Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that you can help us with the interpretation of Standing Order No. 24A on topical debates. On Thursday, the Leader of the House said that she was delaying the announcement of the subject of this weeks debate
in order to ensure hot topicality.[ Official Report, 22 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 1347.]
How can her chosen subject of apprenticeships, which was announced yesterday evening, meet the criterion of topicality better than illegal donations to the Labour party and Ministers? How can the Leader of the House be seen to be acting objectively in deciding on what is topical when tonights Evening Standard makes it clear that she may have a direct personal interest in this?
Sir Nicholas Winterton: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am interested in this House and the use of topical debates. Is it not important that the House has meaningful involvement in the decision on what topical debate should take place? To leave this just to exchanges across the House is not good enough. Why will the Leader of the House not consult the shadow Leader of the House and minority parties on what truly constitutes a topical debate?
Mr. Speaker: The Standing Order clearly states that this is a matter for the Leader of the House. Whether the Leader of the House consults others is a matter for her to decide; it is not a matter for me. In answer to the hon. Gentlemen, I can say that the Standing Orders, which are the rules that the House has given me, have said that this is a choice of the Leader of the House.
Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot pursue this matter. I have given a ruling on it. If he is going to open up on it again, he will be given the same ruling. He is drawing the Chair into an argument, and that is unfair.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that two weeks ago, during Prime Ministers questions, I asked the Prime Minister a question about a man who appears on the United Nations list of those belonging to or associated with al-Qaeda yet who is being considered for indefinite leave to remain. I received a written answer from the Prime Minister, as he promised, 12 days later. It simply suggests that I take up the matter with the Minister for Borders and Immigration. How can you ensure that when the Prime Minister says he will give an answer in writing, he does so promptly and that he answers the question?
Mr. Speaker: In actual fact, the Prime Minister gave the hon. Gentleman an answer. He said that a Minister is responsible for immigration, and it is up to the hon. Gentleman to take the matter up with that Minister. My strong advice is to do so and to say to that Minister, The Prime Minister told me to come to see you. That is the way to do it.
Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to draw you into the discussion about topical debates, but could you advise us on the best way to make the Leader of the Houses decision transparent, so that all may see how she comes to her decision on the subject for the debate on a Thursday afternoon?
Secretary Hazel Blears, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Hilary Benn, Mr. Secretary Hutton, Secretary Ruth Kelly, Yvette Cooper and John Healey, presented a Bill to establish the Infrastructure Planning Commission and make provision about its functions; to make provision about, and about matters ancillary to, the authorisation of projects for the development of nationally significant infrastructure; to make provision about town and country planning; to make provision about the imposition of a Community Infrastructure Levy; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 28 November, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 11].
[Relevant documents: The Third Report of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning , Local Government and the Regions Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 703, on Affordability and the Supply of Housing, the Governments response thereto, Cm6912, and the uncorrected transcript of evidence taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee from the Minister for Housing on Tuesday 9th October 2007, on the Housing Green Paper, HC 1038-i.]
The Bill will help to turn our ambitions for 3 million new homes by 2020 into a reality. Those homes are desperately needed by first-time buyers, families on council waiting lists and those who are frustrated by the lack of sufficient affordable homes. The Bill is not simply about building more homes; it is about building better homes, underpinning the new timetable for all homes to be zero-carbon and building stronger communities by better linking housing and regeneration. The Bill is also about delivering a better deal for tenants in social housing, giving them greater choice and a stronger voice in decisions on how their homes are managed.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I made the point in Question Time earlier that never before has Chorley had people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, but it is happening now because of the lack of rented accommodation in what is a wealthy constituency. The problem continues to grow because the local authority is failing to make provision. What can the Minister do to ensure that it will not happen in the future?
Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right. This is a serious and urgent issue for those families who do not have adequate homes and it affects every aspect of their livestheir children do not have enough space to do their homework, among other problems. That is why we have to build more homes, including more affordable homes. We must increase investment in social housing as part of that programme, and we want the Bill to make it possible to deliver those homes faster and more effectively.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Will the Minister confirm that in 10 years of Labour Governments only 5,000 council houses have been built? How many council houses will be built as a result of the Bill?
Yvette Cooper: As the hon. Gentleman will know, the majority of the investment through the Housing Corporation in new social housing goes through housing associations, which are able to borrow independently and lever more resources into new homes. That is why 30,000 new social homes will be built this year. We have said that that needs to increase to 45,000 over the next three years as part of the investment that we are putting in. We also want to make it easier for councils to build council homes, as well as housing associations building homes, and the Bill includes measures to achieve that. Of course, councils will need to make bids and be assessed by the Housing Corporation. We want to make it easier for them to do that and that is why we are making changes.
