Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred specifically to properties in the north of England. In my former area of west Cumberland and Lancashire, terraced houses often fetched little more than £30,000 to £50,000 at auction. However, there is another group of properties, in the south, which I sometimes wonder what is happening with. In some of the most expensive

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parts of London you will see properties that have been effectively abandoned by their owners. It might well be that the local authorities are involved, but sometimes these properties remain empty for years. Only the other day I was looking, on behalf of a relative, at a property near Tooting. In the same street, there was a house which was shown on the internet as being sold at auction, but I understand it had been derelict for several years, despite the existence of EDMOs which were introduced in 2006. One wonders what is happening there. Might the review which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is calling for include consideration of what is happening in the more expensive parts of the country to properties which stand abandoned but which would be better brought into use?

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on bringing forward this amendment. This is certainly a problematic area. The original legislation in 2004 was very well intentioned in its creation of the capacity for local authorities to make an order to take over the management of empty properties. However, only a trickle of orders have been made since then. In the first four years, only 43 orders were made in the country as a whole; 17 were made in 2014. That is not to say that other actions, short of an order, were not taken, perhaps of the kind described by the noble Lord and by my noble friend Lord Kennedy. Nevertheless, there is a clear issue here. The previous Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, changed the rules in 2012 to require a longer period—up to two years, as opposed to the original six months—after which an order could be started. This might be thought a somewhat perverse approach, given the paucity of cases before that time.

There is clearly a need, and I have experience of that in the ward I represent in Newcastle. About four or five years ago, my attention was drawn to two terraced houses—they are what are called Tyneside flats, with a lower flat and stairs leading up to one over it. They were empty, but they did not look in bad condition and were not creating any hazard in the area. It turned out that they had been like that for several years; it was a long-term problem. I got the council on the case, but the process is extremely protracted and difficult. In this case, it was compounded by arguments about who owned the property. It was not a straightforward question of looking it up at the Land Registry. Even apart from that, it was a very protracted process. Eventually, the council reached the point when—either by making the order but not directly taking over the property, or by coming to an agreement with the owners—the properties could be let.

That was bad enough, but there is another case, not that far away, of a property which is owned by an elderly lady who lives somewhere else. It is in a shocking state and the only thing I have been able to have done about it is to get the hugely overgrown garden cut back and the place tidied up. It has been empty now for many years. I have tried, more than once, to get the council to take proceedings and I think that it is now looking at that. It is in a nice residential street and is a great blot on the landscape—which at least the previous ones were not—and it lets down the whole character of the neighbourhood. I suspect that this is a significant

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issue and I hope that the Government will acknowledge that a properly considered view, based on evidence, should be formed.

5.30 pm

There are, of course, other actions available, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. There are others, too. Oxford, in particular, has taken quite a few initiatives short of this management process. If we are going to have a fallback position—and we must—then it is imperative that we review what is happening and the timescales. Perhaps this should be brought back from a two-year period to a six-month one in order to kick start the process and ensure that, as far as possible, it is less bureaucratic and more likely to be effective than the experience of the last 11 years has demonstrated it to be. I hope the Minister and the Government generally will look sympathetically on this amendment, which, as my noble friend said, we support.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: My Lords, this amendment would insert a new clause into the Bill requiring a review of the effectiveness of empty dwelling management orders and other provisions for bringing into use domestic properties left empty by their owners. We welcome noble Lords’ interest in seeing properties being brought back into use to increase the housing supply, which is certainly an aim that the Government share, but we do not believe that this amendment is necessary because the range of measures we already have in place to tackle the issue of empty homes is working.

The Government have achieved a year-on-year reduction in long-term empty homes, with the number of homes that stand empty for more than six months now at the lowest level since records began. In London, as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, empty homes are at an all-time low of 2%.

Lord Campbell-Savours: When the Minister talks about empty homes, does she mean homes on which no council tax is being paid? If council tax is being paid on an empty home, is it defined within those statistics?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: That figure relates to unoccupied homes.

As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, highlighted, local authorities have a range of powers to tackle empty homes. Through the new homes bonus they earn the same financial reward for bringing an empty home back into use as building a new one. As he also mentioned, councils may charge up to 150% council tax for homes left empty for over two years. They can CPO consistently neglected houses, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, highlighted, and there are also empty dwelling management orders, which can be used to regain possession of a long-term empty property, which has been empty for at least 2 years.

The Government want to strike a balance between respecting the liberties of responsible home owners and the need to tackle the harm caused to the local area when homes are left empty, as graphically outlined.

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The threat of issuing an empty dwelling management order is often enough to encourage an owner to bring a property back into use, so the number of orders issued is not necessarily a guide to how effective they are. Of course, local authorities have a range of powers at their disposal when seeking to tackle a property that has fallen into disrepair—for instance, through improvement notices under the Housing Act, or powers under the Building Act 1984 to deal with dangerous buildings. They can also tackle nuisances caused by properties using the Environmental Protection Act.

Our strong record on the economy has helped to create a buoyant housing market. Since 2009, over 880,000 new homes have been built in England and, in addition, owners are bringing more empty homes back into use without the need for government action. We believe that we have introduced a range of measures, which local authorities can use as they best see fit.

Lord Campbell-Savours: Sorry, I am not going to let this question go. Some unoccupied homes have council tax paid on them. There are quite a lot in London, where people who own expensive property leave it abandoned but continue to pay council tax. The question is whether they are included in the figures. I understand that this is a surprise question and I do not expect an immediate response, but I hope that we will be informed of that. If that is an issue—and there are a lot of these properties in London—then surely there should be some kind of report or review in the way that my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, have suggested. It would mean that there is an area of the market which we are not altogether aware of.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: The noble Lord makes a valid point. As he has kindly suggested, I will write to him with further details as I do not have the figures to hand. I hope that, in light of what I have said, the noble Lord will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, half of whose speech was exactly the one I made in listing some of the powers that local authorities have in order to deal with empty homes and reduce their number. She is exactly right that some of those powers, such as levying council tax on empty homes, have contributed to a substantial reduction.

However, the Minister did not home in on my specific point about the relatively small number of properties which have effectively been abandoned and made derelict. They are the rotten teeth of the terraced streets, which cause immense problems. I am sure noble Lords can imagine the social problems that kids get in, or the effects of broken water pipes on neighbours. These problems are quite apart from the fact that people do not want to live on a street facing an empty property and therefore do not buy property on those streets, which reduces property values. This is a major problem in some parts of the country. The point I was trying to make—I thought I made it fairly well, but perhaps the Minister will read what I said and decide whether she agrees with me—is that the existing powers are no longer sufficient for allowing local authorities to deal with these problems.

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The Minister mentioned improvement notices, which I deliberately did not include in order to keep my speech within 10 minutes. They are just the same. A council can make an improvement notice and if the owner does nothing do the work by default. It then has to put a charge on the property. Getting money back from people who have abandoned a property is not an easy thing to do and may well take many years, if it can be done at all. This is another example of a funding gap, where there is a cost to a local authority of using these powers in areas where the level of house prices and rents are low but the cost of the work is about the same as anywhere else in the country. In these areas, the cost of buying, doing work to and managing property is not matched by what the local authority can get in from selling, putting a charge on or renting the property. That is the difference. There is a gap and it is a serious problem, which applies to all of the different means that the Minister mentioned.

All I can ask is that the Minister and her colleagues look at this and write to me about how they think it may be solved. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 36 A withdrawn.

Clause 1: Purpose of this Chapter

Amendment 36B

Moved by Lord Tope

36B: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, after “promote” insert “home ownership and”

Lord Tope (LD): My Lords, in moving this amendment I will also speak to the 11 other amendments standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Bakewell of somewhere in Somerset.

We are moving now to Part 1, Chapter 1 and Clauses 1 to 7, and, possibly for the first time, to a part of the Bill that is causing widespread concern. My amendments and the other four in this group, with which I have considerable sympathy, seek to address at least one of those concerns about starter homes. I certainly have no objection to starter homes. As far as I know, neither do many other people, so the issue is not about starter homes as such. In the right circumstances and the right places they can make a useful addition to housing provision for some people.

The concern here is that Chapter 1 of Part 1 refers only to starter homes. The present wording imposes a clear duty on local authorities, as planning authorities, to promote starter homes, with no mention of any other tenures. Councils’ ability to choose a mix of home ownership tenures for planning obligations is completely fettered by the Bill as drafted. The concern is that in Section 106 discussions, for example, local authorities are likely to say—or at least to feel—that they have to deliver a certain number of starter homes and therefore that they cannot specify other forms of affordable ownership provision. I am sure we will hear from the Minister that that is not the Government’s intention but I fear it is very likely to be the effect.

The purpose of my amendments is to widen the duty on local authorities to promote home ownership schemes, including starter homes. It is about home

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ownership in that we recognise the priority that this Government give to home ownership. I have considerable sympathy with Amendment 37, which refers to,

“new homes across all tenures”,

but these amendments bring in the wider range of home ownership schemes.

As I have said, starter homes provide a useful means but the role of the local authority, as the planning authority, as well as sometimes the housing authority, is to meet all types of housing need, to be in the best position to judge what the local needs are—local needs are the key to this—and what type of tenure, in what volume, places and circumstances, is appropriate to that area. It may well include starter homes but it most certainly will include other types of home ownership and other forms of tenure. Therefore, we are concerned. I think there is widespread concern from the LGA, among others, about the fettering of local authority discretion in this way. I declare my interest as one of the vice-presidents of the LGA. The aim is to allow local authorities to determine for themselves—if I might say so, in the spirit of localism—what is best and most suitable for their areas without having necessarily to feel that they must give priority to any particular form.

I mentioned the LGA. It has indeed said that starter homes will be outside the reach of all people in need of affordable housing in 220 council areas. That is two-thirds of the whole country. Starter homes will not be effective for them. I am sure that other contributors to this debate will want to speak about that.

I have been approached on this subject by a range of organisations but particularly by Future Housing Review, which is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and has a particular interest in shared ownership, which can make a significant contribution to housing need and is indeed one of—not the only one, by a long way—the housing provisions that we are talking about. I was pleased to note that in the Minister’s replies to a Question this afternoon she made several references to shared ownership schemes. I hope now that she has been briefed she will be able to expand a little more on that when she replies to this debate.

5.45 pm

I have a few questions on shared ownership, which, as I say, is simply one method of provision of affordable housing in appropriate circumstances. There has been increasing interest in shared ownership as one way in which the housing crisis can be tackled. Back in March 2015, the then Government promised a review of long-term options for ownership, saying that,

“the Government will undertake a Review of shared ownership focusing on possible longer term options for change to report to Ministers in the Summer”.

That, of course, was summer 2015—last year. So far as I know, that review has not materialised at all. I wonder if the Minister can tell us what has happened to it. Did the incoming Government make a decision not to go ahead with the review? Did it get buried among all the other things that a new Government have had to do? Is it perhaps now on a slow burner and might it be available for summer 2016? I hope we can be told what has happened to the review and that we will be told it is still ongoing and perhaps now we can give it a nudge to on-go just a little bit faster.

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There is an urgent need to review shared ownership models because the present Homes and Communities Agency model is said to be seriously flawed. The Government have announced very welcome funding of £4.1 billion so that registered providers can increase provision of shared ownership, but a detailed prospectus is still awaited so we still do not know the details of that programme. Again, I wonder if the Minister will be able to tell us when we will get those details.

I think these amendments will lead to a very good and useful debate on one of the concerns here. There are, of course, others, not least the issue of discounts, which we will move to later. But I very much hope that the Government will consider seriously the intention of these amendments and what is said in this debate, and will move towards at least recognising and, I hope, meeting the widespread concerns that the chapter on shared ownership is very much skewing the need, which we all recognise, to meet the housing crisis and to do so by providing a wide range of housing provision. Without these amendments, providers will not be able effectively to deliver a full range of housing ownership tenures. The spending by registered providers of £4.1 billion of funding in the open market to deliver shared ownership schemes will not represent best value and the initiative to increase shared ownership may tend to drive up prices. I beg to move.

Lord Lansley (Con): My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 36B, just moved, and refer to Amendments 47A and 53A in my name. I draw attention in the register of interests to my unremunerated position as chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum, which is a group bringing together those people who wish to support development in the area in which I live—an area which exhibits many of the characteristics that are most at the heart of this debate: a very high level of demand for new homes and a relatively high and accelerating price for new homes in and around Cambridge.

By virtue of the order of consideration, we are having this discussion ahead of what I would have preferred, which is a discussion about the definition of a starter home. We will come to that in a later group and I will talk to that later, if I may. If we had the clarification of the definition of a starter home that I am personally seeking—not least in an amendment I have in a later group—the requirement for amendments to Clauses 3 and 5 would fall away. I very much support the Government’s intention to promote starter homes and give young people the opportunity to buy their own home. I mean it as simply as that: building new homes with the objective of giving young people an opportunity to own their own home. The question is how we go about that and whether we should have not only a general duty but specific requirements for it. I am in favour of that and support the Government.

