I believe that a Division will be called in the House shortly. The Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
Clause 2 [Objects]:
14: Clause 2, page 1, line 10, leave out “objects” and insert “objectives”
The noble Baroness said: This may seem to be a small point, but it may be an important one to make. I should give a name check to Tim Oliver, a researcher in our Whips’ Office because it was his point. When he asked the staff of the Public Bill Office why the term “objects” rather than “objectives” is used in Clause 2, they replied that they too were puzzled by it. I believe that the Minister’s office said something to the effect that it was the draftsman’s style. Perhaps there is more than one draftsman on the Bill because the part dealing with the Homes and Communities Agency uses different terminology from that employed for Oftenant. I do not know whether the terms “objects” and “objectives” are regarded as synonyms, but the primary meaning of “object” is that of something which is perceptible and the focus of attention; the secondary meaning is that it is a purpose or aim.
I noticed last Tuesday that nearly every speaker who referred to the objects of the Homes and Communities Agency used the word “objectives”, and the Hansards for proceedings in the Commons also show that “objectives” was used. What is important here is that a different term is used for the objectives of the regulator, Oftenant. If different terms are used to mean the same thing, there is clearly some scope for confusion because the reader will seek to make a distinction. When I am the reader it does not matter terribly, but when it is the court looking for a distinction, perhaps on a judicial review of the agency’s activities, that might matter. With apologies for appearing to be particularly picky, what would be most helpful would be to achieve consistency. However, if consistency is not intended, I should like to understand the distinction. I beg to move.
I think that we can dispose of this item fairly quickly. The noble Baroness is being picky with a point, although I have some sympathy with her argument. The term “object” is commonly used in legislation for comparable bodies, along with “function” and “purpose”, and I am sure that it will not have escaped the attention of the noble Baroness that these terms tend to be high level in their nature. People understand that the subsections of Clause 2 set out the purposes of the agency in terms of what it is for, its key tasks and its responsibilities.
We see no great difference in the use of different terminology here, and indeed the term “objectives” is used elsewhere. However, we would like to take the amendment away and give it some further thought. Perhaps we may consult the noble Baroness in the interval between our considerations in Committee and on Report, and if other noble Lords want to join in, I would be happy to facilitate that.
I am grateful for that response; I had never thought of it as being a high-level term. I hope that I explained my concern cogently; the amendment is not intended just to make trouble. I look forward to change somewhere in the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
15: Clause 2, page 1, line 11, leave out “improve” and insert “assist in improving”
The noble Lord said: This group of amendments, Amendments Nos. 15, 18 and 21, follow on from my Amendment No. 13, where I am critical of what I would call the harshness of the Bill. The way it is written, you would really think, as I have said, that the Homes and Communities Agency was the only body doing such work, when a much wider community is already, always has been, and always will be doing it.
We have already had a debate about this; I do not suppose that I will get any different reply from that to Amendment No. 13, but we will need to return to the subject later. For now, unless the noble Baroness feels the need to say something more, I shall withdraw the amendment. I beg to move.
I was going to invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
I shall make my response very short. I understand what the noble Lord is trying to ascertain. By clarifying the language and introducing qualifications, he may be trying to invite the HCA to be more modest in what it can achieve and to make it clearer to everyone how the HCA will work. I should make four main points—I will not labour them, but they apply to the consequential amendments on regeneration and sustainability.
The first argument is that in relation to each of the elements of its work, the HCA should have no fewer powers. That would be damaged by the amendment because English Partnerships’s regeneration powers are extremely important. It is important that the HCA can put land packages together, and so forth.
Secondly, it is self-evident that the HCA will not build homes or regenerate communities directly, but it cannot be confined to assisting others. We must give the HCA the necessary competence to deliver its objects. That is crucial, and the language is perfectly appropriate and right for that. As soon as we begin to insert exclusions, exceptions or qualifications, we diminish the agency and dilute its powers. It is not that we are expecting the agency to do everything itself—far from it—but it must be able to do some things itself. It must be able to take the initiative. For example, it must be able to act alone to fund a road to unlock a site that might otherwise not be used for housing; to bring together land ownership in one place; to fund the decent homes programme; and to fund housing associations. None of that will be possible if the noble Lord were to press his amendment.
I know that sustainability is very close to the noble Lord’s heart. We have now placed sustainability at the heart of the objects, following a long debate in the other place. It was always there, but we have made it explicit. The HCA must be able to reflect the central importance of our domestic buildings to carbon generation and to take steps. That requires a direct power. While the language of the Bill does not mean that it will do everything itself, and I do not think anyone would realistically interpret it as such, to qualify it would be to hobble and inhibit it, which would be dangerous.
I agree that of course the HCA should be, and is, primarily an enabler or facilitator, and it is a provider of resources as a broker rather than as a direct provider. That means that it will work in partnership, and that is the crucial nature of the relationship. There will be occasions when the HCA has a role in direct provision, and the Bill must allow for that. It needs to be able to retain the option to provide housing directly in the rare instances where there is a need to protect public investment in a project. For example, we would want the agency to step into a development if a developer went bust, rather than losing either investment or benefits. That is an important power, although I am not saying that it would be used very often. Those are the arguments for keeping the language in the Bill, to indicate the scope of the powers, but also to make sure that, while it will work in partnership, there will be opportunities and the necessity to act alone on occasion.
No. There are modest expansions of the powers, because the objectives, or objects, of the HCA are slightly wider. The four objectives in the Bill are new objectives. The only power that I understand to be new is the power to—on very exceptional occasions—take over the plan-making powers of local authorities if necessity should require it. The previous body, English Partnerships, had the power to assume designation powers, but there is a power in the Bill to take over plan-making powers as well.
Is it actually right for Ministers to say “fewer powers” and later, when pressed, to say that they are broader; which is what I understood the noble Baroness to say? I may be being unkind—I know that the noble Baroness is a seriously honourable lady—but it struck me that she gave the intimation that the powers were less, then when asked she said that there are fewer but they are broader. I am iffy about that.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I am sorry for the earlier confusion; I should perhaps have checked more closely on the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which is next. The amendments were in a way consequential on Amendment No. 13. The noble Baroness has very kindly given me some more homework to do before we return to Amendment No. 13, which we will definitely have to do. She has tightened the definitions for us, so that we know where the obstacles are that we have to overcome. All of that is for another day. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
16: Clause 2, page 1, line 11, leave out “improve the supply and” and insert “increase the supply and improve the”
The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 16 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 30 and 31, which are grouped with it and address essentially the same issue.
The overt reason for Amendment No. 16 is to probe the meaning of the words “improve the supply”. It is not clear to me what that means. My amendment would change the word “improve” to “increase”. Is an improvement in the supply an increase in the number of houses being built, or does it mean something different? If it means an increase, just how strategic a role do the Government expect the HCA to take in terms of the overall housing supply? I understand what improving the quality of housing is. Perhaps we will talk about that in more detail on a later amendment. So far as supply is concerned, however, I do not understand what the word “improve” means.
More generally, the quantity of supply—the number of houses that are being built—is topical. The document entitled House Building: March Quarter 2008, England from the Department for Communities and Local Government that came out last week shows clearly that the number of houses that are being built, both starts and completions, is suddenly going down. Having been on a gently rising graph since 2002, they have taken a nosedive for reasons we are all aware of. The starts in particular look fairly dire in the past quarter. The statistics are all set out in the document. I refer to it to make the general point that the number of housing units being built at any time is something of which the main factors are the state of the economy generally and the state of the housing market. It is not the demand for housing in terms of need but in terms of the economy, how much money people have, how much money the banks and building societies are making available to buy houses, general confidence and so on. It is not clear how much influence the Government expect this new agency to have over the supply of housing except in certain specific areas where it provides the funding, which by and large will be those areas that are affected not by the market conditions directly but by public policy, particularly the amount of funding being put into them by the HCA and—fairly directly, therefore—by government policy.
These issues are worthy of discussion. Specifically, though, what do the Government mean by “improving” the supply? I beg to move.
Those are important questions. I shall say a few words about the state of the housing market. Under present conditions it is not surprising that we have seen a drop in housing starts, but the important thing is that we have had sustained economic growth and a high employment level over the past 10 years. The fundamentals of the economy remain strong. Demand for housing is strong. Affordability is, and will remain, an issue; there will be no ease-up in the pressure or the need for us to be ambitious about our housing supply. The role of the HCA therefore becomes more important because it brings together all the partners and the forms of investment, whether that is in funding affordable homes, putting together public-private partnerships, land investment or skills packages for local authorities to help them identify and meet their local needs or, through the Academy for Sustainable Communities, putting skills into the community itself. The HCA provides a very timely opportunity for us to focus on this issue and drive it forward at a time when things are not as easy as they have been.
I appreciate what the noble Lord said about the probing nature of the amendment and the meaning of “improving”. I did not think that he would simply want to substitute “increasing supply” for “improving supply” because clearly “increasing supply” is about volume and having more homes. We seek to have more and better homes, which is implied by “improving”. The agency also wants to create strong and sustainable communities. “Improving” implies having the right numbers of homes of the right kinds in the right places. That goes beyond increasing the supply and covers all aspects of the delivery chain such as land acquisition, building, selling, renting new housing and working with local authorities and the business sector. Its work also takes into account people’s different needs; for example, the need to ensure that demographics are reflected in our housing market so that the needs of older people and of disabled people are met, as we shall discuss on the next amendment. We could not meet those needs simply by volume building new housing. For example, we would not meet those objectives by building luxury executive homes in areas where affordable homes are desperately needed. Obviously, that is not what the intention behind the noble Lord’s amendment.
The Bill makes clear in Clause 2(2) that,
“improving the supply of housing”,
means providing different types of homes. As I said, that is shorthand for affordable homes, family homes, homes for older people and the needs of localities. It is no good building hundreds of blocks of flats in areas where the crucial need is for family homes of different sizes. I hope the noble Lord will accept that “improving” includes the activity of which he will be aware in the part of the country that he knows well. We need to be able to decrease as well as increase the number of homes. We are reconfiguring some neighbourhoods so that we can build larger homes for larger families. We need to have the flexibility to do that and to change the supply of housing in a way that attracts into those areas people who will invest in them and help the community become more diverse and more prosperous. The noble Lord is familiar with such situations. All that is implied by “improving”, which we used deliberately. It also includes the decent homes programme, which we are transferring from the DCLG to the Homes and Communities Agency. That is a massive programme. As I have said many times in the House, we have 1 million fewer non-decent homes which we have achieved by investing £23 billion in modernising council houses by putting in new bathrooms and kitchens and installing insulation, thus making them warm, safe and comfortable. That was rightly a priority when we came into office.
The noble Lord asked about the strategic nature of the HCA’s decisions. The relationship between the DCLG, which remains the sponsoring body, and the agency, which is the delivery body, will be made clear in protocols but essentially the responsibility for setting and meeting the country’s affordable housing need must rest with government and the DCLG. We will continue to set the high-level objectives and the strategic priorities, which will be delivered on our behalf by the HCA. It is right that delivery programmes such as decent homes, for which we have traditionally taken responsibility, are transferred to a body tasked to deliver on behalf of the Government.
I have a question about a detail in the noble Baroness’s helpful reply. She referred to the academy for training planners. What is the advantage of placing the academy in this new agency, and are there plans to increase investment in the academy? I read the Second Reading debate with great interest, and I noticed what my noble friend Lord Mawson said about leadership making so much difference in this area. I have also just come from a meeting on hearing the voice of children in care, and the consensus among all the experts there was that we need to support the workforce if we are to deliver for these children.
I see that the Government are introducing a new Masters qualification for teachers. They are making welcome progress in other areas in developing capacity in the workforce, and I would be interested to hear what their plans are in this area. I declare an interest as a private landlord, more details of which are in the Register of Members’ Interests.
I should say immediately that my motivation is guided by semantics and not by mischief-making. The Minister has said on more than one occasion—she said it in the speech that she has just made and she has said it at earlier stages of the Bill—that the economy continues to be strong at a time when the Governor of the Bank of England for the first time acknowledges that although he does not expect a recession there is the possibility of one. If there were a recession, would the Minister still be saying that the economy continues to be strong, and how far would it affect the kind of things that she has been saying in response to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves? As I said, I am not mischief-making, and she can make her answer as short as she wishes.
I have just one other question. I may be misunderstanding things, but I thought that the agency was quite a small operator in the total of housebuilding and house-improvement. That is to say, its market share is quite small. It is working in a very important area of the housing market where the market does not answer the questions that those who wish to acquire houses wish to have answered. That is why I support the word “increase”, which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, used: it is absolutely clear that that area of the market needs an increase in supply. Having said that, would we not do better to confine our considerations to the operations of the agency and of Oftenant, which will be in an area of the housing market which I think is in single figures? Perhaps the Minister will tell us what the market share will be.
There is an interesting thing about this. What happens if the objectives are not achieved? A duty is laid on a public body to do something, but if it does not do it, what happens? The sentence,
“to improve and supply the quality of housing in England”,
was what Harold Macmillan was doing in the 1950s when he said that he would build 300,000 houses a year, which he did. The Government should be doing that as a matter of policy rather than hiving it off to an agency which, as my noble friend says, has only a very small percentage of the market. This is a very bad habit that Governments are getting into. It is not confined to the present Government by any means; the last Government were nearly as bad at it. They think that they can hide behind a statutory body, when increasing the housing supply should be a policy aim of the Ministry and not hived off to a Government.
Perhaps I may seek clarification. In terms of the agency’s contribution to house building, we are looking at more like 30 per cent of overall supply. Realising that only about 150,000 homes are built every year, I think that the agency will contribute and subsidise, one way and another, 30 per cent of those over the next couple of years. The noble Earl asks what will happen to the organisation if it does not meet its targets. I am terribly sorry to have to confess that during the six years of my stewardship of English Partnerships, we exceeded our targets every year. I therefore have no knowledge of what happens when that is not the case. My noble friend Lady Dean will confess to the same track record. We are sorry to disappoint, but we do not have much experience of failing in the last period.
