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A final concern is the lack of a level playing field between RSLs and commercial developers. This issue comes up again and again in housing and property development. I recently read that there will be a considerable subsidy in the direction of private developers through a two-year delay in their requirement to meet environmental standards. In the Bill, housing associations will have a more stringent regulatory framework for building and managing low-cost homes than private homebuilders will. This will inevitably put housing associations at a cost disadvantage in competitive bidding.

Several small measures are welcome. They may be small, but they are certainly not insignificant in this first attempt in 30 years to reform social housing. The support provided through family intervention tenancies is welcome, but there are further safeguards that I shall be seeking to ensure, whereby complete information is available to those families in advance of relinquishing their security of tenure. Likewise, the provisions that relate to Travellers and Gypsies, including securing their human rights, are welcome and long overdue, as the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, pointed out.

There are several other measures to be scrutinised. Overall, this is a timely Bill that has much potential. I look forward to contributing to its passage.

9.45 pm

Earl Cathcart: My Lords, I am slightly confused as to whether that was a Back-Bench contribution or a winding up speech, but it is now my turn. At the

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outset, I declare that for the past 10 years I have been a district councillor in Breckland in Norfolk and I am a private landlord.

We have had a good debate with many informed and interesting contributions from all sides of the House. The aspirations of the Bill are admirable and generally accepted by all. The devil is in the detail. When I realised that I would be involved in the Bill, I asked myself, “Why do we need it and what, after 11 years in power, are the Government trying to achieve?”. We are told that one of the Government’s main priorities is the provision of available and affordable housing. The conclusion must be that that objective, so far, has failed and there is a huge shortage in housing in urban and rural areas.

The Government want us to believe that because they talk about more and better housing and regeneration, they will deliver it. They have not done that so far. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, found the remarks of my honourable friend Grant Shapps to be bleak and destructive. I would say that things are bleak and grim. The Government have set themselves a challenging target of building 3 million new homes by 2020 and 250,000 new homes each year. Sadly, during their 11 years, they have built only a pitiful 145,000 houses per annum. Even the Conservatives managed 173,000 per annum during their 18 years of power. This is yet another example of the Government failing to meet their own targets.

If we delve a little deeper, the sad reality is depressing and bleak. In the past 11 years, councils have built on average just 4,000 council houses per annum. Last year the figure fell to 400. My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith’s figures were lower. Perhaps I have been too generous. Housing associations, the Government’s preferred alternative for the provision of social housing, have managed on average only 22,000 new homes during the period. But demand for social housing by far exceeds this pitiful supply. The 2007 statistics reveal that there were 1.7 million applications filed on the waiting lists for social housing. The charity Shelter believes that nearly 4 million people in the UK are either homeless or live in temporary accommodation. Is it any wonder that these people are left with a feeling of total neglect? Some 130,000 children are homeless—double the figure of 10 years ago—most as a direct result of the lack of social housing.

It is likely that housing shortages will be further aggravated to the point of crisis by the present credit crunch. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester mentioned repossessions. There were some 27,000 last year and it is estimated that there will be some 45,000 this year—and goodness knows how many next year. Presumably those whose homes are repossessed will all need rehousing in social accommodation.

However, the bad news does not stop there. First-time buyers, who in the past have risked borrowing huge multiples of their earnings to get on to the property ladder, now cannot borrow and so will have to rely on the almost non-existent social housing sector. Therefore, the figure of 1.7 million on the waiting list for 2007 could be considerably higher for 2008-09—perhaps 2 million would be nearer the mark.

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In addition, this acute shortage of housing is not helped by the announcement last week by Persimmon. I shall not go into any details but this company probably will not be the last to take this view. My noble friend Lord Patten talked about the “Persimmon pause” and estimated that during 2008-09 only just over 100,000 new homes would be built. During that time, he argued, we should concentrate on how to achieve better designed homes, perhaps with the use of design review panels. I hope that the Minister will reply to his interesting ideas.

