Amendment made: No. 30, in page 230, line 5, leave out
'34 In section 210(1) of the Housing Act 1996'
'34 The Housing Act 1996 has effect subject to the following amendments.
34A In section 52(1) (general provisions as to orders) after "17," insert "27A,".
34B In section 210'.—[Paul Clark.]
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that you are bound by convention, but is it not a bit rich in the circumstances that you are forced to say that consideration of the Bill has been completed? In the last part of the guillotined timetable, eight groups of amendments and new clauses were not even debated, including 24 Government amendments and new clauses. There was no opportunity to debate or divide on those matters, and yet again the House has been compromised and insulted. Would you consider, Mr. Deputy Speaker, asking Mr. Speaker if the words that you are forced to utter could be changed, perhaps to "Consideration only partly completed? Sadly, the House of Commons has not been able to do its duty due to the Government's heavy-handedness.
These are not matters on which I can rule at this point in time. They were debated by the House earlier today in the debate on the programme motion. Any time that we spend on them is simply time taken out of Third Reading.
Order for Third Reading read.
I am not in a position to anticipate that development, but just as I alluded to my hon. Friend's appearance earlier today on the "Today" programme, where he spoke on that subject, he will have seen my quotation in the media, in the Financial Times yesterday, in which I was reported as saying that I strongly favoured the introduction of legislation on empty homes. I would say, in the circumstances, "enough said".
I am delighted, but the right hon. Gentleman might wish he had resisted me. He has just thanked me for my contribution, yet his programme motion prevented me from making my contribution. Does he think that is appropriate?
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As I understand it, on Third Reading the convention of the House is that one can speak only about what is actually in a Bill, not about what might be in a Bill. Would it therefore be in order to discuss what might have been in the Bill as a result of the amendments that we were not able to debate because of the Government's severe timetabling of the Bill?
As I was saying, for the third time, the Government are committed to creating thriving, inclusive, sustainable communities and we have already done much to deliver that. We have made significant progress in improving housing supply in the south-east and other growth areas and in addressing renewal and regeneration in the north. Last week my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister led celebrations to mark the bringing of 1 million homes in the social sector up to a decent standard. But of course we need to do more. Communities are more than bricks and mortar. The Bill will help create a fairer, more efficient housing market and protect the most vulnerable in housing. The Bill will help—
Speaking about what gloriously is in the Bill, has my right hon. Friend read this month's edition of Park Home and Holiday Caravan magazine yet? On page 13 is an article entitled "Bill of Rights". Nothing could express better the feelings of park home residents about the great improvements that the Government have made via the Bill to their situation. I pay particular tribute to the work of the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend Yvette Cooper. I hope that we can go on without further ado to have excellent, constructive discussions about implied terms and further reform in the park home sector.
My hon. Friend anticipates my allusion in due course to park homes, but as we are on the subject, I concur in his congratulations to the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend Yvette Cooper on her work on the matter. When she introduced the park homes amendments to the Bill in Committee, I was able to follow by taking the opportunity to congratulate, and I am happy to do so again, my hon. Friend Mr. Dawson on his sterling work in leading the campaign for that very necessary reform. He may have to be satisfied with what is already in the Bill.
The Bill will help those most at risk from bad landlords and poor conditions. As my hon. Friend pointed out, it will strengthen the rights of park home owners. In that regard, there was universal rejoicing among all those who had been involved in the proceedings of the Bill. Mr. Davey said in Committee:
"It has been a good Committee in which hon. Members on both sides contributed to improving the Bill. Although we may return to some battles at future stages, we made progress, especially earlier today when the Government accepted the case for better regulation of park homes. That was a notable achievement."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E,
We all rejoice at that.
The Bill will also help tackle antisocial behaviour and it will help to create decent places for people to live.
I echo the comments about the changes for people in park homes. I hope my right hon. Friend will assure me, on behalf of the many park home owners in Cleethorpes, especially those living in Barton Broads, who are having problems with a new landlord, that the Bill will help them. Will my right hon. Friend do everything he can to get it on to the statute book as speedily as possible?
