“If I take our Bedminster branch, there are 15 or 20 enquiries a day for rental properties, and the supply is maybe four or five a week, so the numbers are chilling. I’m pretty sure that the stamp duty rise on second homes will have an effect. It will force people to think twice and it will take a pretty robust person to buy a property to rent out. It is a bad thing for the Government to do because there is a massive shortage of properties to rent in the Bristol area and it will exacerbate the problem.”

Other factors that make the situation even bleaker include average prices of £210,000 and salaries of £22,000—I dispute the assertion by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) about houses being affordable above a line from the Severn to the Wash. Some 10,000 people in Bristol are waiting for social housing, and thousands of properties are standing empty. Some councils in the south-west are doing good work. A local council in Plymouth has plans for homes, plans for social rent, a plan for empty homes, a charter for private rented housing and a plan for social rented housing. That is a Labour-run council—a small blot of red in the blue that is the south-west of England. Bristol and other local authorities need to learn from each other and share good practice. Also, the Government need to support local authorities that are trying to achieve something. The Government need not only ambition but a better plan.

6.9 pm

James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con): I should like to begin by declaring my interest. I am a controlling director in a mortgage broker and property portal dedicated to shared ownership, and chairman of the all-party group on housing and planning.

When we talk about housing at the moment, there is obviously a focus on new build and on supply, but as I said in my intervention on the Minister, I still think that one of this Government’s most radical changes is the one we are making to buy to let. In the last Labour Opposition day debate on housing, in June, I spoke on buy to let and said that I was looking for three changes from the Government, relating to the rate of stamp duty, to tax relief and to mortgages.

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1504

Two of those changes have been delivered, including a measure on stamp duty. I said that it was completely unfair that a first-time buyer should pay the same rate of stamp duty as someone buying their 25th portfolio buy-to-let property or a second home as a holiday home. The Chancellor has had the courage to make that change, which no Labour Chancellor ever made. On tax relief, I said that it was wrong that first-time buyers or other home owners, who no longer have mortgage interest relief at source—MIRAS—should not have tax relief when buy-to-let landlords do so. Again, we are addressing that.

Of course the buy-to-let change is controversial, and we are now experiencing a backlash from The Daily Telegraph and others against it. In the one minute and 44 seconds remaining, I want to remind hon. Members why it is necessary. The Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee’s minutes show that the rate of credit loss on buy-to-let mortgages in the UK has been about twice that for residential mortgages, despite the fact that 75% of buy-to-let lending remains interest only. In the past year, there has been £28.5 billion of lending with no repayment of the debt. For me, any area of the economy that requires tax breaks and non-repayment of debt to survive is unsustainable. The buy-to-let sector has not been sustainable.

That does not mean that we have something against those who wish to buy a property to let. I accept that some people use such properties as their pension, and some are saying, “It’s my pension. Why are the Government hitting me?” One change that must come out of this proposal is that we have to talk, as a country, about the fundamental issue of pension reform. If we can do that, it will represent an important gain. Luke Johnson has written in The Sunday Times:

“We cannot prosper as a nation of buy-to-let landlords; we must also produce goods and services and export to pay our way in the world.”

That means investment—not just foreign investment but our own investment—as well as a higher savings ratio and a more sustainable economy. I believe that a key part of that will be a more sustainable housing market in which first-time buyers have a reasonable chance of buying the properties which, at the moment, are being taken from them by people who will then rent them out to those same people who want to be first-time buyers. This is a fair move and it is being brought in by this radical Conservative Government.

6.12 pm

Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab): In the brief time available, I want to highlight the problem in Leeds, to illustrate the fact that it is indeed a nationwide problem and not one that affects only London and the south-east.

In Leeds, buying a home is increasingly unaffordable, and that includes starter homes. According to the National Housing Federation’s paper, “Home Truths 2014/15: Yorkshire and Humber”, the current average house price in Leeds is £179,000, which is seven to eight times higher than median earnings in the city, depending on whose figures are used. That makes a mortgage unobtainable for vast swathes of the population.

Projections from the Office for National Statistics and the House of Commons Library have suggested that by 2020, starter homes could cost around £162,000

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1505

in Leeds. If that turned out to be the case, that would be significantly below the cap. However, the average income needed for such a property would be £45,000, and the reality is that gross median income in Leeds is currently around £22,000. Unless median income doubles in the next five years, starter homes will remain unaffordable.

Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive member for regeneration, has said that the council’s ambitions for a new generation of housing are at risk because of

“central government’s focus on starter homes above all other types of housing and their attempts to reduce housing mix through extending right to buy and forcing the sale of council homes”.

The right to buy sell-off of council homes is resulting in local authority housing stock being diminished, with very little replacement. Over the past three years, 1,159 Leeds local authority properties have been sold, with only 59 replacement starts—a ratio of 20:1.

Renting is increasingly unaffordable for a wide variety of groups. The Leeds Tenants Federation states that, even in council and housing association properties, some people are spending between 40% and 70% on rent. Many in Leeds are also struggling with private rent. Indeed, the council has previously written to the Communities and Local Government Committee to say of the private rental sector that

“rents are now taking a greater proportion of income”.

It said:

“There is an increasing issue of affordability across all sectors of the private rental market.”

So there is much to do.

The Conservatives spent the last Parliament blaming Labour, but that will not wash any more. They have their own record now, and on housing, both in Leeds and across the country, it is five years of failure on every front, with unaffordable home ownership, rising rents, deep cuts in investment and the lowest level of house building since the 1920s. There is a lot of work to be done. The blame game has to end, and the work must start and then be finished.

6.15 pm

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): It is as true today as it was 30 years ago that more than 80% of people aspire to buy their own home. On the other side of the equation, house builders make their living by providing as many homes as possible. There is no lack of will to build, or a lack of desire to buy. The problems are due to the supply-side issues in the marketplace. Supply is constrained by a planning process that is not fit for purpose. There is a shortage of viable land, as much of it is locked away in public sector land banks, and a major demand side issue, in that house prices are simply out of reach for far too many people.

Fundamentally, the supply-side issue is the one that we most need to resolve. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication: build more homes and most of the problems of affordability will fall away. We are building more homes. There has been a 56% rise in housing starts since 2010, and the number is now running at 136,000 a year. Planning consents are at a post-recession high of 240,000 a year, which will inevitably lead to more homes being built.

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1506

I welcome the provisions of the Housing and Planning Bill and its objective to increase further house building and home ownership. I welcome, too, the brownfield register, permission in principle, the simplicity of starter homes with a 20% discount, and right to buy.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) may be interested to know that we took evidence from Dr Mary Taylor, the chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. She was asked whether, if there had been a one-to-one policy for right to buy, she would have got behind that policy. She said that she might well have had a different view.

One third of all people in relative poverty are there due to housing costs alone. The additional homes created by right to buy, and funded by making greater use of taxpayer- owned assets held by local authorities, will deliver affordable homes to buy, for shared ownership, and to rent. I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) that we need longer, family-friendly tenancies and client money protection schemes for letting agents.

