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As regards the economy, if we compare the current situation to that when interest rates were in the mid teens and almost 3 million people were unemployed, it is reasonable still to conclude that the economy is in good shape. As we are all aware, the housing market is not in such good shape but, again, during my tenure at English Partnerships, whenever we tried to do innovative things the Treasury said, “Where is the market failure in terms of the housing market?”. Plainly, there is some market failure now, but the different attitudes of the housebuilders in terms of starts and their confidence shows us some people have less confidence in the market than others. In this situation, it is imperative that the new Homes and Communities Agency gets going and helps where it can to address that market failure. I hope that that helps the noble Earl with his issue about hiving off to agencies—

The Earl of Onslow: I am not in any way suggesting that it necessarily will fail. The noble Baroness was obviously a superb head of whatever she was doing and she achieved her objectives. All I am asking is: what is the legal consequence of something written down in the Bill as “thou shalt” when someone comes along and does not? I am not in any way implying that it is going to fail or making a criticism of anyone. I am merely asking what seems to me to be a question, although I may be the only one interested in the answer .

Baroness Ford: I think that it is a reasonable question. I was merely saying that we on these Benches do not have much record of failure over the last period on which to draw.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I hesitate to intervene, but we are raking over old coals, if one can put it that way, to a certain extent. We covered this ground fairly thoroughly last week. There is no easy meeting of minds. I am always fascinated by legislation and the words that are used and their meaning. One might logically assume that as the agency is the creation of the Government, if it failed a Minister might resign. However, I make no political points when I say that in recent years the old culture of ministerial responsibility being represented by a resignation was last honourably applied by a Member of this House when he was Foreign Secretary and he missed a point in the southern Atlantic. Unfortunately, since then we have not seen such an honourable tradition repeated.

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We will not resolve the issue today and I am sure that it will be the source of future debate on the Bill. Again, I shall listen with interest to what the noble Baroness says and study it with great care, because it will set the tone for future discussion.

Baroness Andrews: Members of the Committee raised some profound questions in that short debate. I start by answering the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the Academy for Sustainable Communities. The academy is not just about raising the standards of training for planners: it is about building an awareness and understanding of what is involved in making a sustainable community. That means that it works not just with professionals, including planners, but with people in the community. We need to get communities and activists—not just children in schools—to understand the importance of planning properly for communities and engaging them in that process. I am delighted to be the Minister responsible and to say that the HC has done an outstanding job over the past two years. Its home is now properly in the HCA because it will be at the centre of the responsibility for building communities. Inevitably, its scope will deepen and sharpen.

I turn to the broader point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. Without repeating myself, for the reasons mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, I say to him simply that we have had sustained economic growth over the past 10 years. We have had historically high employment levels and historically low interest rates. That has not changed. I would not hazard an answer to the noble Lord’s question about recession. We are not in recession, and that is where I would leave the issue.

As regards the question raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, my noble friend Lady Ford answered it far better than I could. I say to him and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, only that the Housing Corporation was concerned with affordable homes. That now amounts to 70,000 new homes a year, which is not an insignificant number. The point is that the HCA, by virtue of assuming the role of the Housing Corporation, is responsible for securing those 70,000 new homes. However, in all its other work, it will support the delivery of 3 million new homes. Through its regeneration responsibilities and its work on investment in land and communities, through the traditional work of English Partnerships, and through the work it is picking up from us in housing market renewal pathfinders, for example, it will support 3 million homes. Its market share may be directly 30 per cent, but its work goes much broader.

What happens if its objectives are not achieved? That is a good question, and one that is well asked of every piece of legislation that goes through this House. Sometimes, for good reasons, we do not put objectives in a Bill, but it is important, when creating an agency that is tasked with such responsibility, to make its objectives clear. If my noble friend Lady Ford had not said it, I certainly would have done—two of the most successful agencies we have in this country have been the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships. We have no record on which we

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can anticipate or learn from failure. They have really been very successful and I am sure that that is how the HCA will go forward.

I think that I have answered all the questions.

