To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Statement by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth on 21 November (HLWS274) announcing that local authorities will not be required to set higher rents for higher income council tenants, whether they intend not to proceed with other measures contained in the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare that I am an elected councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
My Lords, the Housing and Planning Act 2016 is helping us to build more housing, as will announcements made in yesterday’s Autumn Statement. I am sure that noble Lords would want to welcome the detailing of £7.2 billion of spending on housing supply that was made yesterday.
My Lords, during the passage of the Housing and Planning Act, we said that pay to stay was unworkable and would cost more to administer than the money it would raise. We were told by the Government that there could be no movement on it and that we were tabling wrecking amendments. Now that the Government have agreed with us and dropped this policy, can the Minister look further at the gross unfairness of the forced sale of vacant council houses, which penalises poorer families? Will he drop this dreadful policy and instead build more social houses?
My Lords, as I say, the announcement made yesterday will add to housing supply. The noble Lord will know that pay to stay remains a voluntary policy—indeed, there are occasions where I think it appropriate that people on high incomes should pay—but I take his comments to indicate support for the move that we have taken.
My Lords, can the Minister tell us when we will see the regulations? We are still waiting for them. During the whole of last year’s debates on the Bill, we asked for the draft regulations and were assured that they would be coming shortly. This year, I have asked about them again many times. I do not know whether I have just missed them, and they have come and gone. When are we going to see them?
My Lords, many parts of the Housing and Planning Act are in force already—for example, on brownfield registers, speeding up the local and neighbourhood planning system, raising the performance of local planning authorities and so on. As my noble friend will know, we are looking at regulations on rogue landlords and so on that will come into force next year, partly in April and partly in October. If she wishes me to look at specific areas, I am certainly willing to meet her so perhaps she could get in touch about them.
My Lords, the Housing and Planning Act was largely about promoting owner occupation, yet during the passage of the Bill it was made repeatedly clear to the Government that there is an urgent need for more homes for social rent. Among the plethora of figures produced yesterday as part of the Autumn Statement, it is not clear how many homes for social rent the Government are now proposing. Can the Minister help us?
My Lords, the noble Lord has a valid point about the mixture of tenure, which we are certainly looking at, and the announcement yesterday contained proposals on that. We will of course proceed further with this in the housing White Paper, which will be out before Christmas. That will detail some plans and be open for consultation.
My Lords, the Minister will recall that during Committee and Report on the Bill, we argued at length on the issue that is the subject of the Question. What has led to this U-turn? Was it the strength of our formidable arguments?
My Lords, what resulted in the change was considering how people, particularly in London, would be penalised on the levels we are looking at. The Government should not be criticised for examining the situation in front of them and reconsidering a policy, which is what we have done. As I say, the provision will remain on a voluntary basis because there are people on very high incomes who should pay more for the housing they occupy.
My Lords, while the Government are in the mood to reconsider things, will they look again at the requirement under the Act for councils to let tenancies for periods of between two to five years only? I understand that councils will have the discretion to decide whether to apply the pay-to-stay provision. Why cannot that same discretion be applied to the length of tenure for which they are enabled to house their tenants?
My Lords, it is important that we get the balance right on housing by ensuring that we have people in social housing for an appropriate time, in order to ensure that as many people as possible are housed. Of course the Government take account of all these things. As the noble Lord will know, we are looking at restricting local authority lifetime tenancies, and 20 local authorities across the country are looking at how we proceed with this. But he will appreciate that the aim of the Government, and the commitment of the Prime Minister, is to build as many houses as possible because this is the basic problem facing the country. Some of those houses will be on an owner-occupied basis and some will be for affordable rent.
My Lords, what was the new information the Minister referred to in his previous response?
My Lords, after consulting authorities and taking account of relevant circumstances, it became appropriate to look at this again. I would have thought that, rather than the exultant crowing we seem to be getting, noble Lords opposite would welcome what is a considered response to a problem to ensure that we have the appropriate level of protection for people in relation to their incomes. But as I say, there are undoubtedly some people in local authority housing who are not paying enough, and that is where the voluntary right of councils to respond with appropriate rents will come into play. We are building more houses than ever before. We have certainly exceeded the number of council houses built in the past six years—more than double what the party opposite managed in 13 years—and it is important that we focus on that and ensure that we build as many houses as possible. I encourage the party opposite to do the same.
My Lords, I commend the Minister on this decision and the Chancellor’s decision yesterday to emphasise the importance of infrastructure and housing investment for the future of this country. Will the Minister consider making sure that we include pension funds and insurance companies, which have plenty of money they would like to invest in such projects? Secondly, when planning the future housing strategy, will he ensure that we take into consideration the needs of older people who would like to downsize to more suitable homes—last-time buyers—rather than just first-time buyers?
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right about the importance of the mixture of private money and public money in housebuilding. She will be aware that we are bringing forward a housing White Paper, which will be broad in scope, looking at these issues. I remind noble Lords of the Chancellor’s important announcement in the Autumn Statement yesterday of £7.2 billion-worth of spending, signalling the Prime Minister’s commitment to housebuilding.