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What is a starter home?

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 3rd May 2016.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Conservative, Norwich North 7:30 pm, 3rd May 2016

I will speak specifically against Lords amendment 54. Local authorities should not have local discretion to apply pay to stay. I will raise a very clear example that shows the worst possible risk of local self-interest.

Norwich City Council, I am sorry to report, is led by Labour, although we have elections on Thursday. The Norwich Labour party may be having a rather difficult week—the leader of the Labour party is no doubt right now looking into reported extreme tweets from Clive Lewis.

The leader of Norwich City Council himself, Councillor Alan Waters, lives in one of his own council homes. In fact, he is not alone in doing so. So many Labour councillors on Norwich City Council live in their own council housing that they cannot even recuse themselves from business relating to their pecuniary interest, as clearly laid out in the standards expected of councillors; in response to my investigations on this topic, a city council spokesman confirmed in March that so many councillors were taking advantage of their own housing that the political balance of the council would be affected if all tenants took no part in discussions about housing policy. That means that councillors are being allowed to take part in discussions about council housing even though they have personal financial interests in it.

More specifically, the leader of the council is himself likely to be a high-income tenant under the terms of the Bill. His own register of interests at City Hall clearly shows that as well as living in one of his own Norwich City Council houses, he holds a professional job in London and Norwich and a directorship, all while earning well over many people’s minimum wage from council expenses alone. Of course the leader of Norwich City Council will not want higher earning tenants to pay a fairer rent, because he is likely to be one of them. If his Labour friends in the Lords were to get away with letting councils have discretion over the policy, of course he would not enact it in Norwich.

The policy should be enacted because it means that better-off tenants will pay their way—or, indeed, move out to allow poorer families who really need a council home to have it. There are thousands of families in Norwich on the housing waiting list. Those who argue against the policy seem to believe that if people living in council housing earn a bit more, they should not pay a bit more in rent, and that people on any amount of money should be able to continue to live in public housing, subsidised by the taxpayer. People might remember that union baron Bob Crow lived in a council house until he died, yet reportedly earned £145,000.

I simply do not think it is right for the struggling family who really need that home to be denied a place because a well-off person has it. That is why I support the Bill, as a Norwich MP who wants people to be able fairly to get the homes they dearly need, and why I am speaking against Lords amendment 54.