The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and others talked about forcing local authorities to sell off properties. We have been clear that the country needs to live within its means and that we need to find the most efficient way of using public resources to deliver our manifesto commitments. As I have said, local authority statements of accounts show that there is over £200 billion-worth of value tied up in the 1.6 million local authority homes. We want to ensure that the value is used as efficiently as possible, and we know that more expensive vacant homes can be sold to provide additional housing as well as funding the discount for right-to-buy sales. This is an efficient use of assets at a time when we need more homes across all tenures. It is about increasing the overall housing stock, not reducing it. In London, where there is the greatest housing need, the legislation provides that local authorities which enter into an agreement

10 Mar 2016 : Column 1444

will need to provide at least two new affordable homes for each home that is expected to be sold. I recall giving some of the detail of that the other day.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, asked why the Government are not pursuing alternative ways of funding, for example equity loans. As the noble Lord, Lord Horam, said today and as I said last Thursday, the discounts will be on the same basis as the existing right-to-buy scheme. Equity loans would not provide that same offer to those tenants. The noble Lord also questioned why I could compare this to the Government’s sale of surplus public assets. I fully agree that there is a real need for additional housing in this country, but there is no need for any council whatever to hang on to expensive homes when it could build, at a fraction of the cost, new homes which meet its housing needs just as well, if not better. It is in this spirit that the Department for Transport has brought forward land for sale around King’s Cross that is valued in the department’s account at £345 million, and the Ministry of Defence announced plans in January to release 11 sites in England that could generate £500 million and provide land for around 15,000 new homes. We need to make sure that we make the most efficient use of our assets—that is the point I want to stress.

2 pm

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: How is this an efficient use of assets? It seems to me a most cumbersome, inefficient tax and raid on council housing.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I think the noble Lord and I will disagree on this but it is incumbent on owners, whether private owners, the Government or local authorities, to make the best use of their assets, whether that means selling expensive ones or not. I accept that we will have to agree to disagree on this but that is our view.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, talked about the right to buy not delivering one-for-one replacements and questioned how the policy would do so. In the first year following reinvigoration, 354,000 additional homes were sold, and by the end of the second quarter of 2015-16 there were 4,117 new starts and acquisitions. That means that, to date, authorities are delivering a new home for every one sold.

Lord Kerslake: I am intensely aware of just how long we have gone on but I cannot let that point pass. It is essential that the Minister address the analysis in the NAO memorandum, which clearly identifies the challenge here. This would all be a lot easier if we could see a set of numbers that said, “Here’s the potential receipts, here’s the potential deductions from those receipts and here’s how it will balance with the cost of the discounts”. We might then be able to have a sensible debate.

I make one last point on what the Minister said. I am absolutely up for efficient management of stock and I am very much up for a duty on local authorities to manage their stock efficiently. But this is not about efficiency; this is about a levy to pay for a government policy.

10 Mar 2016 : Column 1445

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, it is both but I take the noble Lord’s point. I am sure that, as time goes on, we will discuss those figures again and again and perhaps courteously argue about who is right and who is wrong. The noble Lord does not think that the numbers add up and I have just responded to that.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, talked about the sale of high-value assets raising £4 billion per annum. The amount of receipts raised will depend on a number of factors and decisions. The Bill sets out the framework, with further detail to be provided through secondary legislation, which I know noble Lords are frustrated about. However, the Bill has flexibility through the formula approach, which enables us to continue working through the details with the sector. Once we understand what the data tell us, we will be able to consider what the detail will be and, subsequently, how this will fund the two aims of the policy: right-to-buy discounts for housing association tenants and the building of new homes. Therefore, I am very grateful for all the points that noble Lords have made today.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked whether rents will triple in London. I know London is a very expensive place to live—nobody is denying that—but I would not expect rents to triple. As I have said, the important thing is that we will take the time to talk to those implementing the policy on the ground to guard against things happening that we would not intend.

The noble Baroness, Lady Janke, who is not in her place, talked about looking at best practice. As with other housing policy, there will be a technical consultation on the detail of the determination and we would expect the relevant professional bodies to include CIPFA, the LGA, the GLA and local councils. We will of course look at what innovative local authorities such as Bristol—it is a shame the noble Baroness is not in her place—are doing, as she suggested.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked how we can justify wide boys making a quick buck, making a point about landlords taking advantage of tenants. We are aware that there are people who will seek to gain from any policy and will find ways to circumvent any safeguards we put forward. None of us could fail to be affected by the story described by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on Tuesday of the elderly pensioner reluctantly buying his home to see his grandchildren due to the unscrupulous actions of his daughter-in-law. We are alert to the ways through which some people may be seeking to gain from right-to-buy sales, both under the existing scheme and the voluntary scheme with housing associations. This is one thing we are considering as we progress through the pilot this year. We want to strike a balance between guarding against abuse and overlimiting the right of individuals to buy their homes through right to buy.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, also mentioned the reduction in social rents being an additional burden on housing associations. However, rents in social housing have been increasing faster over the past five years than those in the private rented sector. If this change puts more money back in the pockets of the people paying the rents, we think it is the right thing to do.

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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords—

Baroness Williams of Trafford: If I could just conclude, the noble Baroness can then intervene.

We are making changes in the interests of fairness to bring rent increases in the social sector back in line with those in the private rented sector. Housing associations and local authorities have already proved themselves more than capable of responding to the change.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, it would be helpful if the Minister, when she made the statement about the reduction in rents to the benefit of housing association and local authority tenants, had accepted that three-quarters of that money will go back to the Chancellor in reduced housing benefit. This is not a “helping tenants to afford their rents” policy; it is about reducing the housing benefit bill.

On a separate point, I know the Minister is trying to be helpful about the information we will no doubt get, but will we have all this key detailed information—the result of the consultation—before we get to Report, so that we do not have to rely on the statutory instrument proposal for stuff that should be in the Bill?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, regarding whether the Chancellor benefits, my point is that this will be of benefit to tenants if their rents reduce. It will make a difference to a lot of tenants.

The noble Lord, Lord Horam, asked why we do not raise the local authority borrowing cap so that councils may borrow more. This was mentioned time and again during the consultation process leading up to the local government finance settlement. We listened to the authorities and £221 million of additional borrowing was allocated to 36 councils in England. That will support around 3,000 new affordable homes.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, asked whether right-to-acquire tenants would have the right to buy under the voluntary deal. Minimum eligibility has yet to be determined for the main voluntary right-to-buy scheme, but we are currently working closely with the NHF and housing associations on the implementation of the agreement. For the pilot, it has been set at a minimum of 10 years, as the noble Lord will know.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked what “high value” will be set at, which is a very pertinent question. Will it be at market price? I am aware, as noble Lords have pointed out, that it is important for the legislation but has yet to be set. The definition will be informed by the data that I have talked about, which we are collecting from local authorities and the market value survey. Although we have had some information on house prices and local authority stock across the country, we felt it was important to update this information as it will be pivotal to establishing how much individual authorities will have to pay. As noble Lords will know, the definition of high value will be set out in regulations—I hear a groan going up across the House as I speak. We are currently giving careful consideration to the fairest and best way to set that definition. In doing so, to address the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady

10 Mar 2016 : Column 1447

Bakewell, we will have regard to factors such as property size and geographic location. I genuinely welcome any further thoughts that noble Lords may have on this point.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, talked about investment in social housing being short term. We are doubling our investment in housing over this Parliament to more than £20 billion over the next five years. This is the largest housing programme by any Government since the 1970s. Under it, there will be 100,000 affordable homes to rent and 400,000 affordable homes.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, talked about this as a levy, a tax that does not relate to the actual sale of high-value vacant stock. Local authorities prefer the use of a formula to determine payment to basing payments on actual sales. It will give local authorities greater certainty and predictability, which will help them better to manage their finances, and it will provide greater flexibility for them to choose what property they sell to make the payments.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, talked about his red line issue. This is part of our wider efforts to help anyone who works hard and wants to get on the property ladder to do so. I understand his concern over the links between the two policies, but it is important to remember that receipts from these sales will be used to fund the building of more homes by housing associations and local authorities, to increase overall housing supply all over the country, so that we reduce the regional imbalance of housing supply—an issue raised by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton.

Lord Shipley: I just want the Minister to understand the importance of this policy. Our red line is the compulsory or forced sale of high-value council homes when there is a need for them in the locality. That is the red line. The fact that part of the receipts might be used to build a replacement or support the purchase by the tenant of a housing association property is secondary to the issue of a local authority having the power to decide whether there is a need for that property. I hope that the Minister understands the importance of that.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I understand what the noble Lord says, and if there is particular need in an area for a specific type of housing, it is within the local authority’s gift to issue the money, as opposed to selling the property. The whole point is about increasing the housing stock across different tenures and different parts of the country.

Finally, to address a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, about stock transfer, the policy will affect the 165 councils that own housing and operate a housing revenue account—the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, helped here, and he is absolutely correct.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Am I right to say that those 165 local authorities will be cross-subsidising not only the right to buy on their own patch but the right to buy in the other 300 or so housing authorities in the country?

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Baroness Williams of Trafford: The noble Baroness is correct that the policy will apply only in those local authorities that operate their own housing revenue account.

I hope that my responses have provided some reassurance to noble Lords on some points. The Government are committed to ensuring that the calculation of payments includes deductions in respect of the transaction costs for the sale of housing and in respect of the debt supported by the housing that is expected to be sold. I hope that noble Lords are also reassured that we are committed to ensuring that a portion of receipts will be used to deliver new homes, and that the agreements process will provide as much flexibility as possible for local authorities to deliver as many new homes as they can. The amendments would not guarantee the delivery of the new homes that are desperately needed in the same way as will the agreements process. I hope that, with those comments, the noble Lord will feel free to withdraw his amendment.

2.15 pm

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I am not sure that I declared it at the opening of the debate, but I am an elected councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham; I declare that to get it on the record, as usual.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. This is without doubt one of the most controversial parts of the Bill, which is reflected by the time we have spent on this one group of amendments today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, did not make a very convincing case. We are obviously not going to agree with her case why the amendments should not be supported. Virtually every contribution to the debate highlighted the problems with and deficiencies in the Government’s proposals.

I have no problem with the right to buy, but I and other noble Lords have said that the funding mechanism is truly dreadful. Having no regulations while discussing the Bill has highlighted once again how completely unsatisfactory the Government’s handling of the Bill has been so far. The mechanism is a tax on local authorities, it is an attack on council housing. The noble Baroness needs to reflect carefully on today’s debate. In particular, I hope that she will reflect on the contribution from the noble Lords, Lord Horam and Lord Porter, from her Benches, as, without doubt, we will come back to this issue on Report. I am sure that she senses the strength of feeling across the House.

I was a little surprised that the Government have, so early on, started to rely on the manifesto defence. That normally comes forward just before a vote. Here we are in Committee, with no vote in sight, but we are back to the manifesto defence. That highlights the problems that the Government have with the Bill. I hope that they will recognise that and propose some welcome amendments. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 61 withdrawn.

Amendments 62 and 62A not moved.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 3.17 pm.

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BBC Charter

Question for Short Debate

2.18 pm

Asked by Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made on the discussions surrounding the renewal of the BBC Charter.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (LD): My Lords, I have waited a long time for this date with the noble Baroness—and not just today—but the timing, if not the timing for noble Lords’ speeches, has turned out to be perfect, as last week saw the Government publish no less than three responses to discussions about renewal of the BBC Charter.

Although it is no surprise to me or my colleagues to discover that the British public overwhelmingly support the BBC, I suspect that it is for the Government. More than 80% of people responding to the Green Paper believe that the BBC is effectively serving audiences, about 75% support the licence fee as the best method of funding the BBC and almost three-quarters believe that the BBC’s services are truly distinctive and that it has a positive wider impact on the market.

As the summary of responses document states, the response to the consultation,

“was one of the largest ever received to a government consultation, highlighting that the future of the BBC is an important issue to a great many people”.

Despite the fact that the Secretary of State paid tribute in his speech last week to,

“the hours the public put into writing”,

he struck a sour note by implying that the involvement of the organisation 38 Degrees had somehow distorted the responses. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government do not believe that 192,000 people have been nobbled?