I am alarmed to learn of the actions being taken against some of my hon. Friend's constituents. To help them and thousands of other park home dwellers throughout the country, I give her my firm undertaking that I will do everything to secure the relevant provision in the Bill at the earliest opportunity. I am grateful for her support in the matter.
The Bill will improve the supply of affordable housing and it will reduce delays and cut out waste when people are buying and selling homes. Other measures that the Bill will introduce deal with overcrowding. As the members of the Committee—
I congratulate the Government on introducing a new clause dealing with overcrowding. On behalf of those involved, I thank the Government for their flexibility in that regard. Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at the consultation exercise and carry it out at the earliest opportunity? Will he ensure that when the Government change the overcrowding standard, they bring it up to 21st century expectations?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his enthusiastic press release on the subject. Through the consultation process we are all determined to bring standards up to those that are merited in the 21st century and to alleviate a great deal of suffering.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and colleagues on the new clause, which will take us a step towards bringing the standards governing overcrowding into the 21st century, and on commissioning the research that has given us some useful information on the health and welfare implications of overcrowded households. May I stress again that there are 1.5 million children living in overcrowded accommodation in London and under the present ludicrous 19th century standards, 20,000 families living in statutorily overcrowded houses? We need to sweep away the existing provisions, and we must move fast to implement new standards that give those families an opportunity to bring their children up in decent conditions.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We all hope that we can move towards that desired objective through the new provisions of the Bill and the outcome of the consultation process, but we cannot get away from the fact—and I would not want to do so—that it is also an issue of resource and supply. We must work hard in that regard as well.
On overcrowding, as my hon. Friends have indicated, we have introduced amendments to allow the universal statutory overcrowding standards in part X of the Housing Act 1985 to be amended by secondary legislation. As they indicated, I intend to consult over the next few months about how those powers might be used.
On the licensing regime for houses in multiple occupation, the Government have tabled an amendment to add sex offences to the list that local authorities consider when they decide whether an applicant for a licence is a fit and proper person.
In Committee, the concern was raised that a licence condition on landlords to control the behaviour of their tenants and visitors to the property is too wide and unclear, and that landlords could use it to harass tenants. As a consequence, we have tabled an amendment that clarifies that a licence holder's obligation, if one is imposed in a licence, relates only to antisocial behaviour by a tenant or a visitor, and only to the extent that the landlord is reasonably able to fulfil it.
Concern was also expressed in Committee about the lack of clarity and detail in the Bill on how the proposed grants for non-registered social landlord provision will work in practice, and, in particular, about safeguards and accountability in the absence of a regulatory system similar to that that the relevant authorities exercise over RSLs. We tabled an amendment to provide for a regulation-making power, which allows the Secretary of State to set out conditions that the Housing Corporation must impose, matters that it must address and the effect it must achieve when a grant is given under new section 27A. In Committee, the perfectly understandable concern that a level playing field must exist between RSLs, non-RSLs and, above all, tenants was expressed, and we are determined to achieve such a situation.
I welcome the Government's movement, particularly on HMOs—they listened, which is welcome. In opening the Third Reading debate, however, the Minister mentioned that the Bill's general aim is thriving, sustainable and inclusive communities, but that is unachievable if conflicts between residents, Travellers and Gypsies persist in our society, neighbourhoods and constituencies. The ODPM promised to review the matter during the course of the Housing Bill, and I urge the Minister promptly to bring forward the review and not to lose sight of the opportunity to address the matter as a housing and accommodation issue before the Bill completes its parliamentary stages.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising his concern about provision for Gypsies and Travellers, which is shared by other Labour Members. His point offers a salutary reminder that that issue is not, as is often perceived, restricted to rural areas, but is an issue in urban areas too. I reassure him that the ODPM is undertaking much work on the issue, and we hope to introduce a series of announcements and proposals, some of which may be incorporated in the Bill.
