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I did not answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain. I am terribly sorry; I went away with the fairies or something. The noble Baroness made a valid point about ID cards. She is absolutely right that people can create exact copies of them. However, it is rather like someone robbing one’s house. One may have a burglar alarm, bars and all these things, but if someone focuses totally on robbing one’s house, it is very difficult to stop them getting in. I am afraid that the same is true of ID cards. You need a real specialist to spot a fake one that someone has put a huge effort into creating. There may be many other things against ID cards but generally, in purely counterterrorist terms, I have no doubt whatever that they will make the situation easier. They will not resolve the problem—nothing on its own will resolve the problem—but they will make the situation easier.

Debate on the Address

5.05 pm

Debate resumed.

Lord Best: My Lords, we return to the debate on the Address. My comments relate to the Housing and Regeneration Bill and I declare an interest in a plethora of public and voluntary sector issues that the Bill covers. I also chair the Private Rented Sector Policy Forum which draws together landlord and

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tenant organisations. In view of our six-minute quota, regretfully I will confine my remarks to that sector. But, first, I give a hearty welcome to the underlying objectives of the Bill, in particular its intention greatly to increase the number of new homes built each year, as so well spelt out by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews.

I should like to speak about the Bill’s provision for a new housing regulator—the Office for Tenants and Social Landlords—initially for the housing associations but in a couple of years also for council housing and the arm’s-length management organisations (ALMOs) that look after a lot of local authority housing stock. I welcome the Government's proposals for an independent new body and I suggest that this regulator should cover private landlords too.

Over the past 30 years the regulation of housing associations by the Housing Corporation has been enormously successful in ensuring an absence of scandals and mismanagement, without bankruptcies and losses of public or private investment. This sector, as well as being subject to heavy scrutiny by Audit Commission inspectors, benefits from a well respected housing ombudsman service that considers tenants' complaints and provides redress. The new regulator, with a strong tenant emphasis, will be able to build on this success story and, indeed, relax some of the regulatory burden on the best-performing organisations.

Meanwhile, in stark contrast to the position of the non-profit sector, the private rented sector—the PRS—falls outside the remit of any regulator. The constraints, safety nets and quality controls for the social landlords do not apply to the private landlords; lettings agents, who act in the place of the landlords, will not be covered by the new Consumers and Estate Agents Redress Act—and there is no compulsion on private landlords or their agents to join any kind of ombudsman scheme.

Hundreds of thousands of new landlords have entered the sector over recent years. They have borrowed something over £120 billion in buy-to-let mortgages and invested billions more of their own money, but they have not had to pass any tests of competence, demonstrate any understanding of landlord-tenant law, prove their honesty or financial probity or absence from criminal convictions, let alone have any experience in this field. Any drug dealer can set up as a landlord or, indeed, as a letting agent, overnight.

The buildings owned by private landlords are now meant to comply with the basic standards for health and safety redefined by the 2006 housing Act, but these steps to improve physical conditions in the worst stock do not relate to the management, the owners and their agents, of privately rented properties. It is here the tenants face the most problems—and without any means of combating injustices except through complex and costly recourse to the courts. It is excellent that measures to provide protection against landlords unfairly failing to return tenants' deposits was incorporated into the last housing Act, but that is only one hazard faced by tenants who feel cheated by their landlord when repairs never get done, complaints are never answered, absentee landlords do nothing about the

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noise and disruption of their tenants next door, as well as far worse abuses. Moreover, tenants who take their landlord to task can be the subject of what Citizens Advice calls “retaliatory eviction”. Since few tenancies any longer offer the protection of security of tenure—I would not advocate a return to the Rent Act protections of yesteryear—unscrupulous landlords can simply terminate the tenancies of anyone who complains.

What of the anti-social phenomenon of “buy-to-leave”, whereby the investor acquires property and leaves it empty? This treatment of housing as an asset like gold or Old Masters, despite, or perhaps because of, the numbers of people desperately needing somewhere to live, is truly shocking. Should local authorities be levying council tax at 10 times the usual level on those apartments, as some have suggested?