It is vital that John Whittingdale, the Government and Parliament remember, as this process of charter renewal gathers pace, that the BBC belongs to the licence fee payer—the public, not politicians—and that the Secretary of State honours his pledge to the chair of the BBC Trust that,

“all the responses will be properly considered in their decision-making”.

What is clear is that the BBC, despite what we read in so many editorials and so many opinion pieces, is not under attack from the public. Quite the contrary: across Britain, people use the BBC services every day and very happily because it serves them well. So where do the attacks come from? To quote the much-quoted Armando Iannucci:

“We seem to be in some artificially-concocted zone of outrage”.

As I said, 75% of the respondents support the licence fee, as do we. At 40p per day, the BBC is tremendous value for the consumer. It is also great for the UK economy, generating the equivalent of £2 for every £1 of licence fee—in other words, it doubles its money. As Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair of Arts Council England, said when giving evidence to the House of Lords Communications Committee, on which I sit:

10 Mar 2016 : Column 1450

“One of the justifications for the intervention in the marketplace that is the BBC is the value of the creative industries democratically, culturally, socially and economically”.

By the way, Sir Peter was appointed chair of ITV last month, and I am reliably informed that he has not changed his views.

We do not, however, support the way in which the licence fee is set. The covert way in which the Chancellor negotiated the BBC taking on the cost of funding free TV licences for the over-75s, effectively making the BBC a vehicle to deliver elements of the welfare state—blocked by the Lib Dems when we were in coalition—was inappropriate, to say the least. Can the Minister assure us that this is the end of the process and that this is the licence fee settlement, as the BBC believed when taking on the £700 million cost of the free licences? Does she not agree that the process should, in the future, be transparent, and that the level should be recommended by the new regulatory body?

With the BBC being asked to take this financial hit, it is important that other sources of income are not undermined. Does the Minister not agree that BBC Worldwide is a crucial element to the BBC’s ability to continue to fund UK content?

A second report was Sir David Clementi’s A Review of the Governance and Regulation of the BBC. We welcome its recommendation that the BBC should have a unitary board. We on these Benches argued when the BBC Trust was established that that arrangement would only perpetuate the muddle between regulation and governance, and it has. However, it is vital that the Government ensure the appointment of a genuinely independent chair and genuinely independent non-executive directors. We should note the warning from the noble Lord, Lord Hall, that under Sir David’s proposal,

“half the board … could be appointed by the DCMS”.

Does the Minister agree that there should be an independent appointment panel, with the majority of its members drawn from outside politics and outside the Civil Service?

The third report is An Assessment of Market Impact and Distinctiveness.The call in it—repeated by the Secretary of State—for BBC1 to be more distinctive is odd, considering that the channel comes out top of independent Ofcom’s distinctiveness measures.

On the matter of market impact—“crowding out”—there seems to be particular concern in the area of online news. BBC news has higher levels of trust than any newspaper, and in the digital age it is surely more important than ever. As Sir Peter said,

“yes, it does compete and it is a market intervention, but if it is to have an impartial and independent news and information service for the country—if we believe in that—it has to have an online iteration”.

Our concerns on these Benches about BBC news are different. They are about the downward trend in investment in current affairs, noted by Ofcom in its latest review of PSB. It is vital that the BBC maintain both quality and quantity in this genre, for the reasons I have just mentioned.

There are other areas, of course, where the BBC’s choices and behaviour have been far from perfect. These include Savile, money wasted on a digital media

10 Mar 2016 : Column 1451

initiative, and unacceptable pay and pay-offs for senior executives. Members of the “officer class”, as the noble Lord, Lord Hall, refers to them, have been out of step, and there are still too many layers of them. We therefore welcome the very plain pledge this week by the newly appointed head of TV channels, Charlotte Moore, that,

“Life’s going to be simpler”.

We on these Benches believe that training and skills development should be made one of the BBC’s core public purposes. It must learn the true definition of partnership: that a partner is someone you collaborate with, rather than impose on. Furthermore, if the BBC is properly to reflect the country, it has to address the problem of a lack of diversity. We need diversity at production and management level, as well as on screen. The last two issues were addressed by Charlotte Moore and must all be delivered upon.

The BBC, as well as being so popular with the British public, plays a hugely important role in promoting the UK around the world. At home, it plays a crucial part in our democracy and wider society. It is vital that it maintains its independence, its ability to inform, educate and entertain, and—we believe—its licence fee. To quote the chair of the BBC Trust:

“Charter review hangs over the BBC: a cloud of uncertainty and unease”.

Can the Minister reassure the House that we will not have to wait long for the White Paper, since the new royal charter needs to be in place by the end of the year? Does she not agree that, in future, the charter review process should be,

“decoupled from the general election cycle”,

and that charters should be set to last 10 years in order to provide stability for the BBC?

Finally, my first job at the BBC was working for a great man and a greatly missed man: Terry Wogan. He certainly knew how to entertain, but also to inform and educate. I wonder whether he would have been distinct enough if he had sought a BBC job under the world of Whittingdale? This is what he had to say about the BBC:

“The BBC is the greatest broadcaster in the world. It’s the standard that everyone measures themselves against. If we lose the BBC, it won’t be quite as bad as losing the royal family, but an integral part of this country will have gone”.

That is so right: the BBC is unique, a glorious aberration. Once it is gone, it is never coming back.

The Earl of Courtown (Con): I remind noble Lords that they have just a minute for their speeches. There is a joke somewhere about hesitation, et cetera. I will not interrupt the debate, but I will ask noble Lords to sit down once they have reached one minute.

2.27 pm

Lord Inglewood (Con): My Lords, at a conference in London earlier this week, Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment—an American—talking about the current state of television said:

“Britain sits at the very core of this creative renaissance in television. Britain is punching far above its weight in terms of the number of writers and actors and directors who are engaged in this endeavor. And most of this talent would not exist if it were not for the BBC. The creative ecosystem that exists here in Britain

10 Mar 2016 : Column 1452

is unique and would evaporate in the absence of the BBC and that absence would not only be felt here but throughout the world…We have no idea whether this renaissance is sustainable from a talent perspective. Nor do we know whether the new platforms and technologies that permitted it are economically viable in the long term. I am convinced that there is an important place for a strong and well-funded BBC in the television landscape”.

While, as many of your Lordships will know, there are a number of significant changes that I would like to see relating to the way in which the BBC is organised, this particular proverbial baby must not be thrown out with the bath-water at the same time.

2.28 pm

Baroness Jay of Paddington (Lab): My Lords, as a member of the Communications Committee, I want to emphasise that the main conclusions of our report on charter renewal echo those of the Government’s own consultation.

First, the Government received no compelling evidence for reducing the scale and scope of the BBC. Of the nearly 200,000 people responding to the consultation, 81% said that the BBC served them well.

Secondly, the committee underlined the corporation’s independence and recommended a longer term for a new charter, which would divorce renewal from the electoral cycle. Again, this is reflected in the consultation report, where nearly three-quarters of the public wanted the BBC to be totally independent. I have just visited America, watching the frenetic media coverage of the election there. It has reinforced my respect for BBC news, for its neutrality and depth. The majority of audiences here say that the BBC is their most trusted news source.

I hope that the Government will take note of these consistent views from both the public and Parliament, and respond positively as charter renewal progresses.

2.29 pm

Lord Lester of Herne Hill (LD): My Lords, last Friday I gave the Minister notice of five questions that I would like her to answer in this debate.

First, do the Government accept that the charter should be for at least 10 years? Secondly, do they accept that the BBC’s new board members should be appointed without ministerial influence and should include audience and staff representatives? Thirdly, do they accept that the BBC’s service licences should be reviewed and strengthened by the independent regulator as soon as possible? Fourthly, do they accept that the level of the licence fee should be generous and that the process of setting the level of the licence fee must be transparent, with the level to be recommended by the regulatory body? Fifthly, do they accept that there must be no further reduction or diminution in the scale and scope of the BBC’s news coverage on any platform?

2.30 pm

Baroness Kidron (CB): The BBC has an exceptional history as a technological innovator. It is one of its core undertakings, yet less than 3% of contributors to the public consultation commented on it and there have been grumblings that, in these days of digital

10 Mar 2016 : Column 1453

tech, innovation is no longer an appropriate task for the BBC. What we once thought of as broadcast and programming has now been conflated with other forms of communication, both commercial and personal, into a single notion of content delivered on multiple platforms and devices. The purposes and the values that govern the creation and delivery of this content are generally opaque and throw up increasing ethical and practical issues that are never going to diminish. In these times, the BBC has a unique role to play not only as a trusted content provider but by developing and building cutting-edge communication technology of behalf of the licence fee payer.

2.31 pm

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, the BBC has three core purposes: to inform, to educate and to entertain. Will the Minister comment on a fourth purpose, which is to interpret? Diversity has been perceived in terms of regional diversity when one could also say that ethnic and religious diversity in the country need to be taken more seriously. Religion is a primary motivator of individuals and communities, inspiring and informing their political, economic, ethical and social behaviour. It needs to be interpreted. What the world looks like when seen through a particular religious lens needs to be taken more seriously. In July 2015, Ofcom expressed concern about the diminution of attention to religion in the BBC. Can the Minister assure us that this will be taken more seriously in the charter renewal?

2.32 pm

Lord Fowler (Con): My Lords, we must find a better way of debating serious issues in this House, such as the future of the BBC. One-minute speeches are frankly ridiculous, but perhaps they illustrate the fundamental defect in the royal charter process. The royal charter may sound very grand, but it means that none of the Government’s proposals come to Parliament for decision. If we are serious about the independence of the BBC, we should scrap the charter, set up the BBC as a statutory corporation and resolve that no Government shall be allowed alone to determine the future of the BBC. In other words, this would be a matter for Parliament after proper debate without the 60-second speaking clock.

2.33 pm

Lord Lipsey (Lab): My Lords, I rise simply to read into the record the findings of this House’s Communication Committee. After an excellent inquiry, it concluded that it had not heard “a convincing case” for a significant reduction in the scale or scope of the BBC. It believed that:

“The BBC should not be restricted to remedying gaps for which the market does not provide”,


“must continue to be a universal broadcaster”.

For the Government to conclude otherwise would be an act of cultural vandalism for which they would never be forgiven.

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2.34 pm

Baroness Benjamin (LD): My Lords, there are urgent calls for government action on the issue of investment in children’s content, that the BBC should commit 8% of the network original content spend to this and that it should not fall below £100 million per year over the next charter period, but there is strong opposition to a contestable fund for children’s content and to top-slicing of the licence fee to establish it because of the risk of the BBC doing less, the uncertainties about who would administer it, the cost of doing so and where the content will be shown. Reduced BBC budgets should not be used to fund commercial PSB activity. Any ring-fencing or top-slicing would also impede the funding of new initiatives, such as iPlay, and tie the BBC down in ways that do not take into account how children’s viewing habits are evolving. However, new money must be found to boost content for the neglected 12 to 16 year-olds, and it should be given to Channel 4 to provide competition for the BBC. If the decline in original content continues, the UK will no longer be the world leader, which will be a cost to the UK economy.

I declare my interests as stated in the register.

2.35 pm

Viscount Colville of Culross (CB): I declare an interest as a producer at BBC London factual.

I am concerned that the charter and its funding seem to have become separated. I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, about the BBC taking on the burden of the over-75s licence fee. I fear that that the funds which are supposed to replace it will not be forthcoming.

On top of that, people are failing to pay the licence fee. There is going to be a £150 million shortfall by the end of the year in its payment. The digital licence is supposed to help close the loophole of digital viewers not paying the licence fee, but I fear that that will in no way compensate for the increasing shortfall as a new generation of viewers look elsewhere to get their content. My noble friend Lord Hall has announced 23% cuts by 2022, including a massive £80 million cut to news, on top of the 25% cut since the last charter renewal.

Everywhere I go in the world, people ask me why they cannot watch the BBC live in their country. Maybe it is time for the BBC to start supplying that audience need, thinking about taking on the streaming giants face to face and raising revenues in the process.

2.36 pm

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston (Lab): My Lords, recent public consultations have raised concerns that the BBC is too London-centric. While MediaCityUK in Salford helps compensate for the decline of ITV production across the north, other English regions could be better served. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland feel that they, too, deserve a better deal. The Campaign for Broadcasting Equality has also expressed concern about low levels of black and minority ethnic employment at the BBC. John Whittingdale has confirmed that DCMS consultations suggest that the BBC needs

10 Mar 2016 : Column 1455

to do more to increase diversity and to reflect better the experience of people across all our nations and regions.

