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House of Lords

Tuesday 8 March 2016

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.

Death of a Member: Lord Brooks of Tremorfa


2.36 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza): My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, on 4 March. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord’s family and friends.

Women: Discrimination


2.36 pm

Asked by Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the United Nations framework launched in November 2015 with the aim of preventing violence against women, gender inequality, discriminatory practices and harmful cultural and social norms.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development (Baroness Verma) (Con): My Lords, the UK championed the global goal on gender equality, and we will demonstrate the same leadership at the Commission on the Status of Women next week. The UK has scaled up its efforts to tackle violence against women and girls worldwide, with a 63% increase in our programmes since 2012. I welcome the new framework as the first UN-wide approach to the prevention of violence. It is a significant step in fostering greater co-ordination across the UN family.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab): I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. Does she agree that the United Nations framework provides the basis for worldwide action in pursuit of justice and equality for women, including on global gender-based violence? Will our Government give a clear and increased priority to education for girls and women, universal provision of sanitation and access to employment? Across the world, these are exactly what determine whether women are free of oppression, want and violence.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a number of very important areas on which the Government are working very hard with the United Nations. The noble Baroness will also be aware of the high-level panel that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is a founding member of and which has economic empowerment at the heart of its strategy. We want to make sure, going forward, not only that

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women’s need for water, sanitation and hygiene are addressed but that women are able to access economic opportunities.

Lord Hague of Richmond (Con): My Lords, I support the emphasis the Government are giving to preventing sexual violence in conflict alongside supporting the UN framework. Will my noble friend acknowledge that the rise of Daesh has opened a new and grotesque chapter in systematic violence against women? Will the Government work at the UN and with our allies to communicate more effectively to the world the extent of those crimes, to care for survivors of those crimes and to train armed forces in the Middle East in their detection and prevention?

Baroness Verma: My noble friend raises some very important issues concerning the protection of women and the rise of Daesh, and I take this opportunity to congratulate him on all the work he did as Foreign Secretary. My noble friend will support what the Government are doing in working with our MoD colleagues and with the Foreign Office to ensure a co-ordinated approach across government. He is absolutely right that we need to do more, and we need to encourage our partners to do the same.

Baroness Northover (LD): African Union peacekeepers in Somalia have been accused of rape. Does the noble Baroness agree that it is welcome that the AU has conducted an investigation into this? What are the UK Government doing to support the AU to ensure that it takes the conclusions of that investigation through and holds its troops to account?

Baroness Verma: Again, the noble Baroness has raised a serious issue that women face in these particularly fragile conflict areas. We need to praise the AU for the leadership it is showing, including in trying to tackle FGM and child and early forced marriage. The AU has taken a step forward, and we will be doing our level best, with other donors, to ensure that it receives the support it needs. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that we need to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to book.

Baroness King of Bow (Lab): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Kinnock for a lifetime’s work promoting gender equality. On the subject of harmful cultural and social norms, is it not strange that here in Britain, we persist in paying women less than men? At the current rate, it will take us 47 years to close the gender pay gap. I know that we take a long view in this House, but does the Minister think that that is too long? If so, will she go further than the Government’s current position on pay transparency and legislate for equal pay audits? She would be surprised by what she would find. Is she aware that the government department responsible for ending the gender pay gap pays its women £2 an hour less than its men?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, closing the pay gap between men and women is a really important question, and one that this Government have been very committed

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to addressing. The noble Baroness will be aware of the work of the noble Lord, Lord Davies. We must ensure that companies are held to account. That is why my right honourable friend Nicky Morgan, the Minister for Equalities, is pressing hard for companies employing more than 250 people to publish what they pay to men and women.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB): Does the Minister agree with the Sikh teaching that in conflict, enemy women should be regarded as mother, sister or daughter?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, across any teachings, we need to ensure that the basic human rights of all people are supported and protected.

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con): My Lords, widows and wives of the disappeared are at particular risk in conflict in developing countries. Does DfID have a specific focus on them, because they really need our protection?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her question on widows. We fought hard to have a stand-alone gender goal at the UN General Assembly last year so that we could have a life-cycle approach, which included widows. We are doing a lot to help vulnerable groups in society who are susceptible to violence, including widows.