In short and in total, the Housing Bill will directly contribute to the delivery of sustainable communities. On Second Reading, the Chairman of the ODPM Select Committee, my hon. Friend Andrew Bennett, observed that this is a good Housing Bill, but that it had the potential to be a great Housing Bill. I hope that it is on its way to becoming a great Housing Bill, and I commend it to the House.
The consideration of the Bill in Committee and on Second Reading was good, and today's debate was largely positive and constructive. However, we cannot let this opportunity pass without saying that it is unacceptable not to consider 20 Government new clauses and amendments and a dozen other new clauses on Report.
Extremely cynically, the Government talked long on tenancy deposits so that we could not have a debate on warm homes, which would have been welcome on both sides of the Chamber. It is important that people outside this place know precisely what happened today. The new clause on warm homes was modest. It discussed what can reasonably and practically be done, and extending to 2016 the timetable to meet the Government's targets. Both Government and Opposition Members signed it, but it was not debated at the will of the Government, who cut short the Report stage.
As I said, proceedings in Committee were conducted in good spirit, and as I also said, the Minister listened to the arguments advanced from both sides of the Committee. Many people outside this place—industry representatives and people who are concerned about housing—asked me for how long I expected us to debate the matter on the Floor of the House. Believing that the Minister would continue to show the good faith that he showed in Committee, I expected that we might get two days, in which time we could have covered all the aspects of the Bill that have gone unconsidered today.
It is unacceptable that social housing grants to private developers to build social houses—a terribly important issue for the people who will rent those houses and RSLs—has not been debated. It is not appropriate that accessible housing registers for disabled people, empty houses, mobile homes for Gypsies and Travellers and a range of other issues have not been debated. That is an indictment of the Government, and it is a matter that the Lords will consider with grave concern. I expect those issues to be fully explored there, because they have not been fully explored here.
I say that more in sorrow than in anger—my concern is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. The Minister and the Whip for this business, Paul Clark, who is a delicate, sensitive and kindly soul, have not lived up to their reputations.
This is probably the largest Housing Bill ever—it contains 226 clauses and 13 schedules of highly complex legislation. This democratic Parliament owes the people whom the Housing Bill will affect more than one day's consideration. The Bill should have been considered for two days.
My hon. Friend adds his passion, which is on behalf of all the people who will be affected by the Bill, to my sorrow. He is right to amplify my point, which other hon. Members including the shadow Leader of the House and my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth also made, about appropriate consideration of such weighty legislation.
The Bill deals with many important things. It introduces a new housing health and safety rating system, which, although it will be beneficial in many ways, will be expensive to implement. Questions remain about local authorities' ability to introduce the new system in a timely fashion. Do they have the proper resources and the necessary training and reskilling to make the new housing fitness system a practical reality?
The Bill proposes a licensing system, and we should protect the interests of our most vulnerable citizens, who are obliged to rent houses and live in HMOs. Exploitation is possible in that sector, and it is appropriate that the Government have examined it and brought forward proposals. However, doubts remain whether the licensing system will encompass those in the greatest need and whether the regulatory burden will be so great that it will drive potential landlords out of the business of making homes available to people who need them.
The Bill includes changes to the right to buy. The Government acknowledge, and the Opposition agree, that the abuse of the right to buy should be curbed, but there are doubts whether measures to curb such abuse will act as a disincentive to people who want to exercise their right to buy, and I am disappointed that the Government have not taken our proposals on board, which would have been a shot in the arm for the right to buy while also curbing abuse.
The Government have added provisions on park homes, but only on the prompting of Members on both sides of the House, who noticed their omission at an early stage and asked for that to be rectified. Ministers have taken a lot of credit for making that concession, but they should not crow too much without adding the important caveat that on Second Reading those proposals came not from Government Front Benchers but from Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Back Benchers.