If we only get one minute each, we will waste 18 minutes of the time for this debate.

2.37 pm

The Earl of Glasgow (LD): My Lords, the BBC is not perfect. I have worked for it as a documentary film-maker and have been the subject of one of its programmes. That programme turned out to be very different from what I had been led to believe, so I know that the BBC is capable of doing things in bad faith.

However, the BBC is an institution admired and trusted throughout the world. One of the reasons it is trusted is because it is independent of government, yet when its charter is up, like now, the Government of the day see their opportunity to influence it. Although the licence fee, the main source of the BBC’s funding, is paid by the British public, the Government control the licence fee and can decide how and where it will be spent and, indeed, whether it will continue to be financed by the licence fee in future. They are in a position to cajole the BBC to make programmes to their taste or to punish it if they perceive its news coverage to have an anti-Government bias. These powers are a threat to the corporation’s independence and many at the BBC today are nervous of the Government’s present intentions. As long as the BBC sticks to its remit, set out in detail in the excellent new charter review, the Government should not be allowed to interfere.

2.38 pm

Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill (Lab): My Lords, it is essential that the BBC remains the keystone of British broadcasting, continues to play a central role in the wider creative industries and retains its reputation for quality and independence throughout the world.

The BBC should make a particular commitment to reflect the nations, regions and diverse communities of the UK. I hope the BBC will continue to meet the challenges of reflecting our modern and ever-changing Britain to ensure it remains pertinent to the concerns of the young, including those with disabilities and the BAME community, as the recent report of our Select Committee recommended, and to preserve its vital role in the life of our nation.

The BBC has a great future and there is no case to reduce its scale or scope. I hope the charter renewal process will prove an opportunity to refresh, not fracture, the BBC.

2.39 pm

Lord Birt (CB): My Lords, in the past five years we have learned that a Royal charter, far from being a powerful symbol and safeguard of the BBC’s independence, on the contrary enables Governments to be less accountable even than medieval kings; to amend the charter through the Privy Council, absent any public or parliamentary consultation; and to inflict unprincipled and material change on the BBC. In the

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process, around 25% has been abstracted from the BBC’s programme budget with no national debate whatever. We rightly condemn Turkey but this is our constitutional outrage and it simply must be put right. Changes to the BBC’s mandate must now be agreed by Parliament. The setting of the licence fee must now follow a rigorous and considered process. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, is right. It is time to place the BBC on a statutory footing.

2.40 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab): My Lords, I declare my interest as an ex-governor of the BBC. Given the time limit, I presume that the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, is playing the role of Nicholas Parsons to ensure no hesitation, repetition or deviation.

I want to make a couple of quick points. The new director-general—the noble Lord, Lord Hall, who is in his seat—has presided over a massive transformation programme. Some 90% of what is spent is now focused on content and delivery, and just 8% on actually running the BBC. That is a tough challenge even in the light of the Government saying that they will commit themselves to an above-inflation increase in the licence fee. Can the Minister confirm that there will be no more top-slicing of the licence fee for any situation whatever, as we have experienced in the past, and that this Government will be committing themselves to a 10-year charter renewal?

2.41 pm

Lord Foster of Bath (LD): My Lords, the BBC is the best broadcaster in the world, and a great gift from us to the rest of the world. To ensure effective planning and investment, the new charter should last significantly longer than the five years that some have proposed. The proposals to top-slice the licence fee for contestable funding and to privatise BBC Worldwide should be rejected. The governance of the BBC should change broadly along the lines recommended in the Clementi review.

I hope that the Government will not be influenced by the Oliver & Ohlbaum and Oxera report into the BBC’s market impact and try to create a “market-failure only” BBC, filling the gaps left by other broadcasters. The report is flawed. A significantly less popular, more distinctive BBC would have an overall negative effect on the wider UK media sector and on UK plc, giving only a small benefit to the BBC’s direct competitors. I hope that the Government will tread with care and protect the jewel in the crown of British broadcasting.

2.42 pm

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, we live in a very materialist age where it is increasingly likely that we will know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The BBC, with its distinguished record, is in many ways priceless. Our influence and standing in the world are very much related to the profile that the BBC continues to have in our society, stretching from local communities in our own society to people in North Korea, for example, who are desperate for truth, objectivity and the rest. We risk its future as a standard-setter at our peril.

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2.43 pm

Lord Best (CB): My Lords, your Lordships’ Select Committee on Communications, which I have the honour to chair, published its report BBC Charter Renewal:Reith not Revolution on 23 February. I am glad to say our report has been well received and I commend it to your Lordships. We reaffirmed the original Reithian principles for the BBC to “inform, educate and entertain”. We saw no convincing case for a significant reduction in the scale or scope of the BBC, nor for it to be restricted to remedying gaps that the market does not provide; and we said the BBC must continue to be a universal broadcaster. I was glad to see the complimentary review of our report by Peter Preston in the Guardian, which concluded:

“Their lordships helpfully chronicle something we don’t hear often enough: how good and important the BBC is to British life”.

2.44 pm

Lord Livermore (Lab): My Lords, the BBC’s reputation is built on independence from government, yet during charter renewal it is also dependent on the judgment of government. It has a responsibility to report politics with fairness without fear or favour. Politicians have a duty to take decisions in the same manner, even though the BBC has often infuriated politicians of all parties. Recently, during the Scottish referendum, the SNP railed against the BBC. During last year’s general election, the BBC reportedly incensed the Prime Minister so much that he threatened to close it down. Yet during that same campaign, it also moved the Labour Party to make almost daily complaints. To my mind, far from being a weakness, this shows the strength of the BBC, with its editorial independence from all political parties—an organisation seeking balance even when it is impossible to achieve, and held to higher standards than any other broadcaster.

We now see proposals to allow a greater government say over the running of the BBC, but trust is a valuable and fragile commodity. Once lost, it is extraordinarily difficult to regain. The BBC is more trusted than any other media organisation. I hope that the Minister will agree that no Government should put at risk an impartial and independent BBC.

2.45 pm

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, brilliant discipline has given us short speeches but many important points, and I hope the Minister has been listening hard. I would like to make three.

The people have spoken, and such a large and passionate response has surely seen off the original plan to cut the BBC down to size. But the battle is not over. Last week the Culture Secretary’s call for the BBC to become “more distinctive” revealed the strategy: use the charter review to make it so minority-interest and “distinctive” that hardly anyone likes it at all—something that few people would miss—and then privatise it. Really?

The BBC is the keystone of the UK’s broadcasting ecology and the envy of the world. The public want the BBC to inform, educate and entertain, and to

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survive and thrive. Popular BBC programmes and services inform and educate as well as entertain. The BBC needs reform, but that is something that we should have confidence that it can do itself. It ain’t broke.

2.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con): My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging debate and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, on her timeliness. As ever, she has spoken eloquently about the positive role the BBC plays in the creative industries and in UK society as a whole. That has been echoed by my noble friend Lord Inglewood and others. I have to say that I share the concern that has been expressed about the limits of the House of Lords equivalent of speed dating—but in my comments I shall try to address the key areas.

The Government are making good progress on our consideration of the BBC’s next Royal charter. Last week, as has been said, the Government published a summary of the 192,000 responses we received to our public consultation—they are all important—along with the Clementi review and a consultants’ report into the market impact of the BBC. We have also benefited a great deal from the carefully considered and well-received report from the noble Lord, Lord Best, and his noble colleagues on the Communications Committee.

To respond to a number of comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson and others, the Government believe that the BBC is a great institution. However, as I think people understand, charter review is a once-in-10-year opportunity to look at the scale and scope of the BBC, and it is right to look at how to help the BBC and the wider media sector to thrive in future.

Sir David Clementi’s review into BBC governance is a well-rounded and thorough report that makes a clear case for a move to a unitary board. I know that many colleagues believe that appointments to the new board should be made independently. The Government, via an OCPA process, currently appoints all the members of the BBC Trust board. We need to examine what the right approach is for the future. What is clear, however, is that the appointment of the director-general, as now, ought not to be made by the Government. Given that Sir David has only just reported, the Secretary of State will be considering the arguments carefully over the next few months.

As important as governance is what the BBC does. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, emphasised, 81% of responses suggested that it served its audience well, and 74% suggested that the BBC’s content was of high quality. But it is important to note that not everyone responded to all 19 questions set out in the consultation. For example, only 5% of respondents commented on the BBC’s mission, purpose and values. Of those, 3% indicated that no change was needed. A comprehensive summary of all the responses received is set out in the report that the Government published last week, which noble Lords may well want to take a look at.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, argued, as she has so eloquently on many occasions, for a better deal for children’s TV. I know that she will pleased to hear that the Secretary of State had a round table last week with children’s TV producers. Obviously, we are conscious of the need to retain the BBC quality and to encourage variety and creativity in this whole area.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds rightly asked about the fourth issue, diversity, which has been raised by a number of people in our various consultations. The Secretary of State recently met Lenny Henry and is considering carefully how we can encourage greater diversity in what the BBC does. I also ought to respond, because I had not planned to cover it in any detail, to the comments made about regional diversity, which has also been an important part of the process and the consultation and which we will look at when we come to make decisions on the White Paper.

The report of the noble Lord, Lord Best, argued for reform of the way the licence fee settlement should be conducted and recommended that this should be set by the independent regulator. This is an interesting proposal that will be given careful consideration. But, ultimately, the licence fee is a tax, and taxation decisions are ones for Ministers. We will reflect carefully on this issue but it is unlikely that the Government will move decision-making powers for setting the licence fee away from Ministers, now or in the future.

Another proposal in the report is the removal of charter review from the electoral cycle by allowing the charter to run for 11 years and reverting to 10 years thereafter. The noble Lord, Lord Young, picked this up, as did my noble friend Lord Fowler. This view is shared by many, including the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who was kind enough to give me notice of his comments—I will write on a couple of them, as I do not think I have time to cover every single one of them—as it is seen as a way of enhancing the BBC’s independence. My noble friend Lord Fowler and the noble Lord, Lord Birt, proposed going a step further—scrapping the charter completely and setting up the BBC as a statutory body.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I have to say to the Minister that that is not good enough. I gave notice last Friday, asking her to reply to my questions. Will she please do so, not in writing but now?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I will certainly try to do so. I am answering three of them as I go along, but I was conscious that noble Lords raised several points.

This view goes against those of many of the stakeholders—including the BBC—who responded to our consultation. Again, we will reflect carefully on this issue. Our current view is that at present a royal charter remains the most effective way of providing for the BBC.

Lord Birt: The Minister may like to comment on this. A clause in the last charter says that the licence fee may not be used to fund the World Service. George Osborne then made his night raid, the BBC was required

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to fund the World Service through the licence fee and the charter was amended in the Privy Council. Would the Minister like to explain the constitutional rationale for that?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: Obviously, there has been a good deal of comment on the agreement that was reached last year on funding. The rationale for it is clear: that economically, the BBC could not be exempted from the pressures on funding that have been imposed on every other public entity. In addition, the director-general agreed the funding package—

Lord Birt: I wonder whether the Minister heard the key word. I asked for the constitutional, not the economic, rationale.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I will certainly consider the question further, but we are acting constitutionally—there is a BBC charter and a charter process, we are undertaking the review and consulting in an appropriate way, and we will come on to debate the proposals in due course. The Government behaved in an appropriate manner in trying to sort out the funding of the BBC, as they did last year. In many ways, as I have said on previous occasions, that has been helpful.

As I was saying, we will of course reflect carefully on these issues, and a proposal for the term of the next charter will also be set out in the upcoming White Paper.

Lord Fowler: I take it from what my noble friend is saying that in effect, the Government have rejected the idea that the royal charter should be scrapped. If they have, how does she think the royal charter establishes and safeguards the independence of the BBC?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: As I have said, we are looking at the whole process at the moment. Independence is an important issue, and when we set out our plans we will come back with our ideas on how we can best ensure an independent and good future for the BBC. I wanted to respond to the points that were made in the report, because it is as well that people understand that the report’s key proposal on this point will not necessarily be accepted. However, having said that, obviously we remain in listening mode at this stage of the process and we will come back with a White Paper.

