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
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 HCAs 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: 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 associationI put it no stronger than thatbetween 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 Governments 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.
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
conditions and everyones 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 peoples 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 Mayors 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 Londonthat 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, Londons 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
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.
My hon. Friends 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 difficultiesCooperative Development Services has been involved in thatso that we can all
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 Committeethe 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 Ministers 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 economywe 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 Ministers consensual approach to the Billwe had the same approach in Committeebut 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.
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.
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
(2) The directors of the company shall cause a report to be prepared in accordance with section [exempt companies: accountants report] and made to the companys members in respect of the companys individual accounts for any year in which the company takes advantage of its exemption from audit.
(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.
(1) The provisions of the Companies Act 2006 listed in subsection (2) apply to the reporting accountant and a reporting accountants report as they apply to an auditor of the company and an auditors report on the companys accounts (with any necessary modifications).
(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..