However, the definition of starter homes is narrow. In the context of this group of amendments, the issue is that in places such as Cambridge and the surrounding area, where I live, it is extremely difficult for many young people to afford a new home. Across the country generally, we have seen the amounts that young people

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have to acquire for deposits accelerating—perhaps doubling—in the last decade. We know that to buy a house outright with a mortgage, they are very often looking not only for a substantial deposit but for family help. The Council of Mortgage Lenders suggests that more than half of young people buying their own home now need family help to make that happen. Almost by definition, therefore, it is exceedingly difficult for young people seeking to buy their own home rather than rely on other forms of tenure to succeed in doing so if they do not have family income to support them or, certainly in my area, incomes in excess of some £70,000 for a couple trying to buy a home together. That is one of the reasons why the Government have made it very clear, as they did on Report in the other place, that they,

“strongly support the need for a range of products to improve access to homeownership”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 5/1/16; col. 151.]

I completely support the Government in this. However, the noble Lord, in moving his amendment, was clear that there are other schemes and significant government financial support to promote other means of securing home ownership. We should not dismiss those.

However, the issue in this legislation, especially in Clause 3, is whether a local authority should have a duty to promote the supply of a particular form—a subset as it were—of the homes that young people might aspire to buy, through various routes. We instantly get into difficulty there. The Government are clear, through the structure of Clause 3, that this does not impede the local authority from making its local plan in terms of permission in principle. However, once these local plans are in place and give access to sufficient land for housing need generally in an area, if local authorities, as a consequence of this additional duty, have a preferential or discriminatory duty in favour of planning applications being made available only for certain types of new housing, that will entail an opportunity cost for the provision of other housing. The balance of need in an area may not necessarily correspond with what young people in that area are looking to acquire, especially young people with local connections trying to access what I would regard as starter homes with particular support, if the definition of what a local authority must seek to promote is very narrowly defined and does not enable some of those additional products to be available to them.

That is rather a long-winded way of saying that in Clause 3, the Government are looking for local authorities to have a general duty to promote starter homes. If starter homes are properly defined, I am all for that; if starter homes are narrowly defined, a local authority must have the discretion to pursue other mechanisms for promoting home ownership and to help young people buy their own homes. Amendments 47A and 53A, which I have put down, bear on Clauses 3 and 5 but not on Clause 4, which we are going on to debate. There would be a duty on local authorities to promote starter homes or alternative affordable home ownership products, but that would not prevent the Secretary of State setting a starter home requirement. Local authorities would not be without a degree of specific requirements to meet the Government’s manifesto objective. I support the manifesto objective, and want us to achieve it, but starter

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homes, which we shall come to debate, are too narrowly defined in the Bill at present in the context of that requirement.

That said, the Government have a manifesto commitment and must, I think, have the right—which Clause 4 would continue to give the Secretary of State —to pursue it by setting specific requirements for local authorities. But the Government should do it in a more permissive context for local authorities, so that they could at the same time recognise that they have to be able to accommodate other schemes, which we all support, through the planning system—for example shared ownership and rent-to-buy schemes. That is why these amendments are there. I hope in a later group to be able to explain a better way of dealing with this, which is for starter homes to be differently defined.

Lord Best: My Lords, Amendment 47B and 53B follow on from the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, whose comments I much appreciated, and support the 12 amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. They would change the duty on local planning authorities from that of promoting starter homes exclusively to that of also promoting alternative home ownership schemes, with the added ingredient, in these amendments, that these extra home ownership products should be approved by the Secretary of State. The amendments in my name and the names of the noble Lords, Lord Kerslake, Lord Kennedy, Lord Beecham and Lord Stoneham, provide the opportunity for other—equally if not more desirable—home ownership products to be permitted in place of the one-club approach, the single option of 20% discounted starter homes.

The bright ideas of policy advisers may not always represent the only or the best approach and the starter homes initiative got its star billing without consultation with key practitioners or other politicians. In the event that a more creative, more beneficial route to home ownership already exists—or may be invented in the future—it seems wise for the Secretary of State to allow for alternatives.

My amendments would not help, sadly, the fledgling new sector of build to rent, where institutional investors are putting in long-term money to build decent market rental housing. This amendment is only about alternative home ownership products, and I am concerned that, as the British Property Federation has warned, the gradually evolving institutional rented sector is likely to lose out to its new rival of subsidised starter homes. Build to rent also addresses the demand from younger people who cannot raise sufficient deposits and/or a large enough mortgage. The sector helpfully draws in new resources from pension funds and other institutional investors, and several build-to-rent developers are now offering good-quality and longer-term security than is common in the PRS at large. But this newly emerging sector will not be able to take advantage of the grant of many thousands of pounds going to each first-time buyer of a starter home.

I am sorry these amendments will not be useful to the build-to-rent proponents. However, they seek to recognise the Government’s ambition that home ownership should take precedence over renting. Within the open market, this government priority is understandable.

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By extending the range of home ownership products to embrace schemes that may well prove more desirable than starter homes, these amendments and those in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, would assist the Government’s overarching aim.

6 pm

Shared ownership has been a valuable option for many buyers, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has remarked. Despite the impending loss of social housing grant, funding for this tenure has been sustained. It can help people on the lowest rung of the home ownership ladder and reach households for whom the 80% purchase price for starter homes is still too high. Other examples of alternative home ownership models are the rent-to-buy schemes, such as Gentoo housing group’s Genie house purchase scheme and the Rentplus product, which enables households to save for a deposit while in a rented home and to buy that property after a set number of years. Such schemes extend home ownership to people whom starter homes cannot reach but who can become home owners when they have saved prudently for a number of years.

The Housing Minister has indicated in the other place strong support for a range of different products to help access to home ownership and, since the starter homes model has many imperfections—as we will explore later in Committee—the Government would regret a one-size-fits-all approach. Indeed it seems odd to endow one particular model with this level of support and enshrine it in legislation. The Government will not regret giving themselves and local planning authorities a bit more flexibility in the promotion of low-cost home ownership. I support these amendments.

Lord Kerslake: My Lords, I add my support to this group of amendments, and I declare an interest as chair of Peabody and president of the Local Government Association.

It is worth recalling that the product—starter homes—had its origins in the coalition Government. It came forward as an interesting idea that would be genuinely additional to other new sources of supply. It would be applicable to what were described as brownfield exception sites—those that had not previously been identified for housing and could therefore be built on with this product. The uplift in values would cover the 20%. It was, therefore, an interesting, innovative idea with some rather ambitious numbers attached to it. In six months—between then and the election—it moved from being an interesting, innovative idea to being the main source of new supply. There is usually an in-between stage—it is called “trying something out first”. We have not yet had a property sold as a starter home; we do not yet know in detail what constitutes a starter home. Yet it becomes the centrepiece of this Bill. It makes absolute sense to think about other forms of home ownership and—we will come to this later—to let local authorities have the flexibility to think through the different sorts of tenure that they require.

On Second Reading I was clear that there is only one sustainable route to better access to home ownership: it is to build more houses. There is, ultimately, no other way to sort this problem. In the end, these access products reward a selective group of people who are able to benefit from them. In the case of Help to Buy it

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is an equity contribution, so people are expected to return it, as with shared ownership. In the case of starter homes—as we will discuss later—it is, in effect, a one-off gift to a select number of people. In this group of amendments, therefore, I encourage the Government to think carefully about putting every bit of their focus on starter homes at the start of this Bill, and to accept the very sensible amendments that seek to broaden this section to include other forms of home ownership. We can debate later, under other groupings, whether this product is properly formed in the first place.

Baroness Redfern (Con): My Lords, in speaking to this group of amendments, particularly in reference to home ownership and starter homes, I think it goes without saying that the need to provide enough homes to meet demand is one of today’s defining challenges. I therefore welcome initiatives such as the provision of starter homes, the extension of the right to buy to housing association tenants and the continuation of reforms to the planning system undertaken in the previous Parliament. Such measures will enable low-income families to own their own homes and provide stability for their families.

As noble Lords know, the rate of home ownership has been falling since its peak in 2003, despite the aspiration to home ownership remaining very strong. Since spring 2010 nearly 270,000 households have been helped to purchase a home through government-backed schemes, including Help to Buy and the right to buy. However, younger households in particular are now less likely to own their homes than a decade ago. We must therefore ensure that more young people are able to aspire to home ownership. I support the Government’s manifesto commitment to build 200,000 starter homes over the course of the Parliament.

Starter homes are essential to increase housing supply and will encourage younger couples who wish to start a family to get on the property ladder and provide security for their future families. To this end, the Bill includes a general duty on English planning authorities and embeds starter homes in the planning system. This will make it easier and faster for planning permission for houses to be granted and make interventions in the local planning process smarter.

However, on this point I hope that the Minister will say how the Government will assist councils in meeting these important duties. The introduction of a much-needed database, and the Government’s amendment to have it maintained by the Secretary of State rather than by local authorities—for reasons of clarity and simplicity—will allow greater co-operation between local authorities in tracking banning orders and make monitoring of ongoing trends more centrally focused. This national co-operation will prevent serious or repeat offenders from causing harm and misery to renters and placing them at serious risk from letting properties. There should be no room for such operators in the sector.

This Bill provides extensive scope for the role of local government and new duties that they must act on.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford (LD): My Lords, I am pleased to support my noble friend Lord Tope on these amendments, particularly the provisions that the

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noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Kerslake, spoke to. I also have some sympathy for what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said about the need to widen the definition of these starter homes so that we look at alternative models of affordable homes that can be approved by the Secretary of State. We will debate later in Committee whether the starter homes initiative will lead to balanced and mixed communities, and the implications of that, about which I have severe doubts. We are also going to discuss the wider issue of the impact on social housing provision, and I declare an interest as chair of Housing & Care 21.

This model of starter homes will not apply to huge areas of the country; people there will not be able to benefit, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, explained. Although the main aim should be to build more homes, if we genuinely want to increase ownership we must look at more than one size fits all. The Government may find, if they concentrate overly on starter homes—I understand that they are doing that because it is a convenient target to get people moving—that the type of houses we are building in the long term become unsuitable.

There are two aspects of this that are quite an issue. Frankly, too many starter homes in one local market could cause market distortions, both initially, when they are trying to sell these homes, and at the end of the five years, when the purchaser can effectively take advantage of the discount. This concentration of building of starter homes will both put off lenders from lending on those houses in those areas and may well deter developers from developing sufficiently fast, as they would where they were developing more mixed tenures and different forms of owner-occupation. The communities themselves will be very unbalanced.

The amendment is an attempt to achieve greater diversity of products, which may make homes more affordable and achievable, and, by varying the nature of the home ownership, deter what could otherwise lead to quite severe distortions of the market. If we distort the market, we will put off developers and lenders, and end up not building as many homes as we need.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who introduced the lead amendment, I believe that there is enormously wide concern about this aspect of the Bill, and I certainly support this group of amendments.

As we have heard, Chapter 1 refers only to starter homes. The Bill’s demand that starter homes should carry the whole focus of housing provision means that localism and local decision-making is absolutely fettered. The fact that absolute priority is given to home ownership and starter homes is wrong. Of course, there is a place for home ownership, and I want everybody who aspires to own their own home to do so, but, whether we like it or not, many people will never be able to own their own home, and some do not wish to.

The noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, who is not in her place, spoke of the need for people to own their own homes to provide their families with stability. Most families would like a roof over their heads to provide them with stability, and that may well mean affordable rents and affordable homes. They do not necessarily have to own them. Like the rural housing

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group, I believe that the proposals, with their emphasis on starter homes, will undermine future provision of affordable housing in rural communities.

As we have heard, in many areas, including Cambridgeshire, even starter homes will not be affordable for many people. Shelter tells us that people in only 2% of local authority areas will be able to buy their own homes, even starter homes. In Gloucestershire, where I live, the median income for residents in 2014 was £20,935 per annum. Even with a substantial £20,000 deposit, that would be insufficient to buy a property in most villages, with or without a 20% discount. I understand what median means: for many people who I know, that income is a king’s ransom. The living wage is about £14,000 per annum. There are so many people who will simply not be affected by the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned that, at Report in the other place, the Minister talked about other forms of home ownership, which is encouraging, because other forms of home ownership can help people who cannot afford to buy their homes outright. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether the Government intend to make it explicit in the Bill that they are in favour of other forms of home ownership, not just starter homes, because they cannot be the be-all and end-all.

The noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Kerslake, mentioned the history of starter homes, which were a glorious idea devised by people thinking up innovative policies. That is great, we need innovative policies—but as the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said, they must be tried out first. A policy which looks good on paper cannot suddenly become the main focus of a Bill; that is entirely wrong. I hope the Government will recognise that more thought needs to be put into the policy.

The concentration of starter homes could indeed distort the market, as others have said, and provide an imbalance in our communities. I simply do not think that the focus on starter homes in the Bill provides the solution that we need to the housing crisis in this country. We will come on to many other things in that area later, but starter homes cannot be the be-all and end-all. They can be one part of the recipe to provide a solution to the current crisis, but they cannot be the only answer.

6.15 pm

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville: My Lords, I agree with most of the points made on this first tranche of amendments in this chapter. Although I welcome the Government’s aim to increase the supply of starter homes for those currently attempting to get on the first rung of the home ownership ladder, like others, I remain concerned that this policy is seen as the only route to provide a home for those who are in need. Home ownership is something that many residents of the country aspire to but, as has been said, by no means all of them.

Limiting the Bill to starter homes rules out other avenues of home ownership. As your Lordships are aware, there are other products in the marketplace, such as shared ownership, which we have already heard about, and the Help to Buy equity loan scheme run by the Homes and Communities Agency. By promoting starter homes to the exclusion of all other options, the

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Government are raising the expectation of those under the age limit that they will definitely qualify for a starter home with a hefty discount. This will lead many of them not to explore other options which could assist them to get on the housing ladder.

As the Government have already made clear, there will not be a limitless supply of starter homes. Indeed, supply will be restricted by the resources raised through the sale of high-value council homes—a policy to which we will come later in Committee. This rationing of starter homes is not clear to those whose ambitions have been raised. By concentrating wholly on their starter homes programme, the Government are setting many people up to be bitterly disappointed. Realism dictates that the Government should promote other forms of home ownership simultaneously with their starter homes programme.

We now come to the thorny issue of how these new home buyers will finance their purchase. They may have a deposit, but that does not appear to be a requirement in the Bill. They will receive a discount of “at least 20%” on the purchase price. Presumably, this is the cost of the plot plus the building costs—in other words, the market price for which a developer could expect to sell the property on the open market, outside the Government’s starter home programme. The buyer will then need to go out to the market to borrow the remainder of the purchase price of their home, so some of these purchasers will be looking to borrow up to £200,000 outside London and £360,000 in London.

In Clause 2(3), the criteria are very clear as to who these people will be: first-time buyers under the age of 40 who have “other characteristics” to be specified by the Secretary of State—which are not yet decided. The sooner the Secretary of State sets out what these other characteristics may be, the more certainty can be brought to those waiting to buy their first home.

As your Lordships are aware, there are many anecdotal stories about how difficult it is to obtain mortgages from traditional sources, with those who have been in extremely well-paid employment for a long time, looking to move from one property to another, being refused finance on the flimsiest of grounds. We cannot blame the banks or building societies for being reticent to lend when they have had their fingers burnt in recent years. However, if they will not lend to those with a good track record of repaying their mortgages and loans in a timely manner, how on earth will we encourage them to lend to those who have no track record? The very fact that they are first-time buyers means that they will not have had a mortgage in the past. The Government will need to produce an effective scheme which will encourage lenders to participate in a starter homes programme.

I note from the Statement of 19 January that those areas engaged in the pilots will get their administration costs reimbursed only during the six months of the pilot and will be reimbursed for the capital expended once the Bill has received Royal Assent. Given that the consultation is still ongoing on many aspects of this Bill, can the Minister be confident that the Bill will receive Royal Assent in sufficient time to help those

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housing associations engaged in the pilot to balance their books? Like others, I look forward to these five pilots being concluded.

Even with the discount supplied, research carried out by Savills on behalf of the Local Government Association—and like others I am a vice-president of the LGA—shows that starter homes would be out of reach of all people in need of affordable housing in 220 council areas, as my noble friend Lord Tope, has said, and out of reach of 90% in a further 80 council areas. The definition of people in need of affordable housing are those who have to spend 30% of their household income in rent or buying a home. Many will be spending a great deal more than 30% on housing. With 92% of council areas out of reach for those needing affordable housing, there are going to be some very disappointed and disaffected residents in the country.

Many in this House and outside are concerned that the starter homes will not necessarily be for the benefit of those originally intended. It is essential that these new starter homes should be the only residence of those who buy them. It would be against the spirit of the Bill if these homes were then rented out to others or sold on at a profit after only five years. I urge the Government to put the condition of the home being the only residence of the owner or owners in the Bill to avoid any doubt and to protect those who truly wish to participate in the scheme to acquire their own home.

The Government’s aim is to deliver 100,000 new homes over a five-year period, but that is only scratching the surface of the homes that are needed. A mix of housing is what is needed, including home ownership outside of starter homes. I urge the Minister to accept this amendment in order to achieve the Government’s aim.

Lord Horam (Con): My Lords, I do not want to speak for any length of time because in discussing these amendments and the following amendments, which cover largely the same area, I defer to the greater expertise of many other noble Lords, such as the noble Lords, Lord Best, Lord Kerslake and Lord Tope. However, I am struck by one thing as a relative newcomer to housing debates—that is, the extent to which we are proceeding in the dark. I went to a very interesting meeting, which I was grateful to my noble friend Lady Williams for laying on, to discuss technical aspects of the Bill. A number of noble Lords were there, and it was very interesting to clear up some of the definitions, and so forth, as far as we could. What was apparent was that the Government really had not begun to finalise any sort of modelling of the effect of the legislation—not only the financial effect, which is very germane to our discussion, but the social effect and the effects on supply of housing.

I think that we would all agree that one has to think very clearly about housing as it is a complicated situation and an important topic. It is the Government’s responsibility to think clearly, and I think we all agree that the issue is really shortage of supply rather than tenure. That is the fundamental point with which we are trying to grapple. Therefore, it behoves the Government not to let issues of tenure, whether in social housing, starter homes or wherever, get in the way of the fundamental point about shortage of supply of whatever

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kind of housing it may be. In trying to get at what the Government could say about the effect on housing supply and other financial matters, they confessed—and I am grateful for this to the civil servants who were there—that they had not got far enough with their modelling, simply because Ministers had not taken decisions yet. I understand that, too, but we are a long way down the road. We have had 17 Committee sittings in the other place and we are now in Committee here. Some important definitions and considerations have not been finalised and do not look as though they will be finalised for some time, which places the House in a quandary in trying to reach a clear conclusion, whatever point of view you may have.

The only bit of information that I have been able to glean by way of the consequences of this particular set of clauses on starter homes was provided by the Local Government Association. I do not know whether it is accurate or not, but the LGA says that in its present form,

“should 100,000 starter homes”—

and that is an ambitious figure—

“be built through the planning system, between 56,000 and 71,000 social and affordable rented homes would not be built”.

In other words, there is a sacrifice, in concentrating on the single issue of starter homes, of social rented homes, which we know are even more needed by even poorer people than those whom we hope will buy these starter homes.

This is the difficulty that we have. Is the figure accurate? Where has it come from? Is it the Government’s own figure? I would be interested to hear the Minister comment on this, although I do not necessarily expect her to comment this evening because I have just produced it out of the blue. But that sort of figure, without any further government explanation about what they expect the consequences of this legislation to be, is very worrying. Therefore, I hope that we can go into this as thoroughly as possible—but I fear that, even at the end of a day’s debate on this subject, around which there is a great deal of concern and interest on the part of Members, we will not be very much further forward.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake. We are tackling this the wrong way round. The right way round would have been to say, “There is a housing shortage. How do we tackle that and maximise housing supply?” We have three different methods of tackling supply. We have the private sector, housing associations and councils. How do we maximise the output of those three? Let us sit down and discuss that and consult expert opinion. It has happened the other way around. Someone has had a bright idea. I am not against bright ideas, I am all in favour of them, but if they do not go through the necessary and rather boring business of being talked through by people who know what they are talking about, we are liable to end up in the sort of situation we have now. Undoubtedly, this may be a very sensible idea, but we do not really know and we do not have the information to hand to decide on it. Yet this is really rather late in the process, and if we get it wrong we may have adverse effects when the Government are trying to make a favourable effect. So I am concerned from that point of view.

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Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, that contribution was the key one in our debate, because it raises the issue of the impact of this legislation and how it will affect demand. What is absolutely clear is that many local authorities are expressing profound concern over this concentration on starter homes and a single source of housing supply to the exclusion of other forms of tenure. That is what has come through in the course of this debate—this feeling of concern about concentration on one area.

The noble Lord, Lord Horam, referred specifically to whether this work has been done. It is interesting to note that Bristol has actually done this work. I draw attention to a document sent to me that sets out findings in this area—because I suspect that what Bristol found mirrors a difficulty that we would find throughout the United Kingdom.

6.30 pm

Bristol City Council, working with South Gloucestershire and North Somerset, recently published the wider-Bristol Strategic Housing Market Assessment.I understand that this assessment was carried out with this Bill in mind, so clearly it thought that it would be influencing events when these matters were considered by Parliament. The study identified the need for housing in the wider Bristol housing-market area to be 85,000 homes over a 20-year planned period of 2016 to 2036, of which 29,000 would need to be provided as affordable homes. Of these 29,000 affordable homes, 80% would be required as social rented homes or equivalent affordable rented homes to ensure that households with the lowest incomes were able to access housing in their region. That market assessment demonstrated that the remaining 20% would be required as shared-ownership homes. I think that that is the kind of work the noble Lord, Lord Horam, was referring to. Let us look at the demand and then construct the policies to deal with that demand on the basis of the findings of carefully carried-out research.

In order to meet the market assessment guidance in the current National Planning Policy Framework, local planning authorities obviously have to retain discretion for determining the appropriate proportion of low-cost home ownership and starter homes to meet affordable housing needs. This prescriptive approach was seen by Bristol City Council as,

“a new and worrying centralisation of planning policy which presents a significant challenge to local government autonomy”—

in other words, challenging the role of local government with policies being set nationally which do not meet the immediate needs of a particular area.

Bristol’s view is that determining the number or proportion of starter homes may conflict with its housing market assessment and risks undermining the National Planning Policy Framework which it has been trying assiduously to pursue. For that reason, the three local authorities commissioned market assessment consultants ORS—an organisation of which I know very little or nothing—to model the housing need and demand for Government-proposed starter homes and to advise on whether the Government were capable of meeting the market assessment’s identified affordable housing needs. ORS confirmed that, although there was a demand for starter homes as a first-time buyer

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product to boost housing growth, such a product was not considered appropriate to address the affordable housing needs identified in the wider Bristol market assessment.

Bristol City Council supports Jeremy Blackburn, head of UK policy at RICS, who commented:

“Ramping up housing supply is positive, but home ownership should not be the only game in town given the amount of private rented accommodation we need. A mix of market and rented housing is required and starter homes should not be seen as the panacea to solving the housing crisis”.

We get the feeling in this debate that the Government see starter homes as the panacea to deal with the housing crisis. I, along with many of my colleagues, do not believe that this policy will sort out the problem that exists. We need far more innovative thinking, as the noble Lord, Lord Horam, suggested. We need new packages and new ideas. This is an old idea; it is subsidised housing ownership. It will not resolve the problem and I positively support the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, because they seek to address the issue of defining what is actually required.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I hope I will be forgiven for intervening again. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, mentioned a meeting with the Minister which I regret I was not able to attend. He mentioned some modelling which civil servants were doing on the impact of this policy. Will the Minister say when we are likely to receive further information about that modelling and what the recommendations are? As I have expressed in this House before, I think it is invidious if we are asked to proceed with this Bill without seeing some of the key regulations tabled by the Secretary of State. We cannot be expected to make such important policy which is going to affect the lives and well-being of so many of our citizens if we are not able to see the outcome of the modelling and whether or not this Bill is evidence-based in any way.

Lord Horam: Perhaps I can just explain that the Minister was not present at the meeting. She kindly arranged for her civil servants to address technical questions. I asked what modelling had been done on the financial and supply effects of the legislation and the civil servants were kind enough to say that the modelling was not finished because certain decisions had not yet been taken. The definition has not been finalised and therefore they could not give me an answer. I raised the question in the House because I think it is important, as we go through the Bill, that we address these questions if possible.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, what worries me above all is that starter homes are supposed to fly the flag for affordable housing. Behind that is a recognition by the Government that the problem in this country is the lack affordable housing, which in turn is determined by the lack of new and adequate housebuilding. Starter homes are just one part of a complicated jigsaw that the Government are offering us which all pushes in one direction—away from making social and affordable housing available to people on modest incomes. Later on in the Bill we are going to get the sale of housing association homes through right to buy, which, if council housing sales are anything to go by, will quickly

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be turned into buy-to-lets and then into student housing, and away from housing for young families who need affordable homes in which to bring up their children and live their lives.

