Amendments made: No. 51, in page 189, line 44, column 2, at beginning insert—
|'In section 85(3)(a), the words from "or payments" to "profits),".'.|
No. 7, in page 189, line 50, at end insert—
|'Housing Associations Act 1985 (c. 69)||Section 33A.'.|
No. 52, in page 189, line 50, at end insert—
|'Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (c. 70)||Section 28.|
|In section 39, the entry in the Table for "qualified accountant".|
|Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 (c. 31)||In section 53(2)(b), the words "or 42A".|
|In Schedule 2, paragraph 9 and the italic heading before it.'.|
No. 53, in page 189, line 51, column 2, at beginning insert—
|'In section 9(3), the words from "or payments" to "profits)".'.|
No. 8, in page 190, line 2, at end insert—
|'In Schedule 6, paragraph 24.'.|
No. 129, in page 190, line 3, column 2, at beginning insert—
No. 54, in page 190, line 6, at end insert—
|'Companies Act 1989 (Eligibility for Appointment as Company Auditor) (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 1991 (S.I. 1991/1997)||In the Schedule, paragraph 60 and the heading before it.'.|
No. 55, in page 190, line 22, at end insert—
|'Environment Act 1995 (c. 25)||In Schedule 10, paragraph 25(2).'.|
No. 56, in page 190, line 25, column 2, at end insert—
No. 130, in page 190, line 43, leave out 'paragraph' and insert
'paragraphs 15(19), 18(10)(a) and (12)(a), 19(7)(a) and'.
No. 57, in page 191, line 2, column 2, at beginning insert—
|'In Schedule 15, paragraph 13.'.|
No. 9, in page 191, line 2, after 'paragraphs' insert '26,'.
No. 28, in page 191, line 9, at end insert—
|'Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c. 29)||In section 333A—|
|(a) in subsection (3)(b), the words from "(and see also" to the end of the paragraph,|
|(b) in subsection (10), the words from "and the reference" to the end.'.|
No. 58, in page 191, line 15, column 2, at end insert—
|In Schedule 10, paragraphs 6 and 7 and the italic heading before paragraph 6.'.|
No. 59, in page 191, line 20, at end insert—
|'Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 (c. 38)||Section 14(1)(b).'.|
Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's Consent, on behalf of Duchy of Cornwall, signified.]
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Before I begin my substantive remarks, I thank hon. Members of all parties who served on the Public Bill Committee. As I said earlier, they applied forensic scrutiny to our deliberations. As someone who has taken the Bill through all its stages in this House and feels protective towards it, I thank all hon. Members for their work. I thank the officials who worked on the Bill and the Clerks. I also thank the witnesses who shaped our deliberations in December during the evidence sessions. The Bill leaves the House for the other place in a much improved form.
I will ask a question that I tried to ask previously because the Under-Secretary will now be allowed to answer it. Since the Bill left here after Second Reading, how many amendments have the Government accepted from Opposition parties?
I do not have the information to hand at the moment, but I am sure we can tally that up at some point.
We have listened to concerns from hon. Members of all parties. We have made substantial amendments to the definition of social housing in response to concerns about means-testing, which was never our intention.
The Minister took on board the most important amendment, which dealt with including sustainability and the need to promote sustainable development in the objectives of the new homes and communities agency.
I agree. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and the valiant manner in which she battled about that concern.
The other key element involved the whole regulatory regime. Members of the Committee expressed anxieties about the risks of policy passporting and micro-management by the Secretary of State through the regulator of registered providers and registered social landlords. That was never our intention and I believe that locks in the Bill will prevent that. However, we listened to hon. Members' concerns and tabled amendments to address them.
I thank my hon. Friend personally for the extremely careful attention that he gave to those issues and for agreeing to table amendments dealing both with the definition of the Secretary of State's power to direct and with the role and intervention powers of the regulator. All have helped to ensure that the objective—a proportionate but hands-off style of regulation—can be carried forward. If that is achieved, we will definitely have made an improvement to the Bill.
For my part, I thank my right hon. Friend for all the personal assistance that he has given me on the amendments. His work and experience have been invaluable to me.
The amendments that we tabled address the sector's concerns. We are reinforcing the view that the Secretary of State's role should be limited to strategic directions, with direct influence only on key issues such as rent, physical maintenance and tenant empowerment, which is right. The regulator's standards should be outcome- focused wherever possible, should not threaten the status of charitable providers and, crucially, should take account of the desirability of registered social landlord boards managing their own business and setting their own corporate direction.
Finally, an important group of amendments ensures that the regulator should be able fully to intervene to address tenants' concerns only where there is a material breach of standards, including on a single estate. You might rule me out of order for mentioning this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but that will for ever be known as the "Emily Thornberry test", after my hon. Friend Emily Thornberry, who on Second Reading rightly mentioned the rat-infested estates and the lack of co-operation that housing associations display in dealing with her. That group of amendments and the powers of the regulator allow it to intervene on those points, but not on minor or trivial points.