The Earl of Onslow: There is one question unanswered. How does ministerial responsibility come into this? I understand exactly what the noble Baroness is getting at. That is why I ask the question which at the time I did not. At some stage, it is “ministerial” policy to build 300,000 houses a year. Where does ministerial responsibility come into this if, for instance, the housing targets are not met?

Baroness Andrews: As always, ministerial responsibility lies with the Ministers responsible, and there is no evasion of that. The housebuilding programme is a long programme—we cannot build houses quickly. The 3 million homes are posited to run to 2020 and beyond, and there is a long-term responsibility for whichever Government and Minister are in charge. We all do the best we can, judging the circumstances as we see them and with the resources we have. Keeping faith in what we have said is important to the country.

The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister for her helpful and encouraging answer with regard to the Academy for Sustainable Communities. Perhaps she might drop me a note about past and possible future funding of that organisation. I am most curious about it and any further information would be welcome.

Baroness Andrews: I will certainly do that. I would be happy for the noble Earl to meet Peter Roberts, who heads the academy. I am sure that he will find him genuinely inspiring.

Lord Greaves: This innocuous little amendment has led to more debate than I had expected—perhaps more than the Minister had expected—but there are some important issues here. She mentioned housing market renewal pathfinders. I should declare a further interest in that I am still responsible for housing market renewal in my local authority, Pendle. I did not declare that at the start of the Grand Committee, because I thought that I would be summarily removed from that position last Thursday; but the processes of democracy are curious and sometimes they do not go the way that you want or expect them to. I am still lumbered with that responsibility. Never mind; I will do my best.

On the narrow point of the amendment, the Minister said that it was a matter not just of quantity but making housing better, which is precisely why I worded the amendment with the aim of increasing supply and improving quality. Making housing better is a matter of quality, not the amount. I did not quite understand the Minister’s reply on that.

However, on the wider issues, the Government have announced their target of 3 million new houses by 2020 or whenever, but suddenly, for reasons that are nothing to do with agencies such as the Housing

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Corporation and English Partnerships, it is all going the wrong way, because, in the words of Harold Macmillan, “Events, dear boy, events” have got in the way. The wider issues of the global housing market and the economy have got in the way. Suddenly they are going the wrong way. Of course, we have only three months’ figures and in a year’s time they may be going up again. But that is my point—it is not within the power of the new Homes and Communities Agency to have more than a marginal effect on the total, because the number of new housing units that will be supplied by the agency will not vary much. The effects of what is happening in the rest of the world could vary enormously.

The Minister said that “improve” includes working towards the Government’s targets to increase quality and quantity. It is all a matter of money. We are told that English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation have met their targets. Of course they have met their targets, because they are determined by the amount of money that has been available to those organisations for investment. If you have £10 million to invest in new housing and you are dealing with certain types of housing, by and large, you get a certain number of housing units. That will continue to be the case. It would be extraordinary if the targets had not been met, because they were largely determined by the resources available. That generalisation is not 100 per cent true, but it is largely true.

One of the unspoken issues behind all of this is not only whether the Homes and Communities Agency will have extra powers to bring the different agencies together with some of the functions of the department, but whether the agency will have more resources. We must assume that it will not have more resources, unless the Government suddenly tell us otherwise and find those resources. Legislation states that:

that is fine for the parts of housing market and housing stock that those objects relate to. It may relate to 30 per cent of new investment. That would be ludicrously ambitious in relation to the total amount of housing in England. The HCA would not be able to achieve that, because it will target areas of the housing market aimed at people in need and areas in need of regeneration. That is the point that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, was making; that legislation sets these things out, but that there is no way of knowing whether something has been achieved in a way that could be challenged in the courts. On improving the supply, no one can get the judicial review in 10 years’ time on whether the supply has been improved, because the whole terminology is so vague. That was the purpose of the amendment. I do not think that legislation should be as vague as this.

However, it has been an interesting debate, and the Minister has said some interesting things about the way in which the HCA will work. I will be interested to read it in Hansard and consider it further. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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4.15 pm

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 17:

The noble Lord said: I should in opening say that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, who kindly added her name to Amendment No. 17, has sent her apologies. She slightly surprised me by saying that she has to go into hospital to have her tonsils out. She will subsequently—fortunately for us this will be over the Recess—be confined to barracks, as it were, for at least a week. Fortunately, we can expect her back and in fine fettle after the Recess. She is very sorry not to be here.