Secondly, we are going to see the sale of empty council housing into owner occupation over and beyond local authority RTB in order to fund the discounts on the sale of housing association properties into owner occupation. So we will lose housing association properties and we will probably double the number of local authority housing sales—all away from affordable housing. On top of that we are ensuring that Section 106 land and grants, which have been the source of so much housing association and local authority building, will now become monopolised by starter homes. At the same time we are knocking out shared ownership.

So what is actually happening is that the sole concept of affordable housing, both for the future and with the recycling of existing property, is going to be starter homes—the only game in town. Housing association properties should be sold with discounts into right to buy; local authority RTB will continue; and on top of that empty homes will be sold to fund the discounts for housing association tenants to be able to buy in order to send the stock into buy-to-let in due course. And on top of that, not only can local authorities and housing associations not replace that stock but they will now find—because of the requirements of central government—that their Section 106 land will be available exclusively and solely for starter homes. So for the whole of the next decade, if the Government have their way, the affordable housing programme for those in the greatest need, who have least leverage in the market, whose need is highest, will have just one option, starter homes—which, we are told by Savills, will not benefit 90% of them. I ask the Minister: what on earth do the Government think they are doing?

The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, at the risk of prolonging this very interesting debate, I should say that my employer is a firm of chartered quantity surveyors and one of the things that we do is assist housebuilders. We have a sister company that has just secured a large contract to build houses.

It has become apparent to me as the discussion has gone on, as it was apparent to me at Second Reading, that this Bill has a very small component related to the need to build new houses generally. It just is not there, because all we have is a reference to starter homes and a reference to self-build and custom housebuilding. Those are the only two bits concerned with building new homes of any sort, so there must be a working assumption sitting behind this that somehow, in the big, wide world out there, the general thrust towards new homes will continue and that a proportion of those —on the principle of the affordable housing component under Section 106, the community infrastructure levy or whatever it happens to be—will be devoted to an element of affordability.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is right in the sense that I can confirm, from speaking to developers, that they are of the view that conventional affordability, in terms of affordable rents, will go into some form of attrition and that starter homes will indeed be the only

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show in town. That appears to be the belief among housebuilders. I pass no particular judgment in relation to government policy—I have to accept that this is something that they have as a manifesto commitment, and it is up to us to scrutinise the matter and make sure that it is, as far as possible, fit for purpose—but there is no doubt that the starter home will effectively be not affordable in any sort of perpetuity but will be a one-off windfall for the first person who happens to occupy it.

It is very important therefore that the studies to which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and other noble Lords referred should be before us. The outcome of those pilot studies should be known so that we can assess this. Otherwise, it seems to me that we are in a very brave new world indeed, in which we know neither the outcome nor, indeed, a great deal of the process that sits behind this. So I have to say that I am with noble Lords who have tabled the amendments in this group in terms of having doubts about this. I have other doubts which I have expressed in meetings which the Minister was kind enough to convene some time ago—although I was not able to attend the most recent one—about the financial viability of how this works and how you retain the substance of the starter home, or social concession, within the system.

6.45 pm

The Select Committee on the National Policy for the Built Environment, of which I was pleased to be a member, was clear in one of its conclusions that the amount of housebuilding by the private sector on its own will not meet the targets that we need to meet if we are in any way to catch up with, let alone satisfy, the household formation taking place at the moment, with all the issues about mobility, the ability to find a home where there is a job and affordability.

As we have sort of inverted the whole process of discussion here, it is a bit difficult not to bring in some of the things that will come in later, and certainly I feel quite strongly about some of these things. I am the parent of two children in their 20s who would, under normal circumstances, probably like to a buy a flat in London—thank you very much—but, on the sort of salaries that they can get even with good university degrees and good jobs, it is just not possible in terms of the price to earnings ratio, if I can call it that, of the average salary compared with the average house price. It is just not going to happen. The only way we can deal with that is not only to expand the number of homes in totality but to have the broadest range of tenures and methods by which people can occupy them. By whatever means, that is the key to this. One of the reasons why some very large players are now moving into the private rented sector and are planning to build new is because they can see that there is going to be a complete deficit on that side of the equation. That trend tells its own story.

I repeat that I am with the concerns behind this group of amendments. We have to do some serious unpicking. If we cannot achieve it at this stage, I ask the Minister whether we can have some of the pilot study feedback for the next stage in the Bill when we really can get to grips with the nitty-gritty and work out whether this is going to work.

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Lord Greaves: My Lords, I have three questions for the Minister. They are not particularly related, but they are all part of the starter homes thing. First, I shall pick up what the noble Lord, Lord Horam, said. He caused my eyebrows to rise a little bit when he said that it is all about quantity of housing and not about tenure. I basically disagree with that, but perhaps I am a more ideological politician than the noble Lord.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: That would not be very difficult.

Lord Greaves: Well, yes, it would not be difficult. Perhaps that is why he was never in the same party as me.

Lord Tope: He came close, though.

Lord Greaves: He came very close. We had our times together.

Then I heard the noble Lord talk about unintended consequences, and it seems to me that this proposal is full of the threat of unintended consequences. I go back to the point I made previously, which was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Best, that this Bill is trying to fit everybody into the same pot. It is one size fits all, when what we need is a series of different answers to the problems of the housing market in different parts of the country.

When I spoke previously, I said that there are lots of different housing markets—perhaps 100—around the country. The person who first gave me that idea is now in his place and is my noble friend Lord Stunell, who gave us a talk when he was a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government in which he kept hammering home the point that you cannot have one rule for everybody. That means that there have to be local mechanisms for finding solutions. The only people who can legitimately do that and set out to find those mechanisms and policies are the elected local authority.

Having said that, I will ask the Minister the following three questions. One relates to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Horam. In 2001, owner-occupation in this country reached a peak of 69%. By 2011, it had gone down to 64%, and it is now somewhere in the low 60s. I suggest that that is an unintended consequence of a number of different policies. I believe that owner-occupation is the best form of tenure, although there are people for whom it is not appropriate and people who would not want it. I first got involved in politics at the end of the 1950s, joining the Liberal Party when “Ownership for all” was a Liberal slogan. It is still a good slogan, if a little on the extreme side. My question for the Minister is: do the Government have a target of what they think is a reasonable level of owner-occupation in this country? Are they content for the level to continue to slip until it gets down to perhaps 50%, or do they want to boost it again, and if so, how far do they think we can reasonably get the level to?

The second question is totally unrelated to that and is just a question I realised I did not know the answer to. Is a person or a young couple who buy a house which is a starter home, and therefore get the 20% discount on the market price, also entitled to the 20% Help to

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Buy discount if they qualify for that? That is just a straight question, because if that were the case it would have an interesting impact.

My final question goes back to the kind of area which I know best, which covers a lot of the north of England outside the most rural areas and the big cities—and perhaps some of the big cities, too—as well as a lot of the rest of the country as well. What is a local authority supposed to do if it cannot find anybody who wants to build starter homes? That may seem a ludicrous question in some parts of the country, but it is not a ludicrous question in the part of the country where I live. It is quite possible that local or big housebuilding companies will not want to build any starter homes, for a whole series of reasons.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. I have to say that I rather struggled, as, I suspect, other Members of your Lordships’ House may have done, with the huge number of amendments in this group and the following group, which are in many ways connected. It has not made preparing for the debate—or, I suspect, replying to the debate, for the Ministers—a very easy job. However, we have heard some extremely interesting contributions, and I hope the Government will listen very carefully to the views not just of members of different political parties but particularly of the Cross-Bench Members, who have brought their experience and independence of mind to bear on these very important problems.

In the first instance, I will speak to Amendment 48, which relates to the provision of starter homes and which relates particularly to Clause 3, under which the Bill lays down:

“An English planning authority must carry out its relevant planning functions with a view to promoting the supply of starter homes in England”.

So far, so good. Subsection (2) continues:

“A local planning authority … must have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State in carrying out that duty”.

Amendment 48 would add to that subsection (2) something of a restriction so that it would continue,

“except where the local authority considers that providing starter homes would prevent other types of affordable housing being built”.

In other words, it introduces into the Bill the notions that there has to be a balance between the provision of starter homes and other affordable homes, and that the Secretary of State should not be able simply to prescribe that the one—starter homes—must always prevail over any other considerations. That seems a sensible way forward.

It is interesting to read the policy fact sheet on starter homes published by the department, which lays down the general nature of the Bill. It asks what the Bill hopes to achieve and answers,

“a general duty on English planning authorities to promote the supply of starter homes when carrying out their planning functions”.

So far, that is quite acceptable. However, it continues with,

“allowing the Secretary of State to make regulations to create a starter homes requirement, so that English planning authorities may only grant planning permission if the starter homes requirement is met. This will ensure that starter homes are delivered on suitable, reasonably sized sites”.

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That is not necessarily a logical conclusion, but the important thing is that it makes an absolute duty, which will ultimately be fleshed out in regulations and which, needless to say, we will not have sight of before the Bill is enacted, if it is enacted in its present form. Moreover, nothing is said either here or in any other area about the salient fact that the requirement will not necessarily be confined to providing such starter homes for residents within the locality. They could come from far away or perhaps from adjoining authorities, but there is no indication that the planning requirement will address the needs of people within the very authority that will have to carry out these proposals.

Interestingly, the fact sheet says that the Government are consulting until 22 February. Admittedly, that is only a week or so ago; given the time we have to consider the Bill, I agree that that is rather a limited period, but we do not know quite when the consultation started. They are consulting,

“on changes to national planning policy to complement these legislative reforms”,

which seems somewhat akin to the old Alice in Wonderland trope of “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”. We do not know what the consultation will produce, but the Government are in any event determined to impose their view. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, who is in some danger of being accused of political recidivism on the basis of his extremely sensible contributions to the debates on the Bill, has indicated, rightly, that we are proceeding in the dark. Of course, we have been stumbling in the dark over many Bills, given the way the Government decide to conduct their business, particularly with reference to pending secondary legislation or regulations. However, the noble Lord is also right to identify that there is no available financial data within the information that is before the Committee or, presumably, that is likely to be before it. These are surely major considerations.

Reference has been made to some of the issues which are clearly of concern, in particular the position on who will be eligible for, and capable of benefiting from, the starter home concept. In particular, we have heard of the Shelter report, which makes it clear that for a majority of people who are not on high wages or without dual salaries, the starter home project will not help them get on the ladder at all; they simply will not be able to afford it.

My noble friend Lady Royall referred to the very small percentage of authorities—I think it was 2% of authorities—in which people on the national living wage would be capable of buying a starter home; even those on average earnings are likely to be able to buy in only 42% of local authorities. That is not a particularly impressive extension of what is meant to be an important right.

7 pm

There is also a question about the Government’s consultation, which, as I have indicated, it is to be on changes to national planning policy, to complement these legislative reforms. It is a question, therefore, of whether the National Planning Policy Framework is now under review. Perhaps the Minister, in replying, will indicate whether the consultation that is taking

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place, about which we do not have much information, is intended to replace or reshape the National Planning Policy Framework. If it is, that is a serious matter, and it ought not to be a change that takes place without being properly considered in both Houses, not merely in this House, in the course of considering this Bill. As ever, though, the Government are apparently going ahead with policies, sometimes producing amendments at the last minute in the Commons or occasionally even in your Lordships’ House, without any indication of their intentions at a time when legislators can reasonably expect to influence the outcome. I hope that is not the case here, but I rather fear it may be.

The Opposition certainly support almost all the amendments that have come before us this afternoon and agree with many of the comments. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, in particular, given his professional experience, is somebody to whom the Government should listen. He is a Member with critically relevant experience in this area. Equally, we have heard from very distinguished Members with long associations with the housing movement and local government. The noble Lord, Lord Best, made an interesting point about the potential role of institutional investors. This is something that is new and ought to be encouraged but may, as he implied, be damaged by overconcentration on the particular policy which the Government seem determined to pursue at all costs.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, rightly emphasised that too great a concentration on individual areas is unlikely to be productive. That, again, raises the question of locality.

The thrust of the Government’s policy, as we shall no doubt discuss in the next group of amendments, to promote home ownership and to make it possible for people to buy starter homes, is one that we all, I think, endorse. However, the way it is likely to work out, as we have heard and I suspect will hear again in the course of debate on the next group, is extremely problematic. The Opposition support the amendments, and I include in those, as very worthy of consideration, the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who has taken a welcome, pragmatic approach but one that is more akin to the concerns of many of your Lordships about the position than the Government’s position as it currently stands. I hope they will listen carefully to him if they have not already had private discussions. I imagine they have, and if they have not, I imagine these will take place after this debate.