Earlier, I mentioned the huge swathes of land held in the public sector. The Government have pledged to bring forward enough public sector land to build 150,000 homes over the next five years. I am concerned that this land will be released and that we may need incentives to ensure that surplus, under-utilised land in our public sector is made available for development for our housing associations and the private sector. I offer strong support for this Government’s record on housing, and believe that the new initiatives in the Housing and Planning Bill will help to deliver a housing market that works.

6.18 pm

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab): Successive Governments have failed to build anywhere near enough houses. The Government’s current Housing and Planning Bill at least tries to deal with some of that fallout. However, as with so many of their current policies, we are expecting those with the least resource to pay for our mistakes.

The spare room subsidy was the first assault on the most vulnerable people to right that wrong. I worked with a young woman who, due to violent and persistent domestic abuse, needed to go into hospital to deal with her severe physical and mental health problems. For that period, her child was removed to foster care. When she returned home, she began the process of rebuilding her relations with her daughter. Her daughter remained in foster care to give them both space to recover. The period of time was such that she was considered to be under-occupying her property. She fast built up arrears and debts and was eventually evicted, leaving her with no stable home for her child to return to. That woman lost her home, her health and her daughter, and all she needed was a chance. Was it her fault that houses were not rebuilt when they were sold off? I do not think so, yet she paid the price.

The bedroom tax was an instrument meant to encourage people to move out of properties that could be used for a bigger family, but it does not work like that if there is nowhere for them to go. It just makes money out of those who simply cannot bear it. The blunt-ended policy fails to recognise the realities of people’s lives. Some of the proposed elements of the current Housing and Planning Bill will do exactly the same.

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1507

The Government’s intention to end lifetime and successive tenancies is meant, again, to encourage people to free-up much needed properties. That is all well and good, but similar to the problems faced by bedroom tax victims, life does not work like that. When an adult child has a choice to give up their own tenancy and livelihood to move in and care for an elderly mother or father, they have a very tough choice to make and will be unsure of their own future. When a victim of domestic violence is rehoused with her children, who have probably been through enough, will we say, “Sorry gang, you’ll have to move schools pretty much every five years”? Will the Government fund all of the new housing officers that will be needed to ensure that the system works fairly? I wonder whether any of the Ministers have sat in their local housing queue recently. I have; it takes hours to be seen.

I do not want to stand here and moan. I want the Government to do something and have some positive suggestions. If they are going to encourage people to move in and out of social housing more frequently, they need to invest heavily in temporary accommodation. Currently, there is no temporary accommodation. The taxpayer funds bed and breakfast accommodation for families to live in—where used condoms are stuffed into the walls and there are dirty beds—when there is nowhere for them to go. The Government must invest in that. They must also look at models such as the one we have in Birmingham, where we have a social lettings agency with an honest broker, two-year tenancies and help with deposits for tenants coming out of social housing.

The Government should look at those suggestions before they rush into something that will show up in my surgeries in glorious technicolour.

6.21 pm

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). I draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Last Friday, I visited a new development in my constituency, Saxon Place in Penwortham. It is mixture of family homes for rent and for sale under shared ownership. I mention that because I had the great pleasure of serving with many hon. Members on the Housing and Planning Bill Committee. There was a lot of talk about the affordability of starter homes and a lot of the conversation was very London-centric. My point is that, in many parts of the country including Lancashire, the starter and affordable homes really are affordable. On the average income in my constituency, a family could, under the shared ownership scheme, get a deposit of between £2,000 and £5,000 and have an equity stake in that house. I remind hon. Members that the world does not end at Watford Gap.

We agree that most Britons aspire to home ownership, but we have had a problem in getting more houses built. We have a growing population and more and more people live on their own. We need to be flexible about what we build. I was particularly pleased with the measures on automatic planning permission for brownfield sites. I have experience of developing brownfield sites. In the past, remediation works were costly and difficult. The fact is that we are getting better at that and prices are coming down. The provisions will start us on the

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1508

way to building more homes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) said, we just need to increase supply. It is not the whole answer, but we absolutely must build more homes.

The important thing about the outline nature of that permission is that it gives reassurance to the developer that he can invest, but leaves the right amount of risk on the business rather than on the taxpayer. If we were to change the outline permission to make it more detailed, winding up in red tape, it would slow down the process, and there would be far too much onus on the taxpayer rather than on the developer. I also greatly welcome the Government’s pledge to bring forward more public sector land to build more homes.

The Bill is forward looking. We are tackling rogue landlords, and I welcome the investment in garden cities. We need more homes and the Government are determined to deliver them. The Bill will go a great way to doing that.

6.24 pm

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): It is evident that there are Members in the Chamber, such as the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), who are strong supporters of English votes for English laws and who question why Scottish Members are speaking on a matter that should be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I point out that Scotland is specifically mentioned in the motion we are debating today. The fact is that housing is an area where the headline statement of devolution is seriously undermined by a haphazard split of responsibilities between this place and the devolved Administrations. As a result, many decisions taken in this place can have serious implications for the delivery of housing policy in Scotland, and for the real issues and concerns of so many people.

The UK Government have stated that they want to transform generation rent into generation buy. It is certainly no bad thing to buy a home, but it must be financially sustainable, it must be right for one’s circumstances and it must not be at the expense of future housing stock. The UK Government must focus on alternatives, too. We have heard concern from Members on both sides of the House about homelessness, which is a very real and very destructive issue. I gently point out that we should concern ourselves with this issue all year and not just at Christmas.

The UK Parliament has lost its focus on the quality and quantity of housing. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) that this can be traced back to the Housing Act 1980, when the Thatcher Government introduced right to buy. The policy has been popular with beneficiaries, but it has had serious side-effects on the quality of housing in the social rented sector and in entrenching deprivations in the areas of social rented housing that have not been sold off.

This Conservative Government are now going further than Mrs Thatcher. Owner-occupation is seen as the normal tenure for all households, regardless of income. This is exactly the approach that led to the American sub-prime scandal. Dame Kate Barker described the policy as

“people who are just on the cusp of being able to buy”

being nudged over the edge. It did not end well.

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1509

The Government’s thinking is that the social rented sector is a temporary stop-gap, where tenants should not regard their residence as a permanent home. They seem keen to import the deeply damaging and socially divisive concept of welfare housing. These policies are a smash and grab raid by the Chancellor on the assets of the social rented sector. Forcing councils to sell their best assets strengthens the social segregation that scars too many parts of this country and the forced sale of housing association properties represents the abandonment of those forced to wait for years for a decent home. Even The Daily Telegraph described the policy as

“dumb, economically illiterate…morally wrong…and close to absurd”.

The contrast between this shambles and the action being taken by the Scottish Government could not be starker. Instead of viewing housing as a weapon in a political game, the Scottish Government act on the basis that decent, accessible and affordable housing is central to the delivery of many other policy objectives. If we in Scotland had built houses at English rates since 2007, we would have 42,000 fewer homes. In fact, the Scottish Government have committed to something the UK Government no longer do: build both social and affordable housing.

