Consideration of Lords message
Before I call the Minister, I wish to repeat what Mr Speaker said on 25 April about Lords amendments and financial privilege: designation of such amendments is not a matter of choice, and it has no bearing on the freedom of the House to debate and decide on them.
I must also tell the House that, as Mr Speaker then said, he has asked the Procedure Committee to inquire into the so-called privilege reason, and the Clerk has prepared a memorandum for its consideration.
I draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 47B and 47C. If the House agrees to them, I will cause an appropriate entry to be made in the Journal.
I must inform the House that five of the motions relating to the Lords amendments are certified as relating exclusively to England and one both to England and to England and Wales, as set out on the selection paper. If the House divides on a certified motion, a double majority—or, in the latter case, a triple majority—will be required for the motion to be passed.
Planning permission: provision of starter homes
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 10B.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendments 47B and 47C, and Government motion to disagree.
Government motion to insist on Lords amendment 97A and disagree to Lords amendment 97B.
Lords amendment 108, Government motion to disagree, and amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendment 109B.
Lords amendment 110, Government motion to disagree, and amendment (a) in lieu.
Let me begin by informing the House that I am placing in the Library today the Department's analysis of the application of Standing Order 83O in respect of the Lords amendments.
We find ourselves here again, and, enjoyable as that may be, and while I thank those in the other place for not insisting on their amendments relating to a number of issues, I am very surprised that they have chosen again to oppose one of our most important manifesto commitments, namely the commitment to ensure that more homes are built: homes that we need, and homes that young people are crying out for. Last week we heard from many Members, in the Chamber, about the people who had asked them when starter homes would be available. We need to get on with helping those people to fulfil their dreams and get on to the home ownership ladder. Some 86% of our population want to be given a chance to do that.
Lords amendment 10B allows local authorities to meet their starter home requirement with other low-cost home ownership products. The amendment would again totally undermine our manifesto commitment to build 200,000 starter homes by 2020.
Is my hon. Friend, like me, struggling to remember a case in which a policy that was the subject of a clear manifesto commitment, and had received the assent of the elected House by more than 100 votes, was struck down and circumscribed by the unelected, unaccountable panjandrums in the House of Lords?
I have certainly not heard the position put so eloquently before. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am used to seeing the Labour party trying to stop people’s aspiration to own their homes, but it is beyond astonishing that the upper House should try to amend a measure that has received such a clear message of support from this elected Chamber, and in respect of which we have an election mandate to help young people.
If Lords amendment 10B were passed, the requirement for starter homes would become something entirely different: at best, the amendment shows a lack of understanding, and at worst it seeks to wreck important Government policy. That is unacceptable, not only to me but, I trust, to the House of Commons. The Joint Committee on Conventions made its view clear in its 2006 report “Conventions of the UK Parliament”, which states:
“A manifesto Bill is not subject to ‘wrecking amendments’ which change the Government's manifesto intention as proposed in the Bill.”
The noble Lords have done this not once, but twice. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson)—whose party, I note, was successful last Thursday—we sent a clear message, with an overwhelming majority, to the other place last week. We want our young people to have the chance of full home ownership, allowing them to move onwards and upwards over time. That is what the starter homes policy is all about, and we have a clear manifesto mandate to deliver it.
My hon. Friend is making a clear and compelling case. Does he not agree that, at a time when the average age for people to buy their first home is 37 and rising, it is imperative that we get on with the job of supplying homes that people can purchase and live in as a family unit?
My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point that goes to the heart of what we are seeking to do. With starter homes, shared ownership and other areas of Government policy, we are seeking to deliver homes for people who want to be part of the 86% who aspire to home ownership. Labour Members have often voted against and regularly outlined their opposition to that. We want to support those people; that is what the Bill is about.
Let me make it clear that the starter home requirement will not prevent councils from delivering other forms of affordable housing and home ownership products. For example, shared ownership and other home ownership products are part of the diverse and thriving housing market that we enjoy in this country. They help those who aspire to home ownership but who cannot afford even a discounted purchase. We have published a prospectus in the past couple of weeks that invites housing associations and other providers to bid for £4.7 billion of funding to deliver 135,000 shared ownership homes and £200 million to deliver 10,000 rent-to-buy homes as well.
The Bill focuses on starter homes, creating that new product and kick-starting delivery. We strongly believe that this is the most effective way to meet our manifesto commitment. Let me remind the House that we promised in our manifesto to deliver 200,000 new starter homes exclusively for first-time buyers under 40.