Baroness Nye (Lab): My Lords, the Minister will have seen the pledge by more than 100 women, including noble Baronesses from all sides of the House and Members of the other place, to stand with the women of Burma to end rape and sexual violence in that country. Will the British Government support their call for an investigation into rape and sexual violence by the Burmese military against ethnic women and girls?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, we have to stand up and fight all abuses from all countries by all military personnel. That is why we insist on working with partners to ensure that countries respect the role and place of women in their communities.

Women: Literacy


2.44 pm

Asked by Baroness Rebuck

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they plan to take to improve the reading skills of 16 to 24 year -old women to ensure that they have a good start in life, and to support their well-being and social mobility.

Baroness Rebuck (Lab): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I remind the House of my interests on this issue.

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): Being able to read well is essential. Poor literacy is associated with higher levels of unemployment and poorer health and well-being. We are improving literacy provision from early years through to adult education. More than 250,000 adult women achieved an English qualification paid for by the Government, in the academic year 2013-14.

Baroness Rebuck: I thank the Minister for her reply, but we are in a perilous position. Literacy skills for 16 to 24 year-olds in England are at the bottom of the OECD charts, and we are one of the few countries where young people underperform their elders. More young women than men are not in education, employment or training and 70% of lone parents—mostly women—without qualifications are unemployed. Will the Minister tell the House how the Government are helping these vulnerable young women and their children break the cycle of underachievement? What does she believe will be the impact on the learning opportunities of the 9 million adults in England with poor basic literacy skills of the withdrawal of funds from many front-line literacy charities and the closure of libraries in some of our most deprived communities?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I thank the noble Baroness for her question which covered quite a range of issues. In changing our approach, we are ensuring that all 16 year-olds who do not get at least a grade C in English GCSE continue to study English, so we are looking to improve attainment at that level. As a result of that change, over 2,300 more girls achieved an English GCSE last year than the year before. We are doing a lot of work in local communities, including continuing to invest £200 million a year in community learning, which is specifically aimed at engaging people who are disadvantaged. Seventy-two per cent of the participants in that programme are women, so we are working within schools and in community projects to ensure access to literacy for as many women as possible.

Baroness Perry of Southwark (Con): What are we doing with very young children coming into education to strengthen their literacy skills so that we do not have a repeat of this generational problem?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: We are committed to improving literacy skills, which is why the Secretary of State has said that by 2020 we want all children in England to be the best readers in Europe. We have made important changes at primary school to ensure that children are improving their skills. We also know that children need help from their parents, so we are also trying to focus on improving parents’ literacy skills. We have supported more than 100,000 learners, the majority of whom were female, in family learning programmes to help them with their literacy. We know from studies that that means they feel better able to support their children and to help them get the advantages they need.

Baroness Massey of Darwen (Lab): How many initiatives exist to support women whose first language is not English?

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I thank the noble Baroness for her question. The Government provide more than £104 million to fund courses in English for speakers of other languages in England. They cover literacy skills, including reading. In 2013-14, nearly 100,000 women participated in such courses and women make up two-thirds of all participants.

Lord Tebbit (Con): My Lords, is it not also essential to make plans to improve the reading skills of 16 to 24 year -old boys and young men to ensure that they have a good start in life and to support their well-being and social mobility?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: Yes, it is absolutely important. In fact, girls are doing remarkably well. Eighty-two per cent of girls achieved an A* to C in English GCSE compared to 67% of boys, so it is certainly true that we need to pay as much attention to the education of boys as to that of girls, which is why we have introduced a range of improvements to the educational system. We now have more than 1 million more children in good or outstanding schools.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): The Government are clearly committed to improving literacy. How can the Minister square the circle with the closure of so many libraries up and down the country? She also mentioned the importance of family literacy. How can she square the circle with the closure of so many children’s centres up and down the country, which nurtured such things as literacy for families?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: In 2014 we launched a children’s centres pilot to see how children’s centres can better motivate disadvantaged, low-skilled parents, many of whom are women, to get the English and maths skills that they need. We consider reading for children to be extremely important. That is why we are delighted to work with Penguin Classics, which has launched its Classics in Schools initiative, giving schools access to classroom sets of up to 100 titles at a reduced price so that children have access to a wide range of interesting and exciting literature.

Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD): Does the Minister agree that reading skills, aspirations and well-being for young women can all be enhanced by including more inspirational women in all curriculum fields, science and technology as well as literature? Following the outcry after only one woman, Mary Wollstonecraft, appeared on the politics A-level curriculum, will the Minister undertake to look again at the curricula across education so that we can inspire young women in every area of endeavour?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I am sure the noble Baroness will be pleased that after our consultation on the politics A-level syllabus, while three core philosophies will be studied—socialism, liberalism and conservatism—schools can choose from additional schools of thought, which include feminism.