Fortunately, bad landlords are as unpopular with the relevant professional organisations and reputable trade associations as they are with those who champion tenants’ rights. The honourable bodies representing reputable landlords are as keen as anyone to promote sensible codes of conduct and schemes of accreditation. But the absence of any compulsion on landlords to join such schemes and adhere to any agreed standards undermines the work of respectable institutes, federations and associations: bad landlords simply refuse to join.

The reason for the lack of regulation for the private rented sector is that for decades there has been a deep concern that this would deter much-needed investment in the sector. All of us, anxious to attract new investment, especially from the big financial institutions, to enhance and expand the sector, have studiously avoided advocating anything that could possibly be interpreted as a return to rent controls or Rent Act security of tenure. But now the world has changed: it would no longer be a problem to frighten off additional speculative amateur landlords who do not want to adopt industry-wide good practice.

Too much money chasing the available homes for sale—with buy-to-let and overseas landlords acquiring the majority of homes in some new developments—has been a significant contributor to the dangerous inflation of house prices. Too many landlords outbidding would-be homeowners undermines aspirations for owner occupation, with a dramatic fall in recent years from about 40 per cent down to little more than 25 per cent of new homes going to first-time buyers. The rapid growth of the sector, from about 9 per cent to around 12 per cent of the nation’s homes, has been very helpful, particularly in soaking up the backlog of demand from mobile young professionals, but in many areas that market is now saturated. Today, discouraging more new speculative landlords would seem to be a positive, beneficial outcome from introducing proper regulation to the sector.

The Housing and Regeneration Bill provides a perfect opportunity at precisely the right time. It allows for the extension of the new regulator’s remit to cover not just social landlords but private landlords. In commending the Bill, I ask Ministers to seize this chance to introduce, at last, proper regulation of the private rented sector.

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5.13 pm

The Lord Bishop of London: My Lords, on these Benches, we shall look at various aspects of the rich agenda laid before us this afternoon by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I join other noble Lords in thanking and congratulating the Government on being the first in the world to introduce a Bill committing the UK to substantial reductions in C02 emissions. We are discussing this matter at a crucial time. As we are debating this matter here, the 27th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting in Valencia. The intention is to release a synthesis report over the weekend, which will sum up the current state of scientific research.

We all know that in historical times the climate has shown variations and that average temperatures have fluctuated. In the 12th century, for example, the century of cheerful cathedral building and the flowering of medieval culture, the average temperatures in Europe were about a degree higher than they are now. That led to warnings to the French nobility not to drink so much English wine. From 1315 onwards, a sequence of rain-sodden harvests and deteriorating climatic conditions exposed a malnourished population to the ravages of the Black Death, with very severe economic and social consequences. We can easily see from experience that climate change is a health issue and, of course, a security issue, since competition for scarce resources and humanitarian crises will have a major impact on prospects for peace in the world.

In the past, climate change has always had an impact on society and there have always been fluctuations in temperature. But, as we all know, the scientific case is proven—what we are witnessing at the moment is quite unprecedented. Next month the UN Climate Change Conference will meet in Bali. The hope is that the representatives of more than 180 countries will be able to set out plans for a global agreement to replace Kyoto. The proposals in the Climate Change Bill should confirm the UK’s leading role in contributing to this debate. John Ashton, the UK climate change envoy, has observed that,

The draft Bill has provoked some constructive debate, and we heard some details from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. There is a debate about targets and the implications of including other greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping in the UK targets. There is a debate about the precise role, responsibility and independence of the Committee on Climate Change. There will be an opportunity to debate these matters in detail when the final version of the Bill is introduced, but for now it is important to welcome a move towards a world in which the human family acts together and not against itself to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The Prime Minister in his Guildhall speech last night stressed the interdependent nature of the 21st-century world. We are all aware that those most at risk from the way we live now are some of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world. The Stern

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report made the connection very clear. These days, if we are to obey the command to love our neighbours, we should be thinking both of the people next door and the rice farmers of Bangladesh.