I am still a little confused about the position that local authorities will be put in if this amendment falls. They will, I think, still be entering into section 106 negotiations with a developer, part of which will involve a requirement to provide starter homes, but will they also have an ability to provide shared ownership properties and, presumably, affordable homes to rent as well? How will the balance and proportion of those homes be determined? Will that be a matter for local discretion?
Yes, there is no change to the position that has always pertained. It will be for local authorities to negotiate with developers over what they do beyond the requirement for starter homes. We will have a requirement for 20% starter homes, but what the local authorities do beyond that will be a matter for them. My experience of talking to developers is that in some areas where they have negotiated lower levels of affordable housing, the local authorities will be able to deliver more under the starter homes requirement.
So let me be clear: there will be requirement for 20% starter homes but if, as is the case in most of my constituency, the maximum requirement on sites for affordable housing is a total of 10%, does that mean that there would be nothing other than starter homes on those sites—that is, no other affordable housing?
That will be a matter for the local authority to negotiate. I know from talking to developers in my own constituency, where we have had similar levels of affordable housing, that we will be able to have more affordable housing as a result of the starter homes requirement. Local authorities will be able to deliver more affordable housing through this programme. We will not allow anyone to prevent us from meeting our commitment to deliver those new homes for first-time buyers.
I also want to defend another of our manifesto commitments. Our manifesto made this very clear, and I will quote from it again as I did last week. It stated:
“We will fund the replacement of properties sold under the extended Right to Buy by requiring local authorities to manage their housing assets more efficiently, with the most expensive properties sold off and replaced as they fall vacant.”
We are discussing this again today because the Lords have yet again chosen to send our proposals back, in spite of the overwhelming majority in this House which overturned their last attempt to undermine our election mandate. I am shocked and disappointed by their action. I commend the noble Lord Lisvane, who has a wealth of knowledge and experience of procedural matters and who chose not to press his amendments any further, recognising the primacy of this, the elected House. I just wish I could say the same about other noble Lords. Lords amendments 47B and 47C, which have been offered in lieu of amendment 47, with which this House has disagreed, are more or less identical to earlier incarnations.
Let me turn again to the report from the Joint Committee on Conventions. In paragraph 252, it states:
“If the Commons have disagreed to Lords Amendments on grounds of financial privilege, it is contrary to convention for the Lords to send back Amendments in lieu which clearly invite the same response.”
I remind the House that this was a report from a Joint Committee, so it would be reasonable to expect both Houses to respect its conclusions. However, the other place has again tried to block the Government’s ability to negotiate agreements with councils that will deliver value for money for the taxpayer and ensure that housing is delivered, requiring the Government to enter into agreements even where the local authorities have no acceptable plans or track record of delivery. Their proposals would also significantly reduce the funding available for the voluntary right to buy, again preventing this Government from fulfilling their manifesto commitment. Let me be very clear: this is a wrecking amendment.
I have already said that we will give local authorities with particular needs the opportunity to reach bespoke agreements where they can demonstrate a need, plans that offer good value for money and a strong track record of housing delivery. We need new homes to be built in this country, and we need local authorities working with us to ensure that the right mix of housing is delivered as quickly and efficiently as possible. These amendments would not help to deliver that; in fact, they would hinder it.
This House also unanimously agreed to remove a neighbourhood right of appeal from the Bill. However, the other place has decided to press the issue. I recognise and fully understand the wider support in the other place for a neighbourhood right of appeal and for amendment 97B. However, as I have made clear, the Government cannot support amendments that risk introducing the principle of a third-party right to appeal against a grant of planning permission. That would add more complexity and unpredictability to the planning system, significantly delaying sustainable development and housing delivery. Communities can already request that any local decision to approve an application should be considered for call-in by the Secretary of State.
We have been extremely clear about how strongly we as a Government support neighbourhood plans, having brought them in, and I am always keen to explore further improvements that strengthen a community’s role in local planning—after all, neighbourhood plans are delivering more houses—without sacrificing simplicity or slowing down delivery of the housing we need.