As regards the economy, if we compare the current situation to that when interest rates were in the mid teens and almost 3 million people were unemployed, it is reasonable still to conclude that the economy is in good shape. As we are all aware, the housing market is not in such good shape but, again, during my tenure at English Partnerships, whenever we tried to do innovative things the Treasury said, “Where is the market failure in terms of the housing market?”. Plainly, there is some market failure now, but the different attitudes of the housebuilders in terms of starts and their confidence shows us some people have less confidence in the market than others. In this situation, it is imperative that the new Homes and Communities Agency gets going and helps where it can to address that market failure. I hope that that helps the noble Earl with his issue about hiving off to agencies—
I am not in any way suggesting that it necessarily will fail. The noble Baroness was obviously a superb head of whatever she was doing and she achieved her objectives. All I am asking is: what is the legal consequence of something written down in the Bill as “thou shalt” when someone comes along and does not? I am not in any way implying that it is going to fail or making a criticism of anyone. I am merely asking what seems to me to be a question, although I may be the only one interested in the answer .
I hesitate to intervene, but we are raking over old coals, if one can put it that way, to a certain extent. We covered this ground fairly thoroughly last week. There is no easy meeting of minds. I am always fascinated by legislation and the words that are used and their meaning. One might logically assume that as the agency is the creation of the Government, if it failed a Minister might resign. However, I make no political points when I say that in recent years the old culture of ministerial responsibility being represented by a resignation was last honourably applied by a Member of this House when he was Foreign Secretary and he missed a point in the southern Atlantic. Unfortunately, since then we have not seen such an honourable tradition repeated.
We will not resolve the issue today and I am sure that it will be the source of future debate on the Bill. Again, I shall listen with interest to what the noble Baroness says and study it with great care, because it will set the tone for future discussion.
Members of the Committee raised some profound questions in that short debate. I start by answering the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the Academy for Sustainable Communities. The academy is not just about raising the standards of training for planners: it is about building an awareness and understanding of what is involved in making a sustainable community. That means that it works not just with professionals, including planners, but with people in the community. We need to get communities and activists—not just children in schools—to understand the importance of planning properly for communities and engaging them in that process. I am delighted to be the Minister responsible and to say that the HC has done an outstanding job over the past two years. Its home is now properly in the HCA because it will be at the centre of the responsibility for building communities. Inevitably, its scope will deepen and sharpen.
I turn to the broader point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. Without repeating myself, for the reasons mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, I say to him simply that we have had sustained economic growth over the past 10 years. We have had historically high employment levels and historically low interest rates. That has not changed. I would not hazard an answer to the noble Lord’s question about recession. We are not in recession, and that is where I would leave the issue.
As regards the question raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, my noble friend Lady Ford answered it far better than I could. I say to him and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, only that the Housing Corporation was concerned with affordable homes. That now amounts to 70,000 new homes a year, which is not an insignificant number. The point is that the HCA, by virtue of assuming the role of the Housing Corporation, is responsible for securing those 70,000 new homes. However, in all its other work, it will support the delivery of 3 million new homes. Through its regeneration responsibilities and its work on investment in land and communities, through the traditional work of English Partnerships, and through the work it is picking up from us in housing market renewal pathfinders, for example, it will support 3 million homes. Its market share may be directly 30 per cent, but its work goes much broader.
What happens if its objectives are not achieved? That is a good question, and one that is well asked of every piece of legislation that goes through this House. Sometimes, for good reasons, we do not put objectives in a Bill, but it is important, when creating an agency that is tasked with such responsibility, to make its objectives clear. If my noble friend Lady Ford had not said it, I certainly would have done—two of the most successful agencies we have in this country have been the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships. We have no record on which we can anticipate or learn from failure. They have really been very successful and I am sure that that is how the HCA will go forward.
I think that I have answered all the questions.
There is one question unanswered. How does ministerial responsibility come into this? I understand exactly what the noble Baroness is getting at. That is why I ask the question which at the time I did not. At some stage, it is “ministerial” policy to build 300,000 houses a year. Where does ministerial responsibility come into this if, for instance, the housing targets are not met?
As always, ministerial responsibility lies with the Ministers responsible, and there is no evasion of that. The housebuilding programme is a long programme—we cannot build houses quickly. The 3 million homes are posited to run to 2020 and beyond, and there is a long-term responsibility for whichever Government and Minister are in charge. We all do the best we can, judging the circumstances as we see them and with the resources we have. Keeping faith in what we have said is important to the country.
I thank the Minister for her helpful and encouraging answer with regard to the Academy for Sustainable Communities. Perhaps she might drop me a note about past and possible future funding of that organisation. I am most curious about it and any further information would be welcome.
This innocuous little amendment has led to more debate than I had expected—perhaps more than the Minister had expected—but there are some important issues here. She mentioned housing market renewal pathfinders. I should declare a further interest in that I am still responsible for housing market renewal in my local authority, Pendle. I did not declare that at the start of the Grand Committee, because I thought that I would be summarily removed from that position last Thursday; but the processes of democracy are curious and sometimes they do not go the way that you want or expect them to. I am still lumbered with that responsibility. Never mind; I will do my best.
On the narrow point of the amendment, the Minister said that it was a matter not just of quantity but making housing better, which is precisely why I worded the amendment with the aim of increasing supply and improving quality. Making housing better is a matter of quality, not the amount. I did not quite understand the Minister’s reply on that.
However, on the wider issues, the Government have announced their target of 3 million new houses by 2020 or whenever, but suddenly, for reasons that are nothing to do with agencies such as the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships, it is all going the wrong way, because, in the words of Harold Macmillan, “Events, dear boy, events” have got in the way. The wider issues of the global housing market and the economy have got in the way. Suddenly they are going the wrong way. Of course, we have only three months’ figures and in a year’s time they may be going up again. But that is my point—it is not within the power of the new Homes and Communities Agency to have more than a marginal effect on the total, because the number of new housing units that will be supplied by the agency will not vary much. The effects of what is happening in the rest of the world could vary enormously.
The Minister said that “improve” includes working towards the Government’s targets to increase quality and quantity. It is all a matter of money. We are told that English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation have met their targets. Of course they have met their targets, because they are determined by the amount of money that has been available to those organisations for investment. If you have £10 million to invest in new housing and you are dealing with certain types of housing, by and large, you get a certain number of housing units. That will continue to be the case. It would be extraordinary if the targets had not been met, because they were largely determined by the resources available. That generalisation is not 100 per cent true, but it is largely true.
One of the unspoken issues behind all of this is not only whether the Homes and Communities Agency will have extra powers to bring the different agencies together with some of the functions of the department, but whether the agency will have more resources. We must assume that it will not have more resources, unless the Government suddenly tell us otherwise and find those resources. Legislation states that:
“The objects of the HCA are … to improve the supply and quality of housing in England”;
that is fine for the parts of housing market and housing stock that those objects relate to. It may relate to 30 per cent of new investment. That would be ludicrously ambitious in relation to the total amount of housing in England. The HCA would not be able to achieve that, because it will target areas of the housing market aimed at people in need and areas in need of regeneration. That is the point that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, was making; that legislation sets these things out, but that there is no way of knowing whether something has been achieved in a way that could be challenged in the courts. On improving the supply, no one can get the judicial review in 10 years’ time on whether the supply has been improved, because the whole terminology is so vague. That was the purpose of the amendment. I do not think that legislation should be as vague as this.
However, it has been an interesting debate, and the Minister has said some interesting things about the way in which the HCA will work. I will be interested to read it in Hansard and consider it further. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
17: Clause 2, page 1, line 11, after “supply” insert “, accessibility”
The noble Lord said: I should in opening say that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, who kindly added her name to Amendment No. 17, has sent her apologies. She slightly surprised me by saying that she has to go into hospital to have her tonsils out. She will subsequently—fortunately for us this will be over the Recess—be confined to barracks, as it were, for at least a week. Fortunately, we can expect her back and in fine fettle after the Recess. She is very sorry not to be here.
This group of amendments has been sponsored by RADAR. We are coming from the general subject that we have been discussing to a specific area; this is a bit of special pleading. The amendment is aimed at getting the Homes and Communities Agency to be more specific in relation to providing facilities, particularly homes, for the disabled. I suppose one should say nowadays that we want homes that are more easily adaptable and suitable for disabled people. It goes into the question of the lifetime home standards; in effect, it is another aspect of that discussion. We all like to think that we are all perfectly fit and can continue to live in our homes; unfortunately as you get older we increasingly realise that we might suddenly find ourselves in difficulties. That is in common with the totality of the community. We need to think about those people.
RADAR gave me the statistic that there is a nationwide shortfall of 330,000 wheelchair-standard homes. That is a huge number. If you are in a wheelchair, and you do not have a home that is adaptable for a wheelchair, that deficit is 100 per cent to that person, which is very serious indeed. In relation to the totality of the housing deficit—we have a housing deficit in this country—this is a relatively small problem; but it is something that the Homes and Communities Agency should be aware of and should be taking into account, but it is not written in to its remit. I am sure that the noble Baroness will say, “Yes, but …”. We have the opportunity to ensure that it is written in, unless the noble Baroness is going to be very kind and say that the Government will think about writing it in for us.
There are people in society who need special consideration. Like all of us, they are members of the community. We are talking about the community. We need to be aware of the people in this sector, who are among the most vulnerable and in some ways are the most needy. They may not be a huge, vociferous and demonstrating group, but they are no less worthy of attention just because we do not always see them. I have often thought that it would be a good thing if we all had to spend a week in a wheelchair. I was pleased to hear that in medical training doctors are made to do so, I think for a day or two. It is a very different world if you are in a wheelchair. You cannot, for instance, go up to a hotel desk to check in. The desks are invariably far too high. There is a host of problems when you begin to think in that sort of context, because that point applies equally to the way in which homes are designed and laid out. Worktops can be too high, and so on.
We need to think seriously about this. I thought that it was worth bringing it to the attention of the Committee so that we have the Minister’s reaction. It would be better if this were written into the remit of the Homes and Communities Agency. I know that it already has a very wide remit and that it is impossible to write everything into it, but this sector is sufficiently significant. I would not say that it is sufficiently unable to argue its case, because clearly it has argued it sufficiently to get it to me so that I can present it here, but it is probably the least able in the community to help itself. It really does need special consideration. I beg to move.
I have to rise to my feet whenever lifetime homes are mentioned. I declare my past interest as a godfather to the lifetime home standards. They were devised by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and led to the building of a number of prototypes and finally to the lifetime home standards that we all talk about today.
There are groups of amendments that relate to the role of the Homes and Communities Agency, later to Oftenant, the regulator, and finally to the building regulations at the end of the Bill. We have a choice as to the best way of raising the profile of accessibility in the Bill. I add to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, when I say that we are talking not only about people with disabilities who suffer from direct problems but about everyone. The great thing about a lifetime home is that it suits you through your lifetime. Everyone’s lifetime includes moments when they suddenly realise that their house has not been designed with the problems of mobility in mind. We all have sons who break their legs playing football; they are in a wheelchair for three months and we have to carry them up and down stairs inside and steps outside and all kinds of terrible things. We have a granny or grandfather who comes to stay, or we are the granny or grandfather.
Lifetimes require homes to be more accessible, which they can be if accessibility is taken into account at the design stage. This is therefore a really important universal issue. The question is where best to fit it into the Bill. I will not be happy with the thought of Oftenant, as a regulator, requiring a particular kind of design. That would not be a very good place for this to go to. I will speak in favour of the building regulations being tweaked again, because it is through the building regulations that half the first lifetime home standards have already been established. They now apply to the building of every home by Barratt or by Wimpey. They have nothing to do with social housing; they are a universal in building regulations. There are no more of those steps that freeze over in winter and that you go skidding off when as an elderly person you come out of the front door. We do not put big front-door steps in the way of people any more. Building regulations now already take on board half of the lifetime home standards. The next step is to add the other half so that the standards apply to all homes everywhere that are built from here on. That is the target to go for.
As a second best—it is second best to me—
Thank you very much. Giving the Homes and Communities Agency a special role in this regard is a good idea, but if we were to add accessibility to supply we would also have to add affordability, social and environmental sustainability and quite a few other ingredients in the list. So while I absolutely support the extension of the lifetime home principles to cover all homes across the country, I suspect that this is not the absolutely best place in which to amend current legislation.
It is incredibly important that accessibility is built into all new houses, and I strongly support the noble Lord simply by saying that the way to do it is through building regulations. They can cover insulation and all sorts of other things such as wider doorways so that people can get their wheelchairs through them. Regulations could be put in place without the need for this Bill stating that any house built more than six months after they come into force will have to conform to them. The problem would then go away.
I shall think of Don Corleone in a slightly different light after that. I shall speak about this subject when I move Amendment No. 33 later, but the points are similar. My amendment seeks to extend the definition of “quality” to include,
“ensuring the suitability of housing for people with physical disabilities and sensory impairments”.
When I drafted it, I had in mind temporary problems as well as the permanent ones to which the noble Lord has referred.
The noble Lord talked about the problems of creating a list, and indeed the Minister in the Commons rejected similar amendments on that basis. I disagree with that analysis of what this or a similar amendment would do. They seek not to introduce another type of housing, but to ensure that all housing is built or, if necessary, remodelled to allow for people who are growing older and whose physical and sensory abilities are somewhat reduced. I do not have to go through the arguments about the needs. However, this is not qualitatively the same as a “type” of housing because it is an overarching provision. It should apply to all housing.
I should like to make a separate point. I acknowledge absolutely the Government’s aim to ensure that housing is built to lifetime home standards by 2013. That raises an issue not only about the timeframe but also about the existing housing stock and what might be done about it. I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance that budget allocations for renewal and regeneration will not be diverted in order to fulfil numerical targets for lifetime homes by the creation of new housing to the detriment of remodelling and adapting existing housing. For an individual, that is often the most attractive and desirable option, and probably the least expensive.
I am glad that I am in a Committee with the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lady Dean. Coming into this debate and genuinely wanting to learn, I call to mind a time when some friends who live in York invited me to their home and showed me an arrangement in the kitchen to allow someone who is less able-bodied to use the sink. The equipment helped them to lift themselves up and down. My noble friend Lady Dean came to visit the house in her capacity as chair of the Housing Corporation after I drew her attention to it. It was fantastic for able-bodied people to see how far the provision of aids had advanced for those who need them. It was a Quaker development, and it was very much appreciated.
