem Stephen Gilbert and the three Tory MPs for Cornwall voted against the amendment.

I am nonplussed. The Lucas proposal would ensure the stock of public housing, affordable houses, did not unnecessarily shrink at a time when house prices mean that for many people an affordable house is their only hope of a home of their own. What we face now, unless a Labour government is elected next year that carries through her proposal, is a fall in the stock of public housing. How does that help 1.8 million households on affordable housing waiting lists, including 27 000 in Cornwall? How does it make life better for them?

After this why would people in Cornwall on the affordable waiting list vote Libdem or Conservative? Why would their family and friends?

“… it has been estimated that only about one in every seven homes sold through right to buy has been replaced by more affordable housing. Is the minister as shocked as I am to discover that in one London borough, a third of the council homes sold in the 1980s are now owned by private landlords, some of whom own dozens of properties that they now rent back at very high rents?” [Caroline Lucas, Hansard 23 June 2014 column 110]

The party votes on new clause 8 at shown at the The public whip.