Baroness Wheatcroft (Con): My Lords, many women who are sent to prison have a low level of literacy. What steps are being taken to ensure that when these

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women leave prison they are effective in reading and writing, a move that might lower the depressingly high rate of recidivism?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: My noble friend is absolutely right. We find that many offenders, and indeed many women in difficult circumstances, who perhaps have suffered from drug and alcohol abuse, have low-level literacy skills, which is why many rehab centres are now realising the importance of including reading skills as part of the treatment and programmes that they provide to the women who use their services. We are seeing reading and writing becoming increasingly central to those programmes, and the Secretary of State for Justice is committed to improving education in prisons. I am sure we will see great improvements within the prison estate.

Women: Representation


2.52 pm

Asked by Baroness Gale

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are planning to take to increase the representation of women in political and public life.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): My Lords, International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women in the UK. We now have more female MPs than ever before and more women in the top posts across government. However, we are not complacent, which is why we are taking steps to encourage talented women from all backgrounds to consider politics or public life as a potential career, including setting a clear aspiration that 50% of new public appointments should go to women.

Baroness Gale (Lab): I thank the Minister for her reply. I agree that progress has been made, but it is all very slow and we need to accelerate the participation of women, as she said. Does she agree that having a gender balance in all our elected institutions would mean that we were using the best of all the talents that this country has to offer? To achieve that aim, will she join me in signing up to the UN’s theme for International Women’s Day, which is its pledge for parity: “Planet 50-50 by 2030”? If that target is achieved, it will mean that in 15 years’ time we will have a much better balanced democracy that reflects the electorate of this country.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I thank the noble Baroness for her Question. I agree that organisations make the best decisions when they have a mix of skills, backgrounds and experiences. Increasing women’s political participation is extremely important and helps create female role models. I was struck by the noble Baroness’s comment in our debate last night that in 2003 the Welsh Assembly became a world leader as the first democratically elected institution to have 50% women members. I think that we all want to follow that example.

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Lord Robathan (Con): My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge the organisation for which Emmeline Pankhurst was parliamentary candidate for Stepney upon her death in 1928, and of which Margaret Thatcher became the leader a very long time ago in 1979?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I am very happy to acknowledge the achievements of the women that my noble friend mentioned. We now have the most gender-diverse Parliament in British history. We have more female MPs than ever before and more women in top posts. In fact, 26% of all candidates who stood at the last election were women.

Lord Dannatt (CB): My Lords—

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): My Lords—

Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD): My Lords—

Baroness Pitkeathley (Lab): My Lords—

Lord Morgan (Lab): My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): As one of those top women, I thought I might as well stand up. It is the turn of the Cross Benches.

Lord Dannatt: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the speech made by the Chief of the General Staff today to mark International Women’s Day, in which he recommended to Ministers that all appointments in the Army, including close-combat roles, should be open to women? I wonder what Her Majesty’s Government’s response to that recommendation by the Chief of the General Staff will be.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that question. We are waiting for the results of the physiological study before we give a full response but I am certainly happy to acknowledge that we have 15,550 women in the Armed Forces, who do a fantastic job serving our country.

Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, it is very clear now that more women than ever are needed in post-conflict peacebuilding. Can the Minister say how much progress we are making with Diplomatic Service heads of mission in this country? Are efforts being made to attract more young women to enter the service and to crack the glass ceiling in areas such as the FCO? It is said that diplomacy is a man’s world—could she please tell us otherwise?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I am not sure that it would be very diplomatic of me to say one way or the other whether women or men are better at diplomacy so I will sit on the fence on that one. But I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness that we want to encourage more women, both into our Diplomatic Service and across public services. Since 1996, the percentage of women in the senior Civil Service has more than

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doubled, with women now representing more than 40% of those employed at that level—but I agree that we must do more.

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister agree with the comments made this morning by the Employment Minister Priti Patel that women who want to leave the EU are like suffragettes? Does she agree that suffragettes would not have wanted to leave the top table of the EU, where we are involved in making laws on such issues as rights for part-time workers and maternity leave, which have benefited women in the United Kingdom?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I will not speak for the suffragettes—I would not presume to do so—but it is extremely important that women have a voice in all public debates, because often they are the voice of rationality.