The other instance that I draw to the Committee’s attention is that my wife and two boys had a condition called myotonic dystrophy. Dystrophy, as the Committee knows, is a disease of the muscles that weakens the body. We had never thought that we would need a stairlift and an aid to use the bath. Cost did not come into it when it was a question of our family’s needs but, on making inquiries, we found that under the existing provisions these kinds of aids are available subject to examination and scrutiny through the council’s social services. While I do not disagree with anything that has been said about desirability and the needs of people who are in search of easement, we have to recognise that there are finite resources. The Minister and her colleagues, in a macro way, will have had to decide on the thrust and the imperative of the legislation and what kind of burdens are to be placed upon it. Not that they are not desirable; they are. However, it is a question of attainment. We are talking not necessarily about the greatest good for the greatest number but about trying to ensure that the legislation is sufficiently robust that it will stand up in a court of law or withstand public scrutiny, and about going as far as one can in laying down in the Bill responsibilities that have to be carried out by an industry, councils and the voluntary sector. To what extent should resources be devoted down one path, bringing much needed easement? By doing that, how far do we inhibit the overall strategy?
I have no knowledge about this, but I imagine that almost any aspect of improving the Bill in the way that the amendment suggests will have been thought of inside the department by the Minister and her colleagues. The fact that it does not appear in the Bill indicates that it has been thought of and been found unable to be acceded to. To accede to all these things in the Bill may well improve the Bill to the satisfaction of those pressing the amendments, but if at the end of the day—that is, not very far down the road—we are in difficulty because of the industry or the Exchequer, or the public will is such that it fails to make progress, we will not be providing a very good service.
Like the rest of the Committee, I await what the Minister has to say, not about whether she thinks the objectives of the amendments are laudable but about whether they are attainable and strategically desirable in the context of the overall strategy of the Bill.
My question here will be just as simple as the one I asked on the previous occasion. One of the bonuses and benefits that one gets when one works on a Bill like this is the amount of briefing one receives from relevant bodies, and one learns a whole series of things one previously did not know. I never know whether the organisations concerned—I am thinking particularly of RADAR—have sent the Government exactly the same briefing as have they sent the rest of us so the Government are in a position to know whether what they have said is accurate. I am delighted to see, from the smiles on the faces not only of those on the Front Bench but of their advisers behind them, that they do. It is therefore possible that my question is unnecessary.
In the briefing that RADAR sent us, in addition to telling us how many million disabled people were in need of accessible accommodation and how many of them were living in unsuitable housing today, it made a forecast that there will be an increase of between 57 per cent and 67 per cent in the numbers of disabled older people over the next 20 years. Do the Government think that that is broadly the right figure?
We have had a good debate on a very important subject that is dear to my heart for reasons that will become clear. Having said that, I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, predicted how I would respond, but I hope that I shall put forward some good arguments. I hope that in doing so I can reassure him.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, that we tend to see the briefing from various lobbies and we are grateful for it. We are living in an ageing society, which brings with it a higher proportion of people with disabilities. I do not know whether the RADAR figures are completely accurate because we are all in the business of trying to make intelligent predictions, but certainly the number of people living longer and with disability will increase, which is why the amendment is important and why we must be serious about what we are trying to do, as, indeed, we are.
Perhaps I may track back to the amendment itself. The HCA already has the object to improve the supply and quality of housing in England with a view to meeting the needs of people living in England. Clause 2(1) lists the four objects of the HCA. Clause 2(2) refers to people’s “future needs” and,
“improving the supply of particular kinds of housing”.
This means that the HCA is charged with ensuring that the different needs of the community are catered for by providing housing of different tenures and types. That includes the provision of accessible housing. For example, if the local assessment of needs shows that you have a local population with a disproportionate number of elderly people and, by implication, of disabled people, there will be a need for accessible homes over and above market or affordable homes. The agency is duty bound to enable the provision of that type of home. That could include needs which are specific to particular communities and localities. That is picked up by the notion of the “continued well-being” of communities. The HCA must work in partnership with local authorities, which negotiate the money they have available for disabled facilities grants to provide major adaptations such as having a ground floor bathroom put in for children or adults who can no longer use the stairs. The understanding of the needs of their local communities will shape the assessment of the type of housing to be provided. This will feed into the regional tier where the broad allocations of funding are decided and where the new National Housing and Planning Advice Unit will engage with the development of the regional spatial strategy. All that helps us not only to get a clear picture of what is needed locally but how it fits into the wider picture.
That is one aspect of what we are doing to meet the need for accessible homes but it goes much wider than that, as was picked up by the Committee. Recently we published a policy on housing and ageing, which is the first of its kind in the world. For the first time we have mapped our housing needs on to our demography. This picks up the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Lord, Lord Best. In the future, we shall seek not to build niche homes for older people but to build the sort of homes that we will all grow into as we grow older. That is the critical difference and is what future-proofs—to use a cliché—our ambitions and expectations. We have to do that because with an ageing population we simply cannot build for obsolescence. We have to have the sort of homes that will survive. The most benign of godfathers, Godfather Best, if I may call him that, made this perfectly clear when the Joseph Rowntree trust did its important work establishing 16 very simple standards for lifetime homes, which range from widening doors to having flat access into the hallway. Those standards are not difficult to achieve.
The Housing Corporation and English Partnerships powerfully took forward a commitment to build lifetime homes. They have led the way. We, in our policy, have stated that by 2011 all public-sector-funded homes will be developed as lifetime homes, and that we will work with industry to ensure that all homes will be built to that standard by 2013. That is a deliberate, balanced policy. It would be unfair of us to say to industry, “In the next six months, you have to build everything as lifetime homes”. It would not be practical or, indeed, fair. However, by setting a timescale within which they can work, by pledging, as we have, to work—
Surely, if it is a question of doing sensible things such as widening doorways, not having slopes, and complying with various other building regulations, I quite accept that it upsets people with houses that have already been designed, but it can be a regulation that future houses must be designed according to those criteria. It does not strike me that we should have to wait 12 years for that.
I appreciate what the noble Earl says and point him to the many conversations we have had with the housebuilding industry. They make it quite clear that we do this best if we do it in partnership. We do it through regulation only if it is not making the kind of progress that we want to see. We left the industry in no doubt that we will regulate if it does not do as we wish.
The point is that we are looking at significant amounts of housebuilding, much of which is already in plan. It is a big challenge to the industry when we are also asking for sustainable homes, sustainable building and so on and so forth. However, the noble Earl is right that it is important and something that we must and will do. I look forward to later debates on this on those parts of the Bill where we can go into even more detail. Apropos RADAR, we work uniquely closely with the disabled and ageing organisations lobbying on this. The policy has had a warm welcome because they know the realities with which we are dealing.
The argument about putting the requirement at this point of the Bill and in this way has been picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Best. We resist the notion of a list principle for very good reasons: we get ourselves into far greater problems creating exclusions and anomalies once we start adding things. I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, because I believe that accessible homes are not necessarily different from, for example, affordable, sustainable homes or those with any other generic name. Once you have that on the face of the Bill, you are looking at other sorts of descriptions that could cause greater problems. I have absolutely no doubt that accessible housing is important, but even I do not think they should be at the expense of other forms of housing that a community may need. However, we are clear in our commitment and we have a specific timetable that we will make work.
I refer briefly to Amendment No. 19 on inclusivity. Although I agree with the intention behind it, we are not able to accept it because by building communities that work and attending to their well-being, we are building inclusive and fair communities in which you cannot tell the type of homes that they are—that is, rented, social or owned. We also want to be fair in our housing policy and to have mixed communities. All that is contained within the notion of well-being and the sort of thriving communities we want to see. I therefore believe that the proposal is already served by the Bill.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about the renewal and regeneration of the existing stock. We have said in the paper on housing and ageing that we must make it absolutely clear that the homes of today must be safe and accessible. We do not want people who are at risk falling over for want of a grab rail that costs £50 and going into hospital for a hip operation that costs £6,000. Of equal priority is a major new investment in rapid repair services, which exist throughout the country but which are patchy, albeit often brilliantly delivered through the voluntary sector in partnership with local authorities. We want to see more and better rapid repair services, and we are working to put this policy into operation. Indeed, we have put more than £30 million in additional funding into it.
I am sure the noble Baroness knows that the regional allocation pot is £10 billion over the next three years. Our intention is that investment is targeted and that decisions are taken at the regional level according to regional needs. We continue to look for the right balance between new builds and improving the existing stock in different ways. I hope the noble Lord will feel that he can withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to all those who have taken part in this debate. It has been an extremely useful and focused debate, and has given rise to a number of points that I shall try to pick up on.
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for accidentally trumping his ace. That was inadvertent. I may have less expertise than he has in this field. I was not necessarily looking for the best place in the Bill to put this; I was looking for the best place to have a useful discussion. If he will forgive me, I do think that we will probably have a better focused and more understanding debate as a result of this debate when we finally get to his amendments because we will have gone around some of the issues beforehand. I therefore apologise for what one might call an accident. I accept that building regulations could provide a universal solution.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, hit the nail on the head fairly accurately with her hammer when she mentioned the 2013 target and asked about the existing houses. I can never remember whether there are 22 million or 25 million houses already in the country, but not all of them are built to lifetime home standards, whether they are stately piles or humble cottages built in the 15th century. These were not necessarily considerations in people’s minds when the homes were put up.
The special improvement grants available through the social services were also mentioned. I have seen elderly relatives helped in this way, but special improvements are not always easy to make. They can be made in some homes but not in others. It can be quite difficult in a really awkward old home. I am happy to knowledge that forms of assistance are there, but the reality is that the sooner we can ensure that new homes meet an available and required standard, the better it will be. I only marginally accept the Minister’s statement that 2013 may be the earliest practicable time when it could be applied, although I accept that a certain amount of notice of this sort of change is absolutely required.
I was fascinated by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Graham. They really got me going. I had this awkward thought; I wished that I could get into Dr Who’s Tardis and take his remarks back to when he was the Opposition Chief Whip in this House and would have understood exactly where we were coming from. Apparently, this afternoon, he pretends that he does not, but of course he does.
Quite so. This is the nature of politics and we all need to remember what goes on. One of the things that I found fascinating in relation to the 1997 election, having arrived here with the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, on the same day, was that we all changed where we were sitting in the House, but the speeches stayed where they were. It was ever thus, and I have no doubt that it will not be too long before we are performing that charade again.
I am grateful to my noble friends for their contributions, which were helpful. This has been a useful discussion, which will lead to more focused debate when we discuss this field again later in the Bill. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 not moved.]
20: Clause 2, page 1, line 15, after “well-being,” insert—
“( ) to support local authorities in the development of sufficient, suitable housing for care leavers,”
The noble Earl said: The amendment places a duty on the new agency to promote good practice in provision of appropriate accommodation for care leavers. The purpose of the amendment is to discover what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to resolve the unacceptable patchiness of provision for care leavers, one of our most vulnerable groups of young people for whom we have the greatest responsibility.
At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said:
“For the poorest, the future of social housing needs to be addressed in a more strategic and rather different way from the residual role that it has played in recent years”.—[Official Report, 28/4/08; col. 105.]
One can apply the same principle to that of young people in care. We simply have not had a strategy to meet their complex needs and they have suffered as a consequence. I pay tribute to this Government for seeking to produce a strategy in terms of education by giving young people in care first admission to schools and by giving local authorities targets to meet on the welfare of children in their care. We increasingly recognise that we—specifically, local authorities—have a corporate parenting responsibility. These children did not choose to be taken into care. The state decided that they must be taken in. We have very special responsibilities for these children.
At this point, I am not asking for the agency to have responsibility, I am simply probing the Government to find out what their strategy is with regard to accommodation for young people leaving care. I wish to be reassured that there is a strategy going across health, education, local authorities and housing to meet the needs of these young people. Many of them need supported housing. How are we going to ensure that there is sufficient supported housing? Will the role of the independent reviewing officer be extended for him to monitor these young people for at least the first two years after they leave care? Perhaps the Minister can write to me on that. Are the Government looking at the regulations on supported accommodation and lodging for these young people? My experience is that there are many dedicated people who work to support these young people as they leave care, but who are often not sufficiently well qualified to do such a difficult job and are not adequately supported.
There need to be sufficient foyers, hostels and supported lodgings. The lack of suitable supported accommodation is serious. A council leader conceded to me last week that although he could point to excellent new provision in his area, many other areas were lacking. Care leavers can still end up in bed and breakfast accommodation. The National Leaving Care Advisory Service, based at the charity Rainer, has highlighted this as an issue of great concern. A National Voice, the care leavers’ charity has produced a report on accommodation, No Place Like Home, which highlights the many areas that need to be addressed. At a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children and Young People in Care, care leavers talked about their experiences. Two of them spoke of being placed in unsuitable accommodation and finding themselves with new friends who were using their homes to deal drugs. Speaking to foster carers last week, I heard about their anxiety about the accommodation that their young people were being obliged to move into.
According to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, 25 per cent of young people leave care at just 16 years of age, while the average age for leaving home is 24. Many of these care leavers will need supported accommodation. Children are normally taken into care only when they are being harmed or are at serious risk of harm. Sixty per cent of those in care have had experience of abuse. While Her Majesty’s Government have taken commendable steps to improve the care experience, including significant additional financial investment and legislation, living in care can still often be unsatisfactory, and these young people are at their most vulnerable as they leave that care. For instance, a number of surveys have shown that upwards of 30 per cent of care leavers experience homelessness in the first year after leaving care. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, may recall from his experience in terms of housing and homelessness in London that 12 per cent of homeless adults have experience of care. I am sure, therefore, that noble Lords agree that the figure of 30 per cent in the first year is unacceptable.
It was very welcome to see the children’s Minister, Beverley Hughes, place such emphasis on improving the transition from care in the White Paper entitled Care Matters, which informed the Children and Young Persons Bill. However, failing to fill the current gaps in provision creates a lacuna in the Government’s plans for better outcomes for looked-after children. Policy needs to hang together, and partnership is needed. As I have said, I look forward to an assurance from the Minister that the necessary steps are being taken.
