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The Prime Minister: I agree that we have to take very seriously the problem of lobbyists and what they are doing in both the House of Lords and the House of
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Commons. We will have to look at all the measures that could make the system work better. I am happy to look at my hon. Friend’s proposal and see what we can do.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Can the Prime Minister confirm that 150,000 work permits were issued to non-EU citizens last year—roughly four times the level under previous Governments, Labour as well as Conservative? How does that fit with his vision of reducing our unemployment rate?

The Prime Minister: We have just introduced a points system that means that unskilled workers will not get into the country—under the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman is talking about—unless they have a contribution to make. We are the first Government to do that, and it is the right thing to do. The hon. Gentleman will see the impact of the points system in the future. Despite all the figures that are bandied about, the percentage of non-UK nationals employed in the UK is 8 per cent., which is lower than in many of the countries with which people compare us.

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Climate Change (Sectoral Targets)

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

12.32 pm

Mr. Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab): I beg to move,

The Bill focuses on the energy efficiency of residential accommodation; the level of energy use in the commercial and public services; the quantity of electricity generated from renewable sources; the amount of combined heat and power capacity; the number of dwellings with one or more microgeneration installations; and the level of carbon emissions from existing and new homes. It would set initial targets for those sectors, and would require the Secretary of State to specify further targets, especially if so advised by the Climate Change Committee or any other body established by Act of Parliament to advise the Government on climate change.

In addition, the Bill would require the Secretary of State to consult and seek agreement with organisations representing environmental interests, organisations representing business interests and, especially, organisations representing the energy efficiency industry, the renewables industry, the combined heat and power industry and the microgeneration industry. Within a year of deciding on his targets, the Secretary of State would have to publish, and then implement, a strategy for delivering them.

The central aim of the Bill is to help us meet our 80 per cent. CO2 reduction target and thereby play our part in limiting the increase in the average temperature of our planet in order to avert disaster. It is also about trying to ensure that the energy needs of our country can be satisfied in the future.

This Bill owes much to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen), who introduced a similar measure in the last Session and also sought to cover some of the same territory in a new clause that he proposed to the Climate Change Bill—now, of course, the Climate Change Act 2008. His expertise and dedication on the challenge of global warming are recognised across the House, and his new book—it is entitled “Too Little, Too Late” and it was launched last night—is now available.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): How much?

Mr. Caton: It costs £7.

The Bill is about providing a way of meeting our CO2 reduction targets and protecting energy security by the establishment of a series of specific targets for energy saving and sustainable energy generation.

The 2003 energy White Paper described the energy that we do not need to use as the cheapest energy, and improving energy efficiency delivers just that. This is the low-hanging fruit on the climate change tree, but to date we have not harvested it anything like as well as we should have done—or, indeed, as well as some other countries have done.

The Bill sets an initial sectoral target for energy efficiency in residential accommodation of a 20 per cent. improvement on 2010 standards by 2020. The target for energy use in commercial and public services
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is a reduction of 10 per cent. on 2005 levels by 2010, and a further 10 per cent. by 2020. The target for combined heat and power is to have 10 GW of capacity installed by 2010. The target for microgeneration is that the number of dwellings with one or more microgeneration installations shall be eight times the figure pertaining in 2007. The Bill sets 2016 as the date when all existing homes shall be low carbon and all new homes zero carbon, and it also sets other targets with regard to building regulations.

The House may find the targets that I have just listed familiar; in fact, all of them are already stated Government objectives. What is new is that, if enacted, this legislation would make them binding, in the way that the targets set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 are binding.

I believe that we now have to move from aspiration to delivery, and the best way to do that is through establishing clear requirements in law that can be revised as more information about the scale of the challenge becomes available and as new green technologies are developed and improved. One of the major benefits of passing this legislation would be to give the industries responsible for those technologies a firmer platform to build on and more certainty about future opportunities.

