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Has the hon. Gentleman asked his local council what section 106 negotiations they are
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having? It is possible for section 106 arrangements to cover the provision of social housing, and many planning authoritiesespecially in high-demand areas and areas where there is a considerable growth in new housingare ensuring that they get very good deals so that new social housing is provided.
Tony Baldry: With respect, the difficulty with section 106 agreements is that developers are having to come up with huge amounts of infrastructure, such as new primary schools and contributions to new secondary schools. They tend to go back to the local authority and say "If any more burdens are placed on us, the development will become unviable." I invite the Minister, through the Government office for the south-east, to look at the Bankside/Bodicote examplea large new development with very little social housing coming through, using the planning system by way of benefit.
Working families on low incomes are finding themselves in a catch-22. They are told by the housing authorities that if they go on to the housing waiting list, they will probably have to remain on it for a very long time. If they move into the private rented sector, they are told that they are adequately housed, so they drop off the social housing list. However, the reality is that they are in semi-permanent housing in assured shorthold tenancies.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to own our own homes know that one benefit of home ownershipof the security of tenure that freehold givesis that we can do things in our own gardens and houses that those in private rented sector accommodation cannot do. Under the Bill, the Housing Corporation has to cover England, Scotland and Wales, so by definition, it has to cover Oxfordshire. My worry is that at the moment, there is no sign of its covering Oxfordshireit is invisible so far as Oxfordshire is concerned. Why is that so?
I therefore hope that we will see shared equity policies that will enable working families in Oxfordshire, as elsewhere, to get the secured tenancy that social housing provides, rather than their having to live for ever in the private rented sector. Such temporary accommodation may well enable social mobility by allowing people to move, find a job and get settled, but many families want then to move into more permanent tenancy. At the moment, such tenancy is being denied them in areas such as mine.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I begin by drawing the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests, and to the fact that I am an unremunerated member of Rockingham Forest housing association. Housing associations play an extremely important role in our society. They provide housing for some of the most vulnerable people, and have grown in importance year by year. The Housing Corporation, which is the Government's governing body of registered social landlords and housing associations, regulates and funds RSLs.
Housing associations were created some 42 years ago, in 1964. Since that time, the Housing Corporation has funded almost 1 million new homes, and it has helped thousands of homeless people and others living in poor housing conditions. It regulates some 2,000 housing
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associations across the country, which, in turn, manage more than 2 million homes. It also administers the national affordable housing programme to build and renovate homes, in which it will have invested £3.3 billion by the time it ends. By no means, therefore, can the Housing Corporation and housing associations be considered insignificant; they play a crucial role in our society.
The Government claim that the Bill merely tidies what everyone already accepts as the current situation, but I have a number of concerns. Indeed, I am not entirely sure that I could support the Bill if it were pushed to a vote tonight. The Housing Act 1964 gives no indication whatsoever that board members should be allowed to delegate their responsibilities in respect of disposals to sub-committees and officers. All the work relating to disposals is performed by housing associations. None of it is done by the Housing Corporation, which simply rubber-stamps applications from housing associations, of which there are only some 100 a year.
The Housing Corporation's board of directors comprises 15 members, who take home more than £250,000 a year, plus pensions. Board members are required to work five days a month, on averagewhich is at least one day a weekand the chairman, who is paid more than £50,000 a year, is asked to work two days a week.
The 1964 Act requires the board to approve disposals; why are we being asked to change that arrangement through retrospective legislation? Anyone who looked at the original Act would conclude that the board must consider disposals. The directors are not underpaid and it is not as though they do not have the time to do the job. Although they meet only once a week, the board meetings are, I understand, very short. The Housing Corporation is not doing any of the work and has never refused a disposal from a housing association, so perhaps Parliament was correct originally and we should not pass retrospective legislation when there is no indication that Parliament wanted that delegation.
I understand the concerns that have been expressed, especially by lawyers, about charges, which are regarded as disposals under the Act, but section 9 of the 1964 Act provides for a general consent. The general waiver, as proposed only on 17 March by the Housing Corporation, would remove the need for retrospective legislation. That is not new, because that general consent has been used in the past. I am therefore very concerned about whether we need retrospective legislation, and I hope that the Committee will consider that issue in detail.
I had expected that the Government would suggest that the omission was just a drafting error and that this was an ultra vires matter that should have been in the original Bill. I could understand that, because since I have been an MP I have seen numerous examples of bad drafting, which have to be corrected. I sit on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and each week we have four, five or six statutory instruments that have defective drafting and have to go back to be changed.
: The hon. Gentleman will accept that sometimes things are wrong and have to be corrected, in
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the same way as his party has now recognised that everything that it stood on at the last election was completely wrong.
If the problem were due to bad draftsmanship over several years, I would accept that it should be corrected. However, the wider problem is that we do not have enough time to scrutinise legislation properly. So many times we face guillotines or programme motions that stop us considering legislation. I often sit here with an amendment list, but we discuss only the first few groups before the guillotine falls. If we had more time to discuss Bills, drafting errors would not occur. I suggest that the Bill proves that we should have fewer programme motions and guillotines and more time to scrutinise Bills properly, clause by clause.
As an aside to those remarks, it is interesting to note that if the Bill were European Union legislation, we would have no power to correct it. We have laws in this country that are badly drafted and inconsistent, but this House cannot correct them.
David Taylor : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that most drafting errors tend to emerge not during forensic debate in Committee or elsewhere, but from the resources of researchers and others who analyse Bills on behalf of Opposition parties? Would not that be a more appropriate use of Short money than make-up for the leader of the party?
Mr. Bone: If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that if we had longer time to scrutinise the Bill we would not pick up such errors, I disagree. We should have more time to debate Bills and make proper decisions.
Another question is whether the House should debate unnecessary Bills. All Bills that come before us should be relevant and take all necessary objectives into account, but consideration of this Bill should be postponed. The fear of retrospective problems could be removed by the method of general consent, and in the future it will be quite acceptable for the board of directors to meet once a month to decide the matter.
Why is this Bill being brought forward now? On 19 May, the consultation on the proposal to merge the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships will end. Given that that process is so near to conclusion, why did the Government not wait until the summer, when they could have brought before the House a full Bill covering all the relevant issues?
What are we talking about with this Bill? A picture has been built up that the poor, underpaid directors of the Housing Corporation have a massive amount of work, but it seems to me that they have to deal with only 100 bits of paper a year. Anyway, they already meet five times a month, on average. I do not think that there is much of a problem, and in any case these matters can be handled retrospectively.
However, another question arises: why on earth does the Housing Corporation bother to approve disposals? It never rejects any, and all the work is done by the
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housing associations. The Bill would do better to remove the necessity for the Housing Corporation to approve individual disposals, while retaining its power to regulate housing associations.
This may be the wrong Bill at the wrong time, and I hope that substantial numbers of improving amendments are tabled in Committee. The Bill could be changed to take account of the performance and effectiveness of housing associations. For example, an index that has just been published shows that seven of the 10 most efficient housing associations deal with fewer than 1,000 properties. I have to declare an interest, in that Rockingham Forest is the 18th most efficient housing association in the country.
I fear that we may be wasting time today debating a Bill whose introduction could have been deferred, and whose contents could have been presented in a better format. I hope that the Bill will be looked at carefully in Committee.
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