6.27 pm

Chris Philp (Croydon South) (Con): I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I would like to start by replying to some of the points the shadow housing Minister, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), made at the beginning of the debate about the respective track records of this Government and the previous Government. In particular, I would like to draw attention to the number of housing starts across the country as a whole in the past year, which was 165,000, compared to the right hon. Gentleman’s last year as Housing Minister when the figure was just 124,000—a 33% increase by the current Government, which is an extremely impressive record.

The hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), who I see is in her place, drew attention to affordable housing. I am similarly pleased to report to the House that, according to House of Commons Library figures, last year 67,000 affordable houses were delivered compared to just 58,000 in the last year of the previous Labour Government. I think there is a record to be proud of.

I was privileged to serve on the Housing and Planning Public Bill Committee for 17 sittings with the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods), but not, I regret, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne, who did not grace us with his presence. I was disappointed by the lack of new ideas in his speech earlier. I thought we might have heard more from a shadow housing Minister.

There is a great deal to welcome in the Bill, not least the idea that every single local authority must have a local plan by 2017; the local development orders to give outlying planning consent on brownfield sites, which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) mentioned a few moments ago; and the London Land Commission bringing forward public sector land.

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1510

The GLA has done that successfully: 98% of its land is being brought forward. I suggest to the Minister that the London Land Commission be given more powers to take hold of the surplus public sector land identified and make sure that organisations such as the NHS, Network Rail and Transport for London do not shilly-shally or delay.

I have one or two other suggestions. Parts of the planning process can be cumbersome, with reports on things such as bats and newts—

James Cartlidge: Ken Livingstone.

Chris Philp: Yes, indeed.

If there is any way of lightening the process, it would be welcome. Similarly, many developers would be happy to pay higher planning fees in exchange for guaranteed faster decision making, perhaps with the extra fees being refunded if the service level was not met. I hope the Minister will take those constructive ideas in the spirit they are intended.

In summary, having sat on the Bill Committee for 17 sittings, I am absolutely confident it will increase the supply of new homes and promote homeownership, and I strongly welcome it.

6.30 pm

Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab): In 1892, Mr Pooter, from “The Diary of a Nobody”, was the archetypal suburban London Mr Average, but on current figures he could not afford today to live where he did. In 2009, The Spectator said his home would be worth £1 million and that his clerk’s salary would be £40,000. In Ealing, a typical suburb, the figures are astronomical and are placing an average suburb out of reach for the average Joe and Josephine, for whom suburbia was intended. Last year, average rents were £1,400. According to this year’s Land Registry figures, a terraced house in W5 now costs £781,000.

The Government’s housing record is one of abject failure, on homelessness, homeownership, house building, rents and, crucially, supply. Shelter, an objective charity, says that channelling existing public resources to build homes that only those on high incomes can afford will result in 180,000 affordable and low-rent homes not being built or sold. That is as result of the changes in the Housing and Planning Bill. The goalposts have been moved several times. In respect of rents, “affordable” can now mean up to 80% of market rents, which is just not realistic.

These subsidised starter homes have been trumpeted, but they are a non-starter for people in my constituency. In Ealing, average earnings are about £34,500. If someone wanted a shot at just a one-bedroom starter home in W13, they would have to earn £73,142. In W4, it is even worse: £90,501. At first sight, the 1% rent reduction looks good, but it will have massive unintended consequences. I went recently to the reopening of the YMCA foyer in my constituency. It has sunk all its assets into it, based on a business plan of rising rents, and it now expects to be completely sunk. It was a massive oversight not to have exempted supported housing.

There is so much I could say about the mandatory “pay to stay” policy. The figure of £40,000 means two incomes of £20,000, which is not a princely sum in

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1511

London. It is an attack on aspiration, which Conservatives keep talking about. Our capital city is being hollowed out, as we pay ever more for housing yet become ever more insecure at the same time.

The Spectator

says that Holloway is now becoming banker land. I fear that not just Mr Pooter but many others on average and modest incomes are being forced out of London, which is being left to bankers, oligarchs and off-plan buyers, whose playground our capital is becoming.

6.33 pm

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): I welcome the Opposition’s choice of motion, but I was disappointed by the shadow Secretary of State’s lack of humility when he moved it, given his own underwhelming record in government.

As the shadow Secretary of State correctly said, housing is a top-four issue. I am sure it is towards the top of most of our postbags. The challenges of housing, rent and affordability are among the major challenges we face, and they deserve better than the rehashed diatribe we heard at the start of the debate. What we are seeing from this Government is the largest land building programme in decades, which will help to address the fundamental problem behind both the availability and affordability of housing.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) correctly said, the elephant in the room is the issue of supply. Why is there this market failure that we do not see in other areas of the economy? Part of the answer is regulatory failure. The Government cannot control all the levers that affect supply, but it is right for them to do what they can to eradicate some of the barriers to that market entry.

There are two elements at the core of addressing supply. The first is action to bring brownfield land back into productive use for housing. That is why I am so pleased that the Government are introducing this assumption of planning consent for developments on brownfield land. Devolution deals around the country are important, too. The devolution deal reached in my west midlands region is a combined authority with the powers of investment to bring brownfield land, and particularly contaminated brownfield land, back into use so that it can be made part of the land supply for our housing market. That is good for the environment—using brownfield instead of green spaces—good for housing and good for the economy.

The second area that needs to be addressed to increase supply is preventing the planning system from becoming a bottleneck to the availability of housing. The Government’s action to move away from the regional spatial strategy towards local plans as well as introducing planning in principle is absolutely vital and will hopefully mean that we have the supply to match this record house building programme.

6.37 pm

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Members who picked up the Metro this morning on the tube will have seen that Hammersmith features in this week’s property page. They will have found out that the average price of property there is just over £1 million, although they managed to find a one-bedroom basement flat for £425,000, which would be just within the starter home bracket,

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1512

requiring an income of only just over £100,000 to snaffle that up. The more typical development—the new development with no social housing given permission by the previous Conservative council—sees a two-bedroom flat in Fulham going for £1.2 million or a three-bedroom flat in the Queen’s Wharf or Sovereign Court for £2.2 million.

That is why owner-occupation has dropped from over 40% to just over 30%. Local people cannot afford to buy those; they are bought by foreign investors from United Arab Emirates, Malaysia or wherever, and are either left empty or rented out, which is why the private sector has gone up from 30% to 40%, but all properties are unaffordable. I am afraid that I have to include in that list of unaffordable properties the 85% of council right to buys, which are now rented out at market rates, and mainly to local authorities that are now paying three or four times what it would cost to live in council accommodation. We know what the Housing Minister thinks about this because he recently said that

“if people want to live and work in and around London, it’s actually making a judgment call about what you can afford”—

in other words, “on yer bike”.

One type of housing is affordable—30% of the accommodation in my constituency is still social housing. Most Governments in the past, irrespective of party, would have regarded that as an asset, but not this Government. What are they doing? They are selling off housing association homes so that they in turn can be turned into buy to let at market rates, and they are selling 50% of the remaining 12,000 council stock in order to subsidise that sale.