Although there has not been much comment on it, it is worth mentioning that last week the Government announced a deal with the BBC to close the iPlayer loophole, which, under current regulation, allows viewers to watch catch-up services on iPlayer without paying for a TV licence. Obviously, this will stop those who are essentially freeloading from not paying the licence fee, and the Government will bring forward secondary legislation on this point as soon as is practicable. This responds to the digital change that we have discussed in many of our different debates.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: Of course we welcome the decision on BBC iPlayer, but just as important would be a guarantee that there will be no more top-slicing of the licence fee.

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe: We set out our plans for funding and made it clear that there was a way forward, but we said that, in looking at the review of scope and scale, we would make sure that the plans that had been set out and agreed with the BBC made sense. I do not think I can give any commitments in particular on top-slicing, but I understand the concern. We all want a well-funded, well-run BBC—that is agreed territory.

I turn to timing, which I think will be of interest to noble Lords. Our intention is still to publish the White Paper in the first half of this year. As I said in an earlier debate, we can extend the current charter if we have to, although that is not the intention. In response, I hope, to the point made by my noble friend Lord Fowler, we will allow for debates in this House, the other place and the devolved Parliaments before the White Paper goes before the Privy Council for approval.

The most important thing is to get the charter review right, given that it is likely to set the framework for the BBC for years to come. The Government are committed to an open and transparent charter review process—a process which I believe is progressing well. I confirm again that the Government are fully aware of the importance of the BBC and of how much the public and this House value its contribution to society, to the creative industries and to the UK’s standing in the world.

The Clementi review has, I believe, provided a case for reform of the BBC’s governance and regulation, which was certainly a concern in earlier debates. The market impact report has shown that the BBC becoming more distinctive would help both commercial broadcasters and the viewing public by offering more choice. I look forward to a thriving, dynamic BBC which is respected around the world but also provides better value for money in the light of this important review.

Finally, I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that I have tried to answer his questions, although I do not think I have entirely succeeded. I will write him a letter and ensure that it is copied to other noble Lords.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am grateful to the Minister for what she has just said. Having listened very carefully, I think that the answer to each of my five questions is no.

Lord Birt: It is very welcome that the Minister suggests that this House, as well as the other place, will have a chance to discuss the White Paper. Does she agree that we will need a debate of sufficient length at that moment?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, I will pass that good suggestion on to the usual channels.

Lord Fowler: Will there be an opportunity to debate the excellent report of the noble Lord, Lord Best? The important thing is to have that debate before the White Paper is published. Although I am interested in having the debate on the White Paper afterwards, it is much more important to have it when—theoretically, at any rate—it can have some influence.

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Baroness Jay of Paddington: As my noble friend Lord Macdonald predicted, we are well ahead on the timing, which is slightly unfortunate given that there were many points which people would have raised had they had two and a half minutes or more to speak. However, I emphasise the point that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has just made. The report of the Select Committee, of which, as I said, I am a member, would provide a very opportune moment for a better and longer discussion, and perhaps that could be arranged as soon as possible.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I note noble Lords’ comments and will pass them on to the usual channels.

3.02 pm

Sitting suspended.

Housing and Planning Bill

Committee (5th Day) (Continued)

3.17 pm

Amendment 63

Moved by Lord Beecham

63: Clause 67, page 29, line 33, at end insert—

“( ) The total payment required from all affected local authorities in any financial year shall not exceed the total grant paid in that year to private registered providers in respect of right to buy discounts.”

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, I begin my speech in support of Amendment 63, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Kennedy, and the other amendments in this group by referring to what passes for the impact assessment of the Bill. Under the rubric of “Problem under consideration”, it states that the provisions of the Bill,

“require councils to make a payment to the Secretary of State based on their high value … housing”,

which is expected to become vacant during the financial year. It does not say how “high value” is to be defined or calculated, which is expressly to be determined—surprise, surprise—by secondary legislation. Nor does it define what would be deemed to constitute “an expectation” and when that is supposed to crystallise. It goes on to state that,

“a formula will be used to calculate the payment each stock owning local authority is … to pay”,

for this will be required of local authorities whether or not the property is sold. As we have heard, the money will go to Her Majesty’s Government for onward transmission to housing associations to finance the right to buy. No formula is proffered in the impact assessment. Graciously, it states that local authorities will have to consider selling their high-value housing when it becomes vacant but will have “some flexibility” to decide which properties are sold. This generous concession is supposed to dampen the impact of the

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effective nationalisation and then privatisation of the housing in question. It does not indicate how much flexibility will be allowed.

The Government do, by way of an amazing act of largesse, say that a portion—unspecified—of receipts will be used to build more homes that reflect housing need. Can the Minister tell us how much flexibility will be allowed and in what circumstances? How and when will the Government determine the size of the portion of receipts to be used for building more homes? Will the Government prescribe the cost of such homes, their location or their tenure? If built as new council homes, will they be subject in turn to the right to buy?

The impact assessment asserts that by managing their stock more efficiently, something with which the Bill does not, as such, purport to deal,

“local authorities will release value tied up in such properties and this can be used to fund more homes which reflect the housing need”.

This bald statement does not deal with the destination of the proceeds, which is the Government, nor does it exclude the possibility of the proceeds being used for purposes other than funding homes. Indeed, since the Government would be using their levy on councils in respect of high-value homes to fund right to buy, it is hard to see how the proceeds could be used in any substantial amount for that purpose.

The summary of benefits and costs in the assessment states that:

“The determination process will provide … certainty for local authorities about the level and flow of receipts to be generated”.

Can the Minister provide the House with an example of how the process will work? Do the Government propose to deal with it in regulations? If so—once again, I have to ask—will we see the draft regulations before Report?

The summary in paragraph 4.2.8 goes on to assert:

“Data will be used to inform the setting of the high value threshold and the assumptions underlying the calculations in the determination”.

What data? Whence derived? When made public? Will there be discussions with individual councils about the threshold and any mechanism for appeal? Paragraph 4.2.10 acknowledges:

“Local authorities are likely to incur some costs associated with the sale of vacant property”—

a statement of the blindly obvious—but councils will no doubt be deeply relieved to note that:

“Consideration will be given to the deductions that should be made from the payment to the Secretary of State to reflect transaction costs associated with the sale of vacant properties”.

Have the Government made any estimates of such costs? Will this process involve secondary legislation to clarify the matter?

Paragraph 4.2.11 declares:

“A portion of the receipts will be used to provide more housing, reflecting housing need”.

What sort of housing? Housing for first-time buyers? Housing for rent? If for rent, what levels of rent? Housing in the authority area or perhaps beyond it? Above all, what sized portion? It further states that,

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“the Secretary of State and a local authority may enter into an agreement to reduce the amount the authority has to pay so that new housing can be provided”.

Provided by whom? Does the Minister envisage, for example, an annual agreement based on an estimated number of sales at an estimated price? What would be the minimum number and minimum expected yield to make such an arrangement feasible? In similar vein, how feasible is it to require in London, as the same paragraph does, that,

“at least two new affordable homes are provided for each vacant high value home that is expected to be sold in the relevant year”?

That question has been raised more than once in debates thus far. Does not that wording suggest that councils are expected to make provision on the basis of an expectation rather than an actual sale? That sounds rather like a potential leap in the dark given the obvious uncertainty about numbers, price and timing, both in respect of sales and the proposed new building. How many sales and consequent replacements does the Minister believe would be a workable minimum to secure best value in terms of those replacements?

In five and a half years as a Member of this House, I have seen some poor impact assessments, but I do not recall any as utterly useless as this. I do not blame the Minister for a moment for that—she is probably suffering from the effects of an inadequate impact assessment as much as any of us. There is no assessment of the number of properties liable to be affected, no assessment of the possible amounts to be realised, no assessment of the number, type and costs of replacements and no indication of how the scheme might work in metropolitan areas where the housing market crosses local authority boundaries.

Shelter has done some calculations which the DCLG either has not done, which would be grossly negligent, or has done but apparently has failed to publish, which would be tantamount to concealing important evidence. These show for authorities an estimate of the number of houses that might fall into the high-value category. The Shelter study showed that in Newcastle, which in the words of a council officer will be badly hit, 1,611 council homes fall into the Government’s previously released high-value threshold. This will equate to 82 forced sales a year—in fact, the council believes that the Shelter figures are an underestimate. Moreover, even if a council were to transfer its stock to an external housing provider, it could still be issued with an annual charge based on the Secretary of State’s estimate of what would have been the annual turnover of high-value stock. This is yet another example of the Government giving the lie to their claims to be localist. As the Conservative-led Local Government Association has pointed out:

“Councils already consider the best use for their assets and any new duty to sell stock must be balanced against local housing need. Local authorities should retain all receipts from the sale of … high value homes and from council Right to Buy in order to invest locally in building new homes crucial to reducing waiting lists and welfare spending. The Bill should be amended to give councils maximum freedom to manage their own housing stock and to locally retain”—

the LGA’s split infinitive, not mine—

“capital receipts for reinvestment in new and existing housing, as a minimum retaining sufficient receipt to replace every home sold”.

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This has been the gist of two or three speeches from the current chair of the association, the noble Lord, Lord Porter.

The LGA does not support the proposals to levy payments on the estimated value of higher-value properties, asserting rightly that the Government could decide,

“how much it would like to ‘tax’ each council with housing stock”,

and no doubt define what constitutes high value for the relevant area.

However, in addition to all these difficulties about principle, process and finance, there are more fundamental concerns. What steps, if any, will the Government take to avoid high-value homes joining the buy-to-let sector? What consideration have they given to the need for larger accommodation for large families or households with a disabled member requiring extra space, such as is currently the subject of litigation in respect of the bedroom tax? There is a case before the courts involving a third room in which necessary equipment has to be provided for a disabled member of the household. Would a household such as that potentially be subject to the treatment of high-value properties? Generally speaking, the larger the accommodation, the higher the value will be. In Newcastle, we have only 83 council properties with five bedrooms, 28 applicants with a housing need for them and a turnover of around only five a year. Will the charge be levied on those irrespective of the impact on available housing for those larger families, even on the relatively small numbers which we have to deal with? There will also be areas where bungalows will in high demand for similar reasons—very often occupied by elderly or disabled people.

Our amendments in this and subsequent groups deal with a wide range of issues arising from the Government’s simplistic and un-thought-through policies designed, in my submission, as electoral bait. Amendment 63 is aimed at the national position and would require the total payment from councils in any financial year to be limited to the total grant to housing associations for right to buy. That very provision underlines one of the most basic flaws in the whole concept: right to buy of itself creates no new homes. To the extent that the exercise of the right raises money, it will do so at the expense of the provision of council housing with no guarantee of local replacement and, inevitably, the eventual transition of a large percentage of properties to buy to let.

Amendment 64 would give a local authority rather than the Secretary of State the right to define what constitutes “high value”, while Amendment 65 would limit the number of high-value properties subject to the provisions of the Bill to 10% of the total local authority stock in a given area, thereby effectively capping the impact of the scheme in localities.

Importantly, Amendment 66 defines “high value”—something which the Government have failed to get round to doing—by excluding properties for which the cost of building a replacement with the same number of bedrooms in the same local authority area is greater than their value. Finally in this group is Clause 67 stand part.

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This concept—borne of, at best, ill-conceived populism and, at worst, electoral opportunism—is about buying votes, not about building houses. It is shoddy, ill thought-out and ill-drafted legislation. We are asked by the Government to approve it in the absence of evidence of how it would work and what its impact would be. I urge the Minister to acknowledge its deficiencies and take it back to the ministerial drawing board or to whatever oxymoron of a right-wing think tank thought it up. This is a time not for Policy Exchange but for a change of policy. I beg to move.

3.30 pm

Lord Lansley (Con): My Lords, I intervene briefly on this group of amendments. I have listened with care and interest to the debate on the previous group and was hoping to contribute to that, but I think it is perfectly appropriate to do so now.

Lord Beecham: Actually, the Companionallows that. Because we are in Committee, noble Lords can speak on any aspect at any time, if that is any help.

Lord Lansley: I am learning the advantages of being in your Lordships’ House as opposed to another place. This is clearly one of them.

I am prompted not least by the introduction to the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I can well understand his point of view about the absence of detail that we hope to see in regulations. I share the collective view across the House that we would like to see those regulations in order to understand how the architecture of the Bill will be shaped before we come to the decisions that we need to make on Report. But the absence of those regulations and that architecture afford an opportunity for the noble Lord to ask a lot of questions. Indeed, the amendments, in so far as they probe these issues, simply relate to a sub-set of the issues that potentially need to be covered in the regulations.

