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Lembit Öpik: That would mean an increase of 239,840 a year on what is being built at the moment. Hon. Members should not worry; we have not got the
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time to have that argument at the moment. The Minister mentioned amendment No. 229. Under normal circumstances, I would have pressed it to a vote because, as he knows, I feel strongly that even though the Government talk strongly about the environment, the amendment would have given the HCA a formal responsibility to respond to the insightful position of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds about enshrining the HCA’s environmental responsibilities. Is he willing to discuss how we might ensure that the spirit of that amendment is included in the Bill, even if we do not press it to a vote?

Mr. Wright: Placing sustainable development at the heart of what the agency does by including that in its objects under clause 2 gives a clear signal about how important we think that is.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con) rose—

Mr. Wright: Before I give way to the hon. Gentleman, I shall rise to the bait: the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire suggests that we are not building enough homes. Last year, 199,000 homes were built in this country. That is more than have been built for quite some considerable time. I admit that, in the economic climate we face at the moment, the challenge is that we must literally build on that, and I am keen to work on that. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, who is sitting on the Front Bench tonight, is absolutely assiduous in ensuring that we provide lender confidence to help to do that. We need to build on the increase in what we are doing to address the housing needs of this country.

Mr. Hurd: The Minister has been passionate about the sustainability requirements on the HCA. May I press him to clarify what requirements the Government are prepared to place on the HCA and the regulator in relation to the protection of public health? He will know that, in the back of my mind, I am thinking about the association—I put it no stronger than that—between the increased risk of leukaemia in children and the location of dwellings near high-voltage power lines. We discussed that thoroughly in Committee, when I tabled some amendments. What is the Government’s attitude towards placing requirements on the HCA in that context?

Mr. Wright: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the sensitive manner in which he advanced his case in Committee. I pledged that I would meet him and stakeholders regularly to discuss the points he raised, because I am very concerned about them not only as a Minister but as a father. I told him that, before the Easter recess, I would be provided with advice on how best to move forward, and that is in the pipeline. I pledge to ensure that he is made fully aware of the matter throughout, and that we will work together constructively to make sure that any concern he has is addressed.

Jeremy Corbyn: On the sustainability of sites, which the Minister has referred to a number of times, I am concerned about the rigid obsession with greenfield versus brownfield sites. Quite often, brownfield sites obviously present an opportunity in some inner urban areas not only for housing but for improving living
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conditions and everyone’s quality of life by creating a new open space in an area that does not have any. Will the agency be flexible enough to recognise the possibility of improving people’s lives in densely built-up urban areas by not necessarily developing every last inch of a brownfield site?

Mr. Wright: That is an important point. The presumption is always to have brownfield development, and we have been very successful in that regard over the past 10 years: some 75 per cent. of development is now brownfield. However, my hon. Friend makes the point that we must not accept the myth that brownfield is essentially factories and that greenfield is the rolling, beautiful hills of the English countryside. That is not the case, and the agency needs to have the flexibility to be able to allow an area that is designated as greenfield to be classed as just “shrubbery” if it can be built on without any loss to the bio-environment. With regard to planning and sustainability, we could in many respects go further and faster to make sure we attract better biodiversity. I therefore agree with my hon. Friend on this matter.

The Government have tabled amendments Nos. 18, 27 and 28 to take account of the importance of London in the national housing market, and its particular governance arrangements. The amendments place the agency under a duty to have regard to the Mayor’s recommendations contained in the London housing strategy. They will enable the Mayor to recommend to the Secretary of State how much money should be allocated to the HCA in respect of housing in Greater London. They will also enable the Mayor to recommend to the agency how it should exercise its functions of giving housing financial assistance in Greater London, including such matters as the amounts that should be given for different purposes and the number, type, tenure and location of houses that should be provided through housing financial assistance. We are providing the Mayor with more scope to shape the nature of housing and regeneration in London—that will be a key priority for Ken Livingstone as he secures a third term as Mayor in the next few weeks. All this is also consistent with our recent announcement of the proposal that the agency is to establish a London sub-committee to be chaired by the Mayor, with the chief executive of the agency, Sir Bob Kerslake, as its vice-chair.

On that basis, London’s interests are appropriately served, which is why I cannot accept the Liberal Democrat amendment No. 230, proposing a seat on the national HCA board for a representative from London local authorities. I am keen to avoid narrow sectional interests at board level. An approach such as that which the amendment proposes would prevent full representation from other interest groups; all might be perfectly reasonable and have a perfectly valid case, but be impossible to accommodate. Such a move would make the board unwieldy and hinder its ability to deliver the necessary improvements in housing supply and quality, and in regeneration, investment and infrastructure. On that basis, I hope the amendment will be withdrawn.

