The affordable homes programme is a bid-led programme and spending within a financial year may vary from budget based on the number of bids. This is standard budget management practice. We are investing more in affordable homes, with an additional £2 billion provided last year, taking the programme to over £9 billion. That funding will support housing associations and local authorities to build more affordable homes where they are needed most.
May I add my condolences to the family of the former Speaker?
I congratulate the new Secretary of State on taking on this important role—we all know how important it is. Some £800 million was sent back from the Department to the Treasury this year. Will the new Secretary of State ensure that the Department budget is actually spent, so that we can get on with building the thousands of council homes—I stress council homes, because we all know that only council homes are truly affordable—we need for the millions of people who cannot afford their own home?
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words and wishes. May I also associate myself with your words, Mr Speaker, on the former Speaker Michael Martin? He was the Speaker when I first joined this House, and I know what a kind and supportive man he was to hon. Members right across the House, in particular new Members. I know what a sad loss he is.
In response to the hon. Lady’s question, I point to the £9 billion I highlighted and to the fact that in 2016-17 41,530 affordable housing homes were completed, which is 27% higher than in the previous year. I underline the commitment given by my predecessor, to whom I pay tribute for his work. We will continue to focus on building homes for the future, including affordable homes, and raising aspirations.
I, too, associate myself with your comments, Mr Speaker, about the late Lord Martin. He was particularly kind to me when I arrived here after a by-election. I especially welcome the return of my good friend and constituency neighbour to the Treasury Bench, which is where he deservedly belongs.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the key to affordability is increasing supply? Does he recognise, as a fellow London MP, that the Government devolved the strategic housing pot to the Mayor of London? Does he share my concern that while housing starts in the rest of the country have risen, in London, under the current Labour Mayor, they have fallen?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the flexibilities this Government have sought to put in place to deal with the essential issue of housing, which will be a core priority for me in the time ahead. I thank him for his kind wishes. Investment and flexibility will make a difference, provided they are taken up and we have partnership across the country, in delivering the homes people need.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his place. Does his Department have any targets for the number of affordable houses? Will he promise to take a look at the definition of affordable, which is at far too high a price under this Government?
The hon. Lady will know that our ambition is to get building up to about 300,000 homes a year. That is the real focus and commitment of this Government. Yes, it is about affordability and it is about ensuring that people have a positive sense for the future about getting into the housing market, and that is what this Government are determined to do.
I will certainly reflect on the feedback that I receive from across the House in the days ahead. These are just the first few hours of my tenure in this role, but I will listen closely to the comments from my right hon. Friend and others, and certainly, as we look at the national planning policy framework, we will consider those matters carefully.
Although all Speakers become politically neutral, Labour Members welcome and endorse with particular strength your tribute to our former colleague, Michael Martin, as well as your condolences to Mary and the family, Mr Speaker.
I warmly welcome the new Housing Secretary; it is good to see him back. He has a big job to do and the Opposition wish him all the very best in doing it. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) was right to highlight Labour’s analysis of his predecessor’s pathetic surrender of housing cash to the Chancellor. It shows the new Secretary of State’s real challenge: the huge cut in housing investment—from £4 billion in 2010 to less than £500 million now—and the huge fall in genuinely affordable new homes to rent and buy. Will the right hon. Gentleman at least make the modest commitment that while he is Housing Secretary, we will build more new social rented homes than we lose?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome to me. As he will know, it has certainly been a challenging personal few months for me, and that is why I am so delighted to have been given this new responsibility on such an important policy issue, as he rightly points out. I point him to the fact that, with the £2 billion that was added last year, this Government are investing £9 billion in affordable homes. I also draw his attention to the fact that more affordable homes have been delivered in the last seven years than were in the last seven years of the last Labour Government. We will continue to have that focus on building more homes and on building more affordable homes, too.
The record is clear: 40,000 new genuinely affordable social rented homes were started by councils and housing associations in Labour’s last year in government, and fewer than 1,000 were backed by his Government last year. Does the Secretary of State not accept that the housing crisis demands that both central Government and local government do much more? In this local elections week, will he confirm a couple of important facts? Labour councils build five times more council homes than Conservative councils, and Labour councils get 50% more homes of all types built than Conservative councils, so does he agree that to fix the housing crisis, it is clear that we need more Labour councils and more Labour councillors to be elected on Thursday?
Even Labour councils build more homes under a Conservative Government. The right hon. Gentleman does raise the important issues of housing supply, the housing challenges that we need to meet and the roles of national Government and local government. I very much look forward to working with local government to make sure that we deliver on that agenda, because that is what this country needs and what will make a difference to people’s lives.