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Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the careful balance that he has struck between promoting home ownership, improving housing conditions and meeting housing need. Does he agree that London has 60,000 homeless households and 500,000 children in chronically overcrowded accommodation in large part because of the halving of the number of social homes during the past 20 years, which has led to the absurdity of councils re-renting ex-right-to-buy properties to house homeless families? Will he ensure that housing associations have not only an expectation, but a duty to repurchase the equity stake that they have sold, so that we retain social housing stock in all communities? We should not repeat the errors of the past, when the largest and most attractive homes in the best neighbourhoods were sold first, leaving the poorest concentrated in the worst housing.

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has consistently come to me to discuss the problems of housing, on which she is an acknowledged expert. She was one of the first to say to me that the right to buy was creating problems in her area. We made her area one of the emergency housing areas to deal with profiteering—people bought properties and made a profit by re-renting them out under different conditions. My hon. Friend knows that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has been examining in new housing legislation how to keep the flexibility to judge whether an area is in housing crisis and whether we should take action.
24 Jan 2005 : Column 39

My hon. Friend put her finger on the main point—insufficient social housing. If we doubled our investment in social housing, it would still be nowhere near enough to solve the problem. The amount of money that I get buys fewer and fewer units because of escalating prices, which was the problem with the right to buy—the properties cost an awful lot to replace and a lot of subsidies were given out in grants to pay for the policy. We are rightly changing that situation and making it clear that houses should remain in the public sector in those circumstances.

24 Jan 2005 : Column 40

Point of Order

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Throughout the lengthy period in which the Gambling Bill was in Committee, the Government constantly made announcements and changed their policy. Only a few minutes ago, the Doorkeepers were trying to distribute a series of letters from the Government about further clarifications or changes of view to members of the Standing Committee, on which I served. It is ridiculous that on the very day the Bill is on Report, the Government have handed over not one or two letters, but in my case four separate letters announcing different views. I realise that the Government have a duty to inform hon. Members about matters raised in Standing Committee, but if the Government and those who support Ministers cannot get out a full set of papers to members of the Standing Committee any earlier, the business managers should not put the Bill on Report.

Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members often complain that Ministers do not keep them informed. The hon. Gentleman has reported to me that they are keeping at least some hon. Members informed, which is not something that I want to pursue.

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Gambling Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

4.33 pm

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): I beg to move,

ProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings
Amendments relating to Clauses 7, 68, 85, 88, 161, 162 and 179;New Clauses NC7 and NC11;Amendments relating to Clauses 83, 89, 266 and 272.Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
Amendments relating to Clause 58; Remaining proceedings on consideration.One hour before the moment of interruption.

The motion will ensure that in the time available, hon. Members can concentrate on the key issues in the Bill—casinos, bingo, charity lotteries and amusement arcades. I am sure that the key issues and the drafting amendments, which are designed to improve the Bill, can be debated adequately in that time.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): The Bill differs radically from its form on Second Reading. The Government radically changed its thrust in Committee, imposing limitations on the key provisions relating to casinos right at the last minute. Indeed, the biggest change was made on the final day in Committee, which allowed little opportunity to explore why the Government had made that sudden U-turn.

We are now faced with a Report stage that is programmed and limited to just one day. It is profoundly unsatisfactory that a Bill that has undergone years of consultation and scrutiny should suddenly be changed so dramatically at the very last minute, and then that the House of Commons should have so little opportunity to examine the changes that the Government have proposed.

The official Opposition will not vote against the programme motion, because to do so would limit even further the time that we have, but I want to place on the record the fact that we regard this situation as completely unsatisfactory. I have no doubt that when those in another place come to consider the Bill, they will take account of the fact that large chunks of it were not properly scrutinised by the House of Commons.
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4.35 pm

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): I would like to add to my hon. Friend's remarks. This Bill has been around, in various shapes and forms, for some four or five years. We had the Budd report, the White Paper, the pre-legislative scrutiny and then the Bill, which has been heavily amended throughout. The major concerns expressed by the Joint Committee regarding the planning advice were swept to one side with the claim that that was all firmly in place, but now, at the 11th hour, those changes are being proposed.

On Second Reading the Secretary of State did a somersault, or U-turn—call it what one will—that substantially changed the character and nature of the Bill. Then in Committee, after 300 clauses, with only 60 or so to go, and after numerous Government amendments and new clauses, the Minister produced the 888 policy. In my 28 or 29 years in this House, I had never seen a Standing Committee adjourn to debate a ministerial statement at the tail end of its proceedings. This has been a catalogue of mismanagement, order, counter-order and disorder. If I were a Minister or an official I would be extremely embarrassed that things should be in this state today.

I shall follow my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) in not taking too much time, because we want to get on to the amendments. However, I felt it right to register, for the first time, my views about a programme motion. Most programme motions are spurious, but this one represents an abuse of the House. It is an abuse of parliamentary procedure to bring forward on Report more than 90 Government amendments and some six new clauses, and allow us only until 10 o'clock to get through it all. I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that through your office you can express that concern in the appropriate quarters.

4.37 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): Although the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) and I may have our differences later, I entirely agree with his remarks. I wish to place it clearly on the record that we formally requested that the Government allocate two days to the Report stage of this very important Bill, not least in the light of the large number of amendments that were tabled in Committee at the last moment, and that have been brought before us today.

As the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford rightly says, we do not wish to waste time debating the lack of time, so we will not oppose the programme motion, but we wish clearly to register our belief that the time allowed for the debate is completely inadequate.

4.38 pm

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