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I was particularly interested in the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, that we should ask people who have been successful to advise us on what might and might not work. We do not do that often enough, and it is a very interesting suggestion.

Lord Greaves: Again, I am astonished by the debate that I set off quite a long time ago now, given our break for a Division. I thank the Minister for her comments about my amendment on poverty and inequality. It is useful to have them on the record. Even if they are not to be written into the Bill, these are some of the things by which the new agency will be judged.

When new Members come to this House, everyone looks at them and asks why they have come. Sometimes the answer is, “Don’t ask”, but in most cases we find out in due course that it is because of the expertise and knowledge that they have to contribute to this House. We have heard this afternoon why the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, came to this House, and he has a great deal more to contribute to debates on how to make things happen at a very local level in communities, or even in the non-communities where it really matters. The noble Lord said that this is all about people and relationships on the ground. That is absolutely right. For some of us who do not hide our scepticism about the value and ability of large national quangos to do what is necessary at a local level, the comments this afternoon of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, are extremely valuable.

None of us denies that there has to be national allocation of resources and that there have to be national priorities and strategies. If implementing those priorities and strategies happens through quango-type organisations, that is all right. Some of us are still sceptical, but that is clearly the way it is going to be done, so it has to be done in the best way possible. However, people and relationships on the ground are what really matter. We understand that we are to have a Bill, probably in the next Session, called something like the “community engagement Bill”. Again, some of us are sceptical about whether national legislation can create community engagement, but those who take part in the debates will no doubt benefit from the expertise and perspectives of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson.

6.15 pm

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, when he says that you cannot create communities. Perhaps that is true in a superficial way, but there are things that organisations at all levels can do to help communities to create themselves, and there are things that can actually hinder that process. The Minister said that the process of learning what works and what does not is very important. I agree that learning is more important that having a national ideological perspective on these matters.

I listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, and I agree with almost everything she said, except when she talked about the agency being engaged in “master planning”. I hope that the HCA will not do that, but that it will limit itself to

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providing the resources necessary to allow people on the ground to do the planning. If this is going to succeed, that is where it has to happen. Planning has to involve disparate organisations, agencies and so on, and it has got to be done on the ground. No one can sit in an office in the regional capital or London and lay down the rules. Whether in the county hall or the city hall, master planning has to be done locally among the people who are involved. Some will be professionals, some will be residents and some will be local politicians. If they are all brought together, there is a chance that it will work, although there are by no means any guarantees. That is the way we have to go.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, referred to rootless estates with no great vision in conception. We know that there are far too many of those, and yet the original big estates on the edge of towns were built with great vision. It was a vision to take people out of the slums, to give them decent homes in a good environment with gardens and local facilities. The best of them have worked well. One of the first examples was Wythenshawe in Manchester. It came about through the huge vision of Lord Simon of Wythenshawe and others who have been involved more recently. By and large, Wythenshawe has been a success. Nobody would claim that there are no problems, of course, but a lot of them are caused by the fact that it was too large to be a single, council-owned estate and community. Part of the problem is the monocultural aspect because it was not properly understood. Wythenshawe would have worked better if it had been broken up into a series of smaller units interspersed with private development. Let us not pretend that all the big projects have been a disaster, because they have not. But the huge vision went wrong somewhere, not just in the suburbs but also in the high-rise inner city estates, and we have to understand why. Was it bad design or monolithic bureaucracies taking over and doing things without thinking? Was it lack of funding for community resources? Unless we understand why things went wrong from the original vision, we will not succeed in future. We will have to keep coming back to this: we must do our very best to create—again, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson—the relationships on the ground. That inevitably means making things as local as possible because it is the immediate locality that people can relate to.

No doubt we will discuss all this at great length when we get that Bill, and I hope we will have a great time doing it. It is so important that people in big organisations at national level do not think they can just do things that they cannot do. They can provide resources, ideas, inspiration and professional expertise that allow the people on the ground to do it. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[The Sitting was adjourned from 6.20 to 6.30 pm.]

