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Travellers (Crays Hill)

14. Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the Traveller situation in Dale Farm, Crays Hill. [117382]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Meg Munn): The Secretary of State is considering a number of planning appeals in relation to Dale Farm. As this case is under active consideration, and for reasons of procedural propriety, it is not possible to comment on its details. A decision is expected by 28 February.

Mr. Baron: I thank the Minister for that answer, but she will be aware of recently published research by the Echo newspaper that casts doubt on claims by Travellers at Dale Farm that they have nowhere else to go, should the pending inquiry decision go against them. On Thursday, representatives from the settled community will visit Parliament to press for this
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research to be considered before the Government’s decision, and for a Government-led inquiry into the issue in general. In the interests of fairness, will the Minister consider meeting this delegation, as we know that the Department has had contact with Travellers from Crays Hill?

Meg Munn: There have been no meetings between the Department’s Ministers and Travellers concerning this application. For reasons of propriety, it is not appropriate for Ministers to meet any of the parties while this matter is under consideration, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. So this is not a question of Ministers not wanting to take the full range of issues into consideration; this is a procedural point, and he serves his constituents ill by suggesting that we can do otherwise.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. This is a very narrow question that relates only to Travellers from Dale Farm, Crays Hill. We must move on.

Community Land Trusts

15. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What assessment her Department has made of the role of community land trusts in affordable housing projects. [117383]

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly): Community land trusts are an interesting and promising new option for delivering affordable housing. The Housing Corporation and English Partnerships are working with a number of potential community land trusts, with the aim of getting some viable pilot schemes established.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Has she assessed the value of these projects and what the resource costs might be?

Ruth Kelly: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and he is absolutely right to say that we need to look at the evidence to see how these projects can contribute to our affordable housing targets, and whether tenants should be able to have a greater say over their own estates and housing developments, and what difference that would make. That is precisely why the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships are working with a number of potential projects to help them get up and running. They hope to have a number up and running by this summer, and some on site by the end of next year.

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): Supplementary planning gain, or, to use its proper name, a roof tax, will certainly make land scarcer and more expensive. How does the Secretary of State equate the need to build more affordable housing, which I accept, with that tax?

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Gentleman knows that we have the Planning-gain Supplement (Preparations) Bill in place, so that we can consider all the issues in detail. Frankly, our proposals, which look seriously at the need
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for more infrastructure provision and the need to finance it, are far more credible than the position adopted by the Conservatives, who have no proposals whatsoever for funding greater infrastructure.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend know that the northern housing forum recently met the Minister for Housing and Planning, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), to suggest that land already in council ownership should be allowed to be released at nil, or below market, value, so that houses affordable to ordinary people could be built on it?

Ruth Kelly: I am aware of the meeting that has recently taken place between Bolton At Home and my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, and I know that this was one of the issues considered at that meeting. It has come up with an incredibly interesting and innovative proposal to use local authority land so that people have much greater access to low-cost home ownership. I understand that that bid is in with the Northern Housing Challenge and will be considered, and I hope that a shortlist will be announced soon.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her warm words about community land trusts and will take them as an implicit endorsement of our policy to use them as a way of increasing housing supply and aiding low cost home ownership. I am sure that she will be aware that the Scottish community land unit provides pre-development support for those who wish to set up CLTs and has access to money from the Big Lottery Fund. We are all aware that Scottish expertise will be playing a bigger part in the Labour party in the months to come, so can the Secretary of State assure me that she will pre-empt that move by learning from Scotland and making money available from the Big Lottery Fund for those in England and Wales who wish to access low-cost home ownership through CLTs?

Ruth Kelly: May I say how wholeheartedly I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to look at all sources of funding and, indeed, land for new affordable housing. Indeed, we will look at any option that he or anyone else puts forward to increase the supply of land for that purpose. I read recently of the hon. Gentleman’s claim that his new-found interest in community land trusts was inspired by the Levellers of the English civil war. I am rather more interested in the current civil war in the Conservative party on whether to build new homes for affordable housing. Indeed, only last month the hon. Gentleman said, “I think”—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must stop the right hon. Lady there.