Then we come to home information packs. What use are they really going to be and what value will they add? We know about the uncertainties, the likely costs and the potential effects on the market, but we have heard no convincing arguments—today, in Committee or previously—for the introduction of these packs. There is grave doubt about their likely efficacy and effectiveness and about whether they can realistically be implemented in the time scale that the Government envisage. I am absolutely sure that Members in the other place will want to consider those matters in great detail and to ask the testing questions of Ministers that we have asked here. I have to say that Liberal Democrat Members have put similar questions, but have also failed to get appropriate answers.
Our Houses of Parliament always strike a proper balance between the considerations of this place and those of the other place. Of course there is a happy and productive tension between the two Houses because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that is how legislation is properly scrutinised. Were it not for the good offices of Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers—that is the second tribute that I have paid to the Liberal Democrats in the course of one speech, which is beginning to test me to my very limits—on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, it would have been an altogether more imperfect piece of legislation, as we shall no doubt hear tomorrow. I shall not test your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker, by anticipating that debate.
The truth of the matter is that there are still significant holes in the Bill. It is all very well for the Minister to say on the radio, instead of here, that he is interested in empty homes. We have been telling him for months that he should be interested in empty homes. [Interruption.]
Throughout the passage of the Bill—on Second Reading, in Committee, and again today—Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members and some Labour Back Benchers have emphasised the fact that it was a golden opportunity to introduce legislation on empty homes, but the Government resisted that. We now hear rumours and suggestions that they might relent, but thus far they have not done so. It is not unreasonable to make that point again in this short Third Reading debate.
Other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion. This Bill does some good things and this Minister does some good things too—what Bill and what Minister do not?—but I have yet to be convinced that we can reasonably support it, not least because of the inclusion of sellers packs, which remain the most significant part of the Bill in the sense that they will affect everyone who sells or buys a house. Many parts of the Bill are significant in other ways, but not in terms of their potential impact on people's lives, on the costs of buying and selling a home, and on the nature of the market and the professions that are part of it.
The Government have failed to make a compelling case on that, as they have on a range of other issues that I have highlighted. For that reason, I will vote against the Bill, and I hope that my hon. Friends will join me. I urge the Liberal Democrats to vote with us because, although I do not want to put them off at this eleventh hour, I can see a meeting of minds between us on some of the matters that I have mentioned. Finally, I know that many Labour Members who are dissatisfied with the way in which the Bill deals with warm homes, empty homes and a range of other matters will be pleased that we have opposed it, because that provides the opportunity for those elsewhere to try to knock it into shape and to make something decent out of an unsatisfactory set of proposals.
In general terms, this is a good Bill that attempts to deal with some of the worst housing conditions experienced by some of the poorest members of our community. I thank Ministers for their willingness to involve so many Back Benchers by engaging with us in debate about some of the most important issues.
My main concern about the Bill is that in some respects it does not go as far as I would like. The hazard rating system is potentially very good, although it is complicated and its implementation will need careful handling. I welcome the fact that we are to have a national licensing system for houses in multiple occupation. Some hon. Members have fought for that for many years, because it will address some of the worst housing conditions for some of the poorest people in our communities. I am concerned, however, that the Minister still does not recognise the degree to which HMOs are not just a risk, but a problem of management in terms of the disruption and nuisance that they can cause to surrounding communities. If that is to be addressed through the additional licensing route, I hope that the Minister will consider the cost to local authorities engaged in the process and do something to assist them.
The licensing of private landlords in selective areas is good step forward that might be extended in future. Again, it will deal with some of the worst housing problems in some of the poorest communities.
The home information pack is another good step forward. The more I have heard the arguments, the more I have been persuaded of that. The packs will bring some order to a very disorderly process. The "offers around" system that operates in Sheffield, but hardly anywhere else in the country, is chaotic, and the new scheme will start to deal with that. It will of course be necessary to get right the training of inspectors and the insurance arrangements. I am sure that the Minister will return to the licensing of estate agents, because he believes that it sits happily with the proposals to regulate the whole approach to home buying and selling.
The Minister gave reassurances in Committee on the tenancy deposit scheme. The Government are now committed to that scheme in principle, and we look forward to its introduction in the near future, because it will help to protect people who are ripped off by their landlords by having deposits taken from them for no good reason.