I accept that the Government have reasons for again rejecting the neighbourhood right of appeal—on which I originally tabled an amendment—but would the Minister accept that there are real concerns about the integrity of neighbourhood planning? It is an important policy, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is particularly keen to promote it. Such neighbourhood plans are undermined by speculative developments, and there needs to be a mechanism to ensure that those neighbourhood plans, once agreed or when close to agreement, are not subverted. It would be in no one’s interest to end up with a developer-led process rather than a plan-led process. Will the Minister agree to introduce more robust measures at some future opportunity?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have shared platforms and spoken about the strengths and benefits of neighbourhood planning. I know that he feels passionate about this, and I share his desire to ensure that communities have the confidence that, when they draw up a neighbourhood plan, it has weight in law and will be respected by the local authority and by the planning inspector. The call-in process is partly aimed at ensuring that that will be the case.
I am happy to make it clear that I want the law to be strongly in favour of neighbourhood plans. I want them to become the norm everywhere in England. We are well on our way to achieving that, with a record 18 referendums being held last week and hundreds more communities due to complete their plans soon. This makes it even more important not to have amendments coming forward that could carelessly introduce change. We need to ensure that we get this right, and I am happy to tell my right hon. Friend that we will work with him and other colleagues to ensure that we give these neighbourhood plans the confidence and primacy that the Government always intended for them. We must ensure that neighbourhood plans are respected by the decision makers.
I do not believe we should be routinely reopening debate on locally made decisions, which is effectively what this Lords amendment would enable. Those decisions are locally and democratically accountable and they already take into account neighbourhood plans. I ask this House to send the amendment back, while reaffirming my commitment to work with colleagues to ensure that neighbourhood plans enjoy the primacy that we intend them to have in planning law.
I will now turn to Lords reasons 108B and 110B, our disagreement to Lords amendments 108 and 110, and our proposed amendments in lieu of those Lords amendments. As I have said previously, I am not convinced that amendment 108 will help to house those who are desperate for a new home. New homes built in England must currently meet tough energy efficiency standards. As I have said, those standards were strengthened by 30% in the previous Parliament, saving £200 on energy bills compared with the standards prior to 2010. We should be proud of that. To meet those standards, homes have A-rated condensing boilers, double-glazed windows with low-energy glass, high levels of insulation and airtightness in their construction. They are very energy-efficient homes. The amendment would create additional construction costs, which could push some small builders out of the industry completely—at a time when we are trying to encourage more to come back in—by making developing much-needed homes totally unviable in some areas.
The last time the Minister raised this matter, I asked him a question, so I wonder whether he has had the time to swot up on it for this evening. I asked him how much people would save if the higher standards proposed by the Lords were implemented and how much that would amount to over the lifetime of their homes, which one would expect to be perhaps a minimum of 50 years.
Somebody who buys a home in this country lives in it for an average of seven years and the average cost, depending on the independent expert, could be £3,000 to £4,800. The cost would of course be cheaper on larger sites. On some of the small sites, of which we need more, particularly in rural areas that have a desperate need for housing, it could get up to almost £15,000 on the cost of a home. If somebody lives in a house for an average of seven years, that is a pretty high price to pay.
However, I propose today to place a statutory duty on Government to undertake a review of energy standards for new homes. It will seek evidence on the costs of energy measures and the benefits in fuel bill and carbon savings, which is the right hon. Gentleman’s point. It will identify what is cost-effective to require, and cost-effectiveness must be key not just for developers, but for homeowners. We said in our manifesto that we will meet our climate change commitments and that we will do so by cutting emissions “as cost-effectively as possible”. The electorate voted for that and the review will help to ensure that we can deliver it.
Likewise, I am concerned about the impact of amendment 110 on house building and our ability to bring forward the homes that people need. Flood risk is an incredibly important issue, and I fully understand the strength of feeling on the matter. The Government are committed to ensuring that developments are safe from flooding, and the delivery of sustainable drainage systems is part of our planning policy, which was strengthened just over a year ago. Our policy is still new, as I outlined in more detail last week, and I am willing to consider issues further as it matures. I am happy to review the effectiveness of current policy and legislation on sustainable drainage and to place that commitment on the face of the Bill, so I want to move amendment (a) in lieu of amendment 110.
In conclusion, I want to say something to all Members of both House as we consider a couple of key points. The issues that we are debating and voting on tonight and that the Lords will be considering shortly are about delivering on our general election manifesto and therefore delivering our general election mandate. They are about delivering new homes for the people across our country who are in desperate need of them. It is the democratic right of this House to deliver on the Government’s agenda. We are determined to deliver on our promises to the British people and ask both Houses to respect that mandate.