When voters voted to get rid of the Conservative council that was selling off empty council properties—it sold off 300 and was warehousing and emptying blocks of council flats and constructing zero social homes in new developments—they thought that they had got rid of all that. Now, however, we have a Government who are bringing it all back at the national level through the Housing and Planning Bill. There will be no social homes built in the future—nothing that is affordable to my constituents.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) is sitting next to me. Her speech hit the nail on the head when it comes to the most disgusting thing this Government are doing—removing security from people who live in council homes and telling them that they will have temporary housing as a form of charity rather than a permanent home in which to bring up their families.

The Government have reversed their position on “pay to stay” for housing associations, which is welcome, but they should do the same for everyone. They should let families on modest incomes continue to live in secure homes in London and around the country, and end this appalling business of removing security of tenure from council tenants.

6.39 pm

Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): We are simply not building enough to keep up with both the demand and the challenges that are faced by many of our constituents who want to buy homes of their own. Government initiatives are radical and welcome, but I would advocate further action, and I hope that the Government will consider some of the following proposals.

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1513

First, there is a need to build on green spaces. Nearly 80% of my constituency is designated as “area of outstanding natural beauty”. There is a shortage of land afforded for local employment, but where there is such land, it is on brownfield sites. If the tens of thousands of houses that my district councils intend to build are allocated to brownfield employment sites, where will our current and next generations of homeowners work?

In one of my parishes, the village petitioned the district council to allow a small housing complex to be built on a green field just outside the building boundary. As a result of the campaign for building to be allowed on that green site, Etchingham now has a new school, a new village hall, and new affordable housing—all of it courtesy of that bold move. I should like the Government to make it easier to allow parish and town councils to make such decisions. When a district council has a plan, parishes and towns are required to conform to it; if they do not so, their own local plans will not be approved by the district council. I should like to free parishes and towns from the shackles of district plan compliance. If they want to designate a site, then let them do so, and let them override district plans for their own purposes if that is within the planning laws.

Secondly, there is a need to deliver more infrastructure. Although the argument that more housing is required is being won, there is a real fear that communities will not have schools, doctors and other essential public services until the housing has been completed. If authorities could deliver infrastructure at the same time as building began, the public might embrace the building of more housing, and might even ask for more housing than had been scoped if, say, a new secondary school would be built with a few hundred more houses. I should like local authorities to be given the power to borrow money against the receipts from new homes bonuses, although, of course, that would work only if the new homes bonus scheme were extended for as long as the plans.

Thirdly, consent needs to be turned into new homes. The amount of land where planning consent has been granted but work has not begun continues to cause concern. The lack of building not only adds to the problem of a shortage of housing numbers, but also deprives local authorities of the ability to collect receipts from section funding or community infrastructure levies. I would support a policy that required developers to pay a first instalment of section 106 moneys within 12 months of the granting of planning consent, rather than on the completion of developments. Such a policy would not only incentivise house building and increase stock, but would permit local authorities to deliver vital infrastructure in parallel with house building.

The need to tackle our housing shortage is a huge priority. It is a national tragedy that more is not being done, but I support the Government on what is being done.

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Zeichner to speak for two minutes.

6.43 pm

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. My city of Cambridge is in the grip of a housing crisis, and I have 110 seconds in which to speak.

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1514

An email that I received from a constituent recently encapsulates the problem. She wrote:

“I live, work and pay my council tax in Cambridge. Housing in Cambridge is almost as expensive as London these days. I was very excited to hear about the help to buy ISA—but Cambridge should have the same threshold as London of £450,000. Looking at rightmove right now, it is disheartening that there are only 4 properties that would meet our criteria of 3 bedrooms and the Government’s criteria of maximum £250,000 within a 5 mile radius of Cambridge…How are we supposed to buy, afford and raise a family in Cambridge?”

There are only four of those properties—four!

Perhaps the Minister will be able to answer my constituent’s question, but I personally doubt it, because I do not think that the Government have a clue about the real problems that face young people in Britain today. If young people such as my constituent cannot afford to buy, they have to rent, and do we hear anything from the Government about helping renters? I do not think so. If they were really listening, they would know that when house prices become unaffordable in areas like mine, the nature of the private rented market changes. Young families who would once have bought are staying longer in the rented sector, but the legislation has not kept up; the Government have not kept up.

Let me skip the points I was going to make about the attack on social housing and conclude by saying a little about the impact on business. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) visited my constituency recently and even he, experienced on these issues as he is, was shocked by the consistency of the message from employers. In every sector, be it the thriving life sciences and tech sector, research and our universities or major public sector employers such as the NHS, the message is clear: we cannot recruit and we cannot retain staff while housing remains so unaffordable. This is therefore not just about housing; it is about social justice and inter-generational justice. At the start of my speech I quoted the question from my constituent and I urge the Minister to answer it:

“how are we supposed to buy, afford and raise a family in Cambridge?”

6.45 pm

Teresa Pearce (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): In a wide-ranging debate, we have heard contributions from Members in all parts of the House, including the hon. Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy), for Croydon South (Chris Philp), for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald); my hon. Friends the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter); the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman); and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) made a passionate speech about the human cost of the housing crisis, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) also spoke with passion about the shortage of social housing. Most interestingly, the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) spoke of not only his well-known interest in self-build, but his less-known interest in the Deputy Speaker’s shoes.

Clearly, the housing crisis is one of the greatest challenges to face our country in recent times, and Members from across this Chamber know the impact

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1515

that housing has on their constituents’ lives. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) spoke of his casework, which mirrors mine. My advice surgeries are full of people suffering as a result of the housing crisis, and my inbox and telephone line are jammed with their cases. Rent costs are rising, and there are poor standards in the private rented sector. We have ever-increasing homelessness across the country, both in terms of statutory homeless and rough sleeping. The Government are seemingly committed to seeing the end of the social housing sector as we know it. Fewer homes are being built than at any time since the 1920s and we have a generation of young people priced out of the property market. For five years, the Government have had the chance to tackle this housing crisis head on, but they failed.

It has never been more important to tackle the housing crisis, because housing affects everything—it affects our whole lives. Insecure housing affects our whole society. It affects health, education and productivity. Without a secure roof over our heads, we face uncertainty, instability and doubt. Stable homes make stable communities, and without safe, stable and affordable housing we face pressure across our whole society and across our public services. It affects our schools and our children’s education, with unsettled classes affected by churn and individual children falling behind as they move school again and again. It affects public health and our doctors, who struggle to co-ordinate health awareness campaigns as a result of instability in the housing sector, as residents constantly move between practices. It affects our communities, where many are unable to set down roots, commit to a local area, and join local organisations, sports teams and religious groups. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck).

The Government claimed that they would build more affordable homes, but the “affordable rent” is not affordable to many people. House of Commons Library research shows that in London it would swallow up 84% of the earnings of a family on an average income and it requires a salary of up to £74,000. This does not just affect London; the contributions we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) and for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) showed us that this is a national crisis, not just a London one.