We have improved the Bill. I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) and for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) for their fantastic work in scrutinising the Bill. It has been a pleasure to serve with them. I particularly want to thank those titans, the Privy Councillors on the Committee, Sir George Young and my right hon. Friend Mr. Raynsford, who, as former housing Ministers, provided genuine expertise. Their help, co-operation and, at times, criticism have helped to improve the Bill.
I want other hon. Members to participate in this Third Reading debate, so I conclude my remarks by saying that the Bill is an important measure. It sets in statute two new housing bodies: the Homes and Communities Agency, which will invest in regeneration and new housing supply and play a key role in achieving our ambition of delivering 3 million homes; and the new social housing regulator Oftenant, which will place tenants at the heart of social housing, driving improvements in standards.
I am pleased by the wide consensus on the benefits of establishing those organisations, which was clear from our Committee deliberations and the oral evidence that we took from stakeholders. We have been challenged on the details, but not the principles. The Bill leaves this place in a much better state than when it first started.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the debates in Committee were useful, one of which was on amending some of the clauses dealing with domestic violence, on which he made some commitments. We tried to ensure in previous housing legislation that survivors of domestic violence would not be penalised through losing their homes and would be safeguarded under homelessness legislation, but we have apparently failed, because there is still a postcode lottery in provision and safety for them. Will my hon. Friend say briefly what he intends to do as a result of that discussion?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned that. She is a champion of trying to prevent and minimise domestic violence, and the amendment that she and my hon. Friend Mr. Love tabled was important. I want to help as much as possible, and she will be aware of the meeting that we had last week. I am keen to pursue policy on the basis of evidence and for that reason was concerned about what was said in Committee about policy passporting and differing interpretations of the term "vulnerability". I therefore agreed last week to work with her on a review to see to what extent that policy postcode lottery and that test of vulnerability apply to different parts of the country. I am keen to move forward on that, but I want to do it on the basis of clear evidence. I hope that she agrees with me and will co-operate with me on that basis.
As I say, I want to ensure that other hon. Members can contribute to the Third Reading debate. I look forward to handing the Bill on to the other place in a much improved state. I have been with it from its start and I am very proud of it. I commend it to the House.
The Bill initially contained more than 300 clauses, and on Second Reading I mentioned its size; little did I know that down the line in Committee there would be another 242-odd Government new clauses, and that today a further 137 amendments would be tabled at the last minute, with no time to debate them properly. Today's debate demonstrated just how ineffective the House has been made to be. There was limited time to consider literally hundreds of amendments and new clauses to the Bill. It is completely unsatisfactory.
It is not that the Bill is inherently evil, or that the Minister and the Government are intent on destroying homes and creating bureaucracies that will prevent people from being able to live in affordable housing; they just fundamentally misunderstood the best way of delivering their objectives. They know that they have a lamentable record on housing delivery over the past 10 years. We know that the average number of homes built every year during our time in office was 176,000, and that the figure is only 146,000 under this Government. Social housing, which was mentioned today and many times in Committee, is being built at a very limited rate. We were building more homes on average in each of our 18 years in office than Labour built in any of its 10 years—a situation that has greatly frustrated Labour Back Benchers, as the Minister knows. In addition, homelessness among children has risen dramatically under this Government. There are twice as many homeless children as there were 10 years ago. The figure has doubled to 130,000.
We know that there are all sorts of problems in the supply and provision of housing, but the Bill does very little to resolve them. It seeks to resolve them through more top-down management—exactly the kind of problem that got the Government into a low-level house building programme in the first place. The Bill is Whitehall driven, centralised and bureaucratic, and it gives powers to a new quango. We do not know how that quango will behave in future. The Minister mentioned earlier that Sir Bob Kerslake, the new chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency, said that the agency would be able to act on local vision and work with local partners. That may well be true, but that is not what it says in the Bill. The problem is that despite the fact that one chief executive thinks that he can act in that way under the terms of the Bill, what matters is what is actually in the Bill and the way in which it is written. It has been written to dictate centralised targets from above to people down below.
However one cuts it—however one reads the Bill—one realises that it is about creating targets and the Government trying to drive through their famous target of 3 million homes by 2020. Never mind the fact that the Government are already missing the target that enables them to reach that 2020 target, or the fact that they have missed their targets for the past 11 years, as I described; misguidedly, they still think that the solution is to put a top-down weight on local people. What came out most clearly both in Committee and—to a limited extent, because of the brevity of this debate—today is the idea that there is a better way of doing things.
We could work with, trust and rely on local communities by incentivising them to build the housing that we need. For some reason, the Government feel that that is a dogma that they could not possibly adopt. The idea of working with, rather than against, local people—the idea that people should not have to create campaigns to try to protect their local area—is anathema to the Government. It does not need to be like that. We can encourage local communities to create the homes that are needed by incentivising them. We can do that by ensuring that infrastructure follows housing, and by ensuring that local communities are financially benefited as and when housing comes to an area. There must also be joined-up thinking, so that when the people in an area agree to build more housing, there is something in it for local people.