For those reasons and many others, I support the Bill and congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way in which he handled it in Committee and today.
It is important that Members in the other place and people outside Parliament realise that Members of the elected Chamber—not only Opposition but Labour Members—have been angered by the Government's frustration of genuine democratic debate on key housing issues. That is an absolute disgrace. We look to the other place to help to put that right.
I regret having to say this, but we and our colleagues on the Labour Benches who have worked with us throughout the proceedings of the Bill on issues such as warm homes, tenancy deposit schemes and empty homes—issues that are crucial to our constituents and that we hear about in our surgeries week in and week out—have been prevented from debating them in the proper way in which they should be debated during the Report stage of a big housing Bill. That is an absolute disgrace, and it is one of the reasons why I hope that some Labour Members will have the courage to register in the Lobby their frustration at the Government's handling of the Bill.
It is a shame that I have to say that, because parts of the Bill are welcome. The selective licensing regime in part 3 is particularly welcome, for example, in regard to tackling antisocial behaviour. As Mr. Betts said, part 1 represents a step forward in dealing with poor housing conditions, although there are real concerns about whether it can be implemented and whether the system that has been devised is too complex. Those concerns came out in the debate today, showing that there are worries even about the good parts of the Bill. Some of us have been campaigning for a long time for the measures in part 2 on houses in multiple occupation, but they do not go far enough, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe had the courage to say.
It is disappointing that, despite this opportunity to achieve some real goals and take some real steps forward, the Government have taken only two very nervous steps forward without advancing their cause more courageously or ambitiously. I would have liked the Bill to contain measures on giving landlords a more positive role. Landlords could play a key part in improving the private rented sector, and the Government need to find ways of engaging with them, as my hon. Friend Matthew Green mentioned in the curtailed debate on HMOs, and ways of working with organisations such as the National Landlords Association, to see whether training and accreditation schemes could be used to raise the quality of landlords so that they could deliver on some of these measures.
The Liberal Democrats have particular concerns about part 5 of the Bill. We believe that the home information packs represent a totally unnecessary regulation. The owner-occupier market manages to carry out more than 1.2 million transactions a year. There seems to be a prima facie case, therefore, for saying that that market is not failing, but succeeding. People manage to move home very effectively, and when a purchase falls through, it tends to be because someone's financial position has changed or because they have to move somewhere else because of their job. Home information packs will not solve those problems, and the solution that the Government have come up with does not address the problems. Indeed, they are unsolvable because they are the problems of normal life.
This is a market that the Government should leave well alone. The danger is that their so-called solution will make the housing problem even worse, particularly in the owner-occupied sector, where house prices are rocketing and there are not enough affordable homes. The Minister did not reply to my question about whether this proposal had been put to Professor Kate Barker when she was producing her review on the supply of housing. In fact, because of the way that this debate has gone, he has answered hardly any of the questions that hon. Members have asked. That, too, brings the House into disrepute.
The Liberal Democrats sincerely believe that the introduction of home information packs will work against the Government. I say to the Minister in a genuinely constructive manner that this measure will come back to haunt the Labour Government. In a few years' time, people will be asking who is responsible for all the regulations, extra costs and delays, and we will be able to say, "We told you so," and tell them that it was the Minister for Housing and Planning, Keith Hill. Voters will be seriously fed up when they have to live with these ridiculous regulations.
To give at least one more hon. Member the chance to speak, I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion. I hope that I have made it clear that, regrettably, the Liberal Democrats will have to vote against the Bill. It contains some good measures, but there are far too many omissions, and far too many chances to improve housing conditions have been missed. Moreover, some of the proposals in the Bill will do huge damage to the housing market and to the interests of many of our constituents.
In truth, this started out being a good Bill and it has got better. As we are now sending it to the other place, there is still the capacity for further improvement. I would like to give the ministerial team unconditional credit for listening to the Second Reading debate and to the pressure from hon. Members over park homes, and for making wholesale amendments at the right time in Committee. Those amendments will be very welcome to the residents of park homes around the country.