Surely it is time to stop developers picking the same poorly designed houses from their catalogues and building the same houses in East Anglia, the West Country and the north of England with no regard to local design and materials. It is high time that we, the developers and planners listened to these arguments. Therefore, from this Front Bench I agree 100 per cent with the views of our Back-Bench contributors. It did not surprise me that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, followed this theme, as he initiated a debate on design only a few weeks ago.

This chronic shortage in social housing is not unique to urban areas. The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, argued that rural housing must not be forgotten. Indeed, back in 2003 the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, issuing a report entitled Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future, acknowledged that the,

That neatly sums up the problem that we find in Norfolk. Ten years ago, my district’s population was 100,000; it is now nearer 150,000. However, in spite of meeting the building targets, the waiting list for housing continues to grow, and I am sure that we are not alone. The new build that has taken place has not been going to those most in need—that is, local people needing affordable housing. Noble Lords will recall my noble friend’s remarks. He said that only 5 per cent of housing in villages is social housing, while the national average is 23 per cent. That means that people find it difficult or impossible to remain in the communities where they grew up.

I know that this will not happen but, given the Government’s current record on housebuilding, if every new house built for the next 10 years was only social housing, the backlog of demand would still not be satisfied. It is against this depressing, grim and bleak backdrop that the Bill comes before the House.

The Homes and Communities Agency’s role has been described by government as a one-stop delivery partner for local authorities which will provide essential support and help to local councils to deliver on housebuilding targets. The creation of the HCA is generally welcomed on the grounds that it makes sense to replace the current multiple overlapping agencies with a single delivery partner for local government. There are, however, serious concerns about the relationship between the HCA and local authorities, as many speakers

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have said, and fears that, like other regional bodies, the new agency risks taking power away from elected local authorities and giving it to an unaccountable body.

Some have said that the Bill creates a top-down, centrally driven approach to development and regeneration, while local people in their communities are having their powers stripped away. The Local Government Association is concerned that the HCA should not impose its own vision on local authorities but should work in partnership with them to deliver their pre-existing vision for their communities. I ask the Minister, when summing up, to explain how the Government envisage the HCA working with local authorities and under what circumstances she envisages the HCA exercising its draconian powers, given that it will be able to do anything it considers appropriate for the purposes of its objects.

The Bill allows much more power to be transferred to the HCA than was granted to English Partnerships and I have no doubt that there will be much debate on that as the Bill proceeds through the House. The Bill also includes provision to improve the availability of environmentally friendly housing by changing powers on establishing new settlements to allow low carbon eco-towns to be built more quickly. Although it is not a wholly new power for the Secretary of State to designate the HCA as a local planning authority, there are fears that it will be used much more in the future as the Government seek to facilitate the rapid development of eco-towns. There are concerns that councils, as the democratically elected local planning authorities, should not lose their powers to take the lead on the creation and location of eco-towns. Can the Minister say which organisations will be represented on the board of the HCA to ensure adequate input in decision-making? Here I have in mind the Local Government Association and housing associations. Perhaps she can enlighten us. The same question applies to the board of Oftenant.

I now turn to Oftenant, with its brief to protect and to promote the interests of tenants and board accountability. Interestingly, the National Housing Federation does not believe that Oftenant will protect and promote the interests of tenants, as it will operate on the basis that it, Oftenant, not the tenants, knows best. Housing associations will be required to comply with Oftenant’s rules, even if that goes against the wishes of the tenants. Surely, the whole point of Oftenant is to reinforce the wishes and interests of its tenants.

The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, made some good points on monopolies of social housing landlords, the lack of choice for tenants, their ability to change landlord and the need for tenant choice and empowerment. No doubt we shall debate that. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith, that tenants should have better protection against retaliatory evictions. I am sure we shall consider that. The Cave report recommended that a new independent regulator should protect all social housing tenants, including council and ALMO tenants. The Local Government Association supports this recommendation, as do the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Whitty, and a

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number of others. It also believes that Oftenant should protect all tenants now rather than needing further legislation in two or three years’ time, or at any rate, that it should find some mechanism to include them at this stage. Can the Minister say why the Bill excludes council and ALMO tenants, thereby neglecting to give them the same protection that their housing association neighbours will receive? That is not only unfair but morally questionable.