I was interested in a point made by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), who does not appear to be listening at present. Community land
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trusts are very important. I have a vested interest, as I have one in my constituency. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) for the assiduous work he has been doing to ensure that CLTs are an essential part of the housing offer for the 21st century. However, nothing that was said on this matter changed the opinion I formed in Committee, which is that we do not want to prescribe too overtly with regard to the various mechanisms by which the agency might help to deliver housing. CLTs are an important part of the new environment. There are real benefits in retaining land in order to ensure that we have affordable housing and renting in perpetuity, but we must be aware of the future-proofing issue.

Mr. Drew: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and I would ask him to bear something in mind if it is possible to get an agreed legal definition. I am interested in leasehold enfranchisement, because we must ensure that we have a range of different forms of ownership. Will he at least keep an open-mind, as there is a need for some recognition in statute of this now very important potential form of home provision?

Mr. Wright: I reiterate what I said about my respect for my hon. Friend on this matter. I am keen to see CLTs work incredibly well in the next few months and years. I have one in my constituency, and it is important.

A concern that I had in Committee and when I met CLT representatives in February was the need to avoid future-proofing in terms of the agency. I stand by my statement in Committee that I am a big fan of local housing companies, whereby local authorities provide the land and private developers provide the construction skills in a joint venture, but I would not want to include that provision in the Bill either. I am interested in the experiences that the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield has had with regard to Cornwall, and I am keen to invite him to a meeting to discuss those.

One of the key things that we must do relates to a slightly wider and perhaps more fundamental point. Given the economic difficulties across the Atlantic and the relatively risk-averse nature of financial institutions, how can we still inspire confidence in the financial markets in order to help to build the housing that we need? My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing will play a key role in inspiring lender confidence through the meetings that she has. We need to address that risk-averse nature; it is important that we do that. I am keen to work with all those available to help that to happen. I am keen to discuss a way forward on the particular circumstances mentioned by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield, and I hope he would agree with me on that basis. If he wishes to intervene, I would be happy to give way, but I now want to bring my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) into the discussion.

Margaret Moran: My hon. Friend’s passion for and commitment to community land trusts is in no doubt. Will he undertake to report back to us on the pilot, which has had difficulties—Cooperative Development Services has been involved in that—so that we can all
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learn from that experience? Will he re-examine the issue of value for community rather than pure value for money when the disposal of public sector land is being considered? We debated that issue at length in Committee.

Mr. Wright: I am happy to give that pledge, because I am passionate about ensuring that CLTs work. I do not think that this is about just one option; a range of options, such as joint ventures and local housing companies, could be involved. I do not think that we should be prescribing. Let me return to a theme of the Committee—the list principle. I am looking at the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) when I say that. I am keen to avoid being too prescriptive and including that list in the Bill.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I was hoping to make a speech, but it seems that time is against us this evening. The situation in my constituency has been mentioned. I have met Cornwall Rural Housing Association to examine this issue. It has attempted to make progress on other schemes, but the Housing Corporation has given it the message that it would like to be able to give the CRHA money but does not think it is able to do so because it is not sure how community land trusts work and how it can make that approach happen. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response on this. I hope that he will meet me and other hon. Members to ensure that we can take this forward.

Mr. Wright: I am keen to meet the hon. Gentleman to talk about that, because I want these things to work. My concern is not that what is in the Bill is bothering lenders, but rather that after all that has happened across the Atlantic, where financial institutions have had their fingers burned over the past few months, institutions are becoming more risk-averse. This House must stop downplaying the fundamental health of the British economy—we should not talk ourselves into a recession, especially when the fundamentals are sound. Also, we must work with lenders to ensure that they have confidence, but we do not necessarily need to prescribe this in the Bill.

Grant Shapps: I appreciate the Minister’s consensual approach to the Bill—we had the same approach in Committee—but I am not convinced by his argument. He is arguing that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the market, but he is failing to do the one thing in the Bill that would create certainty. He is failing to include in it a provision about what a community land trust is. We describe all sorts of things in law, and many things are described in this Bill. He has no problems tabling 147 amendments to the Bill today. The one new clause that I am discussing could do a great deal of good for CLTs, and I would have thought that he welcomed it. I am not convinced that I should seek to withdraw it.

Mr. Wright: I reiterate the need to future-proof the Bill to ensure that innovative products that will be introduced in the next few years are available without being prescribed. I am happy to work with hon. Members from all parties to ensure that we can make community land trusts and other vehicles, such as local housing companies, work, and work incredibly well.
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There is a wider point about financial institutions and their attitude to risk, but I am keen to ensure that we make those bodies work.