I should declare an interest as the chairman of the Church of England’s Shrinking the Footprint campaign aimed at reducing the Church’s energy consumption. The booklet published in conjunction with the campaign, cheerfully entitled, How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change a Christian?, has been a bestseller in 2007 and shortly will hit the bookshops in the US. Now we are launching a follow-up programme under the risky title “Don’t stop at the lights”. Among other things, we hope to encourage greater use of Church land to encourage biodiversity. We are also publishing fresh ideas for observing the various festivals of the Christian year and, of course, we have much to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters in reinvigorating the Sabbath. This is an issue which can draw on the deepest spiritual traditions in our world. On Sunday I was briefed on the work of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences.

This is a matter of human solidarity and we pledge ourselves to work closely with other organisations and faith traditions to support the Government’s intentions. We hope that the Government will acknowledge and assist the work of those parts of civil society that are aware of the scale of the challenge we face and the need for concerted action.

In Greater London alone, even before the recent arrivals from eastern Europe, sober research suggests that in excess of 630,000 Christians worship in more than 4,000 churches in any ordinary week. If we can inspire this constituency, the impact will be palpable and measurable. From these Benches we stand by to make a constructive, but not uncritical, contribution to the debate on a very welcome initiative. The Foreign Secretary said this year:

Climate change is not one topic among many, as this debate nears its conclusion, but in reality it has an impact on almost everything that we have discussed.

5.20 pm

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I shall focus on two areas of this vast agenda—climate change and housing—but I will say briefly that I welcome most of the provisions of the Local Transport Bill, although unlike the opposition Front Bench I would go further on road pricing. Also, I regret somewhat the further delay on the substantive marine Bill.

Like others, I sat through the meetings of the Joint Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill, which was a very constructive experience. I have six serious points to make briefly. First, on giving the Bill teeth, not only does the committee have to have the resources, expertise and authority to ensure that targets are met, but the machinery of government needs to ensure that they are met. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the right reverend Prelate said,

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that has to be central to all aspects of government; it probably requires a significant change in the machinery of government.

Secondly, even if we start with a 60 per cent target, we must allow the Bill to change that target in the light of new information, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. The draft Bill did not allow that immediately. Thirdly, on validation, the measurement of carbon emissions for trading and target purposes is still subject to a lot of blurred edges. That issue must be attacked. We need to establish a robust system of measurement for trading systems and for the purposes of the Bill. I commend to the Minister the letter—signed by, among others, my humble self—in the Financial Times today about establishing a more robust system of measurement.

The fourth issue is how for both target and trading purposes we acquire credits as a result of activity in third countries, mainly developing countries. While I do not exclude that, there has to be a limit as we go forward. Fifthly—wearing my hat as chair of the National Consumer Council—there has to be more effective engagement of consumers in this process, in terms of information, price signals and regulation. Lastly, the Bill needs to cover in more substantial detail the question of adaptation to climate change as well as measures for mitigating climate change.

Relevant to the climate change agenda is the Energy Bill, two aspects of which I will mention. In passing, perhaps I ought also to mention that I am the president of the Combined Heat & Power Association, chair of a company in that area and an adviser to EAGA, the fuel poverty group.

I have come reluctantly to recognise that nuclear power will have a role to play in reducing carbon emissions in this country and around the world. Concomitant with that must be equal resources backing planning facilities for low-carbon technologies and for other technologies, such as combined heat and power and renewable energy. Indeed, there must be a much more decentralised system of heating, where the points of generation and use are much closer. While nuclear may provide much of the base load in the medium term, there must be a more decentralised system.

As we approach an era of higher energy prices, particularly for carbon-based energy, there is also a social dimension. It is important that policy in this area should recognise that the poor cannot afford to pay much more for their energy. Both the regulated tariff structure, in providing social tariffs, and the expenditure on ensuring that homes are well insulated and heated need attention. I have a specific question for the Minister. Will we maintain at least the current levels of expenditure on the reduction of fuel poverty?

As the noble Baroness in particular will know, I have on occasion been somewhat critical of this Government’s policy on housing. I therefore welcome the housing Bill and the recognition in her speech that a major part of the problem relates to building more houses. We do so at a point when all sectors of the housing market are in serious crisis. Affordability of new houses for first-time buyers in most parts of the country is now a real problem. There are serious

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capacity problems within the social housing sector. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, there are serious and growing problems in the private rented sector.