There is, however, one debate on which I have a bit of a quibble. That is in relation to Amendments 36B and 37A, moved and spoken to, respectively, by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. I am not sure that what they are saying reflects the legal position that they think it does. What they are proposing, under Amendment 36B, is on the first page of the Bill—indeed, the first line of the Bill—to make clear that the purpose of this chapter is to promote, as they say, “home ownership” as well as the supply of starter homes.

That is reasonable, but they go on, in Amendment 37A, to define “home ownership” by adding to the clause:

“‘Home ownership’ means the holding of a legal estate by a home owner in a home or in a share of a home”.

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Then they say,

“‘Home owner’ means one or more individuals who holds or hold a legal estate”.

I am not quite sure whether the noble Lord and the noble Baroness have appreciated that a legal estate is not just a freehold interest. It could be any interest for a term certain. In other words, a leasehold interest for a term certain might be a long leasehold interest. In that event, if it is a 99-year lease, there is no great problem, but, in the amendment, it could be a much shorter period than that for a leasehold interest. For example, a five-year lease, which in law would constitute a legal estate, would not quite be what they contemplate in terms of the impact of that amendment. Perhaps, therefore, they might like to rethink that or, probably better yet, take better legal advice than I am currently offering. I am not absolutely sure of the implications, but they have possibly misunderstood the nature of a legal estate, and that has possibly influenced the amendment.

We are about—after the dinner break business, I suspect—to get further into the heart of this complicated issue. It is one that will concern Members across the Committee because what we do not see is the total housing picture. We are looking at one important new area—home ownership itself is an important area—but we are not considering the totality of housing need, the geography of housing need, or the impact on meeting housing need of one set of provisions as against another. The focus is so narrowly on starter homes in the Bill and in this part of the Bill that we are missing the bigger picture. I say “we”—the Government are missing the bigger picture, and we need to draw their attention to the relationship between the various aspects of housing need and the housing policy that must follow through to get a more balanced Bill as a result of discussions in this House.

I do not think they got very far in the Commons; it is our responsibility, by drawing on the knowledge and experience of Members with a long history of involvement with housing, particularly the housing association movement, to improve it. I hope the Government will listen to the debate and respond constructively to this series of amendments and particularly, perhaps, to the next group.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, before I begin my reply on this group of amendments, perhaps I may point out that Amendment 50G has not been spoken to. I am sorry if the noble Lord might have been slightly distracted, but Amendment 48 is in the next group. I am very happy to accommodate and address Amendment 48 now. Do the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, wish to speak to Amendment 50G, or shall I just refer to it?

Lord Tope: My Lords, I do not know exactly what is going on, but I recall starting very clearly by saying that I was speaking to all my amendments. In fact, I counted them off. If the Minister would include whatever it was that I must have forgotten to make specific reference to I would be very grateful—otherwise, we could start the debate all over again.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I just tried to do that for completion’s sake and to be helpful.

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Lord Kerslake: I think that many of us split up our contributions in the expectation that we would consider Amendment 48 in more depth in the next grouping.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: In which case, do noble Lords want a response to it now, or to wait until the next group?

Lord Beecham: Seeing as I have confused everybody—including myself—I think it would be better to deal with Amendment 48 in the next group.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: If that is what noble Lords would like, that is what we will do. I just wanted all noble Lords to be satisfied that, if they wanted to speak to an amendment, they had the opportunity and I was not just running roughshod. If I miss out any contributions from noble Lords, please have a bit of sympathy with me because this has been quite a significant debate.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley, the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for the amendments. I support the intention behind them, which is to highlight that other home ownership products can serve the needs of first-time buyers as well as starter homes. I hope that I can refer to that in my comments on funding and on the Bill, but I hope that noble Lords will feel that the amendments are not necessary, as I will explain.

Amendment 46A from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, Amendment 47A from my noble friend Lord Lansley, and Amendment 47B from the noble Lord, Lord Best, all seek to extend the duty to promote starter homes under Clause 3 to other forms of home ownership. Amendment 48D and associated amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, seek to change the starter home requirement under Clause 4 to cover home ownership more broadly.

There was a question from I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, about whether everyone aspires to own their own home. There is evidence that the vast majority of people—some 86%—aspire to own their own home. We are determined to extend the opportunity of home ownership to hard-working families by measures aimed at doubling the number of first-time buyers. We believe that shared ownership and other home ownership products have an important role to play as part of the diverse and thriving housing market in helping those who aspire to home ownership but who may be unable to afford it.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, how does the noble Baroness square that circle? It is great that the Government wish to ensure that everybody who aspires to own their own home can do so, but the figures that the noble Baroness gives do not match the figures that we have quoted around the Chamber on the finances that individuals and families have. Even with the 20% discount it is clear that the vast majority of people in this country are unable to buy the starter homes.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I was going to come on to that later, but I will deal with it now. Excluding London—I absolutely appreciate that London is a different case—the average price of an affordable home

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will be £145,000. A couple on the mean wage in this country, £26,000, would be well able to afford a starter home or an affordable home. The point I am trying to get at—and I appreciate that not everyone is on the mean wage, because by definition there will be a lot of people under it—is that there are other products available, such as shared ownership. Outside London, it is estimated that the deposit required for a shared-ownership home is approximately £1,400, but there may be people unable to access even the shared-ownership home market. We have announced £1.6 billion to put into 100,000 affordable homes for rent. They are examples of what products are available within the various affordability brackets.

7.15 pm

I think the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said that we need to build more homes. My noble friend Lord Horam also said that. We do need to build more homes; there is absolutely no doubt about it. This Government have elected to build 1 million more homes by 2021. The spending review announced a doubling of the housing budget of £20 billion to deliver those homes across a mix of different types of tenure. Yes, we are focusing on starter homes because there is a demographic that has been particularly precluded from home ownership—the young buyer—which has gone down from 61% of home ownership back in the 1980s to some 38%. That is why there is such an emphasis on the starter home, but it is not to preclude other types of tenure. In fact, in the spending review noble Lords will see the various funding streams that the Government have put forward to deliver those different types of tenure.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: We all share the concept of mixed tenures. I built several thousand houses for sale when builders would not and attached 100% mortgages when building societies would not to give people choice. That is fine. My problem, which the Minister has not so far addressed—maybe she will go on to do so—is that by exclusively emphasising starter homes while reducing affordable rent in the housing association and local authority sectors, those at the bottom will be squeezed out of the opportunities not of buying, but of living in a decent affordable home.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I get what the noble Baroness says, but for home ownership there are those at the bottom as well. We have to start somewhere. The starter homes will address a demographic that is not being served and has not been for more than 20 years. In terms of the Government putting their money where their mouth is, £20 billion is an awful lot of money over the spending period.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: All of the Section 106 land on which alternative, affordable rented housing would be built will be monopolised—used exclusively for, effectively—starter homes.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, there will be an expectation from the Secretary of State that a certain percentage of housing will be starter homes, but it does not exclude other types of tenure. There will be fundamental disagreement on this, but the

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emphasis on younger buyers is there because they are the demographic that has been priced out of home ownership for the last 20 years, as I said.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, there are some 9,000 or 10,000 families in Norfolk, waiting patiently on waiting lists for affordable social housing. Why is that demographic not worth thinking about?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, the £1.6 billion to build 100,000 affordable rented homes will add to the mix of addressing supply. As noble Lords have said this afternoon, the fundamental issue of the housing market today is lack of supply. All these different types of tenure will add to the supply. I accept that we will disagree, but one cannot—

Lord Greaves: I wonder if I can just tempt the Minister again to say perhaps that in many parts—or even most parts—of the country that is the case? Lack of supply is not the case in areas where the market has collapsed, and we need different policies to solve the problems we have got and provide people with good homes.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I do not think that the noble Lord is wrong that in certain parts of the country—and I think I know the parts he is referring to—home ownership has declined because people do not want to live there. I think that some of the regeneration and transport policies and some of the policies for the northern powerhouse for rebalancing the economy will contribute to all parts of the country being able to maximise their economic potential and make people want to live there. I give the example of Salford, where MediaCity was built. That area of Salford is a very desirable place to buy.

There are a number of interventions that the Government can make that all add to the mix of a place being an attractive place to live. I have seen where transport investment suddenly has made areas that people did not want to go near—Wythenshawe—into ones where suddenly the house prices have increased dramatically. They are becoming very vibrant places in which to live because of those transport links and investment in the airport. I accept that point. We cannot just take individual government policies and criticise them. We have to take everything in the mix in terms of improving and rebalancing our economy outside the south-east while recognising that the south-east is a fantastic place to live and is the engine of this country in many ways.

Lord Beecham: One of the interventions the Government have made has been to impose a 1% reduction in rents for social housing, which is going to have a significant impact on the capacity of local authorities and the housing association sector to maintain or improve stock or build. That reduction will reflect itself in a reduction in housing benefit to local authority tenants but will not in any way contribute towards meeting housing need.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, we have talked a lot this afternoon about tenants and tenants on lower incomes and actually the 1% reduction will help tenants. Housing associations are in a very—

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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Three-quarters of the money saved goes back to the Exchequer; only one-quarter stays with tenants.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, could I just make some progress? I may be repeating myself here but the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked what other products were reflected in the Bill and, of course, custom and self-build is referred to. It is a small but important part of the market and, culturally in this country, it is a part of the market we have not taken a lot of notice of over the last few years but there is a desire for people to get involved in custom and new build.

I shall go back to talking about housing growth in all tenures. Some of the planning reforms to help builders to get building are included in later parts of the Bill. To help councils build their own homes we have increased borrowing headroom by £222 million for 36 councils and we are continuing and building on our Help to Buy programme to support new housebuilding.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, asked whether people could afford to buy. I hope I have partially answered that question by answering the intervention from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in terms of affordable house prices outside London.

Lord Campbell-Savours: On that matter the Minister said that a £150,000 house was affordable on an income of £26,000. That was the reply she gave. I was just looking it up on a mortgage calculator. After tax it is about 40% of income.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, the example I gave was a couple on a mean wage of £26,000, not one person on £26,000. Four times one wage would be under £150,000. To clarify, I am talking about a couple on £26,000 each. It is the mean wage so I just gave it as an average example, if the noble Lord could accept that in the context in which it was given. It was an average example of an average couple.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked when we will get the details of the review of shared ownership. It was a commitment made by the previous Government. This Government carried out an internal review which resulted in the announcement of 135,000 shared ownership units in the spending review of 2015. The prospectus for the shared ownership programme is due in the spring.

My noble friend Lord Lansley talked about the definition of the starter home. Clause 2 talks about the criterion for a starter home being a new dwelling available to qualifying first-time buyers aged under 40. We will specify more criteria in the regulations. It is sold at a discount of at least 20% of market value. It is sold for less than £250,000 outside London and £450,000 within Greater London. It is subject to sale and letting restrictions to be specified in the regulations and we will consult.

Lord Lansley: I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister but, as I expressly said in my contribution, I am looking forward to debating the definition of a starter home in Clause 2 on a later group.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford: That is fine. I just thought I would set that out now. I know we will be talking about it later.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about Clause 2(3) and the Secretary of State specifying in the regulations further characteristics of first-time buyers. She asked when the characteristics will be agreed. We have taken a power to specify additional criteria in regulations to provide the Government with some flexibility as to who should be eligible and we intend to consult shortly on what criteria should be applied. This forms part of a wider consultation on the aspects of starter home regulations to be introduced later this year.

Starter homes are a new product and, although we have debated the merits and demerits of them being so prominent, we want to ensure that councils are delivering on the key manifesto commitment. The electorate will expect us to deliver on this commitment, and for this reason we want the starter homes clauses to focus on starter home delivery, as I have pointed out.

The noble Lord, Lord Horam, asked about the impact on other forms of housing. We will be consulting on the starter homes requirement under Clause 4 shortly. I want to reassure noble Lords that councils will still be able to seek other forms of home ownership from new development, as I have previously stated, once this requirement is in place. These clauses do not switch off the abilities of councils, as I have pointed out, to secure other forms of alternative home ownership products, just as previously the affordable housing duty did not switch off other housing home ownership products. We expect them to actively support starter homes, but it does not remove their ability to deliver home ownership products, as I have pointed out.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked how people will get mortgages. In January, house prices increased by 2.5% in England and Wales, with annual house price inflation increasing from 6.4% in December to 7.1% recently. The number of mortgage approvals has actually grown by 42% since April 2010. Noble Lords will recall that last week I was asked about the decline in home ownership. Actually, for the first time in seven years, home ownership is in fact increasing, so that probably demonstrates that people are buying and lenders are lending.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked about the target for owner occupation. As I stated previously, we want to double the number of first-time buyers within this Parliament.

