Housing and Regeneration Bill

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Clause 279

Amendments made: No. 129, in clause 279, page 118, line 6, after ‘273’ insert ‘and Schedule (Demolition notices)’.
No. 130, in clause 279, page 118, line 8, after ‘of’ insert
‘, and paragraph 13(5) of Schedule 5 to,’.
No. 131, in clause 279, page 118, line 13, after ‘259,’ insert
‘(Right to acquire freehold: abolition of low rent test), (Shared ownership leases: protection for certain limited equity leases), (Shared ownership leases: protection for hard to replace houses),’.
No. 132, in clause 279, page 118, line 13, after ‘265,’ insert
‘(Former right to buy and other flats: equity share purchases),’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Mr. Wright: I beg to move amendment No. 133, in clause 279, page 118, line 14, leave out from ‘to’ to end of line 18 and insert
‘repeals which are connected to the provisions mentioned in paragraph (b) above’.
Again, the amendment is of a purely technical nature. Clause 279 sets out the procedures relating to the commencement of the Bill and allows certain provisions to be commenced separately by the Secretary of State in England and by Welsh Ministers in Wales. Those provisions are listed in subsection 3(b), and the associated repeals in schedule 10 are listed in subsection 3(c). I hope that is useful to hon. Members and that they will accept the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Lembit Öpik: The commencement clause relates to England and Wales. I have one specific request that I hope the Minister will grant. Can he assure us that, before the commencement of the legislation, there will be a meeting at ministerial level with his opposite numbers in the Welsh Assembly who manage housing? I make that request because there are interrelations between the jurisdiction in Wales and that in Westminster. In the past, I have observed some friction between those two political institutions in establishing the territory and domain of their jurisdictions, so it would be better to have those conversations before commencement rather than scrapping about it once the Act comes into force. I hope that the Minister can assure us that a high-level ministerial meeting will take place before commencement of the legislation.
Mr. Raynsford: Can my hon. Friend the Minister give the Committee some indication about the overall time scale for implementation of the parts of the Bill? As he knows by looking at clause 279, parts of the Bill will come into effect two months after the date on which the Bill receives Royal Assent. Other parts are subject to provisions made by the Secretary of State, which involves different dates. Can my hon. Friend give any indication about the time scale over which all the Bill’s provisions are expected to be brought into effect? I know from past experience that some Bills include parts that are never effected, and it would be helpful to have an indication about the overall time scale by which all the Bill’s provisions are likely to be effective. I do not expect an answer today as it is a complex area, but it would be helpful to have that indication on Report.
Mr. Wright: My right hon. Friend has made a good point. I will endeavour on Report to advise the House about the enactment of the various clauses and parts of the Bill. The point raised by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire about a high-level ministerial meeting between English and Welsh Ministers seems perfectly sensible, and I will do my best to ensure that it happens.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 2 79, as a mended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 280 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
That certain written evidence already reported to the House be appended to the proceedings of the Committee.—[ Mr. Wright.]
Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.
Grant Shapps: May I say thank you very much for your chairmanship, Mr. Benton, and also that of Mr. Gale during what has been an enjoyable and informative Committee? I also take the opportunity to thank the Clerks and the officials who have worked tirelessly all month on the Bill. It is the first time that I have sat on a Committee, and it has been a great honour. I was fortunate because two titans from the housing world were on the Back Benches. The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire were a pleasure to watch in action; they were great mentors. It was particularly interesting to debate with the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich and sometimes to agree with him. I was enormously grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire. On one particular occasion, he rescued me when I had lost my notes.
The way in which the Committee has proceeded has been very satisfactory. Thanks are due to the Minister for the way in which he has behaved and acted. It has almost gone down as a mantra that he will thank an hon. Member for a well-put argument and say that he wholeheartedly agrees, but then explain why it is impossible to accept their amendment. He does that with such panache and in such a well meaning way that it is impossible to feel any malice.
The Minister’s performance has been worthy of a Secretary of State. I am sad that he was not promoted last week.
Mr. Wright: Carry on.
Grant Shapps: It is the kiss of death, Minister, but I will carry on. The Minister would be a very worthy holder of office as Secretary of State, and I have no doubt that in the future he will be in the Cabinet, though sadly only for a brief period before we take over.
Thank you once again, Mr. Benton, for your tremendous chairmanship.
Lembit Öpik: I, too, extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Clerks and the officials. I arrived on the scene in the middle of the process, after my new leader’s wise appointment of me. However, I have been in office longer than the Minister’s new boss, so I feel like an old hand.
The Clerks are extremely understanding and generous with their time and have helped us to put together amendments that achieve the meaning and intent of the Bill. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members feel the same.
Mr. Benton, you and your co-Chairman, Mr. Gale, have been gracious even in moments of great confusion, particularly on Tuesday when I was caught up short and momentarily distracted and ended up busking it in a most blatant and obvious way. Nevertheless, Mr. Gale was still gentle with me. Mr. Benton, you, too, have shown an expeditious and erudite approach in chairing the Committee.
Finally, I turn to the Minister. As we have already heard from the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield, the Minister demonstrates the strange art of accepting every point that one makes and then rejecting the amendments that go with it. It reminds me of a phrase I heard when I was first elected—the art of diplomacy is to say no in such a way that the other person apologises. In a sense, I felt that the Minister displayed that skill. Nevertheless, the people of Hartlepool can rightly be proud of his performance in this Committee. I look forward to visiting Hartlepool in less confrontational circumstances than those in which I first met the Minister, which involved the by-election that thrust him into Parliament and now into power.