This group of amendments has been sponsored by RADAR. We are coming from the general subject that we have been discussing to a specific area; this is a bit of special pleading. The amendment is aimed at getting the Homes and Communities Agency to be more specific in relation to providing facilities, particularly homes, for the disabled. I suppose one should say nowadays that we want homes that are more easily adaptable and suitable for disabled people. It goes into the question of the lifetime home standards; in effect, it is another aspect of that discussion. We all like to think that we are all perfectly fit and can continue to live in our homes; unfortunately as you get older we increasingly realise that we might suddenly find ourselves in difficulties. That is in common with the totality of the community. We need to think about those people.

RADAR gave me the statistic that there is a nationwide shortfall of 330,000 wheelchair-standard homes. That is a huge number. If you are in a wheelchair, and you do not have a home that is adaptable for a wheelchair, that deficit is 100 per cent to that person, which is very serious indeed. In relation to the totality of the housing deficit—we have a housing deficit in this country—this is a relatively small problem; but it is something that the Homes and Communities Agency should be aware of and should be taking into account, but it is not written in to its remit. I am sure that the noble Baroness will say, “Yes, but ...”. We have the opportunity to ensure that it is written in, unless the noble Baroness is going to be very kind and say that the Government will think about writing it in for us.

There are people in society who need special consideration. Like all of us, they are members of the community. We are talking about the community. We need to be aware of the people in this sector, who are among the most vulnerable and in some ways are the most needy. They may not be a huge, vociferous and demonstrating group, but they are no less worthy of attention just because we do not always see them. I have often thought that it would be a good thing if we all had to spend a week in a wheelchair. I was pleased to hear that in medical training doctors are made to do so, I think for a day or two. It is a very different world if you are in a wheelchair. You cannot, for instance, go up to a hotel desk to check in. The desks are invariably far too high. There is a host of problems when you begin to think in that sort of

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context, because that point applies equally to the way in which homes are designed and laid out. Worktops can be too high, and so on.

We need to think seriously about this. I thought that it was worth bringing it to the attention of the Committee so that we have the Minister’s reaction. It would be better if this were written into the remit of the Homes and Communities Agency. I know that it already has a very wide remit and that it is impossible to write everything into it, but this sector is sufficiently significant. I would not say that it is sufficiently unable to argue its case, because clearly it has argued it sufficiently to get it to me so that I can present it here, but it is probably the least able in the community to help itself. It really does need special consideration. I beg to move.

Lord Best: I have to rise to my feet whenever lifetime homes are mentioned. I declare my past interest as a godfather to the lifetime home standards. They were devised by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and led to the building of a number of prototypes and finally to the lifetime home standards that we all talk about today.

There are groups of amendments that relate to the role of the Homes and Communities Agency, later to Oftenant, the regulator, and finally to the building regulations at the end of the Bill. We have a choice as to the best way of raising the profile of accessibility in the Bill. I add to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, when I say that we are talking not only about people with disabilities who suffer from direct problems but about everyone. The great thing about a lifetime home is that it suits you through your lifetime. Everyone’s lifetime includes moments when they suddenly realise that their house has not been designed with the problems of mobility in mind. We all have sons who break their legs playing football; they are in a wheelchair for three months and we have to carry them up and down stairs inside and steps outside and all kinds of terrible things. We have a granny or grandfather who comes to stay, or we are the granny or grandfather.

Lifetimes require homes to be more accessible, which they can be if accessibility is taken into account at the design stage. This is therefore a really important universal issue. The question is where best to fit it into the Bill. I will not be happy with the thought of Oftenant, as a regulator, requiring a particular kind of design. That would not be a very good place for this to go to. I will speak in favour of the building regulations being tweaked again, because it is through the building regulations that half the first lifetime home standards have already been established. They now apply to the building of every home by Barratt or by Wimpey. They have nothing to do with social housing; they are a universal in building regulations. There are no more of those steps that freeze over in winter and that you go skidding off when as an elderly person you come out of the front door. We do not put big front-door steps in the way of people any more. Building regulations now already take on board half of the lifetime home standards. The next step is to add the other half so that the standards apply to all homes everywhere that are built from here on. That is the target to go for.