Many of those who cannot afford to buy have to live in the private rented sector, where the Government have failed to increase security and improve standards, and have overseen rents reaching an all-time high. Once the private rented sector was mainly for students and young professionals, but now it is families and the vulnerable who live in the sector. That was spoken about with concern and compassion by the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry). Some 9 million people now rent privately. Almost half of those who rent are over 35. They want the same security and stability that they would have if they owned their home, but they face insecure assured shorthold tenancies, and a Government refusing to encourage long-term tenancies and to tackle rising up-front letting agent fees. While these people pay more, the Government are failing to act to improve standards in the sector. Although the majority of properties in the private rented sector are well maintained and of good quality, there are sadly too many landlords who let properties that are not fit for human habitation. Indeed, the Government’s own statistics

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1516

say that 16% of private rented sector dwellings are failing the minimum safety standard. When my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North introduced a private Member’s Bill to make sure that homes were fit for human habitation, it was talked out by Conservative Members, who argued that it would put a huge burden on landlords.

Chris Philp: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Teresa Pearce: I am afraid we are very short of time, so I cannot.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) also touched on the rising housing benefit bill, which is now £4.4 billion higher than in 2010. The Housing and Planning Bill included an all-out attack on social housing. On the last day of the Committee, the Government added a last-minute amendment to end secure tenancies for social tenants without any consultation or impact assessment.

I would like the Minister to respond to two questions. If home ownership is the only way forward, where are people who cannot get a mortgage meant to live? Can he confirm that starter homes will be for first-time buyers and will not be available to cash buyers?

The Housing and Planning Bill will lead to a loss of affordable homes to rent and buy, but more than anything it is a missed opportunity to tackle the housing crisis head on, to provide greater security, stability and safety to tenants in the private rented sector, to offer a genuine hand-up to those who are trying to get on the property ladder and to build more social housing. We have seen a comprehensive spending review and an autumn statement that have failed to provide for a programme of affordable house building and have attacked many tenants on low incomes due to cuts in housing benefits.

For five years the Conservatives have had the chance to tackle the housing crisis. They have failed. They have their own track record, and it is one of five years of failure. They should and will be judged on it.

6.51 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Marcus Jones): I thank all Members for taking part in this lively debate. Before I respond to the speeches made by hon. Members, the House will appreciate a reminder of what has been achieved since 2010. Back then, the housing market was broken. We inherited a planning system that was dysfunctional, and levels of house building that were tumbling. The economy and public finances were on the brink of collapse. Enormous progress has been made since. Almost 900,000 new homes have been delivered in England since 2010. In the last Parliament the number of first-time buyers doubled, the number of new homes we built doubled and public support for new house building doubled, and since 2010 we have helped more than 270,000 households buy a home.

We have provided more than 270,000 affordable homes for rent, with almost one third of those in London. We are the first Government since the 1980s to finish their term with a larger stock of affordable homes. A reformed planning system gives far greater weight to the views and needs of local communities, but in this Parliament we want to go much further. The Government’s investment is being doubled to £20 billion in the next five years.

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1517

It will support the largest housing programme by any Government since the 1970s. Our ambition is to deliver 1 million more homes and double the number of first-time buyers.

My hon. Friends the Members for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon), for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), for Worcester (Mr Walker), for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy), for Croydon South (Chris Philp), for Dudley South (Mike Wood) and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) all made fabulous and important contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk explained the importance of self-build and praised the measures in the Housing and Planning Bill to promote it. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon pointed out that council house building is now at its highest level for 23 years, knocking down the myth promoted by the Labour party.

It was good to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester point out that the Conservatives in local government, not Labour, are providing affordable houses in Worcester. I was also pleased to hear his welcome for our crackdown on rogue landlords. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen stated the importance of first-time buyers and the Help to Buy ISA that the Government are introducing. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk mentioned the measures that the Chancellor is taking to make things fairer for first-time buyers. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton made a great point about the importance of the additional housing that will be provided by the right-to-buy receipts, and my hon. Friends the Members for South Ribble and for Dudley South made encouraging comments about planning in principle on brownfield sites and the difference that it will make in their constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South mentioned the London Land Commission and the potential for public sector land to be brought forward for development. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle was a strong advocate of neighbourhood planning.

That brings me to the points made by Opposition Members. I shall start where my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning left off. He mentioned “Back to the Future” to describe Labour’s approach and he was right. Labour still has a past which it harks back to, but it has very little of a future to look forward to if today’s debate is anything to go by. Speaking from the Front Bench, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) spent 40 minutes in total on their opening and winding-up speeches, and did not put forward one idea for tackling one of the biggest issues facing the country. It was all soundbites, empty rhetoric and ideology rather than pragmatism to help people get into their own home. For some reason Opposition Members seem very happy to own homes themselves, but when it comes to other people having the chance to own their home, they do not seem to want it. We want people to have the opportunity to own their home, which 86% of people want.

There were eight speeches from Labour Back-Bench Members that were extremely consistent with those from their Front Bench. In those eight speeches not one idea was suggested to try to deal with the issues that the

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1518

country faces. There was one notable exception. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) made several constructive comments and proposed a number of ideas that we will look at in the context of the debate.

Britain has come a long way over the past five years, a journey that has taken us from the brink of bankruptcy to being the fastest-growing advanced economy in the world. Confidence has returned and living standards are rising. More people are buying homes and house building is on the rise. But we must go further, and this Government are under no illusion about the scale of the progress that is required. In the past five years we have pulled house building up from the record lows of the previous decade, and in the next five years we intend to push it up further to levels not sustained since the 1980s. The challenges that we face today have been many decades in the making.

Our focus moves us from rescue to reform. We must address the deep structural weaknesses in the way that this country plans and builds for the future. A better housing market will be vital for raising the productivity of our country and rebalancing the economy. Above all, it will ensure that Britain is a country of opportunity, where everyone who works hard can realise their dream of home ownership—the housing association tenant, the young family who want to settle down, and the retired couple who want to build their own house. They all voted for a better housing market and that is what this Government are determined to deliver.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 205, Noes 297.

Division No. 150]


6.58 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Barron, rh Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Berger, Luciana

Blackman-Woods, Dr Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burgon, Richard

Butler, Dawn

Byrne, rh Liam

Cadbury, Ruth

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, rh Jeremy

Cox, Jo

Coyle, Neil

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cummins, Judith

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Dowd, Peter

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Elliott, Tom

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Fletcher, Colleen

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Gardiner, Barry

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mary

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Greenwood, Margaret

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Carolyn

Hayes, Helen

Hayman, Sue

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mr Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Dame Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hollern, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Huq, Dr Rupa

Hussain, Imran

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Kinahan, Danny

Kinnock, Stephen

Kyle, Peter

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Clive

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Long Bailey, Rebecca

Lucas, Ian C.