We began scrutinising this Bill last autumn, and it was bad at that point. After a string of concessions and 18 defeats, some of its harshest aspects have now been amended, but it still presents a missed opportunity to solve the housing crisis. Since 2010, homelessness and rough sleeping have more than doubled, house prices and private rents have risen dramatically, and the housing benefit bill has ballooned. The Bill does little to tackle the housing crisis head on, and concerns have been raised by housing experts, leading charities, and MPs, councillors and peers from across the political divide, including Conservative council leaders, Conservative peers and Conservative MPs.
Lords amendment 10B would enable starter homes to be built while giving local authorities greater flexibility to deliver other forms of low-cost home ownership products to meet the need in their areas. The amendment seeks to expand the opportunities in the Bill for people to own their own home and gives serious consideration to other forms of affordable ownership. There is now a wide consensus that starter homes, which can cost up to £450,000, will be a big let-down and will be out of reach for young people and families on ordinary incomes—those who need a hand up on to the ladder the most. It is not just in my constituency that starter homes will be unaffordable. Research by Savills and by Shelter both found that starter homes will be unaffordable to families on average incomes in areas across the country.
We agree with the Local Government Association and want the Bill to provide for more affordable homes to rent as well as to buy. We agree that amendment 10B is a big improvement on the Government’s plan to impose starter homes on local communities to the exclusion of other types of affordable homes to buy. The LGA has stated:
“The discretion for local authorities to determine the number of starter homes built locally, alongside affordable homes for rent”
“critical for ensuring new housing meets the needs of communities.”
I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that the Government will not be supporting amendment 10B. The Government’s focus on starter homes puts at risk other forms of affordable housing, including other forms of affordable home ownership. The Government argued in their manifesto:
“Everyone who works hard should be able to own a home of their own”.
Therefore, the Government will surely want to expand opportunities for home ownership by allowing other forms, rather than exclusively promoting starter homes, which could be unaffordable for many. If someone is over 40, they are excluded from the product altogether. If the Conservative party really does want everyone who works hard to be able to own their own home, there needs to be something for the over-40s. If we are serious about fixing the housing crisis and if the Government are serious about encouraging people on to the housing ladder, they must consider all forms of tenure and not just exclusively encourage starter homes. I hope that they will reconsider their opposition to the amendment.
Lords Amendments 47B and 47C would attempt to ensure that, where needed, councils homes that are sold are replaced on a like-for-like basis. The Bill provides the statutory basis to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants paid for by the forced sale of council homes to the highest bidders, including buy-to-let landlords and overseas investors. The Government have still failed to commit to genuine, like-for-like replacements for homes that were forcibly sold, and we now see that they have marked the amendments as engaging financial privilege. If the Government do not accept the proposal for one-for-one, like-for-like replacements, they need to explain why. Without that commitment on the face of the Bill, there will be a huge loss of genuinely affordable homes as this Government sounds the death knell for social housing.
The Government have said that they are simply honouring their election manifesto. Well, I checked the manifesto and the relevant passage commits to a replacement, something which this Bill does not effectively do. Any sensible meaning of the word replacement in this context would ensure that if a house is sold, it is replaced by one of the same type and tenure. The Bill and Government policy will make the delivery of new social rented and affordable rented housing near impossible. The new starter homes requirement will push social rented housing out of section 106 agreements. The 1% rent reduction over the next four years will make it harder for housing associations to deliver social rented housing in their schemes. Grant funding for new affordable rented properties by the Homes and Communities Agency will end in 2018. Those steps, without like-for-like replacement, will result in a huge loss of genuinely affordable homes. The Local Government Association has come out in favour of these two amendments, and it believes that
“as a minimum all councils should retain sufficient funds to replace each home sold on a like for like basis.”
It believes that negotiations between central and local government must allow councils to take into account the impact of wider housing reforms on the responsibilities of councils to meet housing needs. The cross-party Public Accounts Committee, too, has released a damning report on the Government’s plans, and no information has been provided on the impact of the forced sale. This policy will affect many people up and down the country, but the Government have failed to provide basic information to demonstrate how it will achieve its aims.