Lord Lexden (Con): My Lords, is it not worthy of note that two out of the three devolved Governments in our country are now led by women?

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): The wrong women.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: My noble friend Lord Lexden makes a very good point and I am happy to agree with him.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): My Lords, the first aspect of women becoming involved is surely the ability to vote. But between March 2014 and December last year, 750,000 people dropped off the register. Can the Minister tell us how many of those are women and can she commit the Government to taking all action possible to make sure that women—and men—are back on the register in time to vote in the European referendum in June of this year?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I absolutely agree that we want to encourage as many young people to vote as possible. I am afraid that I do not have the figures that the noble Baroness asked for but I will happily attempt to find them for her. But what is also important is not only that people vote but also to make sure that the organisations that they vote for are representative of the general population, which is why it is great news that we have the most gender-diverse Parliament at the moment. But we need to encourage more women to get involved in public life, particularly at local authority level, where only 31% of local councillors are women.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: The suffragette Hannah Mitchell said that women will continue to be held back so long as they operate with one hand tied behind their back—that is, they have the main responsibility for care in the home. What more will the Government do to encourage men—fathers and others in the home—to do more of the caring and to take up paternity leave, which they are not doing at present?

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: The noble Baroness has hit the nail on the head. We are trying to encourage a more flexible labour market, which is why we are extending flexible working and are looking to extend how families can choose to use maternity and paternity leave. It is for families to decide how they best want to structure how they look after their children. But we need to try to make it as easy as possible for parents to make those decisions so that they can both enjoy looking after and bringing up their children.

Baroness Jenkin of Kennington (Con): My Lords, is my noble friend aware of research released by the Fawcett Society today showing that men are twice as likely as women to say that they are confident enough to stand for public office? For standing as a councillor the figures are 23% as against 10% and for standing for Parliament they are 18% as against 6%. I appreciate that this is mostly a matter for the political parties to address but does my noble friend agree that government has to play a role in encouraging that 6% to come forward?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: Yes, I agree with that. We certainly want to encourage young women to build those confidence skills. We are, for instance, working with Debate Mate in schools to encourage girls to participate in debates at an early age to make sure that they realise their ambitions and, if they want to get involved in public life, that they have the confidence to do so.

Aircraft: Laser Pointers


3 pm

Asked by Lord Dubs

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they propose to take to safeguard aircraft from laser pointers.

Lord Dubs (Lab): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I acknowledge the comments that have been made to me by many noble friends—that it might have been better if all four Questions today had been about International Women’s Day.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con): The Government are urgently drawing together a plan to tackle the issues relating to the noble Lord’s Question to ensure the safety of both consumers and aircraft, including consideration of legislative options. However, people have recently been sentenced to prison terms under existing legislation for the misuse of lasers in connection with aircraft.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what it is about these lasers that makes them a legitimate and legal item to be available for sale? Does she not

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agree that anything so dangerous that it could bring down an aircraft should not be available for sale and capable of entering the hands of either idiots or people with malice—that is, terrorists?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I agree with the noble Lord. There are of course many legitimate uses for laser products in the professional field—for example, in research and construction—and indeed in consumer products, but our primary concern, as I think is the noble Lord’s, is laser pointers, where we agree that the need for powerful lasers is questionable. We will take that into account in looking at legislative options.

Lord Brabazon of Tara (Con): My Lords—

Lord Bradshaw (LD): My Lords—

Lord Naseby (Con): My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, I think that my noble friend Lord Brabazon was first on his feet.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, is not the problem that the lasers to which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred are in fact not for sale legally in this country? They are powerful, but there is nothing wrong with the not-powerful ones. The problem is that they are bought on the internet. Should we not look at a way of making it illegal to buy them?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My noble friend is right: it is illegal to sell unsafe laser pointers to consumers in the UK. Of course, the internet, which brings huge opportunities, also brings problems of control. That is why we have recently been looking across the board at the different aspects—the sale, use and possession—of these dangerous lasers to see whether we need to adjust the legislative framework that we already have in the areas of consumer goods and aircraft.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, as somebody who has worked all his life in all modes of transport and was responsible for safety in many of them, might I ask the Minister to take very seriously not only lasers but drones? We are almost at the point where drones could readily deliver explosives into this building, and it will certainly be possible for them to do so within a year or two. This is not a matter to be discussed at a fairly low level; it is a threat that should be addressed urgently.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I thank the noble Lord and will certainly pass on his comments about drones. Of course, sadly, there is always a risk with these potentially dangerous objects, whether they are drones, guns or lasers, and you need to look carefully at the regime and at whether their sale, possession or use is being regulated in the right way. Most importantly, you need to look at whether the law is being enforced, and we are trying to focus on that as well.