Lynch, Holly

Mactaggart, rh Fiona

Madders, Justin

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marris, Rob

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maskell, Rachael

Matheson, Christian

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGinn, Conor

McGovern, Alison

McInnes, Liz

McKinnell, Catherine

McMahon, Jim

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morris, Grahame M.

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Onn, Melanie

Onwurah, Chi

Osamor, Kate

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Pennycook, Matthew

Perkins, Toby

Phillips, Jess

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Rayner, Angela

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Rees, Christina

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rimmer, Marie

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Shah, Naz

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shuker, Mr Gavin

Siddiq, Tulip

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Andy

Smeeth, Ruth

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Cat

Smith, Jeff

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smyth, Karin

Starmer, Keir

Stevens, Jo

Streeting, Wes

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, rh Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas-Symonds, Nick

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Turley, Anna

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watson, Mr Tom

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Wright, Mr Iain

Zeichner, Daniel

Tellers for the Ayes:

Jessica Morden


Vicky Foxcroft


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Ansell, Caroline

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Mr Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Borwick, Victoria

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Robert

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Carmichael, Neil

Cartlidge, James

Cash, Sir William

Caulfield, Maria

Chalk, Alex

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Churchill, Jo

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Costa, Alberto

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Byron

Davies, Chris

Davies, David T. C.

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Davies, Philip

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donelan, Michelle

Dorries, Nadine

Double, Steve

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Elliott, Tom

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Foster, Kevin

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, rh Robert

Hall, Luke

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, rh Greg

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heappey, James

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollingbery, George

Hollinrake, Kevin

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenkyns, Andrea

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Boris

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, Seema

Kinahan, Danny

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Main, Mrs Anne

Mak, Mr Alan

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Mathias, Dr Tania

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Johnny

Merriman, Huw

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Opperman, Guy

Parish, Neil

Patel, rh Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pincher, Christopher

Pow, Rebecca

Prentis, Victoria

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Sandbach, Antoinette

Scully, Paul

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Sunak, Rishi

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thomas, Derek

Throup, Maggie

Timpson, Edward

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tomlinson, Michael

Tracey, Craig

Tredinnick, David

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Tugendhat, Tom

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, rh Mr Andrew

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Whately, Helen

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Sarah Newton


Simon Kirby

Question accordingly negatived.

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1519

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1520

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1521

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1522

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),


That the draft Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 16 July, be approved.—(Guy Opperman.)

The Deputy Speaker’s opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until tomorrow (Standing Order No. 41A).

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),


That the draft Armed Forces (Service Complaints Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 28 October, be approved.—(Guy Opperman.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Capital Gains Tax

That the draft Taxation of Regulatory Capital Securities (Amendment) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 23 November, be approved.—(Guy Opperman.)

Question agreed to.


Divorce proceedings of a UK citizen abroad

7.12 pm

Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): My constituent Sian Mitchell moved to the United States last year, following her engagement and marriage to an American citizen. Sadly, shortly after the birth of her son earlier this year, her marriage fell apart. Her multi-millionaire husband, Mr Angus Mitchell, has taken out court orders preventing Sian from taking her child out of the State of California until proceedings have been resolved, making it as difficult as possible for her to bring up her son in the way she wishes. Sian is away from her family and relies on their emotional support during this extremely difficult time. She is desperate to return home to the United Kingdom with her child to allow her family to have the chance to meet this little boy for the first time. I therefore present the petition on behalf of 154 residents of South Staffordshire.

The petition states:

The petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that Mrs Sian Mitchell moved to the United States of America where she married a US citizen with whom she has a son; further that divorce proceedings are currently in motion and Mrs Mitchell has been ordered by the courts in California to

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1523

remain in the State with her son until proceedings have been resolved; and further that the petitioners believe that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Government should offer as much support and assistance to her as possible so she can return to the United Kingdom.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Government to make representations to the US Government and the State of California to press the issue and get a resolution to the problem at the earliest possible stage so that Mrs Mitchell can return to the United Kingdom with her son as soon as possible.

And the petitioners remain, etc.


15 Dec 2015 : Column 1524

Transgender Prisoners

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Guy Opperman.)

7.14 pm

Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): I am pleased to have secured my first Adjournment debate on the issue of transgender prisoners. It is not a topic that I knew much about before my election in May, but in my seven months in this House it has certainly gained my attention.

As someone who was interested in equalities issues before entering the House, I was keen to be elected to the Women and Equalities Committee. The Committee’s first inquiry into transgender equality is expected to be published early next year and we have taken evidence on trans people in the prison system. It was at that evidence session that I first became aware of the issue that is before us in this debate. It struck me that trans people face barriers and complications at pretty much every point in their lives, but there is a particular problem in our prison system. The description that was put to me last week was that

“getting involved in transgender issues is like a reverse onion, the more you look to peel off layers, the bigger it gets!”

Research suggests that trans people are over-represented in the criminal justice system. The proportion of trans people in the prison system may be twice the proportion in the general population. Many of the offences for which trans people are incarcerated apparently involve obtaining money for privately funded gender reassignment surgery. That is an insight into the lengths to which some trans people feel they have to go to live life in their acquired gender. Other possible reasons for the over-representation of trans people in the criminal justice system include the involvement of sections of the trans community in sex working and substance misuse. However, throughout my involvement in this issue, it has been a constant struggle to find any reliable data.

The recent cases, which have been much discussed in the media, have focused attention on the polices of the National Offender Management Service towards transgender prisoners in England and Wales.

Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP): I thank the hon. Lady for calling this important debate. As my former colleague on the Women and Equalities Committee, I know that she is a great champion of trans issues. The Scottish Prison Service has worked closely with the Scottish Transgender Alliance to produce guidance on gender identity and gender reassignment to ensure that prisoners are placed in the estate that reflects their gender identity, regardless of whether they have a gender recognition certificate. Will she join me in calling for the UK Government to follow the Scottish example?

Cat Smith: The hon. Lady has pre-empted the next part of my speech. There are huge differences in the placement of transgender prisoners between the Scottish prison estate and the English and Welsh prison estate. The policy guidelines for England and Wales state that prisoners should normally be located in the prison estate of their gender, as recognised by UK law. For transgender prisoners, that is normally decided by the

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1525

gender stated on their gender recognition certificate. There is some flexibility to allow transgender prisoners who do not have a GRC to be located in the estate of their acquired gender, where a case conference and multidisciplinary risk assessment determine that it is appropriate.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important and sensitive debate. Joanne Latham was found hanged in her cell at HMP Woodhill in my constituency. She was at the very early stages of changing gender and, therefore, would probably not have been covered by the regulations. Does her case not highlight the need for a case conference to be convened at an earlier point in the person’s journey?

Cat Smith: The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent point and highlights the difficulties. A great number of people who have transitioned gender do not have a gender recognition certificate, so this does not just affect those who are at the beginning of their transition. Many trans people do not seek a gender recognition certificate for a great number of reasons, including financial reasons such as access to pensions. That puts them at risk, were they to enter the prison estate in England and Wales, of not being assigned to the prison estate of their acquired gender.