On the timetable of the implementation of sustainability certificates, which is not set out in the Bill, does the Minister agree that it is important to give the industry clarity? Has a timetable for implementation been agreed? Given the botched fiasco of the implementation of the home information packs, what assurances can the Minister give that there will be no repeat of that when the Government come to implement sustainability certificates for new homes? While on HIPs, we were promised a report on their assessment and effectiveness before phase 2 was implemented. This has never been produced and, in typical fashion, the Government rolled out phase 2 anyway. Can the Minister say when we can expect that report?

The Government talk a good talk on meeting the aspirations of first-time buyers, but have done more than any other Government to build roadblocks to home ownership, including restricting the right to buy, ramping up stamp duty, driving up council tax and, now, introducing new costs with HIPs. When are the Government going to bring down these barriers? Do they realise that the more one encourages home ownership, the more pressure one releases from the ever increasing waiting lists for social housing?

The situation is not helped by the Government now taking 75 per cent of money raised from each right-to-buy sale from local authorities. This has dramatically reduced the capital receipts that councils can use to build more homes. Given the Government’s penchant for pinching Conservative policies, let me give them one for free: increase the stamp duty threshold for first-time buyers to £250,000 so that nine out of 10 first-time buyers will pay nothing.

Astonishingly, there were nearly 400 government amendments to the Bill when it was going through the other place, with no time to examine and debate the details properly. If I were charitable, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I might say that the Government had listened to the arguments. If I were not, I would say that it was because the Bill was badly drafted and thought out. The answer probably lies somewhere in between. I am sure that the House will want to debate all the issues fully when the Bill comes to Committee.

10.01 pm

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, it has been a thoroughly excellent debate. I congratulate everyone who has taken part in it. A wealth of experience has been demonstrated across the House, and I would expect no less. I start by saying how grateful I am for the welcome that the Bill has received from all over the House, and how much I look forward to Committee. Many issues have been raised this afternoon, and I know that we will have a good debate in Committee.

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First, I say to the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, that the Bill is in good shape. We listened hard in the other place, which means that we can concentrate on the outstanding issues in this House. I have no doubt, from the range of—not least opportunistic—recommendations and the opportunities identified, that we will have a broad debate in Committee.

I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for identifying the list of stakeholders and their arguments, but pointing out that they all want the Bill. That is perfectly clear. I advise noble Lords—and I do not mean to be presumptuous in saying this—that it is always wise to think of that as lobbying material. There is a broad context to the arguments in lobbying material. I was grateful for the comments of my noble friend Lady Ford on the appetite for what we are trying to do for stakeholders across housing. We have had various forms of evidence this evening, suggesting to me that the Bill is indeed welcome. Of course we will debate the detail, as we must.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester talked about the importance of asking ourselves what causes communities to flourish. We should keep that question in our minds as we debate the Bill. I will talk about purposes rather than processes in winding up, and noble Lords will forgive me if I cannot answer their many excellent but detailed questions. One of the purposes is to bring together all those elements, agencies and funding streams which make up a community, and which we have seen in the work we have done in growth areas and regeneration situations. You need it all; you need the infrastructure, the land and the leadership. I did not recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, said about the Bill; I will come back to that. You also need the ability to work as a team across all these elements—that is what the Homes and Communities Agency gives us for the first time—to draw on the expertise of people such as the noble Lord, Lord Mawson. I hope he will have the opportunity to talk to Sir Bob Kerslake because nothing could be nearer the sort of vision that Bob Kerslake is offering than drawing on the genuine expertise that is derived across this area.

We are now in a situation where we have a clear set of objectives. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether I can give assurances that there will not be a destructive and protracted process. I can assure her of that. A tasking framework and a business plan are in place that set out very clearly the processes that are being gone through and that will have to be gone through. I again pay tribute to the leadership of Sir Bob Kerslake, as everybody has done, because not only does he come out of local government and is so successful that he knows what works, but he knows how to manage change. That will drive this in as speedy and efficient fashion as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked about Wales. I can assure him that officials have agreed provisions with our Welsh counterparts and they continue to be in close contact with them, so I do not think he should worry about that.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and my noble friend Lord Sawyer were right when they talked about the need not for structural change but

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for cultural change. However, I hope I have made the case that we need the structural change in the single agency in order to bring cultural change, bring people together and find new ways of working. I am sure that that cultural change will be delivered.