Good firms involved in the manufacture and installation of insulation and other energy efficiency measures, as well as companies in the microgeneration industry, combined heat and power and renewables, would all benefit from the underlying certainty provided by a combination of legally binding targets and policies. That would positively impact on their plans and investment decisions, and that in itself would take us forward.

The Stern report made the point that earlier action to limit the rise in temperature would be most effective and least expensive. Much of the climate change science since then has pointed in the direction of still greater urgency. According to any number of indicators—such as the rate of thinning of the Arctic ice, the impact of the loss of reflection of solar energy as snow and ice cover shrinks, the intensified drought conditions in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and, of course, eastern Australia, the melt-rate of the Greenland ice cap, the slowdown in the gulf stream, insect migration, extinction rates in vulnerable habitats and the degrading of carbon sinks—the evidence is growing that time is running out, and probably doing so faster than we thought even a few years ago.

We need to act, locally as well as globally, and this Bill could help. First, it would mean that the Government had to meet their targets in the sectors identified. They would have to plan to make sure that they achieved them, and that would lead directly to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, the Bill would also send out a message about our resolve to move away from the high-carbon economy. At present, there is a bit of a credibility gap between what the Government and Parliament say about the threat of global warming—that it is the greatest challenge that we face and that, if we do not tackle it, the consequences could be cataclysmic—and what is actually being done.

That perception problem exists in other nations and in our own population. Of course, this fairly modest Bill will not, on its own, turn that around, but it could help, because by enacting it, we would be saying, “We
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will not just try to improve energy efficiency, energy saving, and renewable and sustainable energy; we are committed to succeeding.”

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr. Martin Caton, Colin Challen, Mr. David Chaytor, Dr. Ian Gibson, Mr. David Heath, Dan Rogerson, Alan Simpson, Dr. Desmond Turner, Joan Walley, and Mr. Michael Meacher present the Bill.

Mr. Martin Caton accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 8 May and to be printed (Bill 61).

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Opposition Day

[5th Allotted Day]

Housing Waiting Lists

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

12.41 pm

Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): I beg to move,

Every Member of Parliament knows that sinking feeling they can have when someone comes into their surgery desperately needing help and assistance with housing. There is the vulnerable young man with no dependants and no priority on the housing waiting list; the woman fearful of an abusive partner, who is almost scared even to discuss her situation; or the couple who, with the recession biting, are struggling to pay their private rent and, incredibly, are advised that the only way to work the system is to make themselves “unintentionally” homeless by deliberately withholding payment from a landlord whom they like and trust. There are the endless letters from general practitioners, social services and us Members of Parliament, trying to plead exceptional cases. We MPs do what we can to help; we work the system, write those letters, and try to establish whether the process might have gone wrong, or whether an individual might be better represented in their case.

Every now and then, we have a small triumph, and get a letter from a delighted constituent saying that without our help, they would still be living in appalling, cramped conditions in unsuitable circumstances. Those letters may give us a little job satisfaction for a moment, but we always have the sneaking suspicion that although we did what we could to help in that case, there are still thousands of others suffering on the ever-growing housing waiting lists. It turns out that the figures fully justify our unease.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman think that there may be a connection between the scenario that he paints and the right to buy, coupled, most importantly, with the failure of successive Governments over the past 25 years to undertake a council house building programme, such as that which the two main parties rightly undertook—they can be proud of having done so—in the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s?

Grant Shapps: The question is almost as broad as the subject of the debate. We can debate the policies that were in place when I was at school, or we can talk about
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the future. The most relevant period in history to discuss is probably the past 12 years, during which we have built just a tiny fraction of the amount of social housing previously built. I will come on to the figures in a short while, and I hope answer some of the other questions that the hon. Gentleman asked.