I welcome the Government’s review of the policy guidelines for England and Wales. The scope of the review was broadened recently to ensure that the care and management of transgender prisoners are fit for purpose.

Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): There is a clear danger when trans people are placed in all-male prisons, as has been highlighted in this debate. In the light of that, does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as issuing the much-needed guidance, the Government should impose a legal responsibility on prison governors to ensure that there is safe housing for trans people, no matter what stage of the reassignment process they are at?

Cat Smith: All prisoners should be safe on the prison estate. As a state, we have a responsibility to keep all prisoners safe.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I asked beforehand whether the hon. Lady would give way. Today in Northern Ireland it has been announced that a prisoner is alleging sexual abuse in Maghaberry prison. This is a devolved matter, I understand. He is taking action against the Prison Service. Does the hon. Lady feel that, while the Minister will answer for England, there is a need for legislation for human rights in prison for all prisoners across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Cat Smith: I believe it is clear that the whole of the UK has a responsibility to safeguard trans people in all walks of life and that no part of the UK has got this issue absolutely correct.

As I mentioned earlier, the guidelines state that the social gender in which the prisoner is living should be fully respected, regardless of whether they have a GRC.

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1526

I would be interested to know whether the review will be comparing the experience of trans prisoners in Scotland with those of trans prisoners in the England and Wales model.

Evidence presented to the Women and Equalities Committee suggested that there are problems with the way trans people are treated when they appear in court—well before they enter custody, therefore—with discriminatory behaviour such as misnaming and mis-gendering. The Gender Identity Research and Education Society stated in evidence to the Committee:

“Trans people are frequently ‘outed’ in court situations to create, deliberately, a negative view of them, whether their trans history is relevant or not. The Gender Recognition Act s22(4)(e) has been misused to achieve this.”

It also appears that a lack of understanding of trans experiences can lead to assumption, bias, potential breaches of confidentiality and other issues in the process of writing pre-sentence reports, which is undertaken by members of the national probation service.

In response to my taking up of this issue in the House on several previous occasions, I have received contact from prisoners, both trans and cisgendered. I want to share with the House some of the accounts I have heard.

From my contact with a trans woman prisoner currently held in a men’s prison, I was alarmed to learn that as well as feeling insecure and being a victim of rape and sexual assault, she is being denied the ability to continue the healthcare and medical appointments that she is having as part of her transition. Prior to entering custody, she had privately arranged final stages of reconstruction surgery to further progress her transition, and the National Offender Management Service is refusing to allow her access to this surgery and to the hormonal medication she has been taking to assist the process.

It is difficult to express how difficult that is making her life, so I will quote from her letter to me:

“The Governor’s blocked all my medical letters to my surgeons, the prison have no right to strip me of my care/hormone treatment. This is killing me as I am now in reversal.”

For any Members who are unclear, reversing is someone transitioning from male to female potentially growing a beard, for instance, while living as a woman, which would be distressing for any prisoner, I suspect.

She is a very vulnerable prisoner, with recorded serious attempts of self-harm, and attempts at suicide. She began the transition process in 2008, and formalised her intention to remain living as a woman for the remainder of her lifetime in 2012, via the making of a “statutory declaration” under the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Yet she tells me:

“There is no knowledge of how suicidal I am because they don’t care what impact”


“choices have on me physically and psychologically. I’m totally destroyed, not the woman I was. I feel I will kill myself soon. I cannot do this now. Please will you help me?”

She has told me that during her time in custody in a male prison she was raped twice and sexually assaulted. She told me:

“I cannot take no more—I’m a woman in a male prison. This is not right.”

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1527

Despite being successful on 29 October at county court in obtaining a judgment in her favour that the Ministry of Justice has responsibility for providing access to private medication and treatment outside of prison, and that that is a decision for the prison governor following a multidisciplinary meeting, and even though she contacted his office on 10 December 2015, this is yet to be facilitated. While she continues to be denied the right to surgery and to be moved to a female prison establishment, she remains extremely vulnerable and at a very high risk of harm. Examples of her self-harm have included injecting bleach into her testicles and attempting self-surgery to remove her scrotum.

I will now make my last quote from this prisoner’s letter to me:

“I hope you can help me and get me out of this hell of a prison that’s not fit for transgender people or cares for them.”

I can reassure the House that her constituency MP is taking her case very seriously and doing her best to assist this prisoner.

Interestingly, NOMS has agreed that when she is released from custody, it will support her continuing supervision in the community in a female “approved premises”. There is no consistency in this case, and her story seems typical of that of many trans prisoners. Journalist and LGBT campaigner Jane Fae told the BBC:

“My serious concern is this is blowing the lid off something that is going on—that for a very long time trans prisoners have not been treated well within the system, that the rules that exist are being overridden... And this is leading to a massive, massive amount of depression and potentially, in some cases, suicidal feelings.”

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): I am sorry to have to agree with my hon. Friend and to point out that, at the moment, once every four days, somebody takes their own life in our prisons.

Cat Smith: I thank my hon. Friend for sharing that upsetting statistic with the House.

In concluding, I will look for some optimism. Public opinion and awareness of this issue seem to be improving. BBC “Look North”, PinkNews, and many others have done a great job of holding the Government to account on it, as has The Huffington Post. It has launched the “TransBritain” campaign, which aims to raise awareness of transgender rights in Britain today. I urge the Minister to take a look at some of the work that it is doing.

My hon. Friend the shadow prisons Minister wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) last week to welcome the announcement that his Department’s review into trans prisoners will now be widened to consider what improvements can be made across prisons, probation services and youth justice services.

Martin John Docherty (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way because I am very conscious of the time. Reflecting what happens in Scotland might affect the debate, in terms of the additional access to care within a prison framework, such as access to items that may be necessary to relieve gender dysphoria and facilitate gender expression such as chest binders and prosthetics. That may add to what the hon. Lady is discussing.

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1528

Cat Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention.

Will the Minister confirm exactly when she estimates that the review that I mentioned will conclude? In answer to my urgent question last month, and in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), the prisons Minister confirmed that, although the Government do not currently hold data centrally on the number of transgender people in prisons, they will start publishing them in future, and that they plan to introduce a self-assessment declaration at pre-sentence report stage. Does the Minister have a timetable for the introduction of those measures? Could she let us know what steps the Government are taking while the review is under way to ensure that recent tragedies are not repeated?

I want to finish with a brief point about the prison estate in general. We know that the right conditions need to be in place to allow prisoners the space to rehabilitate themselves and play a role in society. The outgoing prisons inspector’s latest report revealed that our prisons are in the worst state for 10 years. Overcrowding is up. Violence, against staff and prisoners, has increased, and self-harm and suicides are also up.

My noble Friend Lord Falconer has warned:

“Violent, under-staffed prisons will never be able to rehabilitate prisoners, challenge re-offending behaviour or protect victims of crime.”

That is especially true for trans prisoners.

7.28 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice (Caroline Dinenage): I congratulate the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) on securing the debate. She made some powerful and important observations in her speech, and I will be more than happy to look into any individual cases if she would be kind enough to forward them to me.