We had a discussion about why the market cannot provide in this way. The noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friends Lord Morris and Lady Jones paid tribute to that, but we also had serious comment from noble Lords about the nature of the situation in the market. Noble Lords were right to do so. It is precisely because we are facing a different situation that we need a Homes and Communities Agency that can deliver not just the existing programmes of the housing corporations and EP but the flexibility to be able to have different approaches in different areas to meet different needs, which is the key to delivering in a period of uncertainty. It is obvious that the HCA would want to prepare to deal with the present situation as flexibly and imaginatively as possible and to prepare for a market upturn by putting together the key infrastructure, the key site assembly decisions and the capacity of local authorities so that we will be ready when the situation changes.

I share noble Lords’ admiration for the role of the RSLs. They are right to draw attention to it. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised a few issues about governance. All I would say is that there is a distinction between strategic development. On CLG, the Government continue to lead on strategic policy, but the HCA will be the delivery support and engagement authority. That is how it will work.

Noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, in particular but also the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, in his wind-up—asked about powers. This is an important area. With powers come relationships, particularly relationships with local authorities. The powers of the HCA are wide because the task is wide. I believe the objectives that we have already expanded upon in another place meet the task before us. Because the objectives are wider, the powers we are taking—in relation to planning they are inherited powers—will be wider, too. Let me give the sort of assurances that were given time and again in another place by Ministers that the powers that we have taken are exceptional. They will be exceptional in use and will be governed by the Secretary of State’s involvement. We will be in discussion with local authorities on the very rare occasions when the HCA needs to take planning powers. The critical thing will be consultation with local authorities first. I can certainly give that assurance. They will be used only in very rare circumstances. It is probable that, as they have been used very rarely in the past, they will be used to deliver complex regeneration projects.

I turn to relationships with local authorities, which goes to the heart of much of what the HCA will be able to achieve. The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, and many noble Lords addressed the issue of the HCA’s regional and local responsibilities. The HCA sits within the planning system. Nothing that the HCA will do will be outside the planning system. Its relationships with the regions—the regional spatial economic strategies, the future single regional strategies

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and local development plans and frameworks—will be crucial. Of course, it is a national agency, but the key to success will lie in its ability actively to collaborate at regional and local levels. It will be a bridge between the delivery of national targets and the realisation of local ambitions. It cannot be remote—to address the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, it cannot be a monoculture. There is too much diversity locally for it even to begin to be a monoculture. That diversity will be reflected in how it works.

On its relationship with local authorities, we are in the process of drafting a concordat document, similar to the one that sets out the relationship between central government and local authorities, which will establish the relationship between the agency and local authorities. The concordat will set out how we expect the agency to operate with local authorities. Of course, we have special arrangements for London. My noble friend Lady Dean said that it will be a partner authority for the purpose of local area agreements and multi-area agreements. That is exactly what it will be—a partner authority. That will be key to its success. Everyone is well aware of that.

I turn to some of the questions raised. The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, asked about regeneration capacity. We have experience of regeneration—not quite his experience, but in the HCA we now have an opportunity to bring our best experience of regeneration together. We will do that not only in urban but in rural areas. I say to my noble friend Lady Dean that, as she knows, rural housing is a very important aspect of the Government’s plans. I am telling her what she knows here but, traditionally, we set Housing Corporation targets to reflect rural as well as urban aspirations and needs, and that will continue. We indeed have some very specific challenges in rural areas, but our ability to bring people and agencies together to consider the rural situation will be more powerful and more focused.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester asked about eco-towns. We are not forcing eco-towns on communities; there was an invitation process. However, I listened hard to what he said. We will ensure that growth is taken forward sustainably. We have powers in the HCA to deal with infrastructure, which is essential if we are to deliver proper communities. Clearly, there is an active debate around the whole issue of eco-towns and the Government are listening.

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