We are soon to receive a Bill that will raise the school leaving age to 18. In principle, I welcome that, particularly from the point of view of these children. If correctly implemented, it may help some of them to stay away from the temptations of drugs, alcohol, crime and early pregnancy because they will be sufficiently occupied in their learning, but surely it is a nonsense to insist that a 17 year-old care leaver should remain in education or training but not provide him with appropriate accommodation. That sets the young person up to fail. I hope that the Minister can provide some comfort in this regard. I know that from her experience and the charity she founded and directed, she will be sympathetic to the intentions behind this amendment, if not to the specifics. I look forward to her response and I beg to move.
I had not planned to speak in this debate, but I want to express my strong support for the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Listowel. We spent a lot of time debating the incredible issues for young people leaving care during our consideration of the Children and Young Persons Bill. As my noble friend said, these children leave care when they are very young; it is perfectly normal for them to go when they are 16 to 18 years old. The average age for children leaving home is, of course, 24, and speaking from personal experience, I would suggest that even at that age they are still pretty vulnerable and in need of their parents’ support from time to time.
This amendment focuses on the needs of these young people. They require personal assistance, advice and support—and, I would suggest, monitoring. That could save the state vast sums of money in the years ahead and spare the community a great deal of discomfort through the crimes that these young people would otherwise commit in their attempt to get a roof over their head. If necessary, they will go to prison. That is the reality of what happens: if young people leaving care do not get any support, how can we expect them to lead normal lives, get through their education, find a job and so on? They will simply continue to fail.
The Minister will not be surprised if I mention mental health. I would suggest that virtually all young people leaving care are vulnerable to mental health problems. We know that the proportion of them who have active mental health problems is extremely high. We discussed all those figures during the passage of the Children and Young Persons Bill, and I will not repeat them today. We are talking about extremely vulnerable young people, young people who are no doubt heading for drug addiction and criminality if they do not get the support they need.
I know that the noble Baroness will be very sympathetic to these issues; I do not know to what extent she can provide us with assurance; but there is no doubt that this would be one of the better investments of public money that one can think of.
I was extremely interested in what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said. I happen to be a patron of a charity in which the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, also plays a prominent part. It is called Charis. It operates in the Mile End Road on property given to it by Charrington’s Brewery years back. When it came to my attention, I went to visit it. Its raison d’être is almost exactly ambition or aspiration.
It set out to turn around the lives of people, primarily youngish men, who have become addicted either to drugs or alcohol. As it was explained to me, there is no shortage of authorities or organisations which are willing, for short-term aid and assistance, to give such young men two months, three months or even longer, but then pat them on the back when they have dried out and send them out into the community. The raison d’être for Charis is to say that that will not work. They need at least 12 months. Charis has a fine record of approaching authorities which address that kind of need and persuading them not to invest in six people for two months but in one person for 12 months.
As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, we need collaboration with the local authority for housing and local employers for work, so that when those people have finished their 12 month course, they are sent out into the community with a place to live and a job to go to. We have the difficult job of trying to decide how best to spend finite resources, which way will pay the greatest dividend—not the quickest dividend, but the greatest. That is not easy. Great appeals are made by Charis. At one time, it raised more than £2 million for extensions. It is undergoing that process again. It does good work and has good friends. I was much taken by the raison d'être—it is all very well dealing with the symptoms, but we need to deal with the causes as well.
I wish the amendment well. I do not know what the Minister will say, but that problem is a syndrome, a canker eating away at the fabric of our society and it ought to be tackled more strongly than it is, bearing in mind the calls on resources.
I support my noble friend Lord Listowel and thank him for and congratulate him on years of hard work for care leavers. He has been absolutely tireless.
First, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation produced some research in 2005 entitled Life After Care. The figure mentioned by my noble friend was about a third. In that survey, in the year following their leaving care, 35 per cent found themselves actually homeless—street homeless. It seems an incredibly high proportion, but that is what the survey showed. Perhaps it is not surprising, if you are a 16, 17 or 18 year-old and you do not have a family to look after you. That very high figure came out of that study.
My second point is that 8,000 young people leave care every year, which means that in the great scheme of things, with something like 240,000 new households being formed every year, they are a very small minority group that can easily be overlooked. The value of the amendment, and possibly of the things that the noble Baroness will say in her reply, is that we must not forget this vital but very small group. If my sums are right, it is 3 per cent of the total number of new households being created. You can easily forget a little group of 3 per cent, but they are so vital that mentioning them in the Bill sounds like a very good idea.
There is one other thing from the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It became apparent that a disproportionately large number of young offenders come out of care. It is fairly obvious that if you come from a broken home, you might go into care. For those of us who had happy, contented and privileged childhoods, like I did, it is an enormous contrast. One must be permanently conscious of these things. I would have thought that one of the essential things to do is to find these people some sort of housing, which I hope would help to keep them out of trouble. The more that we can keep people out of trouble, the better it is. It is a never-ending struggle, but it is something that we ought to do.
I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and I will confess my ignorance and say that I am not sure how to pronounce his name; I am sure that he is used to answering to both. He made a kind reference to my former constituency. Because of the nature of the people to whom he is referring, very few of them would have turned up in a surgery of mine, because they would not have known enough to do so. I have no difficulty at all in recognising what he is saying, because one had a great deal to do with the various charities, in a generic way, that were coping with these things, notably in the West End.
I remember—I freely acknowledge that for obvious reasons this is not directly within the terms of the amendment—one of the last constituency cases that I took on before I retired from the House of Commons in 2001. It was someone who had just come out of prison, where he had been for drugs offences, who appeared genuinely penitent that he had ever been seduced into the drugs industry. He laid out the circumstances in which he found himself in terms of what was available to people who came out of prison. I could see that recidivism was likely to occur pretty rapidly unless someone provided some help. I took down the case in considerable detail and sent it to Sir David Ramsbotham, as he was then. I asked, “Dear David, is this typical?”. He replied, “I fear it is very typical indeed”. The issue is obviously not germane to the amendment, but the generic case is a major problem for all of us.
It is very easy to follow my noble friend Lord Brooke. The figure that I have is that 27 per cent of all prisoners begin their lives in care, and once they have left care, sadly, for various reasons, they have drifted into crime, which is difficult to get out of once you are in it. It was easy for me to add my name to the amendment, because my dear wife has spent quite an amount of time working with the YMCA, particularly in her home county and also for a time in London, where she was overseeing a hostel for people in just this situation. They were 17 and 18 year-olds who had nothing and who had nowhere to go.
This is a very small and special demand. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, it is probably some 8,000 a year in a much wider spectrum of housing demand. These are people who on the whole, at least initially, do not need housing. What they need is a room where they have an element of supervision, guidance and community life and, above all, where they are in a safe and honest environment. We are talking about specialist facilities. Yes, this is special pleading on another of those small problems that to the individuals involved is vital and essential, even if we are inclined from time to time to overlook it. None of us intends to do that.
There is no easy answer, because we are dealing with a community ill. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, picked up that point again. Once you get into the wrong sector of society in early life, it is very difficult to get out of it. That leads rather more than simply to the provision of appropriate hostel accommodation where these young people can be made safe. You must also provide them with occupations. I recently met a young person who got into difficulty; the YMCA had got hold of him in time and, thank heavens, he was all right subsequently—but it could easily have gone the other way.
I have nothing to add to what has been said, except to say that I am sure that the noble Baroness will be as sympathetic as everyone else has been to this issue. I repeat the dreadful mantra that this is a specialist demand that we lose sight of at our peril. If we cannot sort the problem of these young people—I do not mean that only they are a problem, but that it is a problem for us—the difficulties of an ever-increasing prison population and so on are what follow from our inability. None of us wants that to happen.
I add the support of these Benches to the points powerfully made by the noble Earl. It has often seemed to me that the term “looked-after children”, which is in more common use, points up the problems. They are children and they are looked after or, as is often the case, not looked after. The noble Earl referred in his amendment and his remarks to something much wider than the physical environment. I wonder whether this is just a question of housing supply coupled with other support, rather than the supply of a particular type of housing for children who have this need, to avoid a situation whereby groups of young people come out of care and find themselves in unsuitable private rented accommodation, with all the difficulties that there may be of dealing with not particularly helpful or responsible landlords. The issue certainly includes supply and the type of housing, but it is a good deal wider than that, as the noble Earl said.
I am grateful that we have had an opportunity to debate this issue. Like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, over the years. I do not think that there has been a Bill in which the noble Earl has not brought our attention to what we can do to improve the lives of these young people. The whole House is grateful to him for that. He was right to move the amendment in the way that he did at this point.
The question for me is: how do we make the lives of those young people better? I have to say, as the noble Lord anticipated, that I do not think it is served by including this in the Bill, not least because once we identify these particular young people, we have to think of other young people with other problems and whether they should be named in the Bill as well. The broader point is that the HCA would not be fulfilling its objectives if it were not meeting the needs of people, as it states in Clause 2, which is about meeting the needs of the people and the well-being of the community.
For all the reasons that noble Lords have given in the many ways that they have brought it to our attention—not least my noble friend Lord Graham, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow—we see all the implications of a life spent in care, not by choice, written in our criminal justice system, in the people on our streets, in people with mental health conditions who are very difficult to help. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pointed out, it is not a question of a single solution. It is a question of finding the right housing for the young person involved. It is about providing support through agencies in programmes such as Supporting People, for which my department is responsible, which literally supports people in their home environment. It is a question of dealing with the small but hugely significant group of people, this 8,000 population, who have so much to contend with not just when they are in care but especially in transitional states. They need a place that they can call home, but we have not been very good at providing that and we are living with the consequences.
However, thanks not least to the efforts of the noble Earl, children in care have never been so much in the forefront of our minds in what we are trying to do through the work of the education department and our emphasis in the care pathway on providing support at critical times.
I turn to what we can do through the HCA and in the DCLG. Traditionally, we have had responsibility for social exclusion, which has now passed to the Cabinet Office. We are working for the first time on a cross-government PSA, PSA 16, which is about social exclusion. How do we help four particular groups of very vulnerable people access services that they need, including accommodation? One of those groups is care leavers. We will be working very closely with the Homes and Communities Agency and with local authorities as they put in their bids for supported accommodation, and so on, to plan for the needs of those young people more intensively than we have been able to do before.
Beyond that is the responsibility of the local authority to know what is going on in its community and to address housing needs. There are not many people more vulnerable than those young people, who have a higher call on the concern not simply of housing officers in local authorities but all those dealing with the Children’s Plan, with transitional arrangements and with what happens to those young people as they leave school.
That is the work that the Housing and Communities Agency will take forward, informed by the work of local authorities in its partnership identifying local needs within the regional context. That is a key aspect of the agency knowing where to invest—which housing associations or which types of building to support. That is what will make a difference on the ground.
As the noble Earl will know, that is happening much more positively following the passage of the Children (Leaving Care) Act. That has led to regulations that require the responsible authority to take steps to ensure that 16 and 17 year-old care leavers are maintained in suitable accommodation. That is one of the things that the HCA would also have a care to. Eighteen year-old care leavers should have the same entitlement to accommodation as other young people, but they should also be able to depend on continuing support and planning by the responsible authorities, not least the mental health services. Investment is going into the county services too.
The Care Matters White Paper that we published last June includes a range of commitments to improve the quality of care provided to looked-after children. Crucially, leaving care is seen not as a single event but as a transition into a new life with greater adult responsibilities. That means we need to know how to bring the services together. We are taking forward 11 “right to be cared for” pilots that give young people a greater say over when they leave care. Young people are going to be more involved in managing their own transition to adulthood. Through the Children and Young Persons Bill—and there are veterans of that Bill in this Committee, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—we are introducing a requirement that children in foster placements or children’s homes who move to independent living do so only as a consequence of a review of their care plan, so that they move on to their final care placement only when it is recognised by all the people responsible that they are ready to take that step. That will help as well.
We are also legislating to extend the personal adviser role for care leavers up to the age of 25 for young people who wish to resume courses of educational training. As part of our Care Matters programme, we have allotted funding to contribute to the costs of building additional units of supported accommodation for care leavers. We hope that discussions about that commitment will take place among the Housing Corporation and the other stakeholders later this year. That work will be taken forward by the HCA. There is a great deal of thought, care and action going on. In that context, I can mention the good practice guidance on housing and children’s services co-operation, in relation to homelessness for young people. We have new pilots—Staying Put, 18 Plus family care—to enable young people to remain with foster carers.
I will not go into endless detail, but I hope I am giving the impression that not only are we serious about co-ordinating services and identifying those 8,000 young individuals in different circumstances with different backgrounds but we are also piloting some new ways of doing things.
The noble Earl asked me some specific questions. I have some very long answers, but if he does not mind I suggest that he and I meet officials and someone from the DCSF to go through them. We will also discuss how much more we may be able to do within the new constructs that are emerging, particularly within the HCA. I hope that will be helpful to him. We can certainly involve him in the way we take those things forward.
I thank the Minister for her full, generous and encouraging reply. I also thank noble Lords who took part and showed understanding, sympathy and support for the general direction of the amendments. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for putting their names to my amendment. I recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said: we need to put long-term investment into vulnerable adults and young people. The Government are to be commended on striving to achieve that end. We still have a long way to go.
A foster carer told me last week that she had been fostering for 13 years but had now decided to give up because she felt that she did not get enough support in what she was doing. We have a shortage of 10,000 foster carers in England alone. I was told at the meeting of the Fostering Network that 10 per cent of foster carers drop out each year. The Government are putting tremendous effort into improving the situation, but the stability for young people while they are in care is often still not adequate, although it is improving. We need to ensure that when they leave care they get the support and long-term engagement that the Minister has described is being attempted. I will read carefully what she has said, and I look forward to the meeting that she kindly offered.