When we ask ourselves honestly what incentive the Bill provides for local people to agree to or even encourage the building of housing in their areas, the answer is "Absolutely none." The truth is that it will invariably destroy the quality of life rather than enhance it. We do not believe that things need to be like that: housing and development should not have a bad name. It is the policies that have been followed for the past 10 years, gold-plated by the Bill, that have got us into this mess.
What has happened in this instance is a bit like what has happened to the word "consultation". Under the present Government, no one believes that a consultation is genuine. The very meaning of the word—its definition in the Oxford English Dictionary—has been degraded by the sham "consultations" of the past few years. The same muddied cloud now hangs over the word "development", and the Bill does nothing to address that.
It could all be so different. Local areas could vie with each other to build sustainable housing in which everyone would want to live. Existing communities could benefit, enjoying the extra services and improving their areas by backing developments. However, the Bill does nothing to favour that approach. Instead, it looks to the heavy hand of top-down government from Whitehall. When local people object to development proposals, the Homes and Communities Agency will have the power to override their objections. There is very little to commend the Bill to the House. We had a great opportunity to provide the amount of housing that we know we need to accommodate a nation, but that opportunity has been missed.
The Minister claimed today that the purpose of all those amendments had been to take account of the will of the Committee and the House, but he was unable to answer a simple question about the number of Opposition amendments that he had accepted. In fact, the reason there were so many amendments is not that this is a tremendous Bill, but that the Minister has dithered a great deal.
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that he has not once mentioned the creation of Oftenant? Are tenant standards so low on the Conservatives' agenda?
I do not want to take up other Members' time. I will simply say that it is difficult to understand why Oftenant should apply to some houses and not others. The Minister was unable to explain that in Committee, and he has been unable to explain it today. The Bill is, if nothing else, inconsistent.
I enjoyed serving on the Committee with the Minister. I think that he has genuinely listened. Above all today, I have accepted—and respect—the fact that the specific case that I raised in relation to amendments Nos. 14 and 15 will be considered. I think that that will prove to be a valuable step forward.
I approve of the creation of Oftenant. We felt that the name was faulty, but the best alternatives that we could come up with were Ofsquat and Ofhome, so we will stick to Oftenant for now.
The Bill has become complicated. We did not have enough time to examine the details, and I think the Minister will admit privately that the Government crammed an awful lot into a very short time today. The problem was exacerbated by the urgent question that was debated earlier. I hope that that means that the Government will show patience in another place, and will allow proper scrutiny of the parts of the Bill that we could not scrutinise here.
I think that the most important point to be made is that if the HCA works properly, it will help the Government to meet the target that we all want to meet—the provision of 3 million new homes. As Grant Shapps observed, if it is given free rein to wander into the activities of other quangos it may become a great, burdensome monster that will get in the way. However, I am choosing to be an optimist. Having listened to the Minister's elucidation of how much he loves the Bill, I feel that I am looking at its parents sitting proudly on the Front Bench after nurturing it thus far.
The Liberal Democrats want the Bill to work. We want it to be successful, and we want to meet that target. We want both a good quality of life and high standards of community development, and I think I can say with confidence that if the HCA achieves that, the months we have spent improving the Bill will not have been wasted.
I congratulate the Minister on a very sure-footed performance. I say that while his boss, the Minister for Housing, Caroline Flint, is sitting next to him. He did an heroic job in Committee, and I am sure he has been earmarked for promotion to other Departments that are more accident-prone than the one in which he currently serves. He did a first-class job.
The Minister will have noticed that there has been a total change in the housing climate since we debated the Bill on Second Reading in November. It is now a much colder climate than when we started. The base rate has gone down, but the borrowing rates have gone up. If we look at reports of house builders, we find that they are less optimistic; and 50 per cent. of the Housing Corporation's target is now on the back of market housing—
It being Ten o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [
Question agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance as a result of frustration. I appreciate that this may not be a matter that you can deal with now, but four of the groups selected by Mr. Speaker for debate were not touched on at all and in one group we debated only one provision and the bulk of amendments and new clauses were not debated. In addition to taking other steps outside this place, I seek your guidance on whether it would be possible, if the Government were minded to do so, to change the timetable for debate on Report. Could a motion to change the timetable be brought forward when it was absolutely obvious, once Report stage had started, that nothing like the bulk of the work set out was going to be done? Will you confirm whether that would be acceptable, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as it would help us to understand how to deal with Bills that have so many Government amendments and new clauses appended to them in future? The Leader of the House said that she was willing to look further into that as a major parliamentary issue.
In all these matters, the initiative lies with the Government. There may be occasions on which they may wish to put a different or amended programme motion before the House, but as the hon. Gentleman knows, I am afraid that that is not a matter for me. We are getting used to the procedure of programme motions and it is all a matter of judgment on each occasion as to whether sufficient time—in the eyes of the whole House—has been provided.