My personal view is that none of the amendments in this group would help us in any way because we need to see the whole shape of the regulations in order to understand this clause. From the Government’s point of view, there is considerable advantage in the flexibility provided by regulation in this area, rather than having too much rigidity in the system. I say that because I am prompted by what the noble Lord said: that this was about electoral opportunism rather than building houses. Actually, this is electorally popular. I have no doubt about that. The right to buy was popular in its time and is popular now, and the right to buy for housing association tenants will prove popular. However, the issue is about building houses.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): There are repeated references to right to buy. There is no right to buy because housing associations can refuse to sell. There is no right to buy at all.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): The noble Lord said that the right to buy was popular in its time. He is right that it was popular at the moment it was introduced

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and probably for a short while thereafter. But now, if you go to the areas that I know in Luton, where all the estates have been pretty much sold off, mothers and fathers are worried about their children and grandchildren being able to access decent accommodation. That gives a different view as to how popular or right that policy was.

Lord Lansley: In a way. I certainly do not propose to engage in a semantic debate about what the policy is described as. We know what it is and it will rightly be regarded by housing association tenants as the creation of a right to buy. It may be circumscribed in certain ways, not least by housing associations themselves under a voluntary agreement. But everyone will know what it is, and that is what they will be looking for.

On the latter point, I must say to noble Lords that I do not think I have to judge whether the policy was popular: it was. People voted for it and, frankly, at the last general election they voted for right to buy again. I do not think we need to have that debate. Indeed, that was not my purpose in speaking. I was addressing the issue that, actually, my noble friend Lord Horam made perfectly clear in a previous intervention. He was absolutely right. As I said at Second Reading, this is about building more houses. If we are to solve all the problems we are debating, we will solve them more readily if we are able to increase the number of houses we build. Then, we will not be trying to parcel out who lives in which home and under what tenure—as appears sometimes to be the purpose of these debates—rather than giving more people more opportunities to have whatever home they want under whatever tenure they want. The more homes we build, the more likely we are to be able to satisfy more of those ambitions.

Completely contrary to what the noble Lord just said, this is about building more homes. The local authority may sell houses, but those houses do not cease to be occupied. They will go into the market. That value, realised through the right-to-buy discount, will enable people to own the homes they are occupying. The housing association will take the market value and will, as a consequence, be increasingly equipped to invest in further new housing in the future. There is that benefit.

At the same time, the Government have an opportunity, and this is where the flexibility in the architecture of the Bill comes in. The Government will have flexibility in certain circumstances to say, “No, we can actually do more by way of building more homes where we most need those homes to be built if we reach an agreement with a local authority to build more homes, through which we reduce the deduction—the payment it has to make”. That is why the single example of Greater London in the structure of the Bill is indicative. Frankly, one for one would not in itself be sufficient to justify substantial deductions on the payment.

In so far as there is a given amount that is required to be paid over to housing associations that arises from the discounts, such payments might therefore have to be met by the Government out of general taxation. I see nothing in the Bill that requires the two sums to be exactly the same. That flexibility allows the Government to enter into agreements with local

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authorities. There is a clear incentive for local authorities to come forward with proposals that would allow them to build more homes than one could otherwise anticipate being built as a consequence of simply transferring that money through to the right-to-buy discount. The consequence, one way or another—through the housing association route, or the local housing authority arriving at an agreement to build more homes—is that more homes should be built. That is devoutly to be wished for.

What will help us to explore the issues arising out of the discussions in Committee is to know more about Clause 72. What do these agreements with local authorities look like? For my own part, it is important to be able to see a practical example. I declare an interest as an unremunerated chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum. We want to see houses being built. We need more affordable homes. In my time as Member of Parliament for South Cambridgeshire, I saw the housing waiting list in my constituency more than double. We have a fast-growing area. We have rising land prices and property prices. We have a lot of demand for key worker housing and affordable homes. In that sense, we are very much like the most pressed and needy areas of London. My noble friend talked about the changing geography of London and that is absolutely right. There are places outside London that exhibit characteristics very like some of the most stressed parts of London.

In encouraging the process of fleshing out between now and Report, I say to my noble friend that it is not just about fleshing out the regulations; it is about engaging in conversations with local authorities. I would be happy if my noble friend would allow such a conversation to take place between her department, South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridge City Council and for me along with colleagues to be part of that. We should discuss the potential for these deductions and what they can deliver. The Government are right to believe that they should have the flexibility to give local authorities leeway regarding the assumptions that would lead to payments into the right-to-buy discount if they are building more houses and showing the additionality of being able to do so.

For that reason, there has to be flexibility in the architecture of the Bill regarding, on the one hand, the ambition to build more houses through local authority agreements that directly correspond financially to a flexibility in how much money is asked of individual local housing authorities; and to what extent that money corresponds with the money provided in right-to-buy discounts.

Lord Beecham: Why not leave the decision to local authorities within whose boundaries these high-value properties are situated? How can it be justified to levy on those local authorities a payment when the property is not yet vacant?

Lord Lansley: I am grateful for that because I had not realised it until I listened to the Bill being discussed earlier today. The answer is that, insofar as the local authority seeks to achieve not just replacement new homes for the dwellings that are sold but to do more, the consequence in financial terms has to be borne by

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the Government, so the Government are a partner in this proposal. It does not automatically follow, as one of the amendments in this group implies, that the amount of money that is derived from local authorities through the payments that are required under Clause 67 has to correspond with the amount of money that is provided to housing associations under the right-to-buy discount. If there is a difference, and in particular if there is a shortfall, it is down to the Government to cover it. Frankly, I think that the Government, through agreements reached with local authorities, should have the flexibility to create such a shortfall and to fund it differently.

Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to the need to build more homes. There is a way of building more homes that is much easier than all these provisions in the Bill, and that is simply to reduce the price of land. Certainly outside London, it is the cost of land that is driving up the cost of housing and causing the problems we are having to deal with today. Only a few weeks ago I read some statistics about land prices in the Home Counties. An acre of agricultural land can be bought for around £12,000, but with the stroke of a pen—if I may simplify the process—it can be worth between £2 million and £4 million. That is why people cannot afford to buy houses in the United Kingdom but they can afford them abroad. We are simply paying too much for the land that we use.

I wish to support the thrust of these amendments, in particular Amendment 65, tabled by my two noble friends on the Front Bench. As I understand it, they would restrict the amount of property treated as high value, which may have the effect of reducing the levy and thereby the pressure on a local authority to sell stock to fund housing association right-to-buy discount purchases. My case is simple: councils need to defend their public sector housing stock and I shall argue why that stock should be defended against speculative buying.

Just to clarify the position, the Bill states:

“The Secretary of State must by regulations define ‘high value’ for the purposes of this Chapter”,

to which Amendment 65 would add,

“and this definition may not apply to more than 10% of the total authority properties in the local housing authority area”.

These debates have been dominated by some very experienced people, and I do not profess to be one of them. Many leaders of local authorities have taken part, as well as leaders in the housing association movement, so the quality of the debate has been very high. Unfortunately, my experience of dealing with a local authority ended 40 years ago, so obviously I have a layman’s and observer’s knowledge of these matters. My comments are based on some anecdotes and conversations I have had with local authority councillors and leaders who are directly involved in this area. Many of the questions I will put are being asked by the public, particularly where they harbour great concerns about the Bill’s provisions.

3.45 pm

The day before yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a local authority leader. His case was simple. The sale of council property in London is

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out of control, with no official monitoring, and it is determined by the Government’s desire to raise revenue from the housing stock so as to avoid public expenditure. It is, in effect, a tax on local authorities. He went on to say that the sale of high-value property would be primarily in the London area, funding countrywide, and that outside of the London area the majority of high-value stock would be confined initially to the national parks, the more well-heeled towns of the Home Counties and a few areas in Yorkshire and Cheshire. But ultimately the Government will lower the high-value threshold so as to maximise the levy and fund their estimated target yield of £4.5 billion a year. He further argues that a high proportion of the council property being purchased in London is by overseas investors using UK residents as the vehicles for buying into the London property market for the purpose of investment. UK residents—tenants—are not the principal purchasers as they require high-value mortgages that they can ill afford and indeed cannot get.

What is the evidence for that? I examined council property prices in Westminster—that is to say, subsequent sales after the right to buy has been exercised. I chose Churchill Gardens in Pimlico because it reflects prices right across London, in an area from Dulwich to Hendon and from Ealing to Hackney. I went on Zoopla, which Members will be aware of, for valuation information. Churchill Gardens—Members will know that it is the series of blocks of flats on the other side of Dolphin Square on the Embankment—was built between 1946 and 1962. There are 1,600 homes there in 32 blocks. It is a development of blocks of flats interspersed with maisonettes. It has the benefit of a district heat and power plant. Much of it is classic deck- access property. It is classic London local authority property. Much of it has been in the conservation area since 1990. It is managed by CityWest Homes on behalf of Westminster City Council. Two-bedroom flats on Zoopla, as of the other day, now cost between £560,000 and £580,000. One-bedroom flats are not much less. These are flats that were sold in 1997-98—I traced them back—for between £24,750 and £25,000. This is a huge increase in the price of local authority property.

Some 50% of the 1,600 properties in Churchill Gardens have been sold off, depriving London of precious housing stock. Where have they gone and who bought them? Those who bought them originally are pocketing the capital gain and selling at the prices I referred to a week ago—it seems like a month ago. They are now joined by Westminster City Council, which, under the current right to buy and after the £103,900 discount, can value the same property at £450,000. Indeed, yesterday I found a three-bedroom property on the Churchill Gardens Estate on Rightmove, being sold by Hamptons International at just more than £600,000. A mortgage in the region of £400,000 to £450,000 requires a buyer to take out a very substantial mortgage of more than £2,000 a month, or more than £24,000 to £26,000 a year, at just more than 3% interest. That is after tax—hardly the income of a council tenant.

So who is buying? It is far too often overseas money. I quote an article from the Daily Mail online, which is not normally a source of information, but it is an interesting one on this particular occasion. It reads:

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“One in five people who bought their council house in upmarket Westminster were living on housing benefit … One in five people who bought their council home in one of Britain’s wealthiest areas was receiving housing benefit when they applied, it has emerged”.

These are people who are supposed to be buying property for £450,000. It continues:

“The revelation centres on the London borough of Westminster, and comes after a Government watchdog warned fraudulent purchases under the Right to Buy scheme have increased 400 per cent in two years”.

This is a public scandal. It continues:

“One fear is that hard-up tenants are being ‘gifted’ cash by private firms to buy their homes at a cut-price rate. After buying a property, the company can then sell them on to private landlords for a profit, who will let them”,

at a market rate. It continues:

“In Westminster, 22 per cent of Right to Buy sales were to people in receipt of housing benefit when they applied, dropping to 11 per cent upon completion”.

That is a very interesting statistic. The article continues:

“It begs the question of how council tenants who qualify for housing benefit could suddenly afford to buy properties outright in one of the most expensive parts of the country”.

I hope that it is dawning on Members of the House exactly what I am driving at. Where is the money coming from for these housing association discounts? It is coming not from the people that it is supposed to, but from investors.

The article continues:

“A report also found that 31 per cent of former council homes are now owned by private landlords and can be let for more than £800 a week”—

I do not know about that figure—

“in the capital’s second-most expensive borough.

Councillors have warned of a ‘property bonanza’—and said many tenants claim the money was a gift from overseas, making it near impossible to trace”.

This is a racket. It continues:

“Last summer, it emerged that a property company had leafleted 60,000 council house tenants offering six-figure rewards for working with them to buy and then sell their home.

Nicholas Carlino, a director of London Investment Property Group, told an undercover Sunday Times reporter that he was making so much money snapping up homes that had been undervalued by the council and selling them on that he would ‘never have to work again’. The scheme was entirely legal.

Councillor Lindsey Hall, anti-fraud tsar for Tory-run Westminster, told BBC London’s Inside Out programme: ‘I passionately believe Right to Buy needs to stay, but it needs to be very tightly managed and not fuelling a property bonanza for individuals swanning around estates in grand Mercedes and BMWs’”.

There is something wrong with the Bill if this is what is going to happen in the marketplace.