Setting sail with my new portfolio has been an interesting and instructive experience. I hope that on Report we can return to some of the areas which, as the Minister has pointed out, were open to further consideration. At that point, perhaps the Government will accept a few of the Opposition amendments that were proposed in good faith, apparently accepted in principle, but rejected in practice.
Mr. Wright: I have three hours and 27 minutes. I give notice to the Committee that I intend to take every second of that time. I thank the hon. Members for Welwyn Hatfield and for Montgomeryshire for their kind comments.
Foremost, I thank you, Mr. Benton, and your co-Chairman, Mr. Gale, for your professionalism, courtesy, charm, wit and efficiency in managing the Committee. During our proceedings, I learned that Mr. Gale is a trade union shop steward in his spare time. Certainly, he has been standing up for his fellow hon. Members and their staff and families in the media this week.
I also thank the Clerk for her excellent work and the Hansard reporters and the Doorkeepers for helping to make the business of the Committee, including 280 clauses, 10 schedules and 300 amendments—mostly my own—very smooth. I echo the points made by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield that this has been a good-natured and well meaning Committee. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s tenacity, although I think he spent too long on HIPs—I hope that he has his new HIP now. He has been an excellent Front-Bench spokesman, as has the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire.
10 am
I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friends. First, I thank the Whip for the Committee’s smooth operation. Despite our forensic scrutiny of the Bill, we are finishing a sitting early. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough for her sterling work in providing me with information. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham, who has almost single-handedly changed Government policy to ensure that the Homes and Communities Agency will take sustainable development into account. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham for her impatience with me and for her sterling work on overcrowding and on ensuring that tenants have decent housing standards, regardless of where they live. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South for her work on domestic violence—I hope that we can move that work forward—and to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton. I have taken no pleasure in hearing my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush talk about how Hammersmith and Fulham housing has deteriorated since he ran it, because that is not particularly good for the tenants. However, the manner in which he has done that and bashed the Opposition has been a delight to hear. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish has been a tremendous advocate of work on social housing and ensuring that tenants receive fantastic value for money and good standards. My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich has been tremendous; his knowledge of this policy area is second to none. He has been extraordinarily helpful to me, and I thank him for helping to improve the Bill through his contributions.
I cannot sit down without paying tribute to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, who has been tremendous and extremely courteous. He has often played with me as a cat plays with a mouse before killing it, but has done so with such panache and courtesy that I cannot take issue with him; he is such a gentleman. I have been reading his blog. Let me quote some of his comments:
“Not all the work of an MP is glamorous, any more than is the life of a popstar. The political equivalent of endless hours in a recording studio in the East End of London is a month on a Public Bill Committee. Every Tuesday and Thursday in January is being spent by your MP examining, line by line, the Housing and Regeneration Bill—a modest piece of legislation with 280 Clauses and countless Schedules.”
Given the choice, I think that I would rather be a pop star than in this Committee Room, but I know what he means.
Finally, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, whom I consider to be a friend. A few days ago, he received the ultimate accolade, a profile in The Sunday Times magazine. He has some courage: he called Mr. Gale “dozy”, which takes some doing. Keeping with the pop star theme, I recall a group called Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, although it is a bit before my time. Let me quote the first bit of The Sunday Times magazine article:
“On a poetically sloe-black, slow black”—
very “Under Milk Wood”—
“night in Wales, the young people of Newtown are herding into the pubs. One of them is the local MP, 42 years old but somehow still a boy in his baggy jeans and short-sleeved shirt, his arms pale and beefy on a cold winter’s night. Lembit Opik is playing pool in his local, the Grapes, with friends no older than their early twenties. They are snogging and joshing as their MP takes his shot next to the television where they let him watch Question Time on Thursdays.”
I said to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire this week that I had been having nightmares about the Office for National Statistics classification, but I have also been having nightmares about “snogging and joshing” and “pale and beefy”. I suggest that if we take this pop star theme a little further, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire could have a duet with his romantic interest, and the name of the group could be Dave Dee, Dozy, Pale Beef, Beaky, Cheeky, Mick and Tich. I thought that that would get more of a laugh—it took me quite some time to think of.
I will not take up too much time, but I am particularly proud that this is an important and significant Bill, designed to help all in the country with regard to their housing needs. Thanks to the high quality scrutiny—forensic, even—that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have applied, the Bill leaves this stage a better Bill, and I thank all hon. Members for their work in that regard.
Finally, I thank my officials, who have worked extremely hard and often extremely late on the Bill and our amendments to it in the previous months. At any point in the Committee where I have looked good, it has been thanks to them. When I have looked bad, it is because I have chosen to go on my own. It is a tribute to their professionalism that they are keen to have a meeting tonight at 5 o’clock to discuss the Report stage. That shows how keen, committed and professional they are, so I thank them all very much for what they have done. I thank the Committee, Mr. Gale and you, Mr. Benton. I do not think that there is any more to be said.
The Chairman: On behalf of Mr. Gale and myself, I express our thanks to the Minister, the Opposition spokesmen and all members of the Committee for the courtesy and co-operation that has been extended to us at all times. I have particularly enjoyed the Committee, because housing is a great love of mine. The Minister has mentioned visiting my constituency, where we have a huge housing market renewal project, and it was a delight to have him there on that day. The Committee has been full of interest, and I compliment all of its members on their input and wish the Bill success.
On behalf of Mr. Gale and myself, I extend our thanks to the learned Clerk, who has performed excellently, the official staff, the Doorkeepers and the police who have made the Committee so effective.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill, as amended, to be reported.
Committee rose at eight minutes past Ten o’clock.
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Prepared 1 February 2008