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Lord Stirrup (CB): My Lords, of course technology exists to counter laser dazzle and it has been used by the military for some time. I saw a report that Airbus was examining the use of protective film on its aircraft windscreens last year or perhaps the year before. Can the Minister update the House on where this technology has got to and its applicability to civilian aircraft?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: We are also looking at this technology for exactly the reasons that the noble Lord suggests. The possibility of putting film on aircraft windows and/or using such film for goggles or spectacles is being progressed by a number of operators. We are very interested in that and are looking at it as part of the work we are doing on finding the right regime for these dangerous lasers.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, we support the measures being taken by the Government to look at this very serious issue. However, I am a bit surprised that the discussion so far has been limited to aircraft. Is not the problem one that also affects trains, goods vehicles and private cars, and therefore a wider scope is required? It is only a matter of time, we think, until somebody dies as a result of this.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: The noble Lord is right and, under the general product safety regulations and transport legislation, we of course look at all these areas. Clearly, there have been recent incidents involving aircraft, which have concerned us all, but, equally, this could apply to trains, lorries or even cyclists, I suspect.

Lord Naseby: My Lords—

Baroness O'Cathain (Con): My Lords—

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I think that my noble friend Lord Naseby has given way to my noble friend, who was the chair of the Select Committee that looked into this matter.

Baroness O'Cathain: Thank you. The real problem is that although the Government reacted very positively when the Select Committee made its report on drones and an action plan was created, nothing has happened. While nothing is happening here, we may be sure that everything is happening in those other countries that are manufacturing drones. Will the Minister try to get some oomph into this, otherwise we really will be in a sad situation?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, I always like a challenge and I will certainly take that challenge back. Of course, it is important in these areas to work at an EU and global level because there are now no boundaries and safety has to go beyond the UK.

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Employment Allowance (Increase of Maximum Amount) Regulations 2016

Employment Allowance (Excluded Companies) Regulations 2016

Social Security (Contributions) (Limits and Thresholds Amendments and National Insurance Funds Payments) Regulations 2016

Immigration (Health Charge) (Amendment) Order 2016

Motions to Approve

3.07 pm

Moved by Lord Ashton of Hyde

That the regulations and order laid before the House on 25 January and 4 February be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 2 March.

Motions agreed.

Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill

Second Reading (and remaining stages)

3.07 pm

Bill read a second time. Committee negatived. Standing Order 46 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time and passed.

Housing and Planning Bill

Housing and Planning Bill

Committee (4th Day)

3.09 pm

Relevant document: 20th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Clause 8: Definitions

Amendment 54

Moved by Lord Beecham

54: Clause 8, page 5, line 29, at end insert “, and without unreasonable cost”

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, we begin further deliberation on this important Bill with what your Lordships will be pleased to hear is likely to be a short debate begun with an even shorter speech by me from the Opposition Benches in moving Amendment 54. It deals with Clause 8, which concerns self-build and, effectively, co-operative housing schemes and relates to the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015. Clause 8(4) defines a serviced plot of land on which such schemes will be built as one having,

“access to a public highway and … connections for electricity, water and waste water”,

or where these,

“can be provided … in specified circumstances or within a specified period”.

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The amendment would add to those important conditions “without unreasonable cost”; in other words, permission should not be automatic unless the connections, which are clearly vital to any development, can be provided at a reasonable cost.

I am glad to see that the seventh cavalry, in the form of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, has arrived to support the noble Baroness the Minister at this point. The noble Baroness was—I was going to say “manfully”, but on International Women’s Day that would not be the right adverb—boldly carrying out her responsibilities without much support on the previous occasion. We should recognise that this is a big Bill and a big responsibility, and I am glad that the noble Baroness has her noble friend’s support this time.

Can one or other of the Ministers—I take it that it will be the noble Viscount opposite me—clarify the position on funding? Is the community infrastructure levy available for such schemes, and will it be possible to continue to require contributions under Section 106 agreements, which many of us feel are being undermined by provisions, for example, in relation to starter homes and elsewhere? My own authority—I refer again to my local government interest with Newcastle City Council—only last month submitted its proposals for dealing with these matters as a