My Lords, I support this amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and others. The arguments have all been very well made, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Best, with his great experience, so I want merely to emphasise a few facts.
First, as we all know, the need for affordable homes is as great in the countryside as anywhere, because on average houses are more expensive and average wages are lower. The largest long-term black cloud hovering over nearly all less well-off rural families is the issue of, “Where on earth are our children going to live?”. Secondly, rural areas currently have less than half the number of affordable homes per population than urban areas. I say “currently” because without this amendment, or something like it, the situation is about to get very much worse. The third fact—and this is really important and has been raised by all speakers— is that Section 106 homes on sites of fewer than 10 houses provide more than 50% of all affordable homes in the countryside.
I know that the Government have blundered into this now legal cul-de-sac and left themselves with few means of a U-turn, but I hope that they will somehow find a way out of this most unfortunate and ill-considered situation and turn it into something that is at least tolerable.
I believe that during the passage of this Bill the Government have grasped the seriousness of rural housing problems and genuinely tried to help—I thank the Minister and the Secretary of State for their parts in that—but in many ways this amendment covers the most important issue that we have dealt with because of the high percentage of affordable rural houses at stake here. There are not many opportunities to build houses in the countryside because of the lack of sites available; but when and where it is possible, it is crucial that we grasp the opportunity to add to the number of affordable houses available for locals.
I will spare your Lordships my thoughts on how all Governments, without exception, seem to drift from their early ideals of localism to ever-stronger central government controls, but it should be up to local councils to decide whether they need to support their local small builders, which is the case being made here by the Government, or, alternatively, the numerous young families living in crowded accommodation housing sometimes two or even three generations. I hope the Government will find a way of accommodating the very important intentions behind this amendment and genuinely satisfying us all that they will change their current approach.