Council Housing

16. Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): If she will provide further funding to improve council housing. [117384]

17. Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): What progress has been made towards achieving the decent homes standard. [117385]

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The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): Yes, we will provide further funding for improving council housing. So far the decent homes programme has cut the number of homes failing the decency standard by some 1.4 million and has delivered 720,000 new boilers and central heating systems for council and social housing across the country.

Lynda Waltho: While I recognise the Government’s focus on that particular policy and the increased investment, my surgeries are still inundated with residents who want to move to better properties, people desperate for homes, and others who want simple things such as central heating or some repairs. What help or hope can my hon. Friend offer to my constituents?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have said that all council and social housing needs to meet the decency standards. It is shocking that we inherited a £19 billion backlog in repairs and maintenance in 1997. We will, by 2010, have invested £40 billion in improving those homes, including putting in modern kitchens and central heating, tackling fuel poverty and cutting carbon emissions from those homes.

Paul Rowen: I appreciate the Minister’s comments about council housing and the social rented sector in general. However, part of the commitment made in the decent homes charter was to private sector vulnerable households. I am aware that in Rochdale, for example, 66 per cent. of all private sector vulnerable households are unfit, largely because of thermal comfort issues. In view of the fact that across the north-west last year 303 old people died of hypothermia, what further action will the Department take to deal with private sector vulnerable households?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I know that the arm’s length management organisation in Rochdale has almost completed its programme and, thanks to the £100 million provided by the Labour Government, will have refurbished and modernised more than 16,000 homes in the area, ensuring that they meet the proper standards for central heating and insulation. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to support private sector homes to ensure that pensioners in particular are not living in cold homes. The warm front programme has already assisted 1.2 million households across the country and we want to go further in helping to warm and insulate more such households.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Of course the Government deserve congratulations for tackling the enormous backlog of repairs and improvements that they inherited in 1997, but could we not go further, with an additional source of funds, and stop the process by which good local authority landlords, who have long provided decent, affordable housing in an accountable framework, are coercing tenants into stock transfers that they do not want, employing consultants and spending many millions of pounds on a process that is utterly wasteful?

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Yvette Cooper: We have provided additional funding to councils so that they can refurbish their homes, and it amounts to a 30 per cent. increase per home since 1997. Using that additional funding and their own resources, nearly 100 councils will be able to bring their stock up to the decency standard over the next few years. The additional funding has been provided through the ALMO programme and stock transfers and is a very substantial investment in existing homes, but my hon. Friend will accept that we must make sure that there is investment in building new homes, for which there is also a serious need.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): One consequence of the Government’s mismanagement of EU migration is the great strain placed on social and private sector housing in some parts of the country. What are the Government going to do about the exploitation of EU migrants by unscrupulous landlords? Also, the poor condition of many houses in multiple occupation is a major problem in places such as Peterborough, where we have 6,500 people on the council waiting list. What are the Government going to do about that?

Yvette Cooper: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the measures in the Housing Bill, which give local authorities powers to deal with serious problems with private sector landlords and to require proper licences for HMOs. He should urge his council to use those powers.

The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) also mentioned the pressures on social housing and private housing. The Government’s response is very clear: we believe that we need to build more homes. The Conservative party have opposed that.

Antisocial Behaviour

18. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What role her Department plays in the development of antisocial behaviour policy; and if she will make a statement. [117386]

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly): My Department has made considerable progress over the past year, delivering on a range of commitments set out in the Respect action plan. For example, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I earlier this month announced new regulations that will give arm’s-length management organisations and tenant management organisations powers to apply for antisocial behaviour orders.

John Robertson: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the measures that she has introduced, and I am pleased to hear that her Department is working well with other Departments. Councils have been given the tools and powers necessary to bring people to justice and to protect victims of antisocial behaviour, but does she agree that it is time they used them? How can she make sure that they do?