I shall quote from the journal West End Extra, talking about Churchill Gardens:

“Residential properties are being let out as holiday homes on a near industrial scale changing the historic make-up of central London neighbourhoods, City Hall has been warned. Councillors have been asked to investigate the growing trend for landlords to give up long-stay tenants in favour of taking bookings from tourists through websites such as Airbnb, which can prove more financially lucrative. Residents in Pimlico this week spoke out about how the increasing number of lets to holidaymakers was changing their area, with people on the Churchill Gardens Estate

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complaining that a settled community was being replaced by an endless stream of people with suitcases coming and going. Some say they no longer know who their neighbours are.

Labour councillor Murad Gassanly raised the issue at last week’s full council meeting after residents complained to him about ‘noisy parties’ being held at properties and said former council flats were now being set up as rooms ‘numbered like a hotel’. He added: ‘One woman told me she knocked on someone’s door and noticed all the rooms were numbered and there was tourist advertising in there. I looked on Airbnb and there are more than 30 properties on there on the Churchill Gardens Estate at any one time. Long-term residents of the estate say it does undermine the sense of community and does create a transient atmosphere on the estate’.

Conservative Cllr Heather Acton said: ‘We were very disappointed with the government decision to deregulate and enable short letting for a 90-day period of a calendar year’”.

I understand that Westminster City Council is advising people about the dangers of all this. Its website says:

“Sometimes companies or individuals offer tenants money if the tenant agrees to a deal where the company ends up owning the property. If you enter into this type of agreement: Before you buy your property, you will have to repay the discount as soon as you buy it”.

Of course, there are ways around this. It goes on:

“Please think very carefully before using one of these companies or individuals. Ask yourself ‘what is in it for them?’. They may be suggesting that you do something which benefits them, not you. Do not sign anything”.

I do not really know how we can now block what is happening in the Bill. I think the position is desperate. We are going to find huge swathes of London property being sold to people overseas—that is where it will end up—being rented out as tourist accommodation or at very high rentals. London will lose its housing stock and meanwhile the money that is gathered in will be used, not just in London, to fund housing association discounts in various parts of the United Kingdom.

I shall end up by quoting Councillor Acton, who will be known to Members on the Government Benches, talking about Airbub, the site for tourists. I understand that she is a prominent councillor in Westminster.

“On Airbnb there are 3,000 properties across Westminster and 2,000 of those are whole properties, not just a room. And 80 per cent of those are let 100 per cent of the time. They are not people going on holiday, they are people investing in a flat to short let it all the time, and the rent they get is four times the normal annual rent, if not more. It has become a business. There was a one-bedroom flat in Covent Garden which is advertised on Airbnb as sleeping seven”.

We have to find a way of preserving the housing stock in London. I say to Ministers, my noble friend has tabled an amendment which may not exactly meet the objective I have set in this debate, but we have to find something. I believe that the whole Bill is based on a huge error of judgment, certainly as far as London is concerned. As I said the other day, I have great sympathy with the right to buy and I believe that it has worked in parts of the country, but in London it is a disaster and something needs to be done to bring it to an end.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): I remember that when I was a young councillor in Southwark in the 1980s I got this exposed in the South London Press. These firms were going around council estates offering people all sorts of inducements to buy their council

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house in order to, quite legally, get part of their discount. What my noble friend has discovered going on is disgraceful, but unfortunately there have been problems with this right from the start.

Lord Tope (LD): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is referring to a situation that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and I fought very hard over during the passage of the Deregulation Act. We fought very hard to resist the change to the requirement in London to get planning consent, for exactly the reasons he describes. I think the company to which the noble Lord referred a number of times is actually Airbnb. We should record the name correctly in case there is an Airbub somewhere. Airbnb is probably the biggest company—but not the only one by any means—in a rapidly growing industry in inner London, and is causing the considerable problems that he described. If these provisions go through, the situation can only get even worse. We had a lot of very strong representations from community associations and residents’ associations, particularly around central London, who said that they no longer had any idea who their neighbours were for exactly the reasons the noble Lord gave, as those people were changing literally on a daily basis because the properties were let out to tourists and visitors on an industrial scale.

4 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con): My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken in the debate and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Beecham, for their amendments. I welcome the suggestions on how we could limit the payments that are required, and their consideration of the potential impacts that the policy could have on local authorities. As I said before lunch, I also welcome their arguments on alternative ways of defining high value for the purposes of the Bill.

I understand the criticism of the impact assessment made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, but it was intended as an outline, not as a detailed value-for-money assessment. Alongside the impact assessment accompanying the Bill, we have worked in partnership with the Better Regulation Executive to produce regulatory impact assessments for all measures, including all reforming regulation on business or civil society. This is in line with the Government’s Better Regulation Framework Manual and these assessments are subject to independent scrutiny by the statutory Regulatory Policy Committee.

The regulatory impact assessments were not appropriate for the extension of right to buy and HVA measures. The extension of the right to buy to housing associations is voluntary, not regulatory, and the sale of local authority HVAs affects only the public sector. Of course, we are fully aware that we need to go through all the detailed steps of option appraisal and value-for-money analysis. We agree that this is necessary to ensure that Ministers’ decisions are informed by a full value-for-money analysis. That is why we have done very extensive and—as the NAO acknowledges at paragraph 3.17 of its report—internal analysis. We have clear processes to require this internally.

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The work we have done includes policy costings in line with OBR/HMT guidance, an economic assessment of right-to-buy extension, which underpinned a bid in the SR for the pilot scheme, ongoing analysis of the costings, the impact of the sale of HVAs and the commissioning of new data to support this, analysis of financial flows and an inequalities impact assessment. We will publish further detail later this year. In the case of right to buy, this will be jointly with the HA sector, as the details of the voluntary agreement are developed, including though the pilots. In the case of HVAs, this will be alongside secondary legislation following Royal Assent. I reiterate that noble Lords’ contributions will inform these considerations, as will the thoughts from the other place and our engagement with local authorities and the other stakeholders.

Before I address the amendments in detail, I shall provide a general response to, and defence of, these measures, and in particular Clause 67. This chapter on the sale of vacant, high-value local authority housing is one important contributor to the Government’s aim of increasing home ownership and housing supply. The Government are taking the lead in managing public assets, selling where it is right to do so, and local authorities should do the same. We talked about this at length this morning. We want local authorities to sell their high-value vacant housing so that the value locked up in those properties can be released. This value will be used to fund the right-to-buy discounts for housing association tenants and the delivery of additional homes.

I know that there are a number of concerns about the policy.

Lord Beecham: What is the proportion between the right-to-buy discount and the provision of new homes?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, that has not been set out yet.

Lord Beecham: Again.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: Well, we are all fairly frustrated about this, I think it is fair to say. I have to keep telling noble Lords that I am not ready to give the details. But as your Lordships know, I will do so as soon as I can.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): I am sorry. We have been hammering away about SIs and all the rows we have had on this, but will we have this information before the Bill completes its passage through this House?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: As I have just said, I anticipate that it will be after Royal Assent.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: We have spent a long time on starter homes, where we are not going to get the detail until after Royal Assent because the Government have only just started the consultation process and that will inform the regs, so outside bodies—discussion groups—will inform the regs, not this House. Now we

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are being told the same thing about all the detail on right to buy and the apportionment of how much money will go into replacing local authority housing and how much will go into housing association discounts.

We cannot make legislation on this basis, where all the detail is in the ether, awaiting consultations that should have started last September but which the Government have got round to only in the past few weeks—too late to inform discussions, but the Government are unwilling to delay parliamentary scrutiny until we have that information. Then, as and when we get the statutory instruments, we will not be able to amend them as we should if we feel we need to. This is a travesty of House of Lords scrutiny.

Lord Shipley (LD): I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham. It is a travesty of the House’s processes. I think I am right in saying that we have just heard for the first time that we will get further information only after Royal Assent. Prior to that, we have had a different form of words from the Minister, to the effect of “best endeavours”, “as soon as possible”, “hopefully by Report, maybe not everything”, “consultations are being undertaken”, and so on. Now we are talking about getting the information only after Royal Assent. The Minister owes a duty to the House to explain in detail—now—why, on the fifth day of Committee, we are told that we cannot have the information that we need to undertake a proper examination of the Bill until after the Bill has proceeded and has secured Royal Assent. It is a travesty, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, said.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Perhaps I might add one further point. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Young, would agree with my description, but certainly when I was taking Bills through, including the Bills I was responsible for within the department, I had to go to something called “LegCo”—the legislative sub-committee of the Cabinet—where 40 Bills were queuing up for, say, 25 slots in the programme. I would not have been allowed to bring a Bill before this House if I did not know the timetable for the regs and what the import of those regs was, so that I could take the Bill reasonably and appropriately through the stages of this House and my colleagues could do the same down the other end.

Who is failing here? Is it the fact that the Government are so anxious, having won an election, to proceed with legislation when it is not ready? In a previous Government, the Minister would not have been allowed to bring this Bill to either House, and now we are in a position where we cannot scrutinise it as a result of bad management and the failure, in my view, of LegCo, Bill teams and all the rest to do proper scrutiny.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I endorse the comments of my noble friend Lady Hollis and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, about the inadequate position we find ourselves in. I know that the Minister is frustrated as well but it would be useful if she could tell the House what discussions are going on in the department. This is absolutely ridiculous now. I am no expert in procedure

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but this is definitely a Bill that should be paused. It is ridiculous. To be told that we will get stuff months and months in the future is just not good enough.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and hope I might be able to perhaps provide some comfort to noble Lords. The secondary legislation will be subject, obviously, to parliamentary scrutiny. We want to set it out as soon as possible but we also want to ensure that it is correct and informed by accurate data. I cannot provide exact timescales for secondary legislation at this stage but I will do my best to provide further information on this on Report. I know that that is not perfect, but I hope noble Lords will accept what I say at this point. I will do my best.

Lord Campbell-Savours: Would it be appropriate for the Minister to ask the Leader of the House to make a Statement to us next week on exactly where we are? We cannot handle legislation in this way. If the Minister is obviously not in a position to deal with it, it should be taken up in the Cabinet by the Leader of the House.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I am not sure about the Leader making a Statement. I am certainly making a statement as to my intent. I know that noble Lords are not happy, but I will bring forward what I can when I can. As I say, I will elect to have details ready on this by Report.

Lord Foster of Bath (LD): I apologise, and I know that the Minister is as frustrated as the rest of us, but I just remind her that at Second Reading I specifically asked whether she could provide us with a tentative timetable for when various bits of secondary legislation would be made available to Members of your Lordships’ House. The Minister gave me an assurance at that time that she would do her best to try and provide that. The department must have a timescale. They have a team of people working on these different issues and the members of those different groups must have some indication of where they are and when things are likely to be available. Could she at least try to do what she said she would do at Second Reading, and make that available to Members of your Lordships’ House?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I did say that—the noble Lord is absolutely right—and I will. One of the important things to be aware of at this stage, as I said at the beginning of today’s debates, is that much of what is being debated in your Lordships’ House will inform a lot of the thinking on how the regulations are shaped. In that sense, noble Lords are helping to inform government thinking on this.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, nobody, genuinely, is criticising the Minister. I would not want to be in her position at all and, frankly, I would not have been allowed to be in her position. What we have is the brazenness, if you like, of a manifesto commitment being used to wing a Bill through both Houses without adequate information. I know the Minister is absolutely

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doing her best, but with all respect she cannot answer the questions being put. We understood when we were doing the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill that that was a framework Bill because it was bottom-up and everything was going to be tailored in response to what local authorities themselves wanted. We accepted that then, but there is no justification at all for the same process to be applied to this Bill. Frankly, it should not be happening, and it did not happen in previous times. The Cabinet should not have permitted the Bill to go forward until it was ready. It is not ready.

Lord True (Con): My Lords, we just heard a speech from my noble friend Lord Lansley, who is not in his place. I think it is generally accepted across the House, given how many times we have heard my noble friend on the Front Bench address the House with extreme courtesy on this point, that it is quite clear that my noble friend wants to give the maximum amount of information to the House. We should not protest too much. During the 13 years I sat in the usual channels in opposition, the noble Baroness may not have been allowed to bring forward bits of legislation where the House would have chuntered, quite rightly, that it wanted to have more information before Report or whatever, but a large number of her colleagues were certainly allowed to. However, two wrongs do not make a right, so let us not target my noble friend on this point.