I just want to check whether there are any further questions to put to the Minister at this point. I warmly welcome what the Government are doing to allow children the choice of whether to stay in foster care to the age of 18 or 21. I recently heard Kevin Brennan, the Minister in the other place, speak about this, and I welcome the commitment. It is so important that these children can choose to stay with their carer until the age of 21. It should certainly be at least that. Again, I thank your Lordships for a very helpful debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]
22: Clause 2, page 2, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) to contribute to the reduction of poverty and to the reduction of inequality of opportunities within society,”
The noble Lord said: The amendment, which is grouped with a very interesting amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, on diversity, seeks to state in the Bill that one of the objectives of the HCA is,
“to contribute to the reduction of poverty and to the reduction of inequality of opportunities within society”.
I probably meant “the reduction of inequality within society”, but perhaps if I had put that I might have been thought rather old fashioned. The Minister says not, so perhaps I should have put that.
I am not challenging the Government to say whether these are government objectives. I am prepared to believe that they are, although they have not been very successful ones in the past few years, certainly as far as inequality is concerned. However, the interesting thing is whether an agency such as this, which is about the provision of housing and regeneration, is overtly expected to contribute to these aims. That is all I want to say. I am interested to hear what the Government have to say about this. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendment No. 23A, which is in my name and is part of the group. It is a probing amendment, which recognises that the creation of the Homes and Communities Agency presents us with a real opportunity to move away from public housing monocultures of the past and to invest in the creation of new towns and areas that have both a physical and a social identity.
Having spent many years working at the centre of a large housing estate, I know how damaging these monocultures can be to local communities and how important it is that the new agency is empowered to respond to the social, economic and cultural contexts in which it invests and to encourage real diversity across the country. The public sector and housing associations are not the only ones guilty of creating monocultures. Private developers also have quite a track record in this regard, and have on many occasions missed the opportunity to create truly sustainable developments that have a real sense of identity.
Place-making is not just about having the right public sector structure or a clear leader, bringing people together or having a clear quality design concept. It is also about having a clear and rooted purpose and vision for the place. The desolate estates on the outskirts of many of our major cities are good examples of rootless places with no clear vision in their conception.
Over the past decade or so, we have talked a great deal about joined-up thinking and joined-up action. This is correct, but in many of our poorest communities these fine words are often not being turned into practical reality on the ground. I was in Bradford recently on an outer estate—here I declare an interest—and discovered a range of buildings sitting very close to each other at the centre of the estate. In reality, however, they had little relationship to each other and there was no real sense of place. It just felt empty and desolate. There was a community facility, which was run by a charitable body, a healthy living centre, a row of shops, a school and a church, and very soon there will be a new small supermarket. Yet the amazing thing was that none of the buildings bore any relationship whatever to another, and there was little of the joined-up activity necessary to create a sense of place and build a sustainable community. However, a number of the buildings had been built and extended in the past decade. All the government structures were there, but the words were not being translated into reality on the ground. There was no heart to the community, and apparently little relationship between the different services in a community which desperately needed a focus.
My experience suggests that place-making will not happen by chance, and it will not automatically occur through the various public sector structures and bodies created by the Government. Something else has to happen, and it has everything to do with people and relationships on the ground. Two years ago I was asked by the then chief executive of Tower Hamlets council to take a look at St Paul’s Way, a group of rundown estates some 500 yards from Canary Wharf. Again, I must declare an interest. Violent clashes had been taking place outside the school and the lead officer wanted a clearer picture of what was happening on the ground. I discovered that there were two large housing estates divided by a main road. On one side of the road were the homes of members of the Bengali community, and on the other housing for traditional white East End families. I was assured that a helpful social reality had developed over many years as loyal local authority officers followed public sector rules and processes which sought to create more equitable and integrated communities, yet the unintended consequences of their actions had not been foreseen. One local resident described the road as the Berlin Wall. Although the public sector structures had been set up to encourage neighbourhood renewal, in reality it was not happening on the ground.
I also discovered that plans were being developed to build a new school, health centre and 500 homes, but little real and meaningful communication was actually taking place between the local education authority, the primary care trust and the housing company. All the structures were in place and the boxes were being ticked, but the opportunity to create a new sense of place was being completely missed. I reported my findings to the chief executive and was then asked whether I would play a lead role in directing what has now become known as the St Paul’s Way Transformation Project. My first task was to take 16 of the key players from each of the public bodies away for two days and build relationships. We began our meeting not with a conference or committee session, but with a meal. Initially there were many suspicions to be overcome, but by the end of our two days together, relationships were starting to be built and a unanimous consensus reached among those present. We all agreed that St Paul’s Way presented us with a great opportunity to build not only a new place with a real identity, but also to develop a new culture, and more entrepreneurial ways of working by which together we could explore new joined-up activity.
The aim was not only to transform the physical environment along St Paul’s Way and to co-ordinate the various planned developments, but also in the process to transform relationships between the various service providers along the street for the fragmented local communities. Partners agreed to encourage a change in mindset and to promote a creative and entrepreneurial culture in which local communities, the public and private sectors would find new ways of working together, following the experience of similar social enterprise projects in Tower Hamlets.
From a standing start 18 months ago, we have now brought to the table £27 million for a new school through the Building Schools for the Future programme, we have brought forward plans for the new health centre, and we are about to sign contracts for 500 homes. We are also working on plans to redevelop two churches that sit at either end of the street and on plans for a new primary school, and are now running a “culture change” programme with residents, local head teachers and staff. We have further to go in the transformation process, which will take at least 10 years, but relationships have moved on.
We are grappling with public sector commissioning processes that still militate against all we are seeking to achieve. It is very difficult to make this happen in practice on the ground and to make it real. If the new agency is to break through some of the blockages that we have been experiencing and to be able truly to create real places with real identity and meaning, then it will need to be given the powers to break through the political and structural inertia that still exists in many places, particularly in some of our most challenging estates and in some of the cultures of parts of the public sector. Using the right words and ticking the right boxes is one thing. Turning the words into reality in real places on the ground is quite another. This amendment seeks to draw the Minister’s attention to these concerns.
The point of sharing this experience with the Committee is that this change did not happen by chance. Public sector structures on their own were not turning the aspirations of politicians into the new realities on the ground that they rightly desired. Indeed, many of the processes of government were themselves, often unwittingly, undermining the opportunities for real change. For the new agency to have real teeth and to cut through this kind of inertia, I would suggest that when it begins its work it needs to look very carefully at examples on the ground where people are attempting to bring real change and create a new sense of “place”, to understand what works in detail and to be given the powers to build on this knowledge.
Secondly, the Minister might like also to consider in her deliberations that in order to create a real “place” serious investment in terms of time and resources have to be invested by the new agency, not just in new structures but in providing appropriate training for agency staff which enables them to build the kinds of open and honest human relationships with partners and local people on the ground that can truly bring change. Only then will the agency be truly equipped with the tools necessary to navigate the complex partnerships that are part of the modern world in which we all live. The success of the new agency in this area will be directly related to the human energy, time and resources that it puts into building deep and workable relationships. Navigating the modern world is all about investing in people and relationships; structures and processes will never be enough.
Thirdly, all agencies tend to work to a regulatory structure. Rather than a tick-box, best-practice model, the agency might consider ways of evaluating whether real innovation is taking place, whether a real sense of place is being created and whether real partnership working is happening on the ground. This can be contrasted with a committee approach with all the appropriate structures represented, but little real change. A minimum baseline is clearly needed to ensure that public funds are being used appropriately. However, you can sense whether partnership is real and whether innovation is happening, not through lengthy reports, but by spending time on the ground. You can sense it and actually smell it.
Has the Minister considered requiring the agency to seek out places which are delivering on innovation and genuine partnership and funding them to play a role in regulation? Rather than an academic-led approach to evaluation with lengthy reports after the facts, why not get highly successful practitioners involved early to examine new schemes? They will soon be able to tell where the successful schemes are and where intervention might make a real difference. You might call it peer review by the best. Perhaps the Minister might require the agency to list each year in its annual report the innovative programmes that it has supported—what worked and what did not. If the agency is genuinely innovating, there will be failures as well as successes, and that should be expected. You could look at the excellent Phoenix Development Fund run by the then DTI until recently as a good example of government-funded innovation. Perhaps there should be a presumption not to regulate.
Finally, has the Minister considered the value of involving faith communities—here, I must declare an interest—in creating a new sense of place? As well as important in and of themselves, they can often act as neutral parties that bring people and agencies together, and are often overlooked when developing a new sense of place. Indeed, sometimes they can be considered a catalyst that can bring a new heart to the community. I hope that those thoughts are helpful to this debate.
I will make a brief speech. It is born out of having represented a constituency which the European Union, due to what in my view is its statistical errancy, thinks is part of the richest area in the whole of the Union. I do not think that that is absolutely correct, but I shall not go into the argument. While it has that background, it also has a characteristic which I suspect makes it unique among Conservative seats, in that it appears among the 100 poorest constituencies in the country when a calculation is made according to what proportion of households meets standard poverty indices. I have made the case before, but I shall make it again, because it responds to both the amendments in this group. I am not extrapolating from it to the larger scale, but using it as a single instance of where these amendments could make a difference.
This relates to my longstanding campaign that postal workers should be regarded as key workers for housing purposes. I shall give a brief example. In the constituency comprising the two cities in the centre of London, there are at least a dozen or up to 16 postal districts, if NW3 and W1 are each counted as a postal district. Much the two largest are W1 and SW1. To the surprise of some, SW1 has plenty of affordable housing and consequently the quality of postmen delivering letters in the district—a fairly key area in the context of the national economy—is high. They can walk to work and deliver the correspondence entrusted to them extremely efficiently and expeditiously. In W1 there is very little affordable housing, so people come in from outlying suburbs. The quality of people employed by the Post Office in W1 is not remotely of the same standard as that of those working in SW1. Some 96 per cent of the mail goes to businesses in W1, and there can be no doubt about the deleterious effect on the economy in the centre of the city of the fact that the postal work is done less efficiently. I do not mean this in any way as a criticism of the Post Office, since members of Post Office management have made these comments to me over the years. However, I know from the complaints that I received over a period of 25 years from constituents who were on the receiving end that there was a significant difference.
I am certainly not criticising Westminster City Council, but the term “monoculture” was used earlier, and I am saying that the concentration of a particular type of housing and the absence of certain other kinds can have severe consequences in terms of how a great city works.
Rather pessimistically, I think that the problem we are discussing is almost insoluble. We all know what a community is when we see it, but we are talking about trying to create one. We cannot create an integrated group of people from all walks of life by regulation, direction or even by the best of intentions on the part of an outside institution. A community is something that has to evolve.
In Essex, where we had two new towns, trying to persuade those towns to develop into new communities was something else indeed. After a sufficient period, they eventually did develop into communities, but it took a very long time. It took even longer for them to become what I would call part of the county. We moved massive numbers of people into this alien landscape; it was not a Martian landscape, but it was alien to almost all of those who had left London. They were moving into modern housing, whereas they had been living in difficult housing in east London. They had survived the war and they were wonderful people, but trying to turn them into a community and then absorb them into the community was very difficult.
Having worked through local government all my life, one of the things that I have become conscious of is that the more you try to force things in a particular direction, the more difficult you make it. People have their own ways and their own motivations. Most people, in my experience, want to get on with their lives in spite of everything that the Government and local government are doing to them and for them, and not because of it. Somehow we have to try to cross that divide, which is extremely difficult. The Homes and Communities Agency will have a strong influence on the social housing sector across the whole country. It will tend to put houses down in considerable blocks here and there. It is extremely difficult to do that in a way that does not involve the rest of community; but once you say that, you are in difficulties, because you cannot force it. The intentions are invariably benign, but sometimes the effects, as the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, showed in his remarks, can be perverse.
I know all too well that on the official side it is too easy for people to push their own interests or departmental purpose. They can be jealous of other people working in the same field and will not co-operate with them. It is difficult, if you stand above that, to try to make them do it. The problem is that wretched word “make”. In a great democracy, you cannot make people do anything. I think even members of the party opposite, like me, at heart are anarchists. We have to accommodate all this, and it is very difficult. The Homes and Communities Agency will have things to do on this, and the noble Baroness will say that they are going to do all this and it will be absolutely perfect. The trouble is that we know that it is not absolutely perfect. If you look at what is happening on the ground, much as we want all those things to happen, they are happening in bits and pieces, and some bits work here and there. We are not going to achieve it. Somehow, we have to give that ambition to the agencies in the Bill. If we try to prescribe it too tightly, we will get it wrong. I know that the noble Baroness is going to say something like that; I am not exactly arguing her case for her.
This is something that we have to find a way of doing. As the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, said, we cannot do it through the regulator; it has to come from within. We can perhaps help it to some degree with design. We had a wonderful debate on architecture a while ago. We can help it by mixing housing, and so on. In the end, it is an impossible task, and I do not see an easy resolution to it.
The agency is intended to carry over some of the ways of operating from the previous organisations. In response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, there always had to be a clear rationale about the location for investment; there were always choices to be made. In English Partnerships, our guidance from the department was always that certain areas—and the noble Lord’s former constituency was certainly one—fell under the criteria where investment was appropriate. Guidance will have to be given about which are the priority areas for investment. I am not sure that including the provision about inequality in the Bill will change or necessarily help that, but I fully expect the new agency to carry on in the way that the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships do, in addressing itself to those areas of greatest need, which are generally very explicitly set out for the organisation.
I listened with great interest to the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson; I know the development of which he speaks. It is very important that the new agency can do two things. Plainly, one of the key rationales for creating it was to bring together all those disparate funding streams that drive people mad when they are trying to make sense of all these things. There may be 15 different sets of people that you have to satisfy before you can try to get your project off the ground. We are bringing all those funding streams from within the department and those other agencies together, so at least there is a one-stop shop and a fighting chance for energetic communities to engage properly.
I hope that some of the structures and apparatus of funding being brought together here will address some of the points that the noble Lord made so eloquently. I could not agree with him more when he says that that is all very well, but what will make the difference is people who live in the areas, who care about the areas and who are prepared to engage with the Homes and Communities Agency and drive its funding in a way that makes more sense for those communities.
