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We have inevitably discussed the impact of migration on housing. I still hold the view that immigration provides a net financial benefit to this country. We have almost full employment, and many jobs would not be done if those migrants were not here. There are of course consequences for housing. Notwithstanding this legislation, we still have something of a schizophrenic approach towards the economic benefits of allowing migration into this country, which I support, and the pressures on housing and other social services that unquestionably cause varying levels of strain in local communities. It is
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beyond our remit to discuss that matter today, but I hope that the Government are cognisant of the fact that the HCA on its own will not be able to resolve some of these issues, as they have profound social consequences that even an effective HCA with an excellent chief executive cannot resolve.

Lords amendments Nos. 169 to 171 relate to transfer proposals, in which I am particularly interested. We have already discussed them, and the eminently sensible improvements that have been made reflect the actions of a listening Minister, following an extensive dialogue in this House and another place.

Finally, I want to make a policy observation. The right-to-buy proposals that form a substantial part of this legislation—as well as existing legislation—do nothing to help to maintain a social housing stock. They obviously help individuals to move up the housing ladder, but that on its own is not enough to ensure that the 1.67 million people—

Grant Shapps: It is 1.7 million.

Lembit Öpik: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The 1.7 million people in need of housing—

Grant Shapps: Families.

Lembit Öpik: The right to buy will not help the 1.7 million families in this country who are in need of social housing to get housed. Indeed, it seems to have had the opposite effect, not least due to the policy consequences of the money accrued by local authorities that have participated in many right-to-buy schemes. I do not expect the Minister to reply to this point tonight, as it is beyond the scope of these amendments. I want to put on record, however, that the right to buy, however attractive it might seem, leaves a hole that can be filled only by innovative partnership projects involving local authorities, or by a significant investment of money that is far in excess of anything that the Government have so far offered to achieve that goal.

Mr. Iain Wright: I will comment on some of the points raised by hon. Members. In general, I detect warm acceptance of the amendments. We listened to the concerns expressed in Committee and in the other place; we reflected on them; and we tabled the amendments in response.

I will rise to the bait on the point made by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) about stock transfer and ballots. He knows that we have strengthened current arrangements and made ballots on transfer of stock mandatory; that part of the Bill has been warmly welcomed. He will remember, as will the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) who is just leaving the Chamber, that my letter of 17 July dealt with evidence— [Interruption.] I apologise to the House; it was not the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield, but the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson). I reiterate what I said on Report—that the vast majority of cases of stock transfer are done fairly, clearly and transparently. In my former life as an auditor when I reviewed large-scale voluntary transfers, I noted that in a small minority of cases there was a question about the objectivity of the information provided to tenants. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)
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pointed this out in Committee and I made the same point: I want the process to remain as clear, transparent and accountable as possible, with the information being objective in 100 per cent. of stock transfer ballots.

Lembit Öpik: Without engaging in a detailed policy debate on the issue, does the Minister accept that whatever the probity of the stock transfer ballot process, there continues to be an as yet unresolved debate between those who believe that the Government have made the finances biased in favour of encouraging stock transfer and those who believe, like him, either that that is a good thing or who deny such bias?

Mr. Wright: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s point. I have to say that on Report and elsewhere, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) made some excellent points about registered social landlords. I have pointed out on several occasions—from the Dispatch Box and elsewhere—that local authorities have a role to play in their area’s housing. They provide a strategic assessment of what housing is required in the locality. Where it is appropriate and provides value for money for the taxpayer, local authorities have a direct role in delivery. The Bill will help that to happen and will remove some of the disincentives acting on local authorities to provide housing. However, the hon. Gentleman will know what my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich can articulate far more eloquently than I can: registered social landlords can lever in private money that can make a real difference in providing decent homes and much-needed investment for social housing. That investment raises the standard of housing for tenants who are often the most vulnerable, which should be welcomed throughout the House. Since 1997, we have seen considerable—indeed, unprecedented—levels of investment in social housing, largely as a result of the ability of registered social landlords to lever in such investment. I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that.

Lembit Öpik rose—

Mr. Wright: I will give way in order to allow him to welcome it.

Lembit Öpik: I welcome the private investment for social housing achieved through the vehicle the Minister describes. However, I firmly believe that the primary reason why the Government are so obsessed with encouraging a shift in social housing from the public to the private sector is the fear that it otherwise shows up in the public sector borrowing requirement. That provides a technical reason to explain why local authorities are being pretty much forced into shifting social housing out into the private sector—however little they may actually want to do that in practice. Does the Minister accept that?