Noble Lords: We are not.

Lord True: I am very glad to hear that. Perhaps that can be the end of these repeated exchanges with my noble friend.

I do not know what is possible and what is not, and it is certainly important that we know more before Report, but a number of noble Lords speaking in these debates have been asking for more complication. Some of these amendments before us add more qualifications. My noble friend has a point when she says that things are being raised in this Committee that need to be thought about. I think I heard her say that at some point she will try to bring forward—maybe before the Recess or maybe after, but I hope well before Report—some idea of the timetable for what we may get to know and what we may not. That would be helpful and I hope my noble friend can give us some assurance. I lead a local authority and my residents pay—

4.15 pm

Lord Foster of Bath: My Lords—

Lord True: I shall give way in a minute. We would all like to have the information, but perhaps that would be the best way forward.

Lord Foster of Bath: I share the noble Lord’s view that this is not an attack on the Minister, who has been clear that she is doing her very best to provide the information. However, I do not share the noble Lord’s view that we should wait for a period before the Minister brings forward the information she has promised.

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The timetable of work that is being done is available today. The department will have that information. I hope the Minister will be willing to say that, by the next meeting of your Lordships’ Committee on the Bill, we will have the information on where we are at each stage.

Given where we now are, I also hope the Minister will further reflect on the view that has been expressed by many people, including the Delegated Powers Committee, that many of the bits of secondary legislation that will come before us, which it is currently proposed to deal with under the negative procedure, should now be moved, by a government amendment, to the affirmative procedure.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, will the Minister report to the Government that this House very much regrets the impossible position in which she has been placed by the Government, has every confidence in her good intentions but regrets that she has been unable to fulfil them because the issue is entirely out of her control, and has confidence in her but has no confidence thus far in the way the Government are proceeding?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I thank noble Lords for their words, particularly my noble friend, given that I have not been here for 11 of the past 13 years. This is a very complex Bill and how to proceed with or without some of the secondary legislation that goes with it is quite new territory for me. As the Bill is so necessarily complicated, I imagine that with it will go an awful lot of secondary legislation. I will definitely commit—I have already promised and I do not intend to break my promises—to the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, that that timetable will be with noble Lords in the next week or so. That is on the record now: the timetable of secondary legislation will be with noble Lords in the next week or so.

In defence of myself, in a sense, and certainly of officials, I make a plea to noble Lords to avail themselves of some of the technical briefings that are going on as the Bill proceeds. They are incredibly useful for getting some of the detail. I know most noble Lords here have attended the briefings, but please continue to do so.

Lord Shipley: My Lords, perhaps the Minister could tell me when the next set will be. I thought the technical briefings had come to an end. I attended at least three and, I have to say, they were profoundly unuseful for the very reason that we are aware of across your Lordships’ House: virtually no question we ask can be answered because nobody who is an official knows the answer to it.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I have asked for additional briefings to be provided over the next week or so, until we come to the Recess, and I will be attending them. They might help me; I certainly hope they will help noble Lords. It is very helpful for me to be there and to understand what sort of issues noble Lords are bringing up. I totally accept that I committed to giving that timeline, and it will be with noble Lords in the next week or so.

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I have met each political group within your Lordships’ House; I hope that noble Lords have found that helpful. Some points that noble Lords bring up in debate definitely inform government thinking, because this House has more local government leaders and representatives in it—and experts on the Cross Benches—than the other place. Therefore, this House will be very helpful in informing the Government.

Baroness Blackstone (Lab): My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I just wanted to make a brief point. Useful as ministerial briefings are—they are very valuable and are given much more than they used to be when I was a Minister—they are not a substitute for having the regulations in draft form, which we really need to examine the Bill properly in Committee. I hope that she will accept that point and pass it on. It is not a matter of criticising officials—it is not the role of parliamentarians to criticise officials—but I am very critical of LegCo, or whatever the Cabinet committee is now called, which agreed to put the Bill into both Houses without doing the necessary work beforehand.

Perhaps the Minister can also respond to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, about the affirmative procedure; she has not given an answer to that. It is vital in this particular case.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I will be responding formally to the DPRRC’s report, and specifically to that point, very soon indeed. I think that I said that to the noble Lord either earlier today or at our previous sitting.

Lord Foster of Bath: Earlier today, the Minister assured me that I might be a little bit cheered by what she was going to say later. I confess that I am a little bit cheered, but I want her to say yes, they will be affirmative.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: The days blur into one a bit, my Lords, when we think about the days we have spent debating.

I wanted to respond to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, about the appeal mechanism. The process for setting the payments is set out clearly in the Bill. The determination under Clause 67 will set out the formula and the payments, and the Government are required to consult before making a determination. Once the draft determination has been prepared, local authorities will be given the opportunity to check the figures and raise any queries with the Government. I know that that is not essentially an appeal process, but there is a toing and froing of views before the actual determination is made.

I turn to Amendment 63. I should make it clear that the policy has two aims: first, to fund the extension of the right to buy two housing association tenants; and, secondly, to build much-needed new homes. I reassure the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Beecham, that we have no intention of using the funding for any other purpose.

The second aim, the funding of new homes, is the reason why I do not want to restrict the payment that local authorities make to the Government simply to

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the same amount as the right-to-buy discounts for housing association tenants, as Amendment 63 would do. There may be times when local authorities do not want or are unable to deliver new homes, and I do not want to compel them to build more homes if they do not have the plans or processes in place to do so. As my noble friend Lord Lansley said, I want the flexibility in those circumstances for the Government to use that portion of the receipts to deliver new homes through other channels. Therefore, it will need to be paid to the Government. Flexibility will be essential to ensuring that the new homes needed are built.

Lord Beecham: Just to clarify, does that mean building new homes potentially in a different locality from that in which the money has been raised?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, it could be, but the overall thing is that we will be adding to the stock of homes in this country.

Turning to Amendment 64, the changes proposed would be a significant task for local authorities, for which they would need considerable guidance. The biggest difficulty would be how to ensure that any methodology used across the 165 stock-holding local housing authorities was applied fairly, consistently and transparently. We have collected data from all stock-holding local authorities to enable a consistent methodology to be applied to determining the high-value threshold. That does not mean that we would set one high-value threshold for the whole country. Noble Lords have probed this on several occasions today, and I want to confirm again that we have the flexibility in the legislation to define it in different ways for different areas, as we know that house prices vary vastly across the country. However, it would mean using the same data and the same principles to apply a consistent approach to setting the definition of high value. The amendment would effectively transfer the onus of defining “high value” from—

Lord Stunell (LD): I thank the Minister for giving way: she has had a difficult day. She has just given us some welcome news, which is that the high-value thresholds could be differentiated in different areas. Can she confirm that that would be down to a local authority scale—a local housing authority scale—or would it go to even a lower scale than that, say to a parish level in a rural area?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I would anticipate that it would be at a local authority level, although I acknowledge that, in some local authorities, such as Trafford and Stockport, there are variations within them.

At the heart of this policy is the provision of more homes, and that is why I cannot accept Amendment 65. If we can use the value locked up in this housing to provide more places for people to live, we should be doing so, without trying to put limits on what proportion of the existing housing stock can contribute to it.

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Lord Campbell-Savours: The Minister referred to a local authority level. Will there be some local authorities that will be designated as not having any high-value stock at all?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, that might well be the case, depending on how it looks when all of the data are analysed, but I will not anticipate what the data will show. Theoretically, it could be the case.

If we can use the value locked up in the housing to find more places for people to live, then we should be doing so; 10% seems to be an arbitrary figure and it is not clear at what point in time this 10% would be calculated. We believe that we should base our decisions on evidence. That is why we have undertaken a large data-gathering exercise to determine the value of each council home and intend to use that information to set the definition. That is a fairer approach.

Finally, the changes proposed by Amendment 66 would provide that housing cannot be high value if its sale value is less than the cost of providing another home of the same number of bedrooms in the same local area. That is why, theoretically, the answer could be yes. We do not want to tie local authorities to an expectation that new housing should mirror that which has been sold, which this amendment would do. This may not be what is needed in the area, and we believe there should be flexibility to ensure that new housing is delivered that meets need. However, we want local authorities to sell their higher-value vacant housing, so that part of the receipt can be used to fund the building of much-needed additional homes that better meet housing need.

We recognise that there would be a perversity about requiring a house to be sold that would not generate sufficient receipts to cover the specified costs and deductions, the element for funding additional homes and the receipt to government to support the voluntary right to buy for housing association tenants. We will be looking at the data we have collected carefully to ensure that that is not the case. I hope that this provides some surety to noble Lords and provides some explanation of why we cannot accept this amendment.

4.30 pm

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, talked about numbers of bedrooms, but I went through that in this group and the previous group, and I hope that I have explained. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, told a horror story about what has happened and may happen. It is important that we find ways to circumvent some of the problems he outlined that might occur and that we are alert to the ways that some people might be trying to gain from right-to-buy sales under the existing scheme and the voluntary scheme. We have an important job to guard against abuse.

Lord Campbell-Savours: I shall suggest another scenario. Let us take my former constituency area of Workington. The council is Allerdale. Three-quarters of Allerdale is fairly poor, but it includes the town of Keswick where there are some very high-value council properties which never change hands. People do not

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give up a house in the national park readily. Yet, as I understand the arrangement, that authority will be levied on the basis of homes within the national park which are almost never sold. Is that fair?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I have just agreed, in a sense, with the noble Lord that we want to guard against some of the problems that he outlines.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I think we are pleased that the Minister shares our concern, as we would expect her to do, about the widespread abuses, some of which apply to RTB on council housing, and which will certainly, if we do not check them, apply to RTB on housing association sales. Given the local government experience, which is not normally found in her civil servants, supportive though they may be, would she consider setting up a working party, possibly with the LGA or whatever, including some housing practitioners, fraud experts, lawyers and the rest, to see how she can build fraud out of this system before it is too late? I completely trust her, of course, about how she sets this up and who she talks to, but we share a common agenda here, and if any good is to come from this policy—I worry about it—it will be dwarfed, some of us fear, by the abuses and the screaming headlines she is going to find in the press a year or two down the line as some of these abuses come to light. I do not ask her to make a commitment now, but will she take away the proposal so that she can come back to us, perhaps on the next day in Committee, and say that she is going to set up such a working party with appropriate people—the LGA would obviously be the first point of call, and lawyers, as well, some of whom have acted for the wide boys in the past, as I know—to see how she can build out fraud in a more effective way than at the moment we believe may happen?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I will certainly undertake to engage with the different sectors because they are at the heart of where potential abuse lies. I am very happy to meet with noble Lords in that context because the Government certainly want to guard against abuse in this way. I thank the noble Baroness for making that suggestion because it makes everybody’s life easier if there is confidence in the policy. She might not like the policy, as she says, but if there is confidence in the policy working better, then I will do that and I will invite her to it. My noble friend Lord Lansley is not in his place, but he talked about wanting to work with the Government about agreements. We have been engaging with local authorities, including South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridge City Council, and we will as we continue to go forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, made a very good point about preventing properties being sold to foreign buyers. It is absolutely right that we should avoid residential properties being bought up and sitting empty as an investment, as they sometimes do in London. Some of them are empty but, whether or not they are, the point is that we want housing for people on low incomes here to be able to avail themselves of.

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I mentioned the point about stamp duty the other day and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, immediately picked it apart. In April 2017 we will be introducing capital gains tax for owners based overseas. We have also halved the time that a property can sit empty before capital gains tax is due. I thank noble Lords for their very constructive comments, and ask the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: Before the Minister sits down, I think I heard her say that the money collected from councils would be used only for housing—I think she said that with regard to the levy. I looked at Clause 73, which says that where there is an overpayment it is kept by the Government and will be used to offset for future years. It also talks about Section 11 of the Local Government Act 2003, which talks about capital receipts being used to meet capital expenditure but also “debts or other liabilities”. We are going to come to this later anyway, but I think that what she said and what this technically does might be quite different.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I will look at it again. I am assuming that the debts and liabilities are housing loans.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: There is one further point that has been troubling me. Given the hour, I was going to leave it, but I shall just raise it now. It is to do with Clause 68(3) and the provision that we discussed before lunch, and for a while after it, about treating as still owned by a housing authority property that has been sold. Is it the intent that those provisions last in perpetuity? If a local authority has been hit by a levy in respect of properties, it would have no opportunity of selling if that is what it chose to do.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I think the answer is yes. If it had kept its stock, it would be levied, as the noble Lord points out. If, after the Bill goes through, it decided to transfer stock, it would still be levied. That is my understanding of it.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Does that mean it would have no control over whether it could realise any of those high-value properties if they were included in the transfer?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: That is my understanding, my Lords, yes.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, as ever, it has been an interesting debate—necessarily, I am afraid, longer than any of us would have liked but there is a huge amount of detail and a great many concerns about the Bill.