I had a great affinity with what the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, said. It is very important that the Academy for Sustainable Communities comes into the new agency, because its role is precisely to try to change the rules of engagement, so that new developments are less bureaucratic and much more in tune with what local people are attempting to do. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is absolutely right: some of the places that we love most in the United Kingdom have never seen a planner’s blueprint, thank goodness. They have grown organically, in a higgledy-piggledy way, and we have come to love them.
The agency must do two different things: it is responsible for creating some new places and for assisting existing communities to regenerate and rejuvenate those places. However much we may wish that things would grow organically, the agency must engage in master planning. Let us hope that when it does, it follows the admirable example shown by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson.
I have discovered the problem with the Bill: it is too interesting. Our debates are too interesting. I anxiously watch the time, but I forget that I do not need to watch the time. This debate has been profound. It touches on so much of what we want for our country and our communities and what will be possible under the HCA and the new ways in which it will work.
First, I shall deal with the problem of poverty. I do not want to labour this point but, as a Government, we have made a very explicit and ambitious commitment to reduce poverty. We will be judged on what we have achieved, not least in taking 600,000 children out of poverty, and much else besides. There is no doubt that there is a very clear connection between poor quality, overcrowded, unhealthy homes and poverty. Poor people live in the worst accommodation. When you live in awful accommodation, you are likely to be least prepared and supported into work and training. You have less support for your family. There is an awful and toxic mixture of poverty and disadvantage. One ambition of my department is that no one should be disadvantaged by the place in which they live. The two problems go together.
Inevitably, we are emphasising this great increase in social housing—£8 billion to go into affordable homes over the next three years—because we want to reduce, and, indeed, wipe out, poverty. Decent homes are the first step to reducing and ending poverty, but within that we have to know what we are doing. I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and my noble friend in this regard. The Homes and Communities Agency has a raft of regeneration policies. As he well knows, this is not simply about regarding housing as a social necessity but about providing decent homes, building mixed communities and regenerating areas. That means economic regeneration.
On estates where our New Deal for Communities is in operation, one sees refurbished homes—these estates feel like and are better places—new community centres, brand new primary schools, new health centres with a much greater emphasis on outreach, new transport, new opportunities for training and new sports centres. That is all about lifting the spirit, creating opportunities for people to get into training and work and keep and develop their skills. It is about enabling us to bring an end to poverty through regeneration and better housing. We have particular regard for BME communities, which suffer multiple disadvantages and which need particular forms of support, not least to enable them to get out of substandard homes.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, made a very important point about postal workers. We are expanding the eligibility criteria for the new build homebuy and the open market homebuy products, which are a mixture of renting and ownership. Although it is important to continue to give priority to key workers and tenants in the social rented sector, from today new build homebuy and open market homebuy products will be open to all first-time buyers with a household income below £60,000. Therefore, postal workers will be in a strong position to access those new products. I am happy to write to him with more details on that.
The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, spoke powerfully about building communities, drawing on his extraordinary and impressive experience. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Ford for talking about the way in which we have traditionally prioritised investment so that it really makes a difference to the places that are most vulnerable and disadvantaged but which also show promise. The tasking framework of the HCA will reflect that, because it will reflect the Government’s priority of putting investment where it can work best. The noble Lord is right, communities are diverse; we do not need to specify this in the Bill. Bow is very different from Braunstone in Leicester, which is very different from Aston in Birmingham. These communities have particular strengths and particular needs. The Bill specifies that the HCA will work to meet the needs of communities, and that is what it must do.
The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked how you make communities. You do so by enabling the people who live, or who will live, in those communities to have a prior say about what they want from them. In some of the new greenfield communities that will be built, for example Northstowe, we must start by building the community infrastructure and the social infrastructure, but in a way that responds to and reflects what people say they want. Master planning does not mean anything unless you have the widest possible democratic input.
I listened carefully to what the noble Lord said about how you create a new sense of place. It is difficult to do that in a new community. We should not kid ourselves that these places will spring up overnight with a strong sense of community. They will be diverse, mixed and fair. At the very worst, you can design out things; it is not always easy to design them in, but you can if you work with the community. We have a lot to learn from the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, has led the partnership in east London. He is right that we need investment in time, resources and training. The Academy for Sustainable Communities is there to do just that: to build up capacity. He is also right that we should not be hung up on structures. The Bill simplifies structures, brings in funding streams and creates the one-stop shop—the single conversation—of which we have spoken.
Regulation must be appropriate, but partnership is key. That is where the relationships that the noble Lord talked about come into play, and the reason why we must hear all the people who speak for the community. Some people at the outer edges are never heard. I am thinking of LINks and the health model, which are designed to bring in people from the margins of the community to voice their anxieties and give them a sense of contribution.
This is about people and relationships. I hope that we can learn enormously from the community engagement work that English Partnerships has done in the past, which dealt with some of the pockets of resistance to change in communities. Some communities do not want to change, and why should they in many instances? We must give people credit for being happy, even if we think that their homes are not quite what they might be. We have learnt much from that over the past few years in what we have tried to do and how we have tried to do it. I am entirely sympathetic to that. As the noble Lord said, we must work with the faith communities and get under the radar. The faith communities are better placed than many to reach into communities that are frightened and that do not come forward to make their voices heard. All the faith communities have a big responsibility there.
So, no, this does not happen by accident. You can plan it, and we will be intent on planning it. What we can do will be explicit in the tasking framework. We have a lot to learn, and I am absolutely confident, given the things that have been said in Committee this afternoon, that people will watch the HCA as much for its style and the way in which it conducts itself as for its content. The conversations that we have had with Sir Bob Kerslake make me optimistic that we have a leader who knows very well what it is to listen to people and to take hold of sound practice on the ground.
I was particularly interested in the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, that we should ask people who have been successful to advise us on what might and might not work. We do not do that often enough, and it is a very interesting suggestion.
Again, I am astonished by the debate that I set off quite a long time ago now, given our break for a Division. I thank the Minister for her comments about my amendment on poverty and inequality. It is useful to have them on the record. Even if they are not to be written into the Bill, these are some of the things by which the new agency will be judged.
When new Members come to this House, everyone looks at them and asks why they have come. Sometimes the answer is, “Don’t ask”, but in most cases we find out in due course that it is because of the expertise and knowledge that they have to contribute to this House. We have heard this afternoon why the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, came to this House, and he has a great deal more to contribute to debates on how to make things happen at a very local level in communities, or even in the non-communities where it really matters. The noble Lord said that this is all about people and relationships on the ground. That is absolutely right. For some of us who do not hide our scepticism about the value and ability of large national quangos to do what is necessary at a local level, the comments this afternoon of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, are extremely valuable.
None of us denies that there has to be national allocation of resources and that there have to be national priorities and strategies. If implementing those priorities and strategies happens through quango-type organisations, that is all right. Some of us are still sceptical, but that is clearly the way it is going to be done, so it has to be done in the best way possible. However, people and relationships on the ground are what really matter. We understand that we are to have a Bill, probably in the next Session, called something like the “community engagement Bill”. Again, some of us are sceptical about whether national legislation can create community engagement, but those who take part in the debates will no doubt benefit from the expertise and perspectives of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson.
I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, when he says that you cannot create communities. Perhaps that is true in a superficial way, but there are things that organisations at all levels can do to help communities to create themselves, and there are things that can actually hinder that process. The Minister said that the process of learning what works and what does not is very important. I agree that learning is more important that having a national ideological perspective on these matters.
I listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, and I agree with almost everything she said, except when she talked about the agency being engaged in “master planning”. I hope that the HCA will not do that, but that it will limit itself to providing the resources necessary to allow people on the ground to do the planning. If this is going to succeed, that is where it has to happen. Planning has to involve disparate organisations, agencies and so on, and it has got to be done on the ground. No one can sit in an office in the regional capital or London and lay down the rules. Whether in the county hall or the city hall, master planning has to be done locally among the people who are involved. Some will be professionals, some will be residents and some will be local politicians. If they are all brought together, there is a chance that it will work, although there are by no means any guarantees. That is the way we have to go.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, referred to rootless estates with no great vision in conception. We know that there are far too many of those, and yet the original big estates on the edge of towns were built with great vision. It was a vision to take people out of the slums, to give them decent homes in a good environment with gardens and local facilities. The best of them have worked well. One of the first examples was Wythenshawe in Manchester. It came about through the huge vision of Lord Simon of Wythenshawe and others who have been involved more recently. By and large, Wythenshawe has been a success. Nobody would claim that there are no problems, of course, but a lot of them are caused by the fact that it was too large to be a single, council-owned estate and community. Part of the problem is the monocultural aspect because it was not properly understood. Wythenshawe would have worked better if it had been broken up into a series of smaller units interspersed with private development. Let us not pretend that all the big projects have been a disaster, because they have not. But the huge vision went wrong somewhere, not just in the suburbs but also in the high-rise inner city estates, and we have to understand why. Was it bad design or monolithic bureaucracies taking over and doing things without thinking? Was it lack of funding for community resources? Unless we understand why things went wrong from the original vision, we will not succeed in future. We will have to keep coming back to this: we must do our very best to create—again, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson—the relationships on the ground. That inevitably means making things as local as possible because it is the immediate locality that people can relate to.
No doubt we will discuss all this at great length when we get that Bill, and I hope we will have a great time doing it. It is so important that people in big organisations at national level do not think they can just do things that they cannot do. They can provide resources, ideas, inspiration and professional expertise that allow the people on the ground to do it. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[The Sitting was adjourned from 6.20 to 6.30 pm.]
23: Clause 2, page 2, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) to support a proportion of social homebuy in developments promoted by it,”
The noble Lord said: I was going to begin by saying that my words follow on fairly easily and naturally from those of the Minister, but she is not present to hear me. They follow on because we are talking about the Homes and Communities Agency, and during the previous debate I had the thought that on the whole I feel rather sorry for the chief executive elect, Sir Bob Kerslake, whom I met for the first time last week. If he is reading the Hansards of this Committee—I have no doubt that he is, as the job he is taking on at the HCA will absorb him fully for a number of years—he will see this amendment, as he saw the previous one and probably one or two more by the time we have finished, and he will say, “Oh my God, how ever am I going to fulfil all these ambitions?”. Whether the Government accept the amendments is neither here nor there; the Government, through their Ministers, are accepting the implicit pledges behind those amendments. That is a wonderful thing.
Amendment No. 23 is directed at the issue of social homebuy, which is part-purchase or whatever. The Homes and Communities Agency will be without question the prime mover as the provider of social housing across the broad spectrum of housing provision and new housing. Not the least of the problems one faces in a mobile community is that as people fall back into social housing, and the present housing crisis is unfortunately going to increase that demand, equally, other people want to get out of social housing if they can. Social homebuy helps to provide that route. We have discussed the impossibility of the HCA fulfilling every aspiration, but the fact is that we are dealing with a society with a considerable degree of mobility. There will always be some people who unfortunately are moving down, and we hope there will always be some people seeking to move up. Social homebuy is one of the ways that that can be achieved.
Social homebuy is also important for the Homes and Communities Agency because, where it is providing social homes, it will also provide a revenue stream and a return of capital that can then be reinvested in more housing. It can create a virtuous circle. We heard in the last debate about the criteria for key worker provision and the access that they might have to social homebuy. That is an important aspect of the work of the Homes and Communities Agency.
I have no doubt that we shall have the same argument about what to put in the Bill as its function, but there is always in the background—which has not yet been mentioned in this debate so I will mention it for the first time—the fact that what a Minister says in reply to a point raised is relevant, if things come to a court case, as an indication of what the Government’s intentions behind a Bill were when it was passed. I look forward to the Minister’s reply because I am sure that he is going to say something positive. Whether he likes it or not, it will be on the record as the Government’s intention. If it is there, and it is the Government’s intention, that may be useful at some point in the future if someone wishes to come to a judgment. I beg to move.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. He is so surprised because I keep agreeing with him. I support the spirit of the amendment, but I am troubled that we would put this in the Bill. To suggest that there should be a proportion of social homebuy in each development promoted by the agency would limit the ability and flexibility of the agency to work with the appropriate local authority in looking at the need for specific types of housing in an area and planning a development in accordance with those needs.
In developments where there has been more prescription about the sum of affordable housing or specific subsets of affordable or other specialist housing, it has not always been the right answer. This amendment would be too much of a constraint if it were in the Bill. For that reason, although I support absolutely the sentiment behind it, the Minister should probably resist putting it in the Bill.
I take very much what has just been said about the decisions to operate the current provisions on social homebuy needing to be monitored carefully by those with responsibility nearer to the action but I am hostile to the concept. Whether you like it or not, there are millions of people in inadequate housing who are desperate to get a tenancy for a council house or a housing association property, and they are denied it. The people we are talking about who would be affected by the amendment are already very lucky people because, after waiting for a period or living in bad conditions, they have got to the top of the list; they have been preferred and they obtain a tenancy. My experience is that council tenants are among the most privileged in the land by comparison to those renting from private landlords.
My time in local government and responsibilities both in the other place and here stretch back to the period in the late 1970s and early 1980s when, whether the council wanted to or not, or whether there was a desperate need in that community to maintain a stock of community-owned houses that had been paid for by the taxpayer and the ratepayer, they did not have a choice; the legislation simply took that choice away. We will hear, perhaps in this debate but certainly in others, about desperate need in rural areas where affordable housing no longer exists. Of course it does not; the people who were about then—perhaps they are in this Room at the moment—were happy to see the affordable housing in their community disappear, because they believed, as I do, in home ownership.
The sad fact was that once a home left the purview of the local council, people in the community—with a wave of people always coming forward desperately in need of better housing—found that the home their parents had been glad to get 20 or 30 years before was no longer there. People would fall for the line that if they have lived in the house for a certain period, and if they had paid enough in rent for the house, they deserved to buy it. It was not a question of buying the house; it was a question of getting mobility. In my experience in Edmonton, many of the people who bought their homes sold them again, and they were then sold again. Over time, a home that was well built and well maintained, which had been bought for £7,000 or £8,000 was sold, sold and sold again; and a three-bedroom, semi-detached house in Edmonton now fetches nearly £200,000. You would not believe it; although you would, because that is the situation. Any attempts to militate against the public provision of housing for those in need—council tenants or housing by any other means—ought not to be looked at lightly.