Mr. Wright: No, I disagree. All local authorities can choose models that are appropriate to their circumstances, whether it be stock transfer, retention of council housing stock or an arm’s length management organisation. We have provided the flexibility to allow authorities to decide locally what is needed in the area. I have ministerial
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responsibility for ALMOs, which are a fantastic model. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the tremendous work of ALMOs in Newcastle upon Tyne, for example. Various models are in place for various circumstances, and that is appropriate.

On remedying the incompatibility of homelessness legislation, I understand the comments of some Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love). Time and again, however, I return to the balance—there is one—between remedying that incompatibility, providing fairness but firmness in immigration policy, and ensuring value for money for the UK taxpayer. We have been discussing social housing—particularly council housing—which is a valuable asset for the country. We need a lot more of it, and we need to ensure that the remedy provides the appropriate balance between the competing and often conflicting concerns.

Mr. Stewart Jackson: Will the Minister liaise with his colleagues who are responsible for community cohesion, for instance, to ascertain the magnitude of the problem? One of the difficulties for the House and others in coming to a settled view on changing policy is that we simply do not know how much the problem is occurring, which parts of the country are affected, and the significance of its impact on resources.

Mr. Wright: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I have had questions and discussions with officials on the matter, and all the indicators show that the number of people affected by the current incompatibility is extremely small. I cannot quantify that, and I understand his concerns, but I shall liaise, as he suggests, with the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), who has responsibility for community cohesion, to ensure a coherent strategy. I detect warm acceptance of the amendments, and I hope that the House will approve them.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 170 to 205 agreed to [one with Special Entry].

Clause 318

Orders and regulations

Lords amendment: No. 206

Mr. Wright: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 210, 213 to 219 and 222.

Mr. Wright: We come to the final group, which is made up of technical and minor amendments. I want to draw the House’s attention to several of them, not least because the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) always smiles when I mention the phrase “minor and technical”.

Lords amendments Nos. 206, 210, 213 and 214 give effect to a recommendation made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its report on the Housing and Regeneration Bill. The recommendation
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relates to the power provided by clause 319 to make consequential amendments. Our original intention was that all orders made using the power should be subject to the affirmative procedure. However, the Committee’s view was that that procedure was necessary only when an Act was being amended. We agreed with the Committee’s conclusion and the amendments will implement it.

Lords amendments Nos. 216 and 219 make it clear that orders made under part 4 of the Bill can extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. By amending the Bill in that way, the necessary consequential or transitional provisions can be drafted to achieve their intended effect.

Lords amendments Nos. 217 and 218 relate to the territorial extent of the Bill. Generally, as the House will be aware, the Bill extends to England and Wales. However, some of the consequential amendments made under the Bill will amend legislation that also extends to Scotland. The amendments will ensure that these consequential amendments apply only in England and Wales. I hope that the House will be content with the amendments. Although they are minor, they are crucial to ensuring that the Bill works in practice.

All that is left for me to do now is wish my daughter Hattie a very happy sixth birthday. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am grateful to the House for that reaction.

Lembit Öpik: Following the precedent set by the Minister, I should point out that he has now presented the House with more than 1,000 amendments in a breathtakingly short time. While I am dissatisfied with the lack of time allowed for us to debate them properly, I commend him on taking on board more recommendations from Members in all parts of the House than may have been the case in the past. As a result, he has not only exalted himself in the eyes of those of us who are ruthlessly committed to the best legislation, but caused us violently to agree with his points of view from time to time. It has been one of those occasions.

In conclusion, let me wish my godfather Kalju Niit a happy birthday as well—and thank you for your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments 207 to 311 agreed to [Some with Special Entry].

european documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9)(European Committees),

Emissions from Heavy Duty Vehicles

Question agreed to.

21 July 2008 : Column 620


Post Office Closures (Bedfordshire)

9.6 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I have the pleasure of presenting five petitions on behalf of my constituents, all of which relate to post offices in my constituency that are scheduled for closure. I pay particular tribute to those of my constituents who have gone about collecting large numbers of signatures in a very short period, thus enabling me to present the petitions before the summer recess.

The first petition concerns Linslade post office, and reads as follows:


9.7 pm

Andrew Selous: The second petition relates to Hockliffe street post office in Leighton Buzzard, and reads as follows:


9.8 pm

Andrew Selous: The third petition is from the residents of the village of Eaton Bray in my constituency, some 40 of whom I met on Friday morning to discuss the issue. The petition reads as follows:


9.9 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): This petition is on behalf of the customers of the post office in High street south in Dunstable, otherwise known as “Hayhoe’s” in honour of its postmistress.

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The petition states:


9.10 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): The next petition is on behalf of the customers of the Luton road, Dunstable post office.

The petition states:

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