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First PMQ's of the parliamentary session began and ended with questions on home ownership

Week in Westminster

Published: 5 June 2015 | Author: Michelle Vosper

The first prime minister’s question time of the parliamentary session began and ended with questions on home ownership. Labour’s interim leader Harriet Harman began by asking during David Cameron’s time as prime minister whether home ownership had gone up or down, and then went on to criticise the government for failing deliver on its promise to replace council homes on a like-for-like basis when they were sold off. Mr Cameron responded that right to buy and help to buy has helped 100,00 people buy their own homes, and pressed Ms Harman on whether or not the Labour party would support the expansion of right to buy for housing association tenants. The final question to the prime minister from Labour MP Rachael Maskell noted that under the right to buy plans three social houses would need to be sold to generate enough revenue to build a new one.

The extension of right to buy to housing association has come in for much criticism this week. Throughout the week there have been debates in respect of the Queen’s Speech in both Houses where the issue has been mentioned. In particular, during a debate in the Lords a number of members expressed their concern about the proposals. Baroness Hollis of Heigham (chair of Broadland Housing Association) posed the question “what is the legal basis of the government’s right to seize the assets of independent charities, given that they will have to unpick myriad overlapping laws that go back centuries?”. The Baroness ended by saying she hopes the Bill never makes it to the House of Lords, and if it does “I hope that this House will take it apart”. Lord Kerslake (former permanent secretary at the DCLG) commented that the policy “is wrong in principle and wrong in practice”. And Lord Best highlighted concerns about the financial implications for housing associations and in turn the response of lenders to the uncertainties that the new measure creates. Many other peers also contributed in the debate on this subject.

This issue, along with housing generally, was also raised in the House of Commons by MPs taking part in a debate on devolution and growth across Britain. Former CLG committee chair Clive Betts said, “This policy has not been thought through. It is a real challenge to the future viability and independence of housing associations, and it will affect whether they develop in the future.”

In contrast, the Welsh government is taking action to protect Wales’ social housing by reducing the discount under the right to buy scheme from this summer. It has also started the development of legislation for consideration in the next Assembly term to end right to buy completely.

The impact of the mortgage credit directive was the subject of a written question from Andrew Stephenson. The Conservative MP asked about the potential effect of the European standardised information sheet on the availability of mortgages to first-time buyers. Responding the new economic secretary said the government’s approach to implementing the directive has been to minimise the impact on the market.

David Cameron has set up 10 new taskforces to oversee the delivery of policy in key areas, including housing. The taskforce will be chaired by ministers and track progress in policy implementation and make sure actions are followed through. The housing taskforce will be chaired by communities secretary Greg Clark and its terms of reference is “to drive efforts to increase the supply of new housing; help first-time buyers onto the property ladder; implementing right to buy and driving public sector land sales”. The taskforces will regularly report to the prime minister and the cabinet. They will not publish reports. Their aim will be to maintain momentum and identify problems in the delivery of Conservative commitments.

And the result of the private members’ bills ballot for this parliamentary session has been announced. The ‘winners’ are:

  1. Rob Marris (Lab)
  2. Chris Heaton-Harris (Con)
  3. Sir Gerald Howarth (Con)
  4. Julie Cooper (Lab)
  5. Wendy Morton (Con)
  6. Teresa Pearce (Lab)
  7. Mike Wood (Con)
  8. Nick Thomas-Symonds (Lab)
  9. Karen Buck (Lab)
  10. Simon Hoare (Con)
  11. Dame Angela Watkinson (Con)
  12. Lilian Greenwood (Lab)
  13. Sir William Cash (Con)
  14. William Wragg ( Con)
  15. Heidi Allen (Con)
  16. Vicky Foxcroft (Lab)
  17. Mark Pawsey (Con)
  18. Geoffrey Cox (Con)
  19. James Cleverly (Con)
  20. Caroline Ansell  (Con)