Today there is an all-time record of 1.8 million families languishing on housing waiting lists; that is getting on for twice the figure of 12 years ago. According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, that equates to approximately 4.5 million people, each of whom has their own, sometimes desperate, story to tell. The situation is definitely dire, but it is important to understand how we got here. I do not believe that the Government are hell-bent on increasing social housing waiting lists or on making people homeless, but regrettably it is as a result of policies that they pursued that we have ended up in this situation.

At the Labour party conference in Blackpool back in 1994, the shadow Chancellor, now Prime Minister, told his audience:

Those are fine words, but how different the reality has been. Under the last Conservative Government an average of 171,000 homes were built each year across England. Under Labour, that average has fallen to 148,000—a drop of 23,000 homes a year. These are not just statistics. These are missing homes for real people. It is not just in the market housing area that the Government have a truly dismal record. Since 1997 there has been a persistent shortfall in the provision of affordable housing. In particular, there has been a failure to deliver sufficient housing for social rent.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab) rose—

Grant Shapps: I give way to a Member who I know agrees with that point.

Ms Buck: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I am not sure that he will like the point that I am about to make. Will he join me in criticising Conservative flagship Westminster council, which in the past two years has managed to achieve a proportion of affordable homes at only 11 per cent. of all the homes being built? Is it not the case that Conservative councils across the country, and indeed the hon. Gentleman in his capacity as a Member of Parliament, are blocking the building of affordable homes?

Grant Shapps: That intervention gets to the heart of the difference between the parties on housing. I will come to that later.

I know that the Minister has only recently taken on her portfolio, but she would do well to consider these figures. In the last recession, 60,000 affordable homes were built by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) when he was the Housing Minister. This year we will be lucky if 10,000 affordable houses are built. It is a question not so much of what proportion of the total are affordable as of how many homes are built in total. That is the main point that we have to understand. Eleven per cent. of a big figure means more than a larger percentage of a smaller figure.

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Ms Buck: Is it a corollary of the hon. Gentleman’s argument that he intends to increase direct Government subsidy in the building of homes? One of the issues, on which I have had a disagreement with those on my own side over the past 12 years, is exactly how we finance the building of new affordable and social homes. Is he saying that his party is now committed to increasing direct Government subsidy?

Grant Shapps: The hon. Lady knows a great deal about social affordable housing and she has hit on a vital point. It is obvious to anybody—we need not pretend otherwise—that we are not about to return to a situation where the section 106 building of all affordable housing will deliver. In the boom years when so many building applications were made, it did not deliver the required amount of affordable housing, so it will not deliver in the future. I will come on to the figures.

I understood the hon. Lady’s question to be about whether a change in the system is needed. Of course there must be a change in the system. I will come on to— [Interruption.] If hon. Members will let me make some headway, I will come to what I think needs to change. It is clear that what has happened up to now has been a complete and utter failure.

The figures speak for themselves. This is the part that I know Labour Members understand. Less new social rent housing has been built in every year under the Labour Government than in any year under the Thatcher and Major Administrations—less social housing every year.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I entirely agree that we are building too few houses for social rent. We have an enormous opportunity in the current circumstances, when many of the big five house builders are mothballing flats. In my constituency, for example, there is a development of 72 flats that have been half-built and are being sealed against the weather. They could be finished tomorrow if the finance was available. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that finance should be made available to bring that housing into social rent? If so, will he press on his hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor the need for a fiscal stimulus to do that?

Grant Shapps: The hon. Gentleman picks up on an important point. One of the extraordinary things about the Government’s programme—I am sure they will talk about this in the debate—is that they allotted £8.4 billion for affordable housing in the comprehensive spending review from April 2008 to 2011. If we ask how much of that has been spent, we discover that it is very little, because the issue is driven by market housing, and the market housing is not happening for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman just outlined—mothballing. Aligned with that issue is the number of empty homes—those that have been built but not sold and those that have been previously sold but are now empty. We hear today from the Empty Homes Agency that that number has hit what is probably an all-time record, with 1 million homes left empty. That is a scandal, too, and the Government could do far more to address it.

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