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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Civil Partnerships

That the draft Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Overseas Relationships and Consequential, etc. Amendments) Order 2005, which was laid before this House on 5th July, be approved —[Joan Ryan.]

Question agreed to.

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Marketing of Maize Geneticallty Modified for Resistance to Corn Rootworm and Certain Pests and Herbicides

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 8635/05, draft Council Decision concerning the placing on the market, in accordance with Directive 2001/18/EC, of a maize product (Zea mays L. line MON 863) genetically modified for resistance to corn rootworm and No. 10785/05, draft Council Decision concerning the placing on the market, in accordance with Directive 2001/18/EC, of a maize product (Zea mays L. line 1507) genetically modified for resistance to certain lepidopteran pests and for tolerance to the herbicide glufosinate-ammonium; and supports the Government's view that all the requirements of the Directive have been met in relation to these products and their proposed use should be authorised.—[Joan Ryan.]

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Eu Common Strategy on Russia

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 8799/05 and Addendum 1, EU-Russia: Road Maps for the Common Economic Space, the Common Space of Freedom, Security and Justice, the Common Space of External Security and the Common Space of Research, Education and Culture; and agrees with the Government that the road maps for the Four Common Spaces agreed at the EU-Russia Summit on 10th May 2005 provide a valuable framework for the EUto achieve its objectives in its relations with Russia in the medium term. —[Joan Ryan.]

Question agreed to.


Mr. Speaker: With permission, I shall put together motions 5 and 6.

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Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)

That Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson be discharged from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and David Simpson be added.

Trade and Industry Committee

That Sir Robert Smith be discharged from the Trade and Industry Committee and Mark Hunter be added.—[Joan Ryan, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]


Council Tax

10.30 pm

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I am pleased to present a petition on behalf of my constituents. It was drawn up and circulated by Mr. Martin Leach of Romiley and contains 228 signatures from the Bredbury Green area of my constituency. Bredbury Green has a high proportion of pensioners, the most vulnerable group under the current inequitable system of local government finance.

The petition reads:

To The House of Commons

To lie upon the Table.
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24 Oct 2005 : Column 141

Affordable Housing (West Midlands)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Joan Ryan.]

10.32 pm

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I am pleased to have secured tonight's Adjournment debate on this important subject.

For most people, the penny has dropped that the housing sector is not one homogenous whole, although there are still some people who have ventured only so far as to think that there is overheating in the housing market in the south-east and problems of low demand in the north. Even within that simplistic view of the housing sector there are empty homes in the south-east and areas of high-priced housing and tight housing markets in the north. However, the situation is much more varied than that.

I like to think of the west midlands as a microcosm of the entire country's housing market. For example, in the west of the west midlands there are sparsely populated rural areas in Herefordshire, Shropshire, the north-east of the area and Staffordshire, Moorlands. In the centre, major conurbations such as Birmingham are regenerating, growing and becoming increasingly engines of future development.

In Stoke and in Sandwell, two areas of housing market renewal, we are trying to build up areas of housing where markets have become distressed in the past. In some parts of the region, in counties such as Warwickshire and Worcestershire, there are terrible housing hot spots where even key public sector workers cannot afford to buy a home.

On top of all that, the regional housing strategy that was agreed in June identified a need for a net 13,464 new affordable dwellings in the region in just three years, from 2006–08. It is important to impress on the Minister and on everyone who is interested in this subject that different solutions are required in different places. That applies in the west midlands and in the broader country, too. It is vital that the very diversity that makes the west midlands so fascinating and gives us so much economic and social potential should be matched with a housing sector that is also diverse, flexible and dynamic.

I hope to cover two central points. First, we need more affordable housing in our region—more than we already have and more than is planned. Secondly, rural areas need special attention if there is to be enough affordable housing for local people in their rural communities. What I mean by "affordable housing" is low-cost housing that people can buy on the open market, and subsidised public or private housing, whether it be for rent, sale or shared ownership. My starting point is Shelter's analysis and campaign on the subject, starting a few years ago with its million children campaign, which reminded us of the devastating impact of homelessness, overcrowding and unfit housing on children's health, education and life chances.

Shelter's analysis focuses on a chronic shortage of social rented housing. I hope to go further than that, but in its new campaign document "Building hope: the case for more homes now", it calls for 20,000 more social rented homes each year from 2008 to 2011, in addition to planned outputs. It says that that package could help to lift more than 150,000 children out of bad housing by 2011.
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The Barker review of housing supply identified the broader lack of supply across all tenures. According to Barker, builders, who already provide about 160,000 new properties a year for open market sale, should raise that by between another 70,000 and 120,000 a year. Although registered social landlords and councils are adding nearly 20,000 new affordable homes a year, Barker suggests that an extra 17,000 a year above that is needed to meet expected future demand. Barker also says that there is a case for up to another 9,000 a year above that rate to make inroads into the backlog of need.

Of the 21 million or so existing homes in Britain, more than 1 million houses are below the current fitness standard—most are in the owner-occupied sector—500,000 households are in overcrowded accommodation, and 90,000 households are in temporary accommodation. On top of those problems, on 1 April 2004, 693,000 dwellings in England were standing empty—most of them in the private sector—and at any one time more than 300,000 potential homes stand empty for more than six months. That is more than the figure for every council's waiting list of those who have been accepted as homeless and in priority need. The amount of existing assets that stand empty when we could be putting them to use is a crying shame.

Against that background, what is the Government's position on housing policy generally? Under Labour since 1997, home ownership has increased by 1 million, and the target is set for another increase in this Parliament of a further 1 million home owners. This year, the Council of Mortgage Lenders published useful research called "Understanding first-time buyers". It shows that the number of first-time buyers has declined recently, but that they remain crucial to the health of the housing market as a whole. Renting fulfils a need for flexibility and mobility, but in the longer term 80 per cent. of young adults still want to be owner occupiers. However, the size of the deposit paid by first-time buyers has risen so that some of them rely on parents and grandparents for help with that. The research by the Council of Mortgage Lenders concludes that Government policy needs to focus on more flexible movement into and out of home ownership to reflect changing lifestyles. It also says that further development of an intermediate tenure could help to sustain the long-term future health of the housing market.

In addition to home ownership, the Government have raised the stamp duty threshold from £60,000 to £120,000. An extra 300,000 home buyers a year will be exempt from paying stamp duty as a result. The Government have also reduced rough sleeping in a dramatic way. The number of those sleeping rough is now less than one quarter of the figure given for 1998. In Birmingham in 1998—admittedly, these are estimates by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister—there were 56 rough sleepers, but in 2005 there are just seven. That is a commendable performance.

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