I will now talk to Amendment 50G, on the monitoring arrangements, and why I think it is unnecessary. We need to ensure that the monitoring arrangements reflect the delivery of starter homes for first-time buyers so that there is a transparency about delivery and that first-time buyers are aware of the measures which have been taken at the local level to deliver on supply. Councils already have to report on market and affordable housing supply through their authority monitoring reports, so I do not think that the amendment would serve any useful purpose.

That is also true of Amendments 53A, 53B and 53ZA, which all seek to amend the compliance direction. The compliance direction is only intended to be used

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in extremely limited circumstances. To keep its scope narrow by focusing on starter homes provides a clear sanction for the circumstances where the local planning authority is in breach of its starter home duties. We envisage that it would be rarely used but would act as a strong incentive to deliver starter homes in accordance with the provisions in the Bill.

It has been a long debate, and I hope that it has provided—

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I am terribly sorry—I know that it is dinner time and people are anxious to move away from this debate—but my frustration in terms of regulation and consultation is mighty. I do not blame the Minister because this is a blight on many Governments. The noble Baroness mentioned twice the consultation that is about to begin on starter homes. Why start the consultation now? We will finish this Bill, I presume, around Easter, by which time we will not have had the results of the consultation and the Government will not have been able to shape their policies in relation to the consultation. Either it is a sham consultation—that does sometimes happen—or, what is the point?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I understand the frustrations of noble Lords, and I feel a degree of frustration myself. It is not a sham consultation, I can assure the noble Baroness. In terms of regulations generally, I have on numerous occasions elected to provide to the House details on regulations as soon as I could. I hope that the noble Baroness is somewhat reassured by that and that noble Lords will feel free to withdraw their amendments.

The Earl of Listowel (CB): My Lords, I have been listening to this debate with great interest and, in thanking the Minister for her careful reply, I cannot help but think about the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Green, about migration flows into this country. We know that 1 million migrants came into Europe last year. It is a huge pressure on this country and other countries in terms of receiving these migrants. There are problems across the world, in the Horn of Africa, and so on.

I have lived and worked in the East End, and I know that for many poor people the major concern they have about foreigners coming into their country is a shortage of housing. When they perceive that foreigners are taking their homes, they get really upset. In this context, I suppose I want reassurance from the Government that they have thought about how they will cater for all those migrants who are desperate refugees from abroad to ensure that there is sufficient housing for poor families from both this country and abroad and that we do not get into a situation of antagonism between the incomers and the nationals, as it were.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: If there is one thing on which we can all agree in this Chamber, it is the need to supply more housing. We are all united on that. Certainly, Governments projecting forward populations is a crucial part of that.

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Lord Tope: My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, and to the Minister who has done her very best to respond to what she rightly described as a very long debate. One feature of the debate was a pretty wide measure of agreement. We may all have our own particular favourites on the nature of housing tenure, but I do not think that any of us believes that any one form of housing tenure is a solution to the problem—manifestly it is not. The concern is that the Bill, with the references to starter homes coming right at the front of it, gives the impression that it is rather more important in the delivery that actually most of us believe there will be.

We would probably have had just as long a debate, but perhaps a slightly different one, if Clause 1 of Chapter 1 of Part 1 of a housing Bill had simply said, “The purpose of this Chapter is to promote the supply of decent homes in England”. We may well have had a debate on how to do that, but there would have been even more measure of agreement.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for his free legal advice, and I note the value of that advice. I am grateful to the Minister, as I said, for listening very carefully to the debate. All I hope—I think on behalf of all of us who have spoken and listened to this—is that it is not just that the Minister has listened but that the Government will hear. Undoubtedly, we will return to this subject at the next stage of this Bill when we will be seeking to find an acceptable—acceptable to your Lordships’ House—change to the current wording of the Bill. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 36B withdrawn.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.36 pm.

European Union: Refugees

Question for Short Debate

7.36 pm

Asked by Lord Higgins

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the security of the European Union’s border; and what discussions they have had with the Governments of other EU member states about the documentation of those individuals they accept as refugees.

Lord Higgins (Con): My Lords, I am very glad to have secured time for this debate. I originally tabled the Question back in November, so it has been a long while coming to fruition. It is also the case that, in the mean time, we have had a huge influx of refugees coming into the European Union and a very large number indeed of economic migrants coming into the European Union.

We have had two very good debates on this subject previously. In the Moses Room on 18 June there was a Private Member’s debate, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and there was a debate secured by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the Floor of the House on 9 July. But we have not had a full day’s debate on what

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must surely be one of the most important—one might say traumatic and historic—issues that we are faced with at present. I hope that the usual channels can, therefore, arrange for a debate.

I have pointed out previously that I have a long-standing interest in the subject. I am the sole survivor of a Cabinet Committee which persuaded the Heath Government to allow the refugees from Idi Amin into the country. I have always felt rather proud of that because it was a great success and they have integrated very well. On other issues, I have pointed out that I was concerned about the way in which the British Government in 1939 appropriated the whole of the assets of the Jewish refugees who had arrived here, and it was many years later that I managed to persuade the then Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett, to seek some form of redress. This has been rather reflected in what has happened in Sweden and Switzerland at present, as far as dealing with refugees’ assets are concerned.

I start straightaway with a point that I have raised with my noble friend before: it is concerned with the idea of communication. It came up yesterday in relation to the problems of children and, in particular, those children who are refugees and are related to people in this country. The question was asked: how do you communicate both with them and with other members of their family? I have suggested previously that the Government should have a “refugee app” or a website that could provide communication with these groups, because most of them have telephones anyway, particularly the youngsters. This was something to which my noble friend appeared sympathetic before, so I hope that we can go ahead and do something as far as that is concerned.

I strongly believe that the attitude taken by the British Government on these problems—in particular, giving very substantial aid to the countries in the Middle East that are suffering from a refugee problem, and allowing in people from those refugee camps rather than accommodating those who have come illegally into the European Union—is right. But it has meant to some extent that we have been a bit detached from the main thrust of European asylum policy, and therefore, perhaps, have not given the leadership of which the European Union is clearly in desperate need, given the way in which the problems have developed. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has certainly been participating in these discussions, but—perhaps also because of our referendum question and so on—we might not have been exercising as much influence as we might have done in other circumstances.

The problem is that the basic Dublin agreement, as far as the admission of asylum seekers into the European Union is concerned, has simply not worked. The idea that they would have to register at the first point of entry, which in many cases has turned out to be Greece, has not resulted in a situation where they have been properly documented and their applications properly serviced. So we have therefore seen this extraordinary flow of refugees from the south of Europe towards the north.

In particular, we have seen the matter that we discussed yesterday in relation to Calais. I was interested in a BBC news story today that stated:

“Many migrants fear they will be required to apply and claim asylum in France and then give up hope of coming to the United Kingdom”.

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There is a very interesting passage in the latest report of the European Commission on this issue. It says in the clearest terms that asylum seekers are not entitled to choose where they will seek asylum. The whole question of exactly which country they wish to be in is creating big problems, particularly as far as economic migrants are concerned.

We are in a very different situation from earlier crises, where we had individual asylum seekers or people in particular groups that were being persecuted. The whole scale of this thing is influenced by the fact that they are simply fleeing from the perils of being in countries that are racked by war.

It is also true to say that the groups that have been coming have, to some extent, been remarkably violent. We have seen the scenes in Calais: that was not previously the case, and it has been true as far as those who are seeking to travel north from Greece are concerned. We have seen very violent scenes indeed, so we have some problems that we have not had to cope with on previous occasions.

I come next to a point that I have raised with my noble friend before: the fact that we have problems relating to people crossing into Europe by sea in traffickers’ boats that are very often unseaworthy. We have had a situation where they have been rescued and then landed in Europe. While we must certainly abide by the law of the sea, at the same time I think that this is a real problem, and is quite inconsistent with the view that the Home Secretary has expressed.

I am glad to see, therefore, that there seems to be a significant move on the part of the European Union to protect our borders. That has not been happening up to now. The tendency has been to allow people to come in and then try to sort out the problem. We now see, in essence, as a result of the report of the European Council that just came out on 18 February, that the EU is finally—this gives one some hope for the immediate future—taking the view that the deal with Turkey, which has gradually been established, will enable it to prevent people carrying out the extremely hazardous and very short sea journey, and actually patrol the borders. That has not been happening yet, but the report of the Council’s conclusions on migration on 18 February, and a subsequent one a couple of days later, gives one hope that this is indeed a moment when we can see some serious concern to patrol and re-establish the borders.

It is clearly an impossible situation when we have the Schengen agreement on the one hand and porous external borders at the same time. That is something that we cannot live with, and nor can the European Union. It does seem that, at long last, the EU is doing something on this matter. I very much hope that our Government, despite the inhibitions that I mentioned earlier, will encourage it to do so and ensure that serious action is taken to admit genuine asylum seekers—which most certainly should be our policy, not least as far as two of them are concerned—and at the same time distinguish them very clearly from economic migrants. We ought to take a very different line with them and ensure that they do not obtain entry to this country, to some extent at the expense of the genuine asylum seekers. I therefore hope that the Government will be able to take a very positive attitude to the points that I have made.

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7.47 pm

Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD): My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for bringing forward this Question for Short Debate. He mentioned that he tabled it some months ago but it is, nevertheless, extremely timely. I agree with a lot of what he said, which might come as some surprise as we are from opposite sides of the Chamber. However, nobody could fail to be moved by the sight of refugees coming from Syria, Iraq and Libya or the sight of people, including children, drowning in the Mediterranean; nor could anybody fail to be moved, at least intellectually, by the sheer numbers of people who are moving. According to the International Organization for Migration, since the start of the year—in two months—129,455 people have arrived in Europe by sea. Some 418 people have died in the sea in the last two months alone.

It is very easy, from this side of the channel, to realise that there is a problem and to talk about it in very much an intellectual way. These people are coming mostly to Greece and to Italy. If you look at a map you will realise that those who will come to the United Kingdom as their first port of call are very few in number. However, the sheer scale of the refugee flows that are affecting Greece is as nothing compared with what is going on in countries such as Jordan and Lebanon. Western Europe has been remarkably unaffected by refugee flows over recent decades. In many ways, the United Kingdom is one of the least-affected countries.

One of my concerns, already flagged up by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, is that in many ways the United Kingdom has not demonstrated leadership here. We have not been affected by huge numbers of refugees coming to our borders. We have agreed to take 20,000 Syrians from the camps but we are not on a daily basis accepting coachloads or boatloads of would-be refugees. The lack of leadership and engagement from the United Kingdom is unfortunate.

Perhaps some of that is, as the noble Lord suggested, to do with the fact that the United Kingdom is going through a somewhat existential crisis in our relationship with the European Union. However, perhaps it is more than that. The fact that we are not part of the Schengen area means that in many ways we feel we are protecting our own borders and leave it to other member states to protect their own. However, those borders are porous and there are questions about documents—which comes into the formal Question—and how far those held by people seeking asylum are verifiable. Are they genuine documents? How far is it possible to scrutinise them? That is a hugely important area that affects British security as well as security in the rest of the European Union.

Last week, the Home Secretary talked about the importance of securing European borders but she also made very clear that the United Kingdom still did not see a need to be part of a European coastguard initiative, and that somehow the United Kingdom still feels that we are separate from that. Does the Minister not think that it would be beneficial for the United Kingdom to be more engaged, supporting countries such as Greece to man European borders? Those borders are not simply ones for other countries. They affect the security of the whole continent.

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The nature of the Schengen area may be one that we have decided is not for the United Kingdom but there is always the danger that people who come through the European Union from porous borders are not properly documented. They will then be able to come through other channels to the United Kingdom. Are we sure that we are able to scrutinise and filter out everybody who should not be here because they are coming for illegal terrorist purposes? How are we also scrutinising to find out whether people are genuine asylum seekers whom we should welcome, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, suggested? How far are we working with European partners to say, “Some of these people should not be coming”, even with the very generous opportunities offered by Angela Merkel in Germany who said, “Any Syrian refugees can come”? Many people arrived in Germany legally because they were invited—or at least they appeared to be legal. If they came from countries other than Syria and were not fleeing war they do not have a genuine right to be here. How is that verified?

Does the Minister not think it would be beneficial for the United Kingdom to be part of the European Union? Would it not be beneficial for us to work more closely with our European partners to ensure that we focus on working effectively to facilitate the reception of genuine asylum seekers and to keep out those who should not be here? Would it not be beneficial to the United Kingdom in our role in the European Union to demonstrate solidarity with those countries that suffer from huge migration flows, particularly Greece, by offering to take more people?