6.30 pm

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 23:

“( ) to support a proportion of social homebuy in developments promoted by it,”

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The noble Lord said: I was going to begin by saying that my words follow on fairly easily and naturally from those of the Minister, but she is not present to hear me. They follow on because we are talking about the Homes and Communities Agency, and during the previous debate I had the thought that on the whole I feel rather sorry for the chief executive elect, Sir Bob Kerslake, whom I met for the first time last week. If he is reading the Hansards of this Committee—I have no doubt that he is, as the job he is taking on at the HCA will absorb him fully for a number of years—he will see this amendment, as he saw the previous one and probably one or two more by the time we have finished, and he will say, “Oh my God, how ever am I going to fulfil all these ambitions?”. Whether the Government accept the amendments is neither here nor there; the Government, through their Ministers, are accepting the implicit pledges behind those amendments. That is a wonderful thing.

Amendment No. 23 is directed at the issue of social homebuy, which is part-purchase or whatever. The Homes and Communities Agency will be without question the prime mover as the provider of social housing across the broad spectrum of housing provision and new housing. Not the least of the problems one faces in a mobile community is that as people fall back into social housing, and the present housing crisis is unfortunately going to increase that demand, equally, other people want to get out of social housing if they can. Social homebuy helps to provide that route. We have discussed the impossibility of the HCA fulfilling every aspiration, but the fact is that we are dealing with a society with a considerable degree of mobility. There will always be some people who unfortunately are moving down, and we hope there will always be some people seeking to move up. Social homebuy is one of the ways that that can be achieved.

Social homebuy is also important for the Homes and Communities Agency because, where it is providing social homes, it will also provide a revenue stream and a return of capital that can then be reinvested in more housing. It can create a virtuous circle. We heard in the last debate about the criteria for key worker provision and the access that they might have to social homebuy. That is an important aspect of the work of the Homes and Communities Agency.

I have no doubt that we shall have the same argument about what to put in the Bill as its function, but there is always in the background—which has not yet been mentioned in this debate so I will mention it for the first time—the fact that what a Minister says in reply to a point raised is relevant, if things come to a court case, as an indication of what the Government’s intentions behind a Bill were when it was passed. I look forward to the Minister’s reply because I am sure that he is going to say something positive. Whether he likes it or not, it will be on the record as the Government’s intention. If it is there, and it is the Government’s intention, that may be useful at some point in the future if someone wishes to come to a judgment. I beg to move.

Baroness Ford: I support the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. He is so surprised because I keep agreeing with him. I support the spirit of the

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amendment, but I am troubled that we would put this in the Bill. To suggest that there should be a proportion of social homebuy in each development promoted by the agency would limit the ability and flexibility of the agency to work with the appropriate local authority in looking at the need for specific types of housing in an area and planning a development in accordance with those needs.

In developments where there has been more prescription about the sum of affordable housing or specific subsets of affordable or other specialist housing, it has not always been the right answer. This amendment would be too much of a constraint if it were in the Bill. For that reason, although I support absolutely the sentiment behind it, the Minister should probably resist putting it in the Bill.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I take very much what has just been said about the decisions to operate the current provisions on social homebuy needing to be monitored carefully by those with responsibility nearer to the action but I am hostile to the concept. Whether you like it or not, there are millions of people in inadequate housing who are desperate to get a tenancy for a council house or a housing association property, and they are denied it. The people we are talking about who would be affected by the amendment are already very lucky people because, after waiting for a period or living in bad conditions, they have got to the top of the list; they have been preferred and they obtain a tenancy. My experience is that council tenants are among the most privileged in the land by comparison to those renting from private landlords.

My time in local government and responsibilities both in the other place and here stretch back to the period in the late 1970s and early 1980s when, whether the council wanted to or not, or whether there was a desperate need in that community to maintain a stock of community-owned houses that had been paid for by the taxpayer and the ratepayer, they did not have a choice; the legislation simply took that choice away. We will hear, perhaps in this debate but certainly in others, about desperate need in rural areas where affordable housing no longer exists. Of course it does not; the people who were about then—perhaps they are in this Room at the moment—were happy to see the affordable housing in their community disappear, because they believed, as I do, in home ownership.