I will also touch briefly on amendments 97B, 108 and 110. Amendment 97B is a revised amendment to the one we debated last week, proposing a restricted, limited right of appeal in certain specific circumstances only in those areas where there is an approved neighbourhood plan. The amendment would empower local communities to have a greater say over their neighbourhoods, which should be welcomed. The Government’s counter-amendment only provides for a report to be written on neighbourhood plans when applications are permitted—we would already expect that of any good local planning authority.
Amendments 108 and 110 would ensure that all new homes built are carbon-compliant and have sustainable drainage provision. Although it would have been a positive step to see these issues covered in the Bill, it is welcome that the Government have committed to reviewing them. I hope the Minister will be able to provide further details, missing from the amendments themselves, about when these reviews are likely to commence; what a statutory review entails; when these reviews will be completed; and whether their findings will be reported to Parliament.
The Government were forced to make a string of concessions in the House of Lords and were defeated multiple times, showing the extent of opposition to the Bill. Although there are many things in this Bill we disagree with, I do believe that amendments 10B, 47B and 47C will improve it and will help towards combating the housing crisis, and I hope the Government will consider accepting them.
Neighbourhood planning has been one of the success stories of this Government and a flagship of the localism policy. I commend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the work he did in putting that legislation through and in pioneering neighbourhood plans. They put communities in control and create a situation where they ask themselves what they want in their local areas rather than what they do not want. Neighbourhood plans have ended up producing more housing than was originally intended. As the plans are voted on by a local referendum, it is very important that they are respected once they are agreed. We tell local communities that their neighbourhood plan will apply for, say, 15 years, and that certain areas that they decide will be developed and that others—green spaces and so on—will be protected. It is therefore of concern to local communities that are about to produce a neighbourhood plan or have made one, and to other areas in the process of producing such plans or considering them, if developers appear to be allowed to come along, game the system, bang in a speculative planning application in the hope that they will get it through, arguing that there is some reason why it should be allowed despite a neighbourhood plan, perhaps because of the five-year land supply, and their planning permission is then upheld by the local authority or a planning refusal is overturned on appeal.
That is exactly the position I face in my constituency, where a number of speculative planning applications are being put forward, often involving the argument that there is not a five-year supply. One case is now having to go to the House of Lords in order to uphold neighbourhood plans, which clearly is not what was intended by the Localism Act 2011 and neighbourhood planning.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. Indeed, a number of hon. Members are concerned about this issue, as the Minister knows. As I explained in my earlier intervention on him, the intention of the original amendment to introduce a neighbourhood right of appeal was not just to redress a perceived inequity that developers have a right of appeal but communities do not; it was to deal with this particular problem, whereby we cannot allow the whole policy of neighbourhood planning, or the democratic decision, to be undermined in the public eye, given that we accept that a local planning authority does reserve the right to make a strategic allocation. That is understood, but that is a rather different position from suddenly deciding that an area should be developed contrary to a neighbourhood plan.
My right hon. Friend is making an impassioned case on behalf of his constituents, but does he not see the other side of gaming? It might be possible for a local planning authority that has not produced a local plan to move a residential development on to the neighbourhood plan scheme and, with a right of appeal that would, over time, stymie the development of much-needed housing.
I think my hon. Friend has expressed the Government’s concern about the particular amendment and the proposal for a neighbourhood right of appeal. He has shown why they were not willing to accept it as drafted, and why they rejected it and seek to do so again.
I understand the Government’s concern in this area. I am seeking not to drive a coach and horses through the local planning system or to stymie house building, but to ensure that this very important policy, which is producing more housing than was anticipated and which reflects local needs, is not wrecked because local support for it is undermined. That is certainly in danger of happening in my constituency in West Sussex where neighbourhood planning was going very well, but people are now starting to say, “Well, what are neighbourhood plans worth if they can so easily be overturned?” That is why action in this area is necessary. The Government have taken a step towards it by seeking to insist on an amendment in lieu, which would require local authorities to identify where there was a conflict with the neighbourhood plan. That does not go far enough, because it merely reflects what happens in the planning system at the moment. I welcome the Minister’s willingness to engage with concerned Members on this issue, his understanding of its importance and his commitment to look at it again, perhaps with a view to some future proposals that will ensure that the policy of neighbourhood planning is upheld.
Although I appreciate the reasons why the Government wish to insist on their amendment in lieu for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Minister set out about the specific right of appeal, I do hope that the Government will not dismiss the intention behind the amendment and will honour the commitment that they have made to Members to look again at this important issue. Where we have given local communities a say, we must stand by that commitment, particularly when they have voted democratically. It will damage the policy of neighbourhood planning if we do not. That is why future action, properly constrained in a way that does not stymie planned development, is so important.