Yvette Cooper: As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Office for National Statistics forecasts the growth in population. The population is also ageing and more people live alone, so demographic change is also occurring. Some two thirds of the increase in households will occur because more people will live alone, including many older people. We have to address many kinds of demographic pressure, and that is why we need to build more homes.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. May I help her to help the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle)? He needs more houses in his area, and the Co-op owns
Mr. Garnier: I am speaking to the Minister, not the hon. Lady. In my constituency, the Co-op owns about 5,000 acres of farmland on which it wishes to build up to 20,000 homes. The settlement is called an eco-town, but it will not be environmentally friendly. Unemployment in my constituency is 1 per cent., and although we welcome activity we do not need new jobs to be created in our area. The jobs to go with the eco-town will be imported, just like the houses. It seems to me that it would be better to place them near the Co-op headquarters, in Chorley.
Yvette Cooper: The hon. and learned Gentleman is lucky not to need additional jobs in his area but, given the pressures on affordable housing right across the country, I would question whether people there do not need more homes. He will know that I cannot comment on individual proposals for eco-towns, but we welcome the fact that 50 proposals have been made for such new towns. Although some are not appropriate or acceptable, we will say more about the ones that are in the new year.
Yvette Cooper: I need to make some progress, but I will take a couple more interventions, first from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and then from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).
Jeremy Corbyn: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. New council houses are desperately needed all over London, but will she assure me that any council tenancies granted under the new scheme will be the same as existing agreements? It is not a question of social rent; the new tenancies must last for a lifetime, just as they do at present. Will she guarantee that there will be no change in the current arrangements?
Yvette Cooper: The Bill allows councils to offer council tenancies. We need that change in the legislation; otherwise councils might not have been able to offer council tenancies for the homes that they have built. We believe secure tenancies to be extremely important, and that is why we propose some of the changes in the Bill. We also want to encourage the building of more affordable social and shared-ownership housing to meet the needs of people in all sorts of circumstances.
Mr. Skinner: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. The Meden valley Making Places scheme in the Bolsover and Mansfield area has led to 300 or 400 colliery houses being saved. Without that wonderful scheme, the region would have been facing an even bigger problem than it does already, so can it be extended to some of the other coalfield areas? We have already discovered one nimby on the Opposition Benches who does not want any council houses in his area but there are lots of potential clients on this side of the House, so will she give us first option?
Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right. My constituency is also a coalfield area, and we support the building of more homes on the former pit sites. Regeneration can be achieved through housing as well as through jobs, and we are putting investment into existing homes as well as into new ones. Many Opposition Members think that the north is a low-demand region, but that is a mistake. Many parts of the north face serious pressures when it comes to affordable housing. We need to build more homes in those areas, as well as in the south.
Mark Pritchard: I thank the Minister for giving way. I have an important question, and am certainly desperate for an answer. Over the next few weeks and months, the Minister will be reflecting on housing need across the nation, but will she also think about the needs of our armed forces in that respect? Is she aware that many British forces personnel posted overseas are unable to get mortgages from UK companies for homes in the UK? They are fighting for our freedoms in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the Council of Mortgage Lenders and its friends are not interested in lending them money. That has encouraged many of those personnel to be less than candid about whether they have an existing residence in the UK. Will the right hon. Lady give the House a commitment that she will meet Defence Ministers to deal with this very serious problem?
Yvette Cooper: The Bill already makes changes that will support those who leave the armed services so that they can be properly treated if they need homelessness assistance or if they are waiting for social housing. We want to do more to help those in or leaving the armed forces to be able to buy affordable housing and shared-ownership housing, and we are already working with the Ministry of Defence on that issue. I am obviously happy to look into the matter further.
Yvette Cooper: I am worried that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) will topple over the Bench, so I will take his intervention first. I will take four more interventions, but then I must make some progress.
The draft south-east plan presented to the Government in March 2006 proposed the creation of 28,900 new homes per year. I do not sniff at thatthere is a need for new housingbut the plan added the rider that the creation of new homes should be closely related to the availability of infrastructure and associated services. Now that the Governments panel of planning inspectors has said that it does not accept that new home levels should be contingent on infrastructure, I eagerly anticipate discovering on which side of the argument the Minister falls.[Official Report, 6 December 2007, Vol. 468, c. 8MC.]