The Minister may well say, “We are trying to provide a range of provision”. I applaud the genesis of the Bill, and I applaud what we are trying to do with the measures to provide access to ownership. Frankly, I cannot see the sense in the public, through the public purse both local and national, providing a home for someone who desperately needs it, only to have a mechanism one way or the other for that person to capitalise on it. Good luck to the council tenant who wishes to become an owner-occupier. But I say—not of this house. If they want to own another house, they should by all means aspire to that, and there is a range of opportunities to do so.
I remember that the most poignant and heart-destroying periods of my life as a local councillor and as a Member of Parliament were listening to, believing and seeing the abject misery of inadequate housing: badly built housing, badly maintained housing, or no housing at all. I will listen to what the Minister has to say, but if it is put in the Bill that it is the responsibility of the authority to provide “a proportion”, that begs the question, “What is the proportion?”. If the proportion is movable or negotiable, I fear the worst. I have lived through the past 25 to 30 years hoping that more sanity would be brought into the provision of housing.
I have ranged over history—although I have strayed during the past five minutes, I cannot help it; I have been so close to it. I am one of the unlucky ones in life; I have never been a council tenant. Others who have been and have then become owner-occupiers will be forever grateful to the mechanism and to the Government and Prime Minister who drove through the provision that meant that a working man or woman with nothing behind them found manna from heaven, access to money that they had never dreamt of, which they then used. But the community has been deprived and access is now difficult. So I take with a pinch of salt those who say that it is the right of a person in public housing to buy it. It is our right to prevent that happening as long as there are long queues of people who deserve the housing. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
I had not intended to intervene, but I support the idea behind the amendment. When I was chairman of the Housing Corporation, towards the latter part of my period of office, the then Deputy Prime Minister asked me to chair a task force on better access to affordable home ownership. My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton referred to the loss of publicly owned housing to the private sector.
One of the first things that we did was to conduct a survey to ask people whether they wanted to own their own homes, because it was just assumed that that they did. About 70 per cent of people in Britain are either buying or own their own homes. Ninety per cent said that they did, but they did not interpret it in the way that we traditionally have: they wanted a stake in their own home. Shared ownership is one way to deliver that for them, so I support that idea.
I find it personally objectionable that people who can afford their own home, and I am one of them, can have a choice but people who cannot have no choice at all. I think that they should have. One choice that they should have is the opportunity to have a shared ownership home.
Where the report helps in the argument advanced by my noble friend Lord Graham is that we recommended very strongly that there should be different kinds of shared home ownership and different ways of raising the money, but that if the home was bought from a local authority or housing association, when the tenant wished to sell it, they had first to offer it back at market price to either the housing association or the local authority. That was a way to recycle a property to go back out to rent.
However, to put that in the Bill would, as with many other things, restrict the new agency to such a degree that we would almost not allow it to be innovative. We want it to be creative and innovative. The leader of the HCA will have to consider the Government's national strategy all the time. I cannot see any Government of whatever colour in future withdrawing from the idea of providing shared ownership. The former Mayor of London was talking about 50 per cent affordable or, I should say, social housing. That has meant that many developers have left London. They will not develop in London because the numbers do not stack up. I would not want that happen in this area, which is a creative, dynamic area and one that I very much welcome. I welcome the principle and the idea behind the amendment, but I think that it would be a retrograde step to insist that it goes in the Bill.
It is always a mistake to wait until the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, has spoken because she picked up the point I wished to make. Having debated many times opposite the noble Lord, Lord Graham, I know where his heart is and whence he comes. My point seeks to pick up on the whole question of having different approaches to provision. It is not a question of saying, “That is how it was done in the past and therefore that is the way it must continue to be done”. I hope that a range of schemes with restrictions placed upon them will come through. In many areas there are what I would describe as “old people’s bungalows” with restrictions upon them. A person seeking to buy such a property has to qualify within a particular range of restrictions. I know of other housing schemes that are linked to affordability in that when an owner wants to move on, they cannot sell above a certain price. The authority calculates the average increase for housing overall in the area over the period, and the owner cannot sell on above that price. Moreover, as the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, rightly suggested, those running such housing groups should have the first chance to buy the properties.
I accept the worry of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, all those years ago—a worry I well understand because he has acknowledged that it brought joy to some but took housing away from others. Let us hope that we see a greater diversity of provision, again with restrictions attached so that people living in the area are not driven out of the market, whether for purchase or to rent. I seek clarification from the Minister who is going to respond because this is not a question of either/or, but of the range of options we can work with both in inner cities and rural areas. This is not something that is confined to one area or the other. I am grateful, but I will not give way early to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, again, because she brings such authority to her words through her experience with the Housing Corporation.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for moving the amendment, but I am sure he will not be surprised when I argue that it is unnecessary. I say that for good reasons, and I shall go through them. However, the noble Lord was right when he reflected at the outset on the task facing a new chief executive and the many ambitions that have to be satisfied. I have made a list of the topics that have been covered by our debates today on which noble Lords have expressed their aspirations. We have not yet gone through them all and we are unlikely to do so, but they range from the promotion of rural housing, securing an anti-poverty impact, ensuring that the concerns of the disabled are properly taken into account, the encouragement of community building, through to the intelligent use of social stock for those coming out of care. Those are just a few on the list. Within that context, I well understand why the noble Lord has put forward an amendment to promote social homebuy. He and others have argued that more needs to be done to promote home ownership. My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton made a trenchant plea for a more reflective attitude towards the sale of council houses, and I certainly understand why he might make that argument. Perhaps in some respects we have now begun to inherit the problems that became evident at the more enthusiastic end of the home ownership push using the sale of council houses. As a consequence, the system is now much more refined, and rightly so.
However, we would argue that we need to take a balanced approach and to bring into home ownership people who have genuine and quite proper aspirations to that end, which I am sure we can all share. We need to consider how to address the problems inherent in the take-up of social home buying. It makes no sense to single out one form of tenure for particular priority. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Ford made the point that we need flexibility. She is absolutely right, and my noble friend Lady Dean, in the light of all her experience with the Housing Corporation, underlined that. But my noble friend also made the point that surveys have shown that people see home ownership as ensuring that they have a secure stake, not just in their own homes, but in their local communities. That is a valuable aspiration in terms of community building that we would be foolish to ignore.
The effect of the amendment would essentially be to elevate the status of social homebuy above other schemes for delivering home ownership. That would divert the focus of the Homes and Communities Agency away from its other objects—in particular its object to improve the supply quality of housing, which has been mentioned in this afternoon’s debate. We as a Government have set challenging targets for the agency and we will expect it to deliver those. My noble friend Lady Andrews has said that the expectation is that the Homes and Communities Agency will deliver 70,000 more affordable homes by 2010-11 and 3 million new homes by 2020; but it would be wrong of the Government to hamper the HCA’s ability to deliver those targets by making it focus on one form of home ownership.
We need a wide range of options for home ownership. Owning one’s home is an aspiration for many people. All too often, for many, that never becomes a reality, despite their best efforts to work hard and save money for a deposit. We have heard of the many key workers living in our capital—nurses, teachers, emergency service personnel and postal workers, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said—who struggle to get their own homes and that can cause disjunctions in the labour market. We have to respond to that by helping people get onto the housing ladder in different ways. We want to offer as many people as possible the opportunity to own their homes and to build a stake in the community. For that reason, we aim to provide 25,000 shared-ownership and shared-equity homes a year, funded mainly through the Housing Corporation and the successor body, from 2008-09. We need to be careful about being overly prescriptive as to where those homes are located. The amendment takes us dangerously near to having a fixed percentage in each area; that would be wrong and would constrain innovation.
We seek to build on innovative financing to help more people into partial ownership on a shared-equity basis. As noble Lords will have noticed, the Chancellor announced in the Budget that from April this year, two new equity loans will be available through the Government’s shared-equity scheme. In December last year, we announced that social homebuy would continue as a voluntary scheme after the pilot period. That is aimed at increasing opportunities for social housing tenants to access home ownership. We are encouraging landlords to improve affordability and are allowing them flexibility to set low rents and share maintenance. In that context, the HCA must ensure that housing of all tenures and types is appropriate to meet the needs of the community it is provided for. The HCA will have the incentive and expertise to do that.
For those reasons, we cannot agree to the amendment, although its aspiration to deliver more shared-ownership and shared-equity homes through social homebuy and other equity-type products is common across the Benches in your Lordships’ House.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I recognise where the noble Lord, Lord Graham, is coming from and I am pleased to have support in principle for the idea of shared equity in homes from the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, even if she does not agree that it should be specified in the Bill. I did not really expect the Government to concede that, but I thought we ought to have the debate. I think the Minister, if he will forgive me, got his figures got a little mixed up between national gross figures and the HCA’s share of them, and so forth, but I will not pick bones over that at the moment.
We had better not pursue this arithmetic question much further. I simply thought that I could not let it pass, but I did not want to make a point of it. It will all be there in Hansard. What I wanted to get on the record was that times have moved on, and the question of shared equity in housing now provides a greater degree of flexibility than what was originally almost an apartheid system of private sector and social housing—I do not like to use the term “council housing” any more. They were two sides of a coin and never met. Now we have a much more flexible arrangement, which is wholly to the good.
Could the noble Lord assist me? My understanding is that a house is owned by a local community and rented to a tenant. Under the scheme, the house will be taken out of public ownership and into the ownership of the tenant. There is nothing shared about it. It is a transfer of ownership, surely.
The short answer to that, in the language in which the noble Lord has put it, is no. Anyway, I do not want to get into that. My purpose at the moment is simply to say that we have had a useful debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 23A not moved.]
24: Clause 2, page 2, line 3, after “needs” insert “and aspirations”
The noble Lord said: I was tempted not to move this amendment in the interests of progress, but my noble friend suggested that that was a lost cause, at least today. There is an important issue here and it would be interesting to hear the Government’s response. There is a question of who determines and decides needs between the sectors. There are the aspirations of occupiers, which I will talk about in a minute, but also the aspirations of owners. Then there are the aspirations of public sector owners, whether that is councils owning properties or arm’s length or social ownership through registered social landlords, and so on.
It is right that the decent homes programme has set out to bring all socially owned property up to a proper standard. That is right. It would be wrong if the public sector in its widest sense, including all social landlords, were to tolerate conditions that were not up to modern standards and to allow houses to fall back from modern standards because things like central heating had not been replaced and renovated. Nevertheless, that skews priorities in terms of occupiers, because it puts the resources into housing that is occupied by people who already have a reasonable standard of housing—not necessarily at the expense of people who often are living in the worst conditions, but it does not give them priority. That is in some of the private sector tenanted properties—that is, private landlords’ properties.
In a sense, all the while in our discussions on the Bill, the elephant in the room—to use a modern phrase that is fairly unpleasant but one that people seem to understand—is the private tenanted sector. Some of that sector provides extremely high-quality housing such as luxury apartments, but in the areas in which English Partnerships has interested itself and in which the new agency will also interest itself—what one might call regeneration areas—the worst conditions are very often in the low-quality private rented sector. If we are talking about needs and aspirations, there is a huge great hole in the Bill. We will find ways of talking about the private rented sector later on, so I shall not talk about it in great detail now, but it must be put on the record.
There is no doubt that the Decent Homes programme is to be welcomed and is being welcomed hugely whenever the investment is made. Houses that were built as council houses were built to the high standards of the day, and had more space than any social housing that is built nowadays. My daughter lives in a ground-floor former council flat in Fulham. That is a disgrace really; she is a young, athletic lass and lives in a house that was designed for old people—but there we are. She rents it from a private landlord. Everyone who visits her says, “Look at this kitchen. It’s a wonderful great eat-in kitchen. Look at the size of these bedrooms”. She has learnt from me to say, “Ah, Parker Morris standards”. I am not sure whether she understands what they are, but it is true.
When people decry council housing—quite wrongly in my view—they should remember that those houses were built to the high standards of their time. They did not, however, have modern heating systems or modern insulation, and the doors, windows, roofs, chimney stacks and outside rendering needed to be replaced in time. A massive programme of investment was therefore needed to replace the heating systems, to re-render, to re-roof and to do whatever else was needed—new doors, new windows. Am I talking about the Decent Homes programme? No, I am not; I am talking about the massive programme to refurbish council housing that took place in this country from the end of the 1960s and throughout the 1970s. It was a huge and hugely successful programme.
Thirty years later, the Decent Homes programme is bringing the houses that were brought up to scratch then up to scratch now. In some cases, the standards are better; the insulation is better and the heating system is more efficient. In some cases, it is simply a replacement programme, because every so often you have to replace. One of the problems in the public sector is that the replacement programme tends to take place through great splurges of investment rather than more organically over the years. Nevertheless, Decent Homes is the second huge programme of investment in the council houses that were built in this country before the war and in the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s. We should recognise that. This programme is not new; it is simply the second phase.
In many ways, the tenants in those houses quite rightly aspire to live in modern conditions—the same conditions in which their neighbours who bought their council houses live or in which the people across the street live who are in owner-occupied properties. It is also the aspiration of the public sector landlords and social landlords to be owners of top-quality properties, so tenants are not the only ones who have aspirations. What do tenants want? They often want better housing, better locations and better types of occupation. Lodgers might want to become tenants and private sector tenants might want to become housing association tenants. They might want to buy their properties or to move into other properties and become owner-occupiers. This is a natural process. When people talk about housing needs, it is not just a simple matter of looking at how many homeless people there are or how many young couples cannot find a decent property. It is a much more complex process of evolution throughout the housing market as broadly defined.
At the very heart of all this is the private sector. In areas where housing conditions are difficult, the private landlord sector is at the heart of the problem. Not long ago we discussed a previous housing Bill which introduced a series of measures ranging from empty dwelling management orders to selective licensing to enable local authorities to tackle some of the more problematic landlord-owned properties. Looking at it from the perspective of an area in Lancashire that has many such problems associated with private sector landlords, I can say that so far that legislation has done nothing at all for us. It has been a flop. This is not the Bill to put it right, but if the Government and the new Homes and Communities Agency are going to take a new look at these regeneration areas—no doubt the HCA will because it is a new body taking over responsibilities from a number of others—the private sector really has to be looked at again. The current legislation may be okay and it may just need more push and more impetus and less blockage from above when councils want to do something, or it may be defective and we may need more legislation—God help us—but this matter will not go away; it is the elephant in the room. I beg to move.
