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House of Lords Hansard
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13 March 2017
Volume 779

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the role of council housing in addressing the issues raised in the White Paper Fixing our broken housing market (Cm 9352).

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I refer the House to my interests; I am an elected councillor and vice-president of the Local Government Association.

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My Lords, the Government recognise the key role that local authorities play in the provision of housing and we welcome their views on the development of the Government’s policy. The recent housing White Paper makes it clear that we are keen to hear about innovative options and ideas from the sector.

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My Lords, with their renewed focus on the provision of sheltered housing, the Government will be able to provide well-designed housing suitable for the needs of older people while releasing much-needed council homes for families. Why are the Government not doing more in this area? Does the Minister agree that the ridiculous plans to force councils to sell off their most expensive family homes will, if implemented, be a barrier to this aim and should be scrapped?

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My Lords, in answer to the first point, we are open to looking at bespoke deals. Several local authorities—Sheffield and Stoke-on- Trent are examples—are already engaged with us to discuss that, in terms of the housing White Paper, which is recognised by many for its boldness in looking at these issues. In relation to the higher-value assets, the noble Lord will be aware that we will shortly be announcing a pilot in relation to that.

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Is my noble friend aware that back in 1979 I wrote a pamphlet entitled The Disaster of Direct Labour? Will he confirm that, while every encouragement will be given to local authorities to commission building, they will not be allowed to build any homes themselves? In addition, will he confirm that the sheltered housing dimension to which the noble Lord opposite referred is a vitally important area? I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will look very seriously at that element of council housing.

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My Lords, as my noble friend says, sheltered housing is absolutely vital. I am very pleased to say that. I do not think there is any suggestion of bringing back direct labour. I am told that he was a byword in relation to direct labour in the 1970s. However, we recognise the importance of council housing. He will know that in the last five years we have built more council housing than was built in the previous 13 years, from 1997 to 2010.

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My Lords, in reminding the House that I, too, am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that 10 days ago the Chartered Institute of Housing said:

“The government’s ambition to solve the housing crisis will not be possible if an imbalance in housing funding continues … as new figures reveal just £8 billion of the £51 billion earmarked for housing up to 2021 will directly fund affordable homes”.?

Does the Minister agree that we need many more homes for social rent?

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My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the Housing White Paper talks about boldness and the fact that we are looking at a mix of housing. That is very welcome and has certainly been welcomed by many people across political parties—for example, the London mayor. It is absolutely right that we should do that, and, of course, social housing is an important part of that. I was unaware of the quote that the noble Lord mentioned. However, he will know that a range of people across many parties and professional organisations have welcomed the Housing White Paper as initiating a very valuable debate on housing right across the board.

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My Lords, as the White Paper consultation specifically excludes Chapter 4, will the Minister confirm that DCLG would nevertheless welcome informed commentary around its wider implications as it relates to housing, particularly for older people, as that is the only type of housing with care which will release pressures on both the health service and social care?

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My Lords, I am very pleased to acknowledge the role that the noble Baroness has played in relation to that sector, which is, of course, vital. Given that she has pushed hard on this, and correctly so, she will know that we have made provision for this type of housing for older people, particularly in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill. I am happy to acknowledge how important this area is.

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My Lords, how many government initiatives on this issue have failed in the past?

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My Lords, I am not sure to what issue the noble Lord refers but I am very happy to agree that since the war housing has been a challenge for all political parties. We are simply not building enough. However, there is no reason to give up. If we gave up because past initiatives had failed or had not totally succeeded, that would not be valuable to anybody. The Housing White Paper and this Government’s determination are clear. I welcome the noble Lord doing his best to ensure that he holds our feet to the fire in delivering.

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My Lords, when does the Minister expect to get back from the 2015-16 figure of fewer than 1,000 new starter homes in the social sector to the 40,000 started in 2009-10? I declare my interest in that I got into local government in the 1970s in Preston, when we had people coming across from Northern Ireland to escape the violence. In those days, we had housing available to help people when they arrived. Now, given the dreadful government figures, local authorities will not be able to help such people.

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My Lords, I acknowledge the role that the noble Baroness had in relation to the dreadful position in Northern Ireland and I hope that we never go back to that sort of awful situation. In relation to the general point that she made, I have already acknowledged to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, the importance of the social sector. As the noble Baroness knows, we have a target of building 400,000 affordable homes up to 2020. Obviously it is important that we get to the sort of figure that is required to meet the housing needs of the country across a whole range of sectors, certainly including the social sector.