I heard the hon. Gentleman's cogent performance on compulsory leasing on the "Today" programme. How can he give unconditional credit to the Minister when his proposals have not even been debated this evening because of the timetable?
The hon. Gentleman obviously did not hear me saying that I was talking about park homes. I would like to say to all those residents of park homes who will welcome what happened in Committee that, here tonight, things also got better when we accepted amendment No. 75.
The Government have improved the Bill further. My right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the concession that they have made, again after listening to the debate in Committee, on including sexual offences as a relevant matter when licensing the owners of houses in multiple occupation. The Minister also acknowledged the pressure that was brought to bear on the Government on overcrowding, which has led to measures being included in the legislation today. All those things are to the Government's credit.
Some provisions are still missing from the Bill as it goes to the House of Lords. A good tenant deposit scheme and a provision on warm homes would be welcome. However, as time is short, I shall pick out as the most innovative measure in the Bill the new local authority power to make management orders in certain circumstances. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister tell us—I realise that I shall not get an answer now—whether it is anticipated that those orders will be the solution to the problem of bringing empty homes back into use? Let us remember that last year, 719,000 homes were standing empty in England alone, 80 per cent. of which were in private ownership and 300,000 of which were empty for more than six months.
Perhaps I should give notice that I shall take no more interventions like that, because time is so short.
I regard the new power for local authorities to make management orders as a power of last resort, so in the case of empty homes, I would expect the authorities to advise or cajole, and to give help to owners. Some councils already give the owners of empty homes grants to get the properties back into use. However, I would imagine that, under a management order, a local authority would take possession of an empty property, repair it and let it at an affordable rent. That would help to meet the still dreadful housing needs that exist in this country, and to halt the degradation of the surrounding area, in terms of both the environment and crime. Owners would benefit from such a scheme, because they would get the rent from the property and retain ownership of it.
No, I want to finish now, if I may.
Such a measure would help people with housing needs, and neighbours in areas with empty houses would be delighted to see those properties brought back into productive use. Society would therefore be very satisfied if we could make that response to the problem. I hope that the Government will be delighted that everyone supports that idea and wants to do something about it before the Bill reaches the statute book.
Keith Hill is an excellent Minister, and it is therefore all the more surprising that he is driving the measure through. The Bill is poorly conceived and considered. It has received especially scant consideration today. The main problem is the element of compulsion, which spoils some potentially decent provisions. The worst clause is the provision on home information packs. The Bill offers no reliable improvements to the dysfunctional house buying and selling process.
More than 1 million residential property transactions take place each year and it is important not to interfere with or disrupt the operation of the housing market. The Bill will do that and it is especially significant at this time, when supply in so many areas is insufficient to meet demand. That drives up property prices, with all the attendant problems that we know so well.
Philosophically, the country wants less interference from the Government: less bureaucracy, less regulation and fewer inspectorates. In short, people want less regulation and Government interference. However, the Bill and the statutory imposition of the home information packs mean more, not less, Government interference; more Big Brother centralised government; more costs for the seller and therefore the buyer; more cost to the public purse to pay for the new regulations and the new inspectorate, and therefore more house price inflation.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because I shall not have time to make a contribution. Every year, 1.8 million houses are sold. Does my hon. Friend realise that the Government's estimate of £600 per information pack will add more than £1 billion to the cost of buying and selling houses? If the realistic cost of £1,000 is taken into account, it will mean an extra £1.8 billion. Does my hon. Friend believe that we will achieve anything worth while for that money?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the specific figures. The process will cost more, but we shall achieve less. The Bill is a typical socialist measure—[Laughter.] The compulsion to produce the home conditions report will increase the cost of selling houses. Hon. Members laugh now, but they may not do so in two or three years, when their constituents knock on their surgery doors. It will deter some sellers from entering the property market. The statutory requirement means that home information packs must be in place before any marketing can occur. That will unduly reduce the number of houses—
It being six and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, Madam Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].