Ruth Kelly: I do not suppose that my hon. Friend knows that Bolton was the first local authority in the country to sign up to the Respect standard on housing management, which plays an important role in tackling
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antisocial behaviour. However, he is right to suggest that councils, housing associations and other relevant partners all over the country must play their full role in cracking down on antisocial behaviour. They must use all the tools at their disposal, including ASBOs, as antisocial behaviour can blight the lives of vulnerable people.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that ASBOs and fixed-penalty notices do not stop youngsters reoffending, and will she look favourably on our proposal for a national school-leaver programme? Working with the Duke of Edinburgh trust, for example, the programme would encourage young people to take up positive activities, to the benefit of the whole community.

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Lady will be aware of the Government’s proposals to encourage young people to be much more involved in their local communities, with activities both on and off school sites, but I cannot agree that ASBOs are not effective. They deal with the hard core of criminals, and I understand that the people who receive them have, on average, 31 convictions each. Moreover, the other measures that can be taken before that point is reached are highly successful in curbing antisocial behaviour, or stopping it altogether.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What liaison is there between the Department and local groups involved in dealing with antisocial behaviour? I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the work of Inspector Nick Mills and his team in the Vauxhall and Kirkdale areas of Liverpool, and the pioneering work of the Liverpool community justice centre.

Ruth Kelly: I should be interested in hearing more about that pioneering work. There are examples of innovative practice across the country. As a result of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, which is passing through Parliament and had its Second Reading last night, I hope that local councils will work to the same community safety targets, with the police working to a target agreed with the local authority, the probation service and youth action teams. They will all be working towards the same objective: to combat antisocial behaviour and improve community safety. That will help people to create not only a culture of respect but also better places to live.


19. Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): What role her Department plays in tackling extremism. [117387]

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): My Department leads across Government on the prevention aspect of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy. We also have responsibility for promoting community cohesion, including ensuring that extremists who promote hatred are marginalised. My Department has particular responsibilities for working effectively with local government and engaging with communities to acknowledge and tackle violent extremism at grass-roots level.

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Mr. Flello: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer and I am sure he will agree that one of the best ways to stop extremists spreading their corrosive poison in our communities is for every decent person to reject the ugliness of extremism with their vote at the ballot box. What is my hon. Friend’s Department doing to raise awareness of the importance both of voting in elections to defeat extremism and of getting into communities to stop that poison at the roots?

Mr. Woolas: I commend the work that my hon. Friend has done in his constituency to tackle this difficult problem. My Department has a funding stream of about £5 million, which is available to local authorities to help them to put together strategies to tackle those who promote violent extremism. My Department is in conversation with my hon. Friend’s local authority in Stoke-on-Trent.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): What lessons did my hon. Friend learn from the visit to Leicester he made with the Minister for Women and Equality about the way in which a city such as Leicester, where the local authority has worked with the local community for many years, is able to combat racism and extremism?

Mr. Woolas: The most important lesson from Leicester is that a strong inter-faith dialogue, talking and agreeing joint action and involving young people—as Leicester has done—makes an investment in the community that reaps rewards for many generations. Indeed, the rest of the country looks to Leicester to lead on the issue.


20. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): How many councillors in England are under 40 years. [117391]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Angela E. Smith): I am tempted to say not enough. In 2004, the National Census of Local Authority Councillors in England and Wales—the employers organisation—reported that of the 18,195 councillors covered by survey responses, only 1,333, which is just 7.3 per cent., were under 40. The review of the incentives for and barriers to becoming councillors announced in the local government White Paper will examine the factors influencing that situation.

Mr. Hoyle: I think my hon. Friend will agree that that really is not good enough. We must achieve a better age profile. I was elected to a local authority at 22; I left at 39 to come to the House. A sad indictment, because I was one of the youngest councillors and I was leaving the local authority. What can my hon. Friend do to encourage more young people to recognise the importance for their lives of having that voice? We must persuade them that politics is important and that it makes a difference for them.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): But look at your grey hair.

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