I welcome the Bill’s provision of a new regeneration authority and the separation of the role of the regulator from that authority, but I join the noble Lord, Lord Best, in saying that the regulator’s terms of reference are somewhat narrow. After all, in a lot of the estates that we are concerned about, there are already multiple forms of tenure: there are some owner-occupiers, some lessees and some sub-tenants, as well as direct tenants of the local authority, housing association or ALMO. They all have problems with the ultimate landlord. In addition, the problems of the private rented sector are not really covered by regulation at all. I therefore hope that the Bill will allow for the extension of the new regulator to all these forms of tenure.

In that context, it is important that the voice of the tenant, and of the residents generally, is more effectively heard. There are currently many attempts at engaging the tenant in decisions about their place of residence, but few reflect what is supposed to be the drive of government policy: to put the consumer at the heart of public service provision. Some of the supposed forms of engagement, such as ballots on stock transfer and renewal of the ALMO provisions, have been, as the noble Baroness will be aware, travesties, which have unfortunately disillusioned a lot of tenants, organisations and others engaged in the process. I hope that part of the regulation of housing looks at the degree of tenant involvement and how tenants’ views can be properly represented, not just once but throughout their period of residence in those properties. I hope that the housing Bill can therefore be expanded to take on board some of these points.

5.27 pm

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I am no great expert on local government and have never before spoken on this day of the Queen’s Speech debate, but I have just been amazed and shocked that there has been all this talk about the need for more houses without a word from anyone—no word from the Front Bench this afternoon—about the impact of present immigration policy on housing need. Only 15 years ago, Ministers were working on the basis that in the years ahead there would be zero net immigration—that is, leavers and arrivers would more or less balance each other out. However, we are now experiencing the most dramatic demographic upheaval in our country’s history.

The Office for National Statistics says that 10 years from now there will be 65 million people in the country and that by 2031 there will be 71 million. What is important for this debate is that 70 per cent of that rise to 71 million will, says the ONS, be a direct result of immigration. New immigration will add to the population the equivalent of 11 new cities the size of Birmingham. Furthermore, says the ONS, that would not be the end of it. Unless immigration is stemmed, this apparently inexorable rise will go on and on, so that by 2081 there will be 81 million human beings jostling for space on our tiny island.

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The Government affect to believe that immigration on this scale is good for the economy. GDP has gone up, they say, but as the population has also gone up, GDP per head seems to have gone down. What of the latest ONS figures, which show that, of the new jobs created under Labour, 81 per cent, not 52 per cent, which was the figure previously wrung out of the Government, have gone to foreigners? That surely does not prove that immigration at present levels has been an unmixed blessing. What of the 1.2 million under-25s who are neither in work nor in education? What of the 5 million British adults who are living on welfare payments? Surely if more British citizens were working instead of claiming benefits there would be fewer vacancies to attract people from elsewhere, and that really would be good for the economy. One thing I fear is true: immigration on the present scale is welcome to many employers because it holds down wage levels. Not to put too fine a point on it, it undermines the labour market position of the most vulnerable sections of the workforce, including members of minority communities who themselves were immigrants not so very long ago.

We should not just be looking at the economic consequences of present levels of immigration; we have to look at the social consequences and at the burden that it is placing on schools, hospitals, transport, police, prisons and, of course, housing. I remind noble Lords that the Prime Minister says that 3 million more houses need to be built. The head of the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit says that because of immigration 3 million will not be enough, and the chairman of Natural England, who is supposed to be there to protect our natural landscape, says that we had better start building on the green belt. There is one thing that these three people have in common: no evidence can be found in speeches, statements, reports or articles that it has ever occurred to any of them to question whether immigration at the present level is sensible and whether carefully worked out immigration policies might reduce the demand for housing and therefore avoid the need to cover more of our land with concrete.

Unlike the Government, the House of Commons Library has worked out the effect of forecast levels of immigration on housing need. Even on the basis of the ONS figures before they were revised upwards in the most recent report, if we continue as we are going on now newcomers alone will in the next 13 years require 1.23 million houses, swallowing up 41 per cent of the 3 million houses that Mr Brown has promised us.

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