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House of Commons

Wednesday 7 January 2004

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


London Local Authorities Bill [Lords]

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

To be considered on Wednesday 14 January.

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Oral Answers to Questions


The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Social Housing Chief Executives

1. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Which housing association or registered social landlord chief executive receives the highest remuneration; and how much they will receive in 2003–04. [145884]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Yvette Cooper): Figures for this year will be published in housing associations' annual accounts. Survey results for last year show that the average salary for the chief executives of the main RSLs was £88,000, but that the highest remuneration was £213,000 for the chief executive of Sanctuary. We are concerned that housing associations should not be promoting excessive and unjustifiable pay and severance packages, and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has written to the Housing Corporation to ask for further work on this issue.

Dr. Iddon : I hope that my hon. Friend is aware that some former directors of housing are receiving considerable increases in salary, following stock transfer. I am aware of one who was earning about £70,000 as a director of housing, who is now earning double that figure—more than £140,000. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the same way that some chief executives of private enterprises are now being held accountable to their shareholders, chief executives of housing associations should be held accountable by their tenants?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right to suggest that RSLs need to justify chief executives' salaries to tenants, who are entitled to question some of the remuneration packages, and particularly some of the severance payments, that have been agreed. Taking those decisions is a matter for the RSL boards—housing associations are independent organisations—but there should be tenants on the boards and those tenants should be fully informed of the implications not simply for that RSL, but for the whole sector if irresponsible decisions are taken.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): May I say from the Opposition Benches that I fully support the concern that has just been expressed by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon)? May I add that I am deeply concerned that many local authorities, district borough councils, are being forced—I use that word intentionally—to transfer their housing stock to social housing landlords, bearing in mind that many councillors and many, many tenants are opposed to that for the very sort of reason that the hon. Gentleman has expressed so clearly to the House? May we have further assurances from the Government that local authorities will not be forced to transfer because of the way that the Government are allocating resources?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. Local authorities are not being forced to do

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anything of the sort. The matter is up to a vote of local tenants, and that is as it should be. Local tenants should have the vote. Local tenants should have the say in what they think should happen to their local social housing because we must ensure that social housing is provided in the best interests of those tenants.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): But is not the whole gambit of transferring stock bound to lead to the payment of inflated salaries to the very people who are currently administering our housing stock, who will be in charge of our rented housing stock in that new situation? Do we not already have in place the necessary checks and balances? Councillors are elected by council tenants and ratepayers, creating the checks and balances required to keep those things in order.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend will know that there have been concerns about increases in the pay of local authority chief executives, on which my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has expressed his views very clearly, so we must recognise that all sectors—whether the not-for-profit sector, the private sector or the public sector—need to exercise restraint and responsibility in setting pay settlements, and they certainly need to do so with senior salaries because they are the ones that set the example for the entire sector and that can have implications right across the sector. Particularly when we are talking about social housing, where the income comes from the rents of those who are on a low income, we must ensure that those services are provided in the interests of tenants, not of the providers.

Telecommunications Masts

2. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): If he will introduce legislation to require public utilities to obtain planning permission before erecting masts; and if he will make a statement. [145885]

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): In most cases, mobile phone operators' masts are subject to full planning permission or prior approval procedures. Other utilities have a range of so-called permitted development rights, which we are now reviewing as part of our planning reform agenda.

Mr. Robertson : I thank the Minister for that mildly encouraging response. In my constituency, Network Rail planned to build a 33 m mast in the village of Churchdown, but it withdrew its proposals when all the residents formed a group to oppose them. May I suggest that organisations such as Network Rail invest in investigating what alternative and, indeed, more advanced technology might be available to avoid siting masts where they are clearly not wanted and where they are clearly inappropriate? It might also be better if a formal consultation were required, so that residents had the right to prevent such things from happening in the first place.

Keith Hill: I am somewhat sympathetic to the points that the hon. Gentleman makes. He will be aware that there is a general height restriction of 15 m on water, gas and electricity undertakings, but there is no current

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restriction, as he says, on Network Rail. However, a report by the Lichfield consortium has been completed, which recommends similar restrictions on railway undertakers for mast installations in sensitive areas, so we are moving in that direction.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): On the website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, it says that the Government attach considerable importance to keeping the number of radio and telecoms masts and sites to a minimum. There seems to be some evidence that various telecoms companies are still developing their networks in parallel rather than sharing masts and sites. What are the Government doing that is tangible to minimise the number of such installations?

Keith Hill: If that is the case, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that that is not in the spirit of the undertaking made by the mobile phone operators. We expect them to synchronise and link together their masts. If there is evidence of the unreasonable proliferation of such masts, we will, of course, want to have a look at that. As a matter of principle I, as the Minister with responsibility for planning, have regular meetings with the mobile phone operators and I will certainly take up the matter with them when we next meet.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): From my experience in my constituency, I am absolutely convinced that Network Rail and its predecessors have been abusing their permitted development rights to gain a commercial advantage from the fact that they are able to put up such masts without planning permission. Will the Minister tell the House exactly when the Government will implement the welcome recommendations of the Lichfield consortium to limit Network Rail in the way in which other public utilities are limited?

Keith Hill: We intend to issue a consultation paper on the report produced by Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, which I mentioned earlier, in the early summer of this year. We obviously want to take the representations of all interested parties into account before we contemplate possible legislation on the matter.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I wish the Minister a happy new year and hope that he will make the correct decision on telephone masts. I am sure that he will be aware that Network Rail intends to put up several thousand masts. Many of the masts will be over 15 m and would normally require planning permission but will be exempt from that under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. Will he urgently review the matter, because Network Rail will put up the masts at a huge rate until the 1995 order is stopped?

Keith Hill: It is indeed 1995. I take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I recognise that there is extraordinary sensitivity in some circumstances about the proposed location of such masts and we will keep a close eye on the matter. In general terms, we have the matter very much under review.

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