I thank all Members for their contributions, particularly my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, who regaled us with some very worrying details of life in Westminster. However, I caution him sometimes to take Zoopla’s valuations with a grain of salt; for a short period my own house in Newcastle, a pleasant four-bedroomed semi, was valued by Zoopla at £5.96 million, which

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would have made it by a considerable margin the most expensive house in the city. When I pointed out that this was possibly slightly overdone, Zoopla corrected it, and I have been going round ever since saying that I have just lost something over £5 million on the value of my house. So one has to look carefully at some of the figures. However, I dare say that the rest of my noble friend’s figures were robust.

The Minister has again earned the thanks of the House for the way in which she is endeavouring to deal with an almost impossible task. If anybody deserves some promotion and recognition among Ministers who serve in this House, she qualifies, and I expect my 10% of any increased salary for acting as her agent when that matter arises. However, I take issue with some of the conclusions that she has come to and indeed some of the replies that she made. She talks about selling the properties where it is right to do so. The question is: who determines where it is right to do so? The answer is not the local authority, which has knowledge of the local community, but, effectively, the Government. That is a ridiculously formulated conclusion because it does not put what should essentially be a local decision in the hands of anybody accountable to the local community but gives it to some machinery established by central government.

The Minister was unable—presumably because the information is not there—to give any indication about the balance of how the levy money would be spent between facilitating housing association right to buy and new build. This may be part of the information still being compiled in some office somewhere in the city, but it is crucial that we know what the intended balance should be between those two distinct options for the use of the money which will be derived either from sales, which is in the view of many of us bad enough, or even worse, from the Government anticipating sales long before perhaps they have occurred and requiring payment from the local authority. Given the position of local authorities, it is difficult to see how that levy could be funded. Perhaps subsequently we might have an indication from the Minister or the Government in general as to how they envisage authorities being able to fund such payments in advance of a sale.

The Minister was critical of Amendment 66, which deals with replacing such expensive housing. I cited the position in Newcastle, which I suspect will be similar in many other authorities, where a small proportion of properties in council ownership are large properties because of the need for five bedrooms, perhaps because the family is large or because there are special needs in relation to providing for disabled people—perhaps a carer needs to be on the premises, and so on. If all of these have to be sold as they come on the market, in Newcastle’s case, as I have indicated, we have roughly 28 applications a year for these properties and a turnover of only five a year. So on average it will take five and a half years now to accommodate applicants for accommodation of that kind. If the properties have to be sold—and only a handful become vacant every year: five a year—there is virtually no chance of that demand being met. I do not know whether anybody has given any thought to that difficulty. I suspect that roughly similar proportions would be found in many other authorities.

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I invite the Minister to ask her officers, or whoever advises the Government on these matters, to look very specifically at the demand for that kind of large accommodation. Of course, there are other higher-value properties which are not of that size, but I ask that she look at the question of larger properties needed for larger families or for people with particular needs that must be met with that space and at how that would fit into the present proposals. At the very least, perhaps the Minister could look at a possible government amendment to deal with what would be a very real situation. The numbers are not large but the period is long for people with a need which might not otherwise be met. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 63 withdrawn.

Amendments 64 to 66A not moved.

Clause 67 agreed.

4.45 pm

Amendment 66B

Moved by Lord Kerslake

66B: After Clause 67, insert the following new Clause—

“Additional homes

(1) The Secretary of State must make a determination for the local housing authority to replace every property sold as a result of section 67.

(2) A determination should provide for local housing authorities to replace any properties sold with housing of the same tenure, as far as is practical.

(3) A determination must allow local housing authorities sufficient borrowing capacity and flexibility to provide replacement housing.”

Lord Kerslake (CB): My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 68B and 68C, which are in this group and are connected to my amendment. I declare my interest as chair of Peabody and president of the Local Government Association.

Just before I come to the specifics of my amendment, I want to pick up three things that have come out in the debate—two of them from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. The first is the title of the scheme that we are taking forward, and I do not think that this is a question of semantics. It is described as “right to buy” but in these circumstances it will in fact be not a right to buy but an opportunity to buy subject to the discretion of the housing association. It would be helpful to know how the Minister intends to deal with that point if we are to avoid there being an awful lot of disappointed people.

Secondly, I absolutely endorse the view that there is a need for more houses. This is the most important issue that we are addressing here, and it is also important to say that we need more houses of all types and tenures. That is because, no matter how fast we build—my London Housing Commission report, which was published earlier in the week, suggested that we needed to double the rate of supply in London—and even if we build for 10 years on that basis, it is clear that it will not be possible to get to a point where every property

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is affordable for an ordinary Londoner. It therefore follows that you have to look at policy in a more fine-grain way. We need both more houses and more affordable rented houses. If we do not produce both, we will exclude a large number of people. This goes to the heart of the debate that we are having at the moment.

Lastly on this issue, it is very important that we do not have any sense that these properties are surplus. I made that point this morning and I emphasise it because we have come back to this debate again. When I first went to Sheffield as chief executive in 1997, there were parts of the city where you could literally walk into a local authority property. But they have all gone. Almost every part of the country is now light years away from that world. In most areas there is now a desperate shortage, particularly of properties that are likely to end up being sold off as and when they become vacant. We must not lose sight of the heartache that it will cause people who are in desperate need. Examples that I know of involve families with five children in one bedroom who will see properties that they might have occupied being sold off. We must not lose sight of this point.

I come back to my amendment. Before lunch, the Minister said that my previous amendment lacked a requirement for one-for-one replacement. Well, here it is. This set of amendments would put in the Bill the following. First, they would make clear on the face of the Bill the requirement for one-for-one replacement outside London. Secondly, they say that, where practical—I absolutely accept that it will be difficult in some places—the intention of, and expectation on, local authorities should be to achieve not just one for one but like for like. That goes back to my previous point: it is not the same to take away a social rented property in one area and replace it with a starter home 20 miles away. They are not the same. So we are saying that, where practical, local authorities should look to achieve like for like as well.

The third thing that we say—this absolutely goes to the heart of deliverability—is that, if we are in a world where the Government will not wholly grant-fund the replacement process for local authorities, they will give local authorities the ability to borrow in order to do this. It cannot be borrowing within an existing cap, because that funding will almost certainly have been allocated for the renovation and improvement of existing properties and for existing new-build housing programmes. If this is genuinely to be additional funding, local authorities need additional borrowing capacity. It would be helpful if the Minister could say that not only has more money been put in but, if local authorities do not get the full funding, they can have absolute confidence that they will be able to get the equivalent amount of borrowing that they need, in addition to the borrowing capability that they already have. That would go a long way to addressing the issues.

The last point here is that where there is a case for moving around the expectations across a combined authority, exactly as has been said by a number of noble Lords, there should be flexibility within a combined authority area to focus resources in the places where the need is greatest. That is the effect of the amendment.

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I say “outside London” because in the Bill there is a requirement for authorities in Greater London to replace not just one for one but two for one. It is a very stark requirement that says those authorities “must ensure” that the number of new affordable houses is at least two for one. For me, it is therefore inexplicable that we would not say the same thing for authorities outside London. I appreciate that demand in London is very high—that was absolutely the subject of my report. But demand is also high outside London as well. Yes, there is an issue of demand in London—there is also the issue of the mayoral election in May, which is worth noting—but that alone does not justify the completely different positioning of housing outside London from housing inside London. Will the Minister explain why we would have a situation where the Bill has a two-for-one requirement for London but nothing for the rest of the country? That is inexplicable to me, and I would be grateful for an explanation.

Lord Horam (Con): Is not that surely because of the sheer difference between different parts of the country? The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, was going on about that at some length in previous debates. Things are very different in, say, Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire. On the other hand, we know that London is a special problem with uniquely high prices. Surely the Government are right, therefore, to maintain the possibility of a different approach in different parts of the country.

Lord Kerslake: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. However, if the Government were really worried about allowing flexibility for individual difference, we might not be debating this top-down policy at all.

Let me deal with the point that the noble Lord raised. The commitment from the Government is to achieve one for one; it does not say one for one in one part of the country and not one for one in another part of the country. It is reasonable to say that, within the boundaries of a local authority, there will be areas of high demand for new, affordable housing that the local authority will want to meet. I do not think we would be comfortable with a situation where some parts of the country made no effort to replace one for one and were given a retention of funding without that requirement while, in other areas, we did expect it. In my view, it would go against the stated intent of the Government to achieve one for one. One for one in a particular neighbourhood may not be exactly right but one for one in a local authority, or indeed in a combined authority, would absolutely be a reasonable expectation of this policy. Indeed, as I said, that is the stated government intent here.

I will conclude by making a number of points. Putting it in the Bill should overcome whatever doubts there are about the intent. I have raised some concerns about how possible it is to achieve this in the current financial regime. The Minister has quoted statistics, which I have some concerns about, as she knows, to show that it is already being achieved. If it is, there should be no difficulty in putting it in the Bill. If we are already confident that it can happen, putting it in the Bill should not create any difficulties at all.

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A huge number of people are anxious about this issue and a huge number doubt the Government’s true intent in relation to affordable rented properties, or indeed affordable properties at all. Putting it in the Bill would put beyond doubt the Government’s intent. It would make it clear that they are serious about the policy of one for one. Contrariwise, if it is not in the Bill, people will draw their own conclusions. These are reasonable amendments that would do what the Government say they want to anyway and, crucially, provide the necessary funding for local authorities.

Lord Beecham: Does the noble Lord think that it would be desirable to include in any such arrangement a period within which that replacement has to be made, or does he think that it should be left open? It strikes me that some moderate period would be sensible. In respect of newly built property, does he think there should be at least a limited exclusion of a further right to buy if it has been provided for rent?

Lord Kerslake: My Lords, those are two important details that we could reasonably look at in the Bill or, had we the regulations in front of us, reasonably consider in regulations. The important point to make is that the absence of the regulations is compounding complexity on complexity. This is our difficulty here. We have a stated intent of government, but nothing in front of us that tells us how that intent will be delivered. Yes, there is an issue of timescale—we currently have three years; that may or may not be the right timescale for an expanded programme and should be consulted on with local authorities—but one thing that in my understanding is an irreducible intent of government is one for one. That is why it should be on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I think the noble Lord said that it would be acceptable to replace within the local authority area. What happens if part of that area is in very high-demand area, such as a national park, with the rest of the local authority area in a low-demand area, as happens in parts of the Lake District—for example, Carlisle, Kendal, Whitehaven and Workington surrounding the Lake District, with the Lake District split up among the various authorities? If we simply replace the property that is lost in a high-demand area with property in a low-demand area, we do not fulfil the local demand requirements.

Lord Kerslake: My Lords, my amendment goes as far as I think it is possible to go within the bounds of the legislation. If there were a way of constructing it, there would be an intent to replace in the same area. We will have that conversation in debate on the rural amendments, so the noble Lord’s point will perhaps come through then.

There is a trade-off here. I acknowledge the point about how much one can specify in the Bill and how much one has to leave to local authorities to lead on and understand where they have high-demand issues. However, if we do not have even one for one in the Bill, we are a long way back from where we need to be.

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Lord Campbell-Savours: When Ministers look at these matters, it is important that they have in mind that, if they provide for that level of movement of replacement provision within a local authority area, they might not be serving the needs of the local population. We may have to deal with that in whatever regulatory arrangements are brought in—the ones, of course, which we cannot consider for amendment in the House.

5 pm

Lord Stunell: My Lords, I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, which I have also signed. I was pleased to hear the Minister say in the earlier debate that she welcomes our scrutiny at this stage because it is informing the consultation outcomes. It is good to know that we are at least consultees in the process that the Government are going through, which is some encouragement to us to give her the benefit of our insights rather than to let things drift past us.