7.54 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB): My Lords, as we begin a four-month marathon debate on whether Britain should remain a member of the EU, it is good that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, enables us to discuss, however briefly, another major challenge facing the EU—all the more so since the EU’s handling of this problem and the outcome of the migration crisis will profoundly affect this country whether we are inside the European Union or not. The idea that we can just pull up a drawbridge and indulge in some enjoyable schadenfreude at the expense of our European partners is as misguided as when some said we could comfortably sit out the eurozone crisis and economic and financial crisis without them affecting us in the slightest way.

No one could say that the EU has so far covered itself with glory when faced with the migration crisis, even if it was none of its own doing and though it is a kind of backhanded compliment to the stability and prosperity that the EU has brought to our continent. The EU is managing—let us face it—no worse than the United States, faced with a quite different immigration challenge. Mistakes have been made. Too little effort and too few resources have been put into stemming the flood at source in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. Unilateral actions taken by countries such as Hungary and Austria are, whether or not they are in conformity with EU rules, surely in breach of their obligations under the UN refugee convention. A misguided—in my view—attempt to impose mandatory quotas of refugees on the members of Schengen is almost certainly unenforceable. There has been a failure by some member states—Greece and Italy in particular—to fulfil their

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obligations under the Dublin convention to document and process new arrivals, separating out genuine refugees and asylum seekers from illegal economic migrants, returning the latter to their countries of origin.

One action I would not criticise is the decision by the German Chancellor, taken after the immigration surge began, to offer asylum to all genuine refugees. I am saddened when I hear that act of humane generosity described as if it triggered the surge in the first place, when in fact the surge was taking place and it was in response to it that she spoke as she did. The Chancellor now faces plenty of domestic criticism, much of it from people with whom no respectable politician in this country would share a platform, so let us not add to it.

Amid all the confusion and tensions, one can see some of the elements of a better overall approach beginning to emerge. An agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of immigrants and clamp down on traffickers is absolutely vital and I believe there is a meeting on that later this week. NATO assistance in patrolling the maritime borders between Greece and Turkey, and also those between Libya and Italy, is another element. There is the establishment of processing centres within the countries of first arrival where proper documentation can be carried out and where economic migrants can be separated from genuine refugees and the former returned to their countries of origin. There is much greater help given to countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to harbour refugees close to their homes while offering them better health and education services and a chance of employment. Here, our own Government’s response has been exemplary. They deserve praise for it, even if I reiterate that our willingness to take in refugees has been, in the words of the most reverend Primate, rather thin.

Clearly, some member states—Greece in particular—and some other countries outside the EU will need substantial help in carrying out these policies. I hope the UK will be generous in providing finance and material support in that respect, and not just sit like Pontius Pilate washing our hands. I say this because, to return to my original theme, we have plenty at stake in all this. We may not be a member of Schengen but if that imaginative border-free system were to collapse irretrievably our own trade with and ability to travel around the European Union would suffer, as would the benefits our citizens enjoy when working or on holiday elsewhere in the EU. It is in our interest that any temporary suspension of Schengen, such as a number of member states have quite reasonably resorted to in the heat of the crisis, should remain just that—temporary. The policies being gradually shaped by the Schengen members should receive our full support, even if we are not going to apply them ourselves in all respects.

If the Minister agrees with that analysis, I hope he will give a little bit more detail about the support the Government might be ready to give when this matter is next discussed at the European level: no doubt when the Prime Minister goes to the next meeting of the European Council in two and a half weeks’ time.

8 pm

Lord Smith of Hindhead (Con): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Higgins for initiating this important debate. I will make a few short points and I appreciate

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that some may echo sentiments already raised by other noble Lords. I intend to concentrate on documentation for refugees coming into the UK. As all sides of the House would agree, the fundamental responsibility of government is to ensure that however a person finds themselves here—as a refugee or otherwise—they do not pose a threat to the safety of any member of the British public. To know who visitors are is key and, therefore, so is documentation.

However, in the case of refugees, we know that documentation is often unintentionally—or, indeed, intentionally—lost. Understandably, many refugees deliberately do not travel with any papers for fear of documents being discovered and of being sent back to their country of origin. For others, documents are simply lost or have been confiscated; and for some, documents are present but counterfeit. How many people try to enter our borders each year without any official paperwork? What measures do the Government have in place to identify genuine refugees in a situation where no official papers are present or where false documents are presented? Furthermore, what measures are being taken to identify people who are misusing the refugee crisis, such as people traffickers or those with criminal or terrorist intentions? For example, have estimations been made of the number of people who may be trafficked each year to the UK under the guise of migration or being refugees, bearing in mind that the perpetrators of this hideous activity, who often travel with those being trafficked, will undoubtedly be taking advantage of the current migration and refugee patterns throughout Europe?

Having a robust plan in place to identify people is especially important in relation to vulnerable travellers, such as children. We know from Home Office figures that over 3,000 unaccompanied children under 18 years of age sought asylum in 2015, about 50 of whom were under 14. How many of those children did not have documents, and how many were travelling with counterfeit identification when they arrived? What is being done to monitor these children and to keep them protected from abuse after they have been granted asylum in the UK?

Great Britain exists to support and protect those who contribute to making it so great. Those who wish to prosper through criminal activity or those who wish to do us harm should never be allowed in. Refugees rely on us, often as a matter of life or death, and we need all the resources possible to be directed to the people who need them most of all. We must therefore ensure that thorough procedures are in place to identify the most vulnerable, as well as those who are misusing the system, so that a clear distinction can be made between the two. I know this is an area that the Government take extremely seriously, and that much work has been done. I therefore look forward to the Minister’s remarks.

8.04 pm

The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, the noble Lord has raised an issue of pressing concern which continues to baffle all of us on both sides of the EU divide. The number of migrants who are up against internal EU barriers is causing distress to all of us: the scenes in the Aegean and on the Greek-Macedonian

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border being among the most critical. As we speak, some 8,000 are still stuck at Idomeni, where the Greek army and the ICRC are doing their best to cope. No one is in doubt that the rules governing external borders need to change: what escapes us is the question of whether they can change and whether the European Council has the muscle to make any changes at all. Of course, the advocates of Brexit say with some glee that this is the end of Europe as we know it. One newspaper even says the EU itself has only a few days to go. More sensible people are determined that the Commission will be forced to find solutions, although inevitably they will have to be partial and specific to each successive crisis.

Schengen is now at risk. A liberal, humanitarian principle that has enabled millions to travel daily between frontiers has been seriously challenged, and may possibly be ended, by mass migration. Humpty Dumpty has had a great fall and who will put him back together again? The Commission is bending over backwards to control the uncontrollable and its website on Schengen makes painful reading—I shall not repeat it. Eurosceptics should renounce any feelings of schadenfreude because they could never have anticipated a crisis on this scale.

Individual states are, legitimately it seems, making their own national decisions. As my noble friend Lord Hannay said, the Commission has legalised the temporary reintroduction of border controls in seven countries, trying to imply that these are only an interim measure: we hope they will be. This means that member states will gradually fall in line with the UK, which has long decided to opt out. We can imagine that the Minister will have no difficulty with the first part of the question. Dublin is fast becoming a shambles and border security is becoming a national concern. What happens next and how will the EU be able to set up alternatives?

The key problem remains the number of Syrians entering Greece by sea. NATO continues to make a modest contribution—we wish it were more—by deterring and returning migrants, but its fleet needs to be increased significantly if it is to help. The real pressure occurs on the borders of all the Balkan states up to Austria, which has decided to take the law into its own hands. The UK should intervene and set an example by supporting those neighbouring states. We have a good record on enlargement, as has been demonstrated in our own EU Select Committee reports, and we are supporting a number of specific aid programmes, such as EULEX in Kosovo, as well as EU-wide projects such as FRONTEX and Europol, which have a well-developed database.

I know that, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, has reminded us, we are concerned about our own security, but why can we not take more of an initiative on the security of the EU’s external border? Will the Government co-operate with the EU action plan on migrant smuggling? As an island, the UK is also a European leader on border control. We have experience at many ports of entry by air, sea and road, and the Home Office or DfID could be exporting knowledge by training more police and immigration officers. Systematic checks against databases are difficult given the current scale of migration and they will be impossible in hotspots

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without the necessary infrastructure. This is much more than can be provided by UNHCR and the other relief agencies which are having to cope nobly with instant emergencies around that region. Are we providing enough—or any—technological back-up for these operations? Can we be associated with the new European border and coastguard agency? Should we not be belatedly signing up to the 2005 Prüm treaty on data sharing? As my noble friend Lord Hannay said, we are, after all, a member state, whether or not we belong to Schengen.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, while our media give a powerful picture of impending crisis, we have yet to see examples of the UK carrying out our own neighbourhood policy as we should. Without in any way supporting greater federal union, I am with those who would like to see the UK much more actively joining the EU decision-making process on migration, not only with processing applications but with accepting more refugees, especially unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable people who are already in Europe—not those in Turkey.

Finally, is the Minister concerned that the new identification measures announced on 18 February by Austria and four neighbouring Balkan states could be in breach of international agreements? Restrictions on the right to receive protection, such as sudden border closures and discrimination in immigration controls, and Austria’s imposition of daily quotas are already incompatible with the refugee convention. Receiving refugees is something we are good at, so let us send a message of solidarity to Mrs Merkel and support her in the field and not from the touch line.

8.10 pm

Baroness Ludford (LD): My Lords, I also offer warm thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for initiating this vital debate and for his excellent speech. The European Commission has put forward a very comprehensive package of measures on borders and migration. As the Dutch Migration Minister who chaired last week’s Justice and Home Affairs Council said:

“We can solve this crisis if all member states are ready to work together, as well as work with the countries on the Western Balkan route and with Turkey”.

Unfortunately, the member states have behaved badly; they have been reactive and disorganised and, at worst, played the blame game. Greece, as well as Germany, has a more than legitimate grievance about not being invited to the meeting that Austria hosted recently. Yesterday we saw terrible scenes of tear gas being fired at migrants on the Macedonian border. The problem is not the lack of available laws, tools or even money—€10 billion has made available from the EU budget so far—but a lack of political will and solidarity. It is obvious that we need to do a number of things, of which the following is a non-exhaustive list of six.

The EU’s external border must be strengthened. It is welcome that the Council is urgently examining the Commission’s proposal for a European border and coastguard agency, which I assume that the UK cannot be associated with. We must also have effective rescue at sea. FRONTEX operations last year rescued 250,000 people and NATO assistance is also very welcome.

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We need a much greater push to put smugglers and traffickers out of business and into jail if at all possible. I believe there are 11,000 suspects on Europol’s database. Does the Minister have any data on what has happened to those who have been apprehended? I believe 900 people have been apprehended by FRONTEX working with Europol and Eurojust.

The EU must also ensure that security threats from potential terrorists are combated by stopping them slipping in as migrants. The Council has agreed a common position on the proposal for checks against databases at external borders but, again, as it is a Schengen project, I assume the UK cannot take part. Will the UK use the Interpol database and its access for policing purposes to the Schengen information system to align our practices on Schengen and seek maximum co-operation with the Schengen zone on this checking process?

I note that the Home Secretary said last week, in a Written Statement that she would,

“push for Schengen and non-Schengen states to be able to exchange immigration information”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 24/2/16; col. 11WS]

As the UK does not have access to the immigration side of the Schengen information system, will the Minister explain what such an exchange might consist of?

We must secure safe and legal routes for refugees and asylum seekers to reach Europe. Of course direct resettlement from the region is important, but there must also be opportunities for spontaneous arrivals to come legally in pursuit of a place of safety. We have constructed such barriers with carriers’ liability that that is almost impossible.

Those who arrive on our shores must be processed and registered efficiently. Action is at last happening to have so-called hotspots in Italy and Greece up and running, though it is too slow. Decisions on who needs protection must be made promptly so that they can work and integrate as speedily as possible, and those who do not have legitimate claims to stay must be returned. This is essential to preserve the integrity of the refugee system and public support for it.

I recognise that the Government are offering practical assistance to help with the registering and fingerprinting of migrants in Greece and Italy. Will the Minister tell us exactly what our help consists of—for instance, the number of experts that we have loaned?

It is vital that the internal Schengen arrangements be preserved. These benefit UK citizens and businesses, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, as well as those of other EU countries. The reimposition of internal controls will, as the Commission warned, set back what is already a very slow eurozone recovery through obstructing the single market.

One of the worst features of the current disarray is that who gets through to safety is rather a lottery; it is often young and able-bodied men rather than vulnerable women, children, the elderly, the sick or the disabled. I am of course not saying that those men do not deserve protection—many of them do—but there is a worrying survival of the fittest dimension to it all.