I shall speak to Lords amendment 10B, 47B and 47C.
The Minister is right to say that the Conservatives had a manifesto commitment to build starter homes. Although I may have some disagreements with elements of that policy, I respect it. It is the will of the electorate, and the Government have every right to put it into practice. However, what the Government did not say at the election was that, in large parts of the country, people who could not afford to buy a home would find it virtually impossible to find an affordable home to rent, or that, as a result of their policy, people’s chances of finding that affordable home to rent would be substantially diminished and, in some cases, removed altogether. That is the impact of the policies that are in the Bill, connected with other Government policies as well.
When I intervened on the Minister, I raised the issue of section 106 agreements and the requirement that starter homes should make up 20% of homes on that site. I do not think that there are any sites in my constituency where there will be a 20% requirement. In fact, I cannot think of many sites throughout the whole of the city of Sheffield. That is not because the local authority does not want affordable homes built as part of 106 agreements, but because market values are so low that the sites would not be viable if a higher level of affordable homes were insisted on. That means that the policy of the local council conforms with paragraphs 47 and 48 on viability and deliverability in the national planning policy framework, which are a key element of Government policy. Therefore, in complying with Government policy, the local authority would be in a position where, in order to conform with the requirement to have at least 20% as starter homes, there will be no other affordable homes built as part of 106 agreements in my constituency; they will be gone completely.
If that is put alongside the Government policy on spending on housing for the remainder of this Parliament, there will be no money for councils or housing associations to bid for to fund affordable rented housing—it will all go on shared ownership and starter homes. There will be no new building as part of the Government’s spending grant availability.
On top of that, as a result of the rules about higher value council homes being sold off, every single vacant property in the slightly better off parts of my constituency is likely to be sold off, so there will be no vacant council properties coming up for rent. The Government have produced no figures whatsoever on how the money that comes in from the sales of those properties will add up to the replacement of the housing association property once the discount has been provided for. Then there is the contribution towards a brownfield remediation pot and a replacement council home. There is no possibility that the home sold off by the council will be replaced by a property that is for affordable rent.
The reality is that in large parts of my constituency no affordable homes for rent will be built through section 106, or through Government grant provision. Affordable homes for rent will be sold off in their totality in some parts of the constituency, with no like-for-like replacement. That adds up to one simple fact: where people are in urgent need of housing for whatever reason, their urgent need will remain, but there will not be an urgent offer of a property, because it will not exist. People in my constituency who have been on the waiting list for 15 years or more will wait not 20 or 25 years, but for ever, because a property will never become available under these policies.
The Bill and other Government measures effectively mean the end of social rented housing in large parts of my constituency, for the simple reason that there will be no social rented housing available to offer people on the waiting list or in urgent need.
I shall refer to most of the amendments. I reiterate my concerns about the amendment relating to neighbourhood planning. It would establish a dangerous precedent that would potentially end the neighbourhood right of appeal against conservatories and small-scale extensions. It would very much reduce the speed at which residential development could progress. There would also be an opportunity for sleight of hand by the more unscrupulous planning authorities that do not want any development in their area: they might move residential development on to a neighbourhood planning regime, in lieu of a local structure plan or district plan. With a third-party appeal, that development would be held up for months and years. People who desperately need homes in high-cost, high-value areas would suffer as a result, so the Government are absolutely right to resist the amendment, although clearly I recognise the sincerity with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) represents his constituents’ very legitimate concerns.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Not at the moment, if my hon. Friend will allow. I am getting looks of admonition from the Whips, so I had better proceed. The amendment on the carbon compliance standard is precisely the wrong measure at this time. One of the endemic issues resulting from not delivering the appropriate number of homes is the attrition of small and medium-sized builders. Nothing could be designed to knock out even more of them, or to not allow them back into the market alongside very-sizeable-volume builders, than adding extra cost, so the Government are right to resist that amendment.
I now come to starter homes. This is an issue of social equity and fairness as much as anything else. I made the point when we debated this last week that a significant number of people are accessing finance for their new home through the bank of mum and dad—family money. That cannot be right if we want social fairness and equity. We want new owner-occupied properties to be available to young families in particular, and to working people, who do not have recourse to capital that is passed from generation to generation in a way that is inherently very unfair. Through the vehicle of shared equity and Help to Buy in particular, we are achieving that. As the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) will know, the Labour party made the same arguments about the affordable rent tenure in 2010 that it now makes about starter homes.
