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Housing and Planning Bill - Report (5th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:45 pm on 25th April 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 10:45 pm, 25th April 2016

My Lords, we end Report as we began, discussing the principle of many of the policies within the Bill. The evening is drawing on—it is now quarter to 11—so noble Lords will forgive me if I do not restate all the arguments for all the policies.

However, I will say this. Later this week, we will pass to the other place a Bill which contains a number of distinct manifesto policies and which implements a number of measures set out in the Government’s Budget or productivity plan. The Government’s intention is quite clear. We all agree that this country, and in particular our young people, need more homes to be built. That is a key theme for this Government, and changes to the planning system and building new homes take time.

I understand the concerns raised by noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, about the availability of detail on some of the policies in the Bill, but this set of amendments would place delay upon delay on the building of new homes. This is extra time that we simply do not have. It would mean a delay to the sale of high-value assets, meaning delays to building two more affordable homes in London for every one expected to be sold, and a delay to the commencement of starter homes, meaning fewer built for young families looking for somewhere to call their own.

I have heard the arguments raised time and again—that noble Lords feel that the detail of our policies should be available for scrutiny before work is done to legislate for them—and I understand the points that have been made. I am very keen to see consensus where possible and to continue to engage with noble Lords across the House as we go forward in developing regulations after the Bill has completed its passage. That is why I have made a number of changes to enhance the role of Parliament in scrutinising our plans. Several regulations will now not come into force without the detail being agreed by both Houses. I believe that this is a good compromise, and it is the result of noble Lords’ passionate arguments and skill in refining the Bill to the point at which we are today.

Amendments 138 and 140, tabled by the noble Lords, Lords Lisvane, Lord Kerslake, Lord Beecham and Lord Foster, would delay the sale of high-value assets and the delivery of new homes which that would unlock. Furthermore, the sale of assets to pay for the voluntary right-to-buy agreement is a manifesto commitment, and people want to exercise their right to buy as soon as possible. Already more than 25,000 housing association tenants have registered their interest in taking up this option, with 1,000 registering their interest each week. Our current arrangements will allow Parliament to scrutinise the detail first, and I hope that that will satisfy noble Lords. However, at this point I must make it clear that I will not bring back this amendment at Third Reading. Therefore, if the noble Lord is not content with my response, he should test the opinion of the House this evening.

Likewise, the affirmative regulations effected by Amendment 141, tabled by the noble Lords, Lords Lisvane and Lord Kerslake, would prevent the starter home provisions in the Bill coming into force until a year after regulations are laid in both Houses. I say again that the Government’s manifesto commitment was to deliver 200,000 starter homes, and we will be expected to deliver on our commitment. Our current arrangements allow Parliament to scrutinise the detail first.

I hear noble Lords’ arguments clearly, however, and local planning authorities need time to consider new measures. That is why we are consulting on the provision of transitional arrangements in our technical consultation. We have asked an open question to understand the views of the sector on this important matter.

The regulations will not act retrospectively on existing planning consents. It is also our intention that they will not apply to any application already submitted to a local planning authority. I am sure noble Lords do not want to delay housebuilding because their amendment stops development for a year, and that would be its impact.

Turning now to Amendment 138C, which is from the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Kennedy, and deals with flooding, I acknowledge that where we do build we need to do so in a way that ensures that the flood risk is managed effectively and so that new development does not add to the flood risk. Our planning policies are designed to do just that. I am glad to acknowledge the important work which the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has led with the adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change on this matter. We understand and appreciate the intention of the noble Lord to find further ways to ensure that new development is not built in areas of high flood risk. His proposal raises some complex issues, not least the interaction with insurance arrangements and the operation of the existing warranty schemes for new homes. We all want to avoid a situation where there is any confusion about liabilities and responsibilities between housebuilders, insurance companies and warranty scheme operators. The Housing and Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis, wrote to the noble Lord offering further discussions between officials on this matter, including with colleagues from Defra. I am very happy to repeat that offer this evening. I can confirm that I will write to the noble Lord with details of those planned discussions. I hope he will accept that as a positive way forward.

I know that some of us are not going to agree on policies linking social rents more closely to income, despite the progress that we have made. I have listened to the debate with care, but my response may not come as a surprise. Amendment 139 would delay payment of a fairer rent by those who can afford it, and the money raised through the policy has been identified as a contribution to deficit reduction. Delaying the implementation of the policy in this way would reduce the Government’s ability to use that money for this important purpose. I have previously announced a significant package of measures aimed at ensuring that the policy is applied fairly, including the use of a taper and exemptions for people on certain benefits. We are carefully considering the amendments made by noble Lords to the policy on Report before we return to this discussion in the Commons. We will give tenants time to prepare for the introduction of the policy by working with local authorities now to ensure that they are fully aware of the need to put preparations in place to deliver measured and tapered rent increases in April 2017. My officials and I have had constructive conversations with the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, about how we can implement the Bill as practically as possible.

As I said earlier, I hope I have been clear in what I said: if the noble Lord is not happy with my response, he should test the opinion of the House.