I hope that I can respond swiftly to this. The noble Lord is right in many respects. We all aspire to have better homes but our aspirations are dependent on our circumstances. He asked who determines needs and how we know that they are being met. This process is well worked out. Local housing authorities deliver on aspirations as well as needs. When they set out the needs for their communities, they are setting out their aspirations whether they are looking to provide more social rented housing, more shared equity or more new homes. The aspirations of many people can be met only if we look at the provision of housing as a whole. That is why it is so important that the HCA will support and help to secure the delivery of 3 million homes. That will meet people’s aspirations as the whole housing chain is freed up in different ways so that we can get movement as people move out of rented accommodation and perhaps into shared or full ownership. We need to look at this picture as a whole. That is certainly true as regards looking at aspirations.
The noble Lord focused on decent homes. This matter has an interesting history. The Decent Homes programme is the most recent attempt to keep our housing stock in good condition. People’s aspiration to live in warm insulated homes with a modern bathroom and kitchen is very modest indeed and we are absolutely right to prioritise and meet it. However, different needs have to be met as situations change. The noble Lord is also right to say that the private rented sector presents a particular challenge. This is not mentioned in the Bill but he will know that we established an inquiry under Julie Rugg to look into the range of issues thrown up by the private rented sector. They are very complex. It is a very complex market. It will be very interesting to see what emerges from that.
The Bill places a clear responsibility on the HCA to provide decent affordable homes and the regeneration of communities with a view to meeting the needs of all people. I stress that that means all people. It means their changing needs as well, because aspirations change. People may aspire to a family home rather than to a small flat. They may, as they grow older, aspire to downsize to a more manageable, safer home. We have to meet the aspirations of different generations, underpinned by the evidence that drives our intelligence up through local authorities and through the regions. That is the business of planning.
With the best will in the world, we cannot meet everyone’s aspirations. Personally, I aspire to a small stately home with a stable block, but I do not expect that any one, let alone the Homes and Communities Agency, will enable me to achieve that. It is probably beyond my reach at this point. Now that I think about it, I would also like a Capability Brown landscaped garden to go with it. If we put the provision into the Bill, we are underwriting something rather cynical.
Our aim is that people should have their modest aspirations of a decent home met, whatever their stage and whatever that constitutes in terms of how they are fixed. Therefore, as much as I appreciate the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves— I thought he made an excellent speech—the amendment is not appropriate for the Bill, but I assure him that it would be very difficult for the HCA to meet needs without meeting aspirations at the same time.
25: Clause 2, page 2, line 3, after “living” insert “or projected to be living”
The noble Baroness said: As we have reached as far as line three on page two of a 222-page Bill—and it will be bigger by the time we have incorporated the government amendments—I shall be extremely quick on this amendment and the next one. The amendment would add to the reference to the needs of people living in England those who are “projected to be living”.
Perhaps it is because of just having gone through an election in which, sadly, a BNP member was elected, in my mind are some of the things said about immigration and the need to provide for the indigenous or existing population only and not to look ahead. I know that that is not a view shared by the Government or anyone in this Room, but I thought it was worth putting down the marker that we need to plan for an expanding indigenous population and for immigration, which I would simply say I regard, by and large, as a good thing. I hope that the Government can confirm that the definition is not to be read narrowly as applying to future needs only but also to future people. I beg to move.
I have no difficulty with what the noble Baroness said. The real difficulty is: projected to be living when? We have all sorts of population projections. We may be able to project with a moderate degree of certainty the next five years and possibly the next decade or just over that—we know that the Government have a projection of a certain number of houses by 2020. That far is reasonably predictable and reasonably capable of being planned for. Once you go beyond that, as we have been obliged to do in legislation over matters such as climate change, and try to make population projections, we are in an entirely different ball game.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will forgive me, but this is perhaps what I would call an amendment too far.
As I understand it, the noble Baroness seeks clarification of the definition of future needs, and I assure her that it means planning for the future population. We must do that, as everyone in the Committee will understand. That commitment is necessarily reflected in the way in which we forecast and plan for population growth and change. Part of the problem is that our estimates lag behind real world time.
It is worth putting on the record that the population is growing and changing in different ways. The most recent ONS household projections for England, which came out last October and were revised at sub-national level in February, project that the number of households will grow by 223,000 on average per year to 2026. Within that, there are some really fascinating pressures. Two-thirds will be single-person households, which reflects what is happening to family formation and lifestyle choices. By 2026, older people will account for almost half the increase in the total number of households: that is, 2.4 million more older households. We have to reflect that in what we do.
All that and other elements are being fed into the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit, local authorities and regional spatial strategies, and we are looking at those strategies in the light of that information. There will be an opportunity to update that in due course to come to terms with those figures. Those are the figures that we will work with; and we will work with local authorities, because they know the pressures that they have in their neighbourhoods. We have to work in partnership with them, and we have to bring in the private sector and plan a co-ordinated and integrated strategy.
I assure the noble Baroness that we need to take account of our future population. We have a growing younger population in some parts of the country, and we need more large family homes. That will be part of the market intelligence that makes the HCA’s investment priorities and the way in which they are iterated between local authorities, regional strategies and the work of the HCA.
I am grateful for that. I particularly mentioned immigration because this country should welcome it, and the Minister encompassed that in her answer. She is nodding, so that is on the record. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
26: Clause 2, page 2, line 3, at end insert “or different areas of England”
The noble Baroness said: This amendment provides that, where we talk about meeting the needs of people living in England, we will accept that there are different needs for different parts of the country. I was prompted to table this amendment—although not specifically in this Bill—by having heard my noble friend Lord Greaves talk so often about how life is very different in Pendle compared with London.
All right, Burnley. Life is different in Tower Hamlets from how it is in Kingston. England is not homogenous; it must be seen region by region and not just as a matter of overall numbers. I want to get the Minister’s assurance that that is implicit where it is not explicit. I beg to move.
I will add one or two points. First, when we met last week, the Minister said that there would be regional organisations for the new agency, just as there are for English Partnerships and for the Housing Corporation. Can she explain in a little more detail how it will work and how it will be organised at the regional level? In particular, to what extent will policy-making be devolved, and how will the Government and the Housing and Communities Agency come to a strategic view on the allocation of resources to the different regions? Once those resources have been allocated, how will the policies of the regions be allowed to evolve diversely? If it is a two-way process of discussion and negotiation, to what extent will the devolution of policy and diversity be accepted?
Within each region, will the new agency have a system of accountability to local people, or will it be accountable upwards to the national organisation of the HCA and through to the Government? In particular, what will the agency’s relationship be to the Government Offices for the Regions and the relevant regional development agencies? Will there be any form of accountability to whatever regional systems may follow the regional assemblies once they have been closed down?
My final question concerns the balance of the new agency. It is an interesting organisation because on the one hand it will provide accommodation for people who need it, and inevitably the larger balance of the funding will be expected to go to those areas experiencing the most homelessness, which are the growth regions, particularly in the south-east and perhaps also in the West Midlands. On the other hand, the regeneration aspects of the agency will come from English Partnerships. Attention has been focused on areas that have not been growing and need to be regenerated, partly in order to stimulate economic and social growth. However, that brings us back to the old discussions about regional policy, a topic that Governments of whatever party do not much like to talk about nowadays. Nevertheless, it is clear that there has to be a balance in the relationship between meeting the needs of people in growth areas who need accommodation and responding to the needs of those in areas of manufacturing decline that need to be regenerated. Here I mention east Lancashire, which the noble Baroness visited and where the housing stock desperately needs to be improved as part of an overall economic, social and community regeneration package.
That is the clear regional dimension, and it would be interesting to know the Government’s thinking on how the inevitable conflict of priorities is to be resolved.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has raised two fundamental issues. When we undertook the consultation to think about the creation of the new agency, in all the regions of England those two issues were the ones that occupied the most time and generated the most anxiety on the part of those who attended. I am sure that my noble friend will provide much more detail, but the way we were anticipating the agency taking shape six to nine months ago was that the national organisation would quite rightly have its direction set by Ministers and would have overarching targets to meet on all the issues we have been talking about today. Underneath that, each regional office of the Homes and Communities Agency would work with all the regional bodies to determine the priorities for investment in the locality over whatever period seemed reasonable, be it three years, five years or, in the case of infrastructure projects, perhaps 10 years. Regional development agency and local authority colleagues who came to those meetings understood that those regions which got their act together early and were able to articulate their priority areas for investment would do best in terms of their engagement with the new agency.
That point was made powerfully at the session in Leeds, when a number of local authority colleagues and RSL colleagues said, “We don’t want to be hidebound by national targets and policies that don’t have relevance for our region”. The desperate need in that region was for family homes and not one-bed or two-bed apartments. The plea from each of the regions was that, while Ministers would rightly want to set national targets, the agency should have sufficient flexibility to could come to a clearly agreed view with each region and then feed that through the organisation back up to Ministers. Ministers then have the unenviable task—and we are delighted that they do it and we do not have to—of acting as judge and jury on the allocation of resources. The process by which that happens was meant to be within a national framework with clearly articulated regional priorities that were then brought back for Ministers to finally decide the allocation. I hope that helps.
The simple point I want to make is that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. When everyone understands the Government’s aspiration and ambition, clearly there will be some areas of decision-making at a local level that will not be happy with the direction the Government are trying to drive them in, but that is par for the course. The ambition of the Government and their negotiators is to use their best endeavours to persuade people at every level that what the Government are seeking to do is not only good for the nation but good for their region or locality. Members around this Table who have served with me on comparable Committees know that there is antipathy in some areas and hostility in others towards direction from anyone. They believe that they are sovereign in their area, and the Government or someone else ought to be quick in paying the fee—that is, the subvention—and let them get on with it. It is not going to be like that. The time that the Minister and her colleagues will spend in persuasion and advocacy will be well spent.
I have heard in this debate that, while we are coming to this process now, discussions about how it can operate have been going on for two or three years, if not longer. We are at the beginning of what I hope will be a successful venture. However, the Government have to be prepared to accept the fact that some areas, councils or individuals will object strongly to the strategy the Government are promoting. They are entitled to do so, but ultimately the Government must be responsible to the nation and Parliament, and I wish them well.
I have a question following on from the noble Baroness’s amendment regarding the financial implications that she touched upon. The HCA is limited by Clause 26, which says its borrowings must not exceed £2.3 billion. Will that money be divided equally among the regions or will it go where the need is greatest?
This debate followed seamlessly from the previous one on community needs. I said at Second Reading that we had never seen our housing challenge as susceptible to a national solution. It is not about one-size-fits-all but about what regions and localities need. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, pointed out, we have had different housing policies to meet different needs. We have had the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinders in the north and the west, and we have had our growth regions in the Greater South East, which are tasked with the greatly different challenge not of correcting a failing housing market but of creating and supplying another one. Another programme was the National Coalfields Programme, which focused on regenerating sites in former coalfield areas. We have never conceived of a uniform, monochrome national housing policy.
The noble Lord asked how this is actually delivered. The answer was brilliantly provided by the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, who went through the history and continuity of negotiations that are driven by needs, appreciation and perceptions, which are then reflected in the pattern that emerges in the requirements for investment, which, to answer the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is tailored. The decisions are eventually taken by government on the basis of information that is well evidenced by local and regional need and that comes up through the regional tripartite arrangement. The Homes and Communities Agency will therefore tailor its approach according to the specific needs of different parts of England. It will, for example, reflect the fact that we have new growth points in the north for the first time. Previously, our growth points were very much based in the south, which was the cause of some grief.
Clause 26 is about the maximum amount that the agency may borrow. It is not its total budget; it is a controlling mechanism. On the process, the Homes and Communities Agency will not decide alone where to invest but will work in partnership with the regional development agencies and the local authorities, which have already fed into the regional spatial strategies and the regional economic strategies. Coming down the track is the single regional economic strategy, which will bring all this together in due course and give us a coherent strategy that will replace the regional spatial strategies and the regional economic strategies and include information on appropriate levels of housing provision. Each regional investment plan is therefore drawn up in partnership with local authorities and is developed in a way that will require investment for different purposes. There may be a greater need for refurbishment than for new build. We expect further investment in affordable housing in some regions, and will see local patterns emerging in the process itself.
The noble Lord talked about balance in the HCA and how it apportions its resources, as well as about the emphasis that is reflected in how investment decisions are managed on the ground. If I have not answered his point, I am happy, if this helps the Committee, to put on paper how we think this process will actually work. It is not an easy process, and I am happy to follow through on where we are on the basis of how the HCA will operate and how we will go into the regional strategies.
I have one more question, which the Minister might want to incorporate in this treatise that we will get. If it is anything to do with housing finance, it will not be very short. What will be the relationship between the funding through the HCA and the regional housing pot?
The regional housing pot breaks down into an element for affordable housing, an element for the private rented sector and an element for improvement. The HCA funding brings together different funding streams. It is complementary in some respects. I will have to write to the noble Lord to explain that relationship. I do not want to busk it, because it is very complicated. There are different emphases in the regional housing pot.
This has been very helpful. Although I introduced the amendment briefly, I was aware of how central the way in which the agency operates in this regard is to its success.
I was thinking as noble Lords were speaking that it might have been easier if the clause had simply referred to, “with a view to meeting needs”, instead of,
“with a view to meeting the needs of people living in England”.
Then I found that Clause 322 states that the extent of the Bill is England and Wales. Unless the Minister is absolutely on top of this, I am happy to accept a written answer to the question of what happens to the Welsh under Clause 2. Clause 322 covers the whole of the Bill; it has a couple of exceptions, but not these, as far as I can see.
I therefore find it odd that Clause 322 states that the,
“Act extends to England and Wales”,
but perhaps that is a debate for another day.
I am grateful for the Minister’s offer to send us more briefing, because what we have been getting has been very helpful, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Committee stands adjourned until Tuesday 3 June at 3.30 pm.
Committee adjourned at 7.41 pm.