There is also the issue of constitutional propriety. I am afraid that I was rather rough on the House of Lords, but the fact of the matter is that we have a manifesto commitment to deliver starter homes. The Opposition would have a stronger point were every local planning authority run in an enormously efficient way, delivering residential development in a timely fashion, but they know—it is a cross-party issue—that very many local planning authorities have not even got round to producing structure plans or local district plans. They had the opportunity over many months or years to prepare varied tenure residential developments in their area and they have failed to do so. The Opposition can hardly then complain that the Government, who all of us agree are facing a significant housing crisis, should use primary legislation passed unequivocally by this elected House in order to ameliorate the effects of that housing crisis by saying that we should have a certain amount of starter homes.
Although I have sympathy with the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) about land values—that is a valid point—he neglected to mention that very good regional registered providers and housing associations are already cross-subsidising by direct market sale, putting that money back into providing social rent. Some are also selling excess land, garages, community centres and shops that are extremely useful in providing homes for people in great need. We understand that people who are working need social rented housing, but we also understand that other people will benefit by accessing shared equity, affordable rent and starter homes.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the principal costs of developing new housing is the cost of the land that has to be acquired for that housing? Therefore, if low-cost land is available in an area such as Sheffield, low-cost housing will be provided on that site.
My hon. Friend, who has a great deal of experience in local government housing and planning, makes an important point. He is right to draw the House’s attention to the anomalous nature of some of the comments from the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the Chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee, on which, I think, my hon. Friend also serves.
Yes, the houses for sale in my constituency are much lower in price than in many other parts of the country, though higher than in one or two other areas in the north. However, the tens of thousands of people on the waiting list are on the waiting list primarily because they cannot afford to buy the houses, even though they are lower in value than those in the constituency of the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman).
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point but local planning authorities like his in Sheffield have not been circumscribed by section 106 in the recent past or at all in developing the tenure that they choose. He will know, because the centre of his city has undergone significant regeneration over many years, that the capacity for section 106 payments to go back into social housing has been an issue in his city and others.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. On section 106 agreements, one of the big concerns of my constituents is the impact on health and education infrastructure. That needs to be examined in future, particularly in the light of recent judgments by the planning inspectorate, which are being challenged through the courts.
I like to think I am an hon. Friend.
Some of us remember four or five years ago fighting the battles over the national planning policy framework. Some of us put our heads on the block and said that it was probably a good thing, and we were right to do so. I fear that sometimes discussion of infrastructure is a way of saying, “No residential development in our area.”
There is a housing crisis. Those who hold housing and capital have a duty to release some of it to those who do not have that power and influence. That is a difficult balance. We have to think of quality of life, but that is one of the things that the Bill has addressed. That is why I stand four-square behind the starter homes policy, which has an election mandate, and I urge Members to support the Government policy and to remind the House of Lords politely that only one of our Houses is elected by the people, and that the other can oversee, scrutinise and improve, but not veto.
I wish to speak briefly about Lords amendment 10B and to urge the Government to support it. The amendment would allow local councils to decide the mix of affordable housing that is delivered in their area, based on their assessment of local need and demand.
The Minister speaks about manifesto pledges, and his point is understood, but I would like to quote the press release that accompanied the Tory manifesto launch:
“After funding replacement affordable housing on a one for one basis, the surplus proceeds will be used to fund the extension of right to buy”.
It is entirely untenable for the Government to include starter homes in the definition of affordable housing. A home to buy that requires a deposit of £90,000 and a salary of £77,000 and that costs up to £450,000 is not affordable to most people in London, and my constituents simply shake their heads in disbelief at the suggestion that it is. It is not the case that starter homes are replacement affordable housing, and it is entirely misleading of the Government to claim they are.
Amendment 10B would allow local authorities—the same local authorities that undertake housing needs assessments, that have statutory housing duties, that are democratically accountable to their communities and that know what is needed in their communities—to determine the type of affordable housing that is appropriate in their area.
My hon. Friend raises the concept of subsidiarity—the organising principle that decisions are best made at the smallest, lowest and least centralised level. Does she agree that the Bill goes nowhere near that concept?