I want to suggest, particularly as regards this group of amendments and part 1 of the Bill, that the Homes and Communities Agency will have a key role and the financial muscle to provide good investment in infrastructure—

It being Nine o’clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker , pursuant to Order [27 November], proceeded to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

New Clause 15

Companies exempt from audit

‘(1) This section applies in relation to a registered provider which—

(a) is a registered company other than a charity, and

(b) is exempt from the audit requirements of the Companies Act 2006 by virtue of section 477 of that Act (small companies’ exemption).

(2) The directors of the company shall cause a report to be prepared in accordance with section [exempt companies: accountant’s report] and made to the company’s members in respect of the company’s individual accounts for any year in which the company takes advantage of its exemption from audit.

(3) “Individual accounts” has the same meaning as in section 396 of the Companies Act 2006.’.

New Clause 16

Exempt companies: accountant’s report

‘(1) The report required by section [companies exempt from audit] must be prepared by a person (“the reporting accountant”) who is eligible under section [exempt companies: reporting accountant].

(2) The report must state whether the individual accounts are in accordance with the company’s accounting records kept under section 386 of the Companies Act 2006.

(3) On the basis of the information contained in the accounting records the report must also state whether—

(a) the accounts comply with Part 15 of the Companies Act 2006;

(b) the company is entitled to exemption from audit under section 477 of that Act (small companies’ exemption) for the year in question.

(4) The report must give the name of the reporting accountant and be signed and dated.

(5) The report must be signed—

(a) where the reporting accountant is an individual, by that individual, and

(b) where the reporting accountant is a firm, for and on behalf of the firm by an individual authorised to do so.

(6) In this section and sections [exempt companies: reporting accountant] and [application of Companies Act] “firm” has the meaning given by section 1173(1) of the Companies Act 2006.’.

31 Mar 2008 : Column 526

New Clause 17

Exempt companies: reporting accountant

‘(1) A person is eligible for appointment by a company as a reporting accountant under section [exempt companies: accountant’s report] if—

(a) either of the following conditions is satisfied, and

(b) the person would not be prohibited from acting as auditor of the company by virtue of section 1214 of the Companies Act 2006.

(2) Condition 1 is satisfied if the person is a member of a body listed in subsection (4) and under its rules—

(a) the person is entitled to engage in public practice, and

(b) is not ineligible for appointment as a reporting accountant.

(3) Condition 2 is satisfied if the person—

(a) is subject to the rules of a body listed in subsection (4) in seeking appointment or acting as a statutory auditor under Part 42 of the Companies Act 2006, and

(b) under those rules, is eligible for appointment as a statutory auditor under that Part.

(4) The bodies mentioned in subsections (2) and (3) are—

(a) the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales,

(b) the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland,

(c) the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland,

(d) the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants,

(e) the Association of Authorised Public Accountants,

(f) the Association of Accounting Technicians,

(g) the Association of International Accountants,

(h) the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, and

(i) the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.

(5) The Secretary of State may by order amend the list of bodies in subsection (4).

(6) References in this section to the rules of a body are to rules (whether or not laid down by the body itself) which the body has power to enforce and which are relevant for the purposes of Part 42 of the Companies Act 2006 (statutory auditors) or this section; and this includes rules relating to the admission and expulsion of members of the body so far as relevant for the purposes of that Part or this section.

(7) An individual or a firm may be appointed as a reporting accountant; and section 1216 of the Companies Act 2006 applies to the appointment of a partnership constituted under the law of—

(a) England and Wales,

(b) Northern Ireland, or

(c) any other country or territory in which a partnership is not a legal person.’.

New Clause 18

Application of Companies Act

‘(1) The provisions of the Companies Act 2006 listed in subsection (2) apply to the reporting accountant and a reporting accountant’s report as they apply to an auditor of the company and an auditor’s report on the company’s accounts (with any necessary modifications).

(2) The provisions are—

(a) sections 423 to 425 (duty to circulate copies of annual accounts),

(b) sections 431 and 432 (right of member or debenture holder to demand copies of accounts),

31 Mar 2008 : Column 527

(c) sections 434 to 436 (requirements in connection with publication of accounts),

(d) sections 441 to 444A (duty to file accounts with registrar of companies),

(e) section 454(4)(b) and regulations made under that provision (functions of auditor in relation to revised accounts),

(f) sections 499 to 502 (auditor’s right to information), and

(g) sections 505 and 506 (name of auditor to be stated in published copies of report).

(3) In sections 505 and 506 as they apply by virtue of this section in a case where the reporting accountant is a firm, any reference to the senior statutory auditor shall be read as a reference to the person who signed the report on behalf of the firm.’.

New Clause 19

Exempt companies: extraordinary audit

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