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As a second best—it is second best to me—

Lord Graham of Edmonton: You are the first “Best”.

Lord Best: Thank you very much. Giving the Homes and Communities Agency a special role in this regard is a good idea, but if we were to add accessibility to supply we would also have to add affordability, social and environmental sustainability and quite a few other ingredients in the list. So while I absolutely support the extension of the lifetime home principles to cover all homes across the country, I suspect that this is not the absolutely best place in which to amend current legislation.

The Earl of Onslow: It is incredibly important that accessibility is built into all new houses, and I strongly support the noble Lord simply by saying that the way to do it is through building regulations. They can cover insulation and all sorts of other things such as wider doorways so that people can get their wheelchairs through them. Regulations could be put in place without the need for this Bill stating that any house built more than six months after they come into force will have to conform to them. The problem would then go away.

Baroness Hamwee: I shall think of Don Corleone in a slightly different light after that. I shall speak about this subject when I move Amendment No. 33 later, but the points are similar. My amendment seeks to extend the definition of “quality” to include,

When I drafted it, I had in mind temporary problems as well as the permanent ones to which the noble Lord has referred.

The noble Lord talked about the problems of creating a list, and indeed the Minister in the Commons rejected similar amendments on that basis. I disagree with that analysis of what this or a similar amendment would do. They seek not to introduce another type of housing, but to ensure that all housing is built or, if necessary, remodelled to allow for people who are growing older and whose physical and sensory abilities are somewhat reduced. I do not have to go through the arguments about the needs. However, this is not qualitatively the same as a “type” of housing because it is an overarching provision. It should apply to all housing.

I should like to make a separate point. I acknowledge absolutely the Government’s aim to ensure that housing is built to lifetime home standards by 2013. That raises an issue not only about the timeframe but also about the existing housing stock and what might be done about it. I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance that budget allocations for renewal and regeneration will not be diverted in order to fulfil numerical targets for lifetime homes by the creation of new housing to the detriment of remodelling and adapting existing housing. For an individual, that is often the most attractive and desirable option, and probably the least expensive.

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Lord Graham of Edmonton: I am glad that I am in a Committee with the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lady Dean. Coming into this debate and genuinely wanting to learn, I call to mind a time when some friends who live in York invited me to their home and showed me an arrangement in the kitchen to allow someone who is less able-bodied to use the sink. The equipment helped them to lift themselves up and down. My noble friend Lady Dean came to visit the house in her capacity as chair of the Housing Corporation after I drew her attention to it. It was fantastic for able-bodied people to see how far the provision of aids had advanced for those who need them. It was a Quaker development, and it was very much appreciated.

The other instance that I draw to the Committee’s attention is that my wife and two boys had a condition called myotonic dystrophy. Dystrophy, as the Committee knows, is a disease of the muscles that weakens the body. We had never thought that we would need a stairlift and an aid to use the bath. Cost did not come into it when it was a question of our family’s needs but, on making inquiries, we found that under the existing provisions these kinds of aids are available subject to examination and scrutiny through the council’s social services. While I do not disagree with anything that has been said about desirability and the needs of people who are in search of easement, we have to recognise that there are finite resources. The Minister and her colleagues, in a macro way, will have had to decide on the thrust and the imperative of the legislation and what kind of burdens are to be placed upon it. Not that they are not desirable; they are. However, it is a question of attainment. We are talking not necessarily about the greatest good for the greatest number but about trying to ensure that the legislation is sufficiently robust that it will stand up in a court of law or withstand public scrutiny, and about going as far as one can in laying down in the Bill responsibilities that have to be carried out by an industry, councils and the voluntary sector. To what extent should resources be devoted down one path, bringing much needed easement? By doing that, how far do we inhibit the overall strategy?

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