The sad fact was that once a home left the purview of the local council, people in the community—with a wave of people always coming forward desperately in need of better housing—found that the home their parents had been glad to get 20 or 30 years before was no longer there. People would fall for the line that if they have lived in the house for a certain period, and if they had paid enough in rent for the house, they deserved to buy it. It was not a question of buying the house; it was a question of getting mobility. In my experience in Edmonton, many of the people who bought their homes sold them again, and they were then sold again. Over time, a home that was well built and well maintained, which had been bought for £7,000

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or £8,000 was sold, sold and sold again; and a three-bedroom, semi-detached house in Edmonton now fetches nearly £200,000. You would not believe it; although you would, because that is the situation. Any attempts to militate against the public provision of housing for those in need—council tenants or housing by any other means—ought not to be looked at lightly.

The Minister may well say, “We are trying to provide a range of provision”. I applaud the genesis of the Bill, and I applaud what we are trying to do with the measures to provide access to ownership. Frankly, I cannot see the sense in the public, through the public purse both local and national, providing a home for someone who desperately needs it, only to have a mechanism one way or the other for that person to capitalise on it. Good luck to the council tenant who wishes to become an owner-occupier. But I say—not of this house. If they want to own another house, they should by all means aspire to that, and there is a range of opportunities to do so.

I remember that the most poignant and heart-destroying periods of my life as a local councillor and as a Member of Parliament were listening to, believing and seeing the abject misery of inadequate housing: badly built housing, badly maintained housing, or no housing at all. I will listen to what the Minister has to say, but if it is put in the Bill that it is the responsibility of the authority to provide “a proportion”, that begs the question, “What is the proportion?”. If the proportion is movable or negotiable, I fear the worst. I have lived through the past 25 to 30 years hoping that more sanity would be brought into the provision of housing.

I have ranged over history—although I have strayed during the past five minutes, I cannot help it; I have been so close to it. I am one of the unlucky ones in life; I have never been a council tenant. Others who have been and have then become owner-occupiers will be forever grateful to the mechanism and to the Government and Prime Minister who drove through the provision that meant that a working man or woman with nothing behind them found manna from heaven, access to money that they had never dreamt of, which they then used. But the community has been deprived and access is now difficult. So I take with a pinch of salt those who say that it is the right of a person in public housing to buy it. It is our right to prevent that happening as long as there are long queues of people who deserve the housing. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

6.45 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: I had not intended to intervene, but I support the idea behind the amendment. When I was chairman of the Housing Corporation, towards the latter part of my period of office, the then Deputy Prime Minister asked me to chair a task force on better access to affordable home ownership. My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton referred to the loss of publicly owned housing to the private sector.

One of the first things that we did was to conduct a survey to ask people whether they wanted to own their own homes, because it was just assumed that that they did. About 70 per cent of people in Britain

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are either buying or own their own homes. Ninety per cent said that they did, but they did not interpret it in the way that we traditionally have: they wanted a stake in their own home. Shared ownership is one way to deliver that for them, so I support that idea.

I find it personally objectionable that people who can afford their own home, and I am one of them, can have a choice but people who cannot have no choice at all. I think that they should have. One choice that they should have is the opportunity to have a shared ownership home.

Where the report helps in the argument advanced by my noble friend Lord Graham is that we recommended very strongly that there should be different kinds of shared home ownership and different ways of raising the money, but that if the home was bought from a local authority or housing association, when the tenant wished to sell it, they had first to offer it back at market price to either the housing association or the local authority. That was a way to recycle a property to go back out to rent.

However, to put that in the Bill would, as with many other things, restrict the new agency to such a degree that we would almost not allow it to be innovative. We want it to be creative and innovative. The leader of the HCA will have to consider the Government's national strategy all the time. I cannot see any Government of whatever colour in future withdrawing from the idea of providing shared ownership. The former Mayor of London was talking about 50 per cent affordable or, I should say, social housing. That has meant that many developers have left London. They will not develop in London because the numbers do not stack up. I would not want that happen in this area, which is a creative, dynamic area and one that I very much welcome. I welcome the principle and the idea behind the amendment, but I think that it would be a retrograde step to insist that it goes in the Bill.