As the hon. Lady will understand, the care and management of transgender people in prison is not only a complex but a sensitive issue, which the Government and I take very seriously. As she knows, I hold not only a role in the Ministry of Justice, but the Women and Equalities portfolio. The subject therefore affects me in both roles.

We are committed to incorporating equality and diversity into everything we do and ensuring that we treat all offenders with decency and respect. Current policy and guidance on the care and management of prisoners who live or propose to live in a gender other than the one assigned at birth are set out in Prison Service Instruction 07/2011. The instruction states that all prisoners are normally placed according to their legally recognised gender. Legal gender is determined by the individual’s birth certificate or gender recognition certificate, if they have one. When someone has obtained a gender recognition certificate, they are entitled to a new birth certificate in their acquired gender. The guidelines allow some room for discretion, and senior prison staff will review the circumstances of each case in consultation with medical and other experts, in order to protect the physical and emotional wellbeing of the person concerned, along with the safety and wellbeing of other prisoners.

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1529

The prison estate, and the intervention and support it provides to all offenders, is highly complex. Offenders are more likely to suffer poor mental health, to have issues with substance misuse, or perhaps to have suffered domestic abuse or sexual violence than the general population. All those considerations must be taken into account when we decide on the most appropriate place for an offender to receive the right care and rehabilitation.

As the House will appreciate, the circumstances of individual transgender prisoners vary widely. It is therefore right that NOMS should take a case-by-case approach that is informed by advice from the relevant professionals. Under current arrangements, prisons must produce a management care plan that outlines how the individual will be managed safely and decently within the prison environment. That plan will have oversight from psychologists, healthcare professionals, and prison staff.

Where a lack of clarity about the most appropriate location for a prisoner is associated with their gender identity, the instruction states that a multi-agency case conference must be convened. That will determine the best way forward consistent with the policy, taking into account the individual’s protection and wellbeing, as well as that of other prisoners, and any other risk factors that are of paramount importance.

As the hon. Lady will know, we have received a number of representations that express concern that the current system may not sufficiently address the needs of transgender prisoners. As has already been announced, NOMS is undertaking a review of the relevant prison service instruction to ensure that it is fit for purpose. That must provide an appropriate balance between respecting the needs of the individual, and the responsibility to manage risk and safeguard the wellbeing of all prisoners.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): In cases where the care management plan has obviously failed, what action has been taken against those responsible?

Caroline Dinenage: If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me I will come to that point soon, and I will be more than happy to communicate with him after the debate if I do not cover everything.

Last week I announced during Justice questions that that review will now be widened to consider what improvements we can make across prisons, probation services and youth justice services. The review will develop recommendations for revised guidelines that cover the future shape of prison and probation services for transgender prisoners and offenders in the community. It will be co-ordinated by a senior official from the Ministry of Justice, who will engage with relevant stakeholders—including from the trans community—to ensure that we provide staff in prisons and the probation service with the best possible guidance.

Angela Crawley: Has any consideration been given to those who identify as non-binary or non-gendered in that review and guidance?

Caroline Dinenage: The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. The terms of reference for the review have been published, and that refers back to the point made by the

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1530

hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood about the evidence learned from experience in Scotland. The review will ask for evidence and submissions in the new year, and we want that to be an open and engaging process. Everything and anything will be taken into consideration at that point.

We want to ensure that we provide staff in prisons and probation with the best possible guidance. NOMS, the Youth Justice Board, the national health service and the Government Equalities Office have already started to provide the professional and operational expertise necessary to get this right. In addition, Peter Dawson and Dr Jay Stewart will act as independent advisers to the review. Peter Dawson is deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust and has served as deputy governor of HMP Brixton and governor of HMP Downview and HMP High Down. Dr Jay Stewart is a director of Gendered Intelligence, an organisation that aims to increase the understanding of gender diversity.

An aspect of the review to which the Government have given a firm commitment is defining how we can properly record the number of transgender prisoners and offenders in the community. There are a number of sensitivities associated with this, of which the hon. Lady, who has served on the Select Committee, will be aware. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 places constraints on the recording of information about individuals who have applied for or been issued with a gender recognition certificate. Individual prisons are of course aware of those prisoners in their care who live or propose to live in the gender other than the one assigned at birth, in order properly to provide a care management plan for them that is consistent with the policy guidelines.

NOMS is currently looking at ways to facilitate the recording of information relating to transgender status through the introduction of an equality self-declaration form—to which the hon. Lady referred—to be completed by all defendants as part of their pre-sentence report. As well as obtaining other equality-related information, the use of such a form as standard would enable us to monitor the amount of self-declared transgender individuals who have received a custodial or community sentence. The resourcing and operational impact of introducing the form is being looked at right now, and I hope we will have more news on that shortly.

There has recently been considerable media interest in a number of individual cases, the reporting of which has, sadly, been rather wide of the mark in some parts. As the House will appreciate, operational issues relating to the effective management of risk and the protection of offenders mean that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on individual cases. A key issue is the privacy of individual offenders and their families. An individual’s history of offending constitutes “sensitive personal data” for the purpose of the Data Protection Act 1988, as can information on their possible transgender status. Such information can therefore be released only when it is fair and lawful to do so. The threshold is high and requires a strong countervailing public interest for the information to be disclosed. Factors relevant to that assessment will include whether the individual has given their consent for the information to be released.

In addition, under section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, it is a criminal offence for someone who has acquired information in an official capacity—including civil servants, holders of public office and employers—to

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1531

disclose information about a person’s application for a gender recognition certificate or where the certificate has been issued that discloses the person’s previous gender.

Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act also defines any information relating to a person’s application for a gender recognition certificate or to a successful applicant’s gender history as “protected information”. In most instances, it is a strict liability offence to disclose protected information to any other person if the information has been acquired in an official capacity. The exemptions to when it is an offence to disclose protected information listed in section 22 are very tightly drawn to avoid abuse and protect individual privacy. If the hon. Lady has examples of where that has not been upheld, I would be keen to know about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) raised the death of his constituent. I have explained why there are limits to what I can say about individual cases. None the less, I wish to place it on public record that both myself in a personal capacity and the Government consider each self-inflicted death in custody a tragedy. We are committed to reducing the number of deaths in prisons, and every death is the

15 Dec 2015 : Column 1532

subject of investigations by the police and the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, as well as a coroner’s inquest. The safety and well-being of all prisoners in our care is of the highest priority.

I am mindful of the wide-ranging evidence put to the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry into transgender equality. It has taken some fascinating and really valuable evidence and I very much look forward to hearing its recommendations in due course.

I wish to reassure the hon. Lady of my utmost commitment to the care and management of transgender prisoners. The planned review will allow us the opportunity to focus on their needs and their well-being against the backdrop of social reform, and as part of our wider investment in the rehabilitation of all prisoners in our care.

I thank the hon. Lady for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important subject and look forward to discussing it further with her in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

7.41 pm

House adjourned.