I also appreciate the German Chancellor’s unilateral moves last summer, born of despair at the prospect of getting a co-ordinated response. It is none the less

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true, however, that some confusion was created down the chain, not least in switching the Dublin regulation on and off. Can the Minister give us some clue or prediction about what will happen to the Dublin regulation?

The Home Secretary also said last week that,

“if the EU is to avoid a repeat of last year, we must take decisive action now”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 24/2/16; col. 12WS]

Will the Minister tell us what this Government are proposing to do to make sure that the UK is fully engaged in, committed to and participating in solutions to this migration challenge? We know about and appreciate the resettlement programme and the financial assistance being given to the region, but the UK should take part in and not stand aside from the sharing of responsibility for those who have reached Europe. I say this with full recognition of our aid contributions, the resettlement programme, and the fact that we have a rising population, which some member states do not. We need a strong and effective EU in the matter of migration and security, and any Eurosceptic who thinks a Europe in disarray on this issue is good news for their cause needs to examine both their head and their conscience.

8.16 pm

Lord Rosser (Lab): I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for securing this debate. Obviously, it is timely in the light of the current situation both on the Macedonian border with Greece and at our end of Europe in Calais and Dunkirk.

In its very recent report on a more effective EU foreign and security strategy, the European Union Committee said:

“Migrant and refugee inflows are likely to remain a long-term challenge for the Union. So far, Member States have not agreed a collective response to this issue at the EU level. The fractious and polarised debates have battered the reputation of the EU and resulted in a muted response to a pressing security and humanitarian crisis. These internal divisions are likely to undermine Member States’ ability to achieve unity on foreign policy issues”.

The issues covered by this debate are ones that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, has raised on a number of occasions before. Indeed, he did so last month when he asked in a Written Question whether,

“EU member states within the Schengen area are issuing a standard form of passport or other document to those they accept as asylum seekers or whether individual countries decide on the format to use”.

I think that the Answer the noble Lord received was that EU member states were actually issuing,

“a refugee status travel document, in the form set out in the Schedule to the Geneva Convention”,

rather than that that was what member states ought to be doing but whether they all were was another matter. Perhaps the Minister could clarify this point in his reply.

The European Council meeting last month stated that the objective of the EU had to be,

“to rapidly stem the flows, protect our external borders, reduce illegal migration and safeguard the integrity of the Schengen area”.

With that last point in mind, the European Council said that there was a need to,

“get back to a situation where all Members of the Schengen Area fully apply the Schengen Borders Code and refuse entry at external borders to third-country nationals who do not satisfy the entry

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conditions or who have not made an asylum application despite having had the opportunity to do so”.

Reference has already been made in this debate to the intentions of an EU agreement with Turkey.

The European Council expressed the view that,

“with the help of the EU, the setting up and functioning of hotspots”,

in front-line member states to ensure effective reception and registration processes was,

“gradually improving as regards identification, registration, fingerprinting and security checks on persons and travel documents”,

although much remained to be done. What remained to be done included,

“to fully implement the relocation process, to stem secondary flows of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers and to provide the significant reception facilities needed to accommodate migrants under humane conditions while their situation is being clarified”.

The Council reiterated, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said:

“Asylum seekers do not have the right to choose the Member State in which they seek asylum”.

According to the third quarterly report for last year from the Frontex Risk Analysis Network, that quarter saw the highest ever reported numbers of illegal border crossings since data collection began in 2007, with the figure being not far short of 620,000. Most illegal border crossings—almost 320,000—were reported on the eastern Mediterranean route, with almost all accounted-for detections being on the eastern Aegean islands. Around 70% of the irregular migrants on this route claimed to be of Syrian nationality, with some 17% saying they were of Afghan nationality.

In the third quarter of 2015, the number of detected undocumented Syrian nationals within the EU, at almost 90,000, more than tripled compared to the previous quarter, and there were significant increases in the number of illegal stayers from Bangladesh, Iran and Iraq. Also during the third quarter of last year, EU member states reported more than 405,000 asylum applications—an almost 150% increase on the same period in 2014. Almost two-thirds submitted their application in the top three countries—Germany, Hungary and Sweden—although apparently most asylum seekers in Hungary absconded to apply for asylum in another country. The figures also showed that Syrians were the top-ranking asylum nationality in the EU Schengen area, with more than 137,000 applications in the third quarter of last year, followed by Afghan, Iraqi and Albanian nationals.

As a result of the increasing number of migrants arriving in the EU, several Schengen member states have introduced or reintroduced temporary border controls at their borders with other Schengen member states. At the end of last year the European Commission proposed establishing a European border and coast guard, with a view to ensuring a strong, shared management of external borders. The Commission also proposed to introduce systematic checks against relevant databases for all people entering or exiting the Schengen area.

The subject matter of this debate refers to an assessment of the security of the European Union’s borders. It is clear that the EU’s borders are not secure and probably

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cannot be secure in the face of the large-scale migration arising mainly from the current and continuing conflicts in the Middle East. However, our own borders are not secure either in the sense that we do not have much control over the numbers of people coming to this country. The lack of response from the Government when asked to give even an estimate of the level of net migration for this year and next year is eloquent testimony to that lack of control.

At times there also appears to be a certain lack of enthusiasm on the Government’s part for engaging with EU member states, particularly on migration and border control issues. Interestingly, the subject matter of this debate also asks what discussions the Government have had with the Governments of other EU member states about the documentation of those individuals they accept as refugees. Of course, that is a question to which only the Minister can really provide a response. Relevant and appropriate though that question is, and relevant and appropriate though the measures the EU wants to take to try to secure its borders may be, the only real solution to the present situation is to address the causes of the large-scale migration currently taking place—and that will require a mutual determination to do so on the part of the major powers, including the EU, which currently seems to be lacking.

8.24 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Higgins for securing this debate. He may have waited a little time for it come up, but the usual channels, with impeccable timing, have brought it to our attention today. The debate that we have had around these issues has been of great value, and I hope to add to it with some responses to the legitimate questions that have been raised.

The UK Government recognise the importance of this issue and are committed to supporting our European partners to ensure the full and proper management of the EU’s external border, reduce the impact of illegal migration and deter people from risking their lives on perilous journeys, as well as to increase security at the border. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, reminded us of the scale of the human loss. Last year it was 3,771 lives, and she used the figure so far for this year of 418, which may be more up to date than the 410 which I have in the briefing I received this morning. The scale is quite shocking.

It is important to clarify that although the UK is not part of Schengen or a member of FRONTEX, we want to support the operational work of the proposed EU border agency, in the same way that we currently support FRONTEX operations. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Hannay, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and my noble friend Lord Smith, asked whether we were standing aside and how we were engaging with our European partners.

If the House will bear with me for 30 seconds, I will just point out that this is of course the dominant issue on the European agenda—in fact on the international agenda—at present. The British Government were represented at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 25 and 26 January, at an informal strategic committee

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on immigration, frontiers and asylum in Europe on 15 and 16 January, and at the European Council on 18 and 19 February. This week, we have the France-UK summit on Thursday. The Prime Minister and the leaders of the French Government, along with the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary, will be there in Amiens. Next week, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned, is the EU-Turkey summit, to move that agenda forward. There is the Justice and Home Affairs Council the week after and then the European Council the week after that. At the end of the month, there is the UNHCR meeting on Syrian refugees.

That is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but I read it out to stress that, from my experience of working in the Home Office, my colleagues in the department are actively engaged in this on a daily basis. We totally endorse and accept the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Rosser, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, himself that there cannot be an ounce of schadenfreude—the term I think the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, used—about what is happening there. I was reminded as they were talking of the aphorism that if you do not visit your problem neighbourhoods, then your problem neighbourhoods will visit you. That works in a domestic setting and certainly in an international one.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, invited us to say, we are focused not just on what is happening but on dealing with the causes. That was one of the reasons for the Valletta summit between EU and African partners, which set out a significant agenda for action to respond to and tackle the flows from Africa. It was notable that, in response to that, we have I think seen the principal flows in recent months from the central Mediterranean reduce significantly, to 9,000 arrivals in the first two months of this year. The principal route now is through the Aegean, with 120,565 arrivals.

That link with tackling these issues at source in Africa reminds me to pay tribute to the work that my noble friend Lord Higgins did all those years ago in bringing Ugandan Asians to this country. They have made an immense contribution to it, and we are certainly delighted that we have one of them, our noble friend Lord Popat, on this side. We look forward in years to come to perhaps being joined by one of those Syrians who have been offered sanctuary in this country too.

European Union member states are facing unprecedented pressures on their time. That is why the UK is taking a comprehensive approach to the migrant crisis, intervening at every stage of the migrant journey—at source, in transit, at the EU’s frontier, at our border and in the UK. We want to help build stability in the countries these migrants come from and we are engaging in the largest-ever humanitarian response to a single crisis. At the Syria conference in London on 4 February—which I left off the list I gave earlier—the Prime Minister announced that the UK will more than double its support in response to the Syria crisis, to over £2.3 billion. That is the kind of generosity that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, urged us to have.

To help those in need of genuine protection, the UK is expanding its scheme to resettle vulnerable Syrians from the region. We have exceeded our commitment to

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resettle 1,000 Syrian refugees before Christmas, and expect to resettle up to the full commitment of 20,000 Syrians by 2020.

In relation to the external border, the UK is playing a part in the maritime operations. Royal Navy operations in the Mediterranean have so far saved 12,500 lives and it is currently involved in NATO activities in the Aegean. This is not just a Syrian crisis; many nationalities are trying to come to the EU. As my noble friend Lord Smith urged, the EU needs to be firm with those who do not need protection, pose a security risk or refuse to co-operate with the asylum process.

With regard to the Government’s approach to European Commission initiatives, the Government fully support the Commission’s hotspots proposal, which aims to address these issues at the border. In our view the hotspots can contribute to better management of the EU’s external border by securing the rapid return of those without a legitimate asylum claim. It is important that we do not focus exclusively on facilitating relocation but fulfil this wider security objective. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, referred to the fact that these hotspots had taken too long to set up, and we concur with that. At the meetings I have mentioned we always urge our colleagues to work faster, in addition to providing additional support. We have announced £65 million of help for our European colleagues in this situation, a significant proportion of which—£45 million I think—is to go to Greece.

A number of Lords referred to the key issue of organised crime, which is a staggering problem. Europol last week estimated that of those arriving in the European Union in search of asylum 90% had paid a criminal gang to get here. That gives us an idea of the scale of the problem. Since last year, UK law enforcement has disrupted more than 170 organised crime groups involved in organised immigration crime. Since April 2015 immigration enforcement has disrupted 94 organised crime groups involved in organising immigration crime, 12 of which involved people smuggling. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked for an update on that. These cases are currently being processed through the courts. To give one example, however, one group that was disrupted in December involved 23 people from Sweden, Austria, the UK and Greece, and was responsible for bringing 100 migrants a day into Greece. This group had made an estimated €10 million in the process. These are significant issues.

I can reassure, I hope, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on some of the points he raised about the Prüm issues, which we have opted into. We are working with our colleagues in communicating information about the second-generation Schengen information system, which we are part of, the European arrest warrant framework, which we are part of, Europol, with which we work, and the European criminal record and information service, which is part of that. We want those data to be collected as people arrive in those hotspots, so that the data can be shared with us through the Dublin process. We can then ensure that our borders are secure. That is also a reason why we want to take more people from the region. As my noble friend Lord Smith said, when people come here they have often genuinely lost their documents in their struggle to get here, and sometimes they have chosen to destroy them to avoid their

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identification. That poses a particular risk. That is one reason why we want to take more people from the region, because there, through the UNHCR or the International Organisation on Migration, we can identify them, and then we have an additional layer of verification through the Home Office systems before someone qualifies for membership in the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme.

My noble friend Lord Higgins also referred to Turkey. The UK Government have committed £250 million to securing that crucial southern border to the region to tackle that issue. The House will be updated on progress on that.

Time is running out on this debate, but I want to communicate one message. First, the UK Government are absolutely committed to working with our European partners to resolve this issue. This is not a UK problem, it is a European problem—in fact, an international, worldwide humanitarian problem—and we need to work together. That is happening daily. Secondly, we are not being complacent but putting resources behind that through the European Asylum Support Office, hotspots and finance, and bringing people to the UK from the region, to provide that safe alternative route to undertaking the perilous journey that we want them to avoid.

I again thank my noble friend Lord Higgins for securing this debate and all those who contributed.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, the whole House will have benefited from the excellent documentation that the Library has produced. I think it will be of wider interest than just to those who have taken part. I thank all those who spoke for their interesting contributions, particularly my noble friend. I do not doubt that this is a subject to which we will return soon, and I hope that the usual channels can make suitable time available.