Baroness Byford: It is always a mistake to wait until the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, has spoken because she picked up the point I wished to make. Having debated many times opposite the noble Lord, Lord Graham, I know where his heart is and whence he comes. My point seeks to pick up on the whole question of having different approaches to provision. It is not a question of saying, “That is how it was done in the past and therefore that is the way it must continue to be done”. I hope that a range of schemes with restrictions placed upon them will come through. In many areas there are what I would describe as “old people’s bungalows” with restrictions upon them. A person seeking to buy such a property has to qualify within a particular range of restrictions. I know of other housing schemes that are linked to affordability in that when an owner wants to move on, they cannot sell above a certain price. The authority calculates the average increase for housing overall in the area over the period, and the owner cannot sell on above that price. Moreover, as the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, rightly suggested, those running such housing groups should have the first chance to buy the properties.

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I accept the worry of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, all those years ago—a worry I well understand because he has acknowledged that it brought joy to some but took housing away from others. Let us hope that we see a greater diversity of provision, again with restrictions attached so that people living in the area are not driven out of the market, whether for purchase or to rent. I seek clarification from the Minister who is going to respond because this is not a question of either/or, but of the range of options we can work with both in inner cities and rural areas. This is not something that is confined to one area or the other. I am grateful, but I will not give way early to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, again, because she brings such authority to her words through her experience with the Housing Corporation.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for moving the amendment, but I am sure he will not be surprised when I argue that it is unnecessary. I say that for good reasons, and I shall go through them. However, the noble Lord was right when he reflected at the outset on the task facing a new chief executive and the many ambitions that have to be satisfied. I have made a list of the topics that have been covered by our debates today on which noble Lords have expressed their aspirations. We have not yet gone through them all and we are unlikely to do so, but they range from the promotion of rural housing, securing an anti-poverty impact, ensuring that the concerns of the disabled are properly taken into account, the encouragement of community building, through to the intelligent use of social stock for those coming out of care. Those are just a few on the list. Within that context, I well understand why the noble Lord has put forward an amendment to promote social homebuy. He and others have argued that more needs to be done to promote home ownership. My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton made a trenchant plea for a more reflective attitude towards the sale of council houses, and I certainly understand why he might make that argument. Perhaps in some respects we have now begun to inherit the problems that became evident at the more enthusiastic end of the home ownership push using the sale of council houses. As a consequence, the system is now much more refined, and rightly so.

However, we would argue that we need to take a balanced approach and to bring into home ownership people who have genuine and quite proper aspirations to that end, which I am sure we can all share. We need to consider how to address the problems inherent in the take-up of social home buying. It makes no sense to single out one form of tenure for particular priority. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Ford made the point that we need flexibility. She is absolutely right, and my noble friend Lady Dean, in the light of all her experience with the Housing Corporation, underlined that. But my noble friend also made the point that surveys have shown that people see home ownership as ensuring that they have a secure stake, not just in their own homes, but in their local communities. That is a valuable aspiration in terms of community building that we would be foolish to ignore.

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The effect of the amendment would essentially be to elevate the status of social homebuy above other schemes for delivering home ownership. That would divert the focus of the Homes and Communities Agency away from its other objects—in particular its object to improve the supply quality of housing, which has been mentioned in this afternoon’s debate. We as a Government have set challenging targets for the agency and we will expect it to deliver those. My noble friend Lady Andrews has said that the expectation is that the Homes and Communities Agency will deliver 70,000 more affordable homes by 2010-11 and 3 million new homes by 2020; but it would be wrong of the Government to hamper the HCA’s ability to deliver those targets by making it focus on one form of home ownership.

We need a wide range of options for home ownership. Owning one’s home is an aspiration for many people. All too often, for many, that never becomes a reality, despite their best efforts to work hard and save money for a deposit. We have heard of the many key workers living in our capital—nurses, teachers, emergency service personnel and postal workers, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said—who struggle to get their own homes and that can cause disjunctions in the labour market. We have to respond to that by helping people get onto the housing ladder in different ways. We want to offer as many people as possible the opportunity to own their homes and to build a stake in the community. For that reason, we aim to provide 25,000 shared-ownership and shared-equity homes a year, funded mainly through the Housing Corporation and the successor body, from 2008-09. We need to be careful about being overly prescriptive as to where those homes are located. The amendment takes us dangerously near to having a fixed percentage in each area; that would be wrong and would constrain innovation.

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