The Bill does not simply go nowhere near that principle—it contravenes it.
Amendment 10B would give local authorities the ability to decide the balance of starter homes and other, more genuinely affordable homes to be delivered in their area. By failing to support the amendment, the Government are breaking the commitment they made in launching their manifesto. More importantly, they are failing communities in London and across the country that need affordable housing.
It is important to point out what links an affordable, secure home and the aspiration of many people in this country to own a home: the ability to save. Someone who is spending too high a proportion of their income on private rents and on deposits for landlords every year because they have no security of tenure does not have the ability to save. The Bill does nothing about the private rented sector; it reduces the supply of genuinely affordable homes and, in doing so, it denies the aspiration of an entire generation to have an affordable, secure home and, ultimately, to own a home of their own. That is an ideological position, and it will deepen the housing crisis and be the shame of this Government.
I want to start by associating myself with the comments made by the hon. Members for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) and for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who is the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee. I hope the Minister will not seek to portray their views, or indeed mine, as those of people who oppose home ownership. Clearly, that is not the case, and I hope the Government will have learned the lesson that fear tactics—certainly in London—do not work very well for them.
On Lords amendment 10B, the Government propose a review. From my brief period as a Minister, I know that when Governments look at what they can offer as a sop to the Opposition, it is a review that comes forward. I welcome the fact that a review is on the table. However, given the impact that zero-carbon homes would have and the positive contribution they would make, that is what we need to stick by. The Minister and other Conservative Members have referred to the Lords intervening in this. Of course, Conservative Members had their opportunity to reform the House of the Lords in the previous Parliament, and failed to do so.
The Minister may also refer to the Conservatives’ manifesto commitment to being the greenest Government ever. I assume that commitment is still in play for them, and hope they would therefore support the idea of zero-carbon homes and the highest possible environmental standards. Last time we discussed this, I asked the Minister how much people would save if these higher standards were introduced. I am afraid that he did not have a response, but he did refer to the fact that people generally keep their homes for seven years. That is another demonstration of a rather short-sighted approach, because these homes will be there not for seven years but for 50 or 100 years—who knows? The zero-carbon measures would have an impact over the duration of the lifetime of these homes—an impact that would benefit all future occupants, not just those who live there for a minimum of seven years.
In relation to extra costs, last time we discussed this, the figure of £3,000 was deployed, although that was disputed. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead suggested that those costs had gone down to £1,500, and the Minister referred to £15,000; I am not quite sure where he got that from. In any case, long-term savings would clearly be derived from these higher energy standards for homes, and that would benefit everyone who lived in them thereafter.
It is legitimate for the Government to point out that amendment 10B would place additional burdens on smaller builders. It would therefore be appropriate for the Government to come forward with ideas about how to address that through training, advice and additional support from which those builders could benefit so that they could not only develop the sites that we want to be developed but develop homes to the highest possible standards to ensure that the Government meet their climate change commitments.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 10B.
The House proceeded to a Division.
I must inform the House that the motion relates exclusively to England. A double majority is therefore required.
9 May 2016
The House having divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Lords amendment 10B disagreed to.
More than one hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords message, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, 3 May).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83G).
Reduction of payment by agreement
Motion made, and Question put,
That this House disagrees with Lords amendments 47B and 47C.—(Brandon Lewis.)
The House proceeded to a Division.
I must remind the House that the motion relates exclusively to England. A double majority is therefore required.
9 May 2016
The House having divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Lords amendments 47B and 47C disagreed to.
After Clause 128
Neighbourhood right of appeal
That this House insists on its amendment 97A in lieu of Lords amendment 97 and disagrees with the Lords in their amendment 97B in lieu of that Lords amendment.—(Brandon Lewis.)
After Clause 143
Planning obligations and affordable housing
Amendment (a) proposed in lieu of Lords amendment 108. —(Brandon Lewis.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
9 May 2016
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Amendment (a) made in lieu of Lords amendment 108.
That this House insists on its disagreement with Lords amendment 110 and proposes amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendment 109B agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 10B, 47B and 47C and for insisting on Commons amendment 97A and disagreeing to their amendment 97B.
That Andrew Griffiths, Brandon Lewis, Seema Kennedy, Grahame M. Morris, Teresa Pearce and Julian Smith be members of the Committee.
That Brandon Lewis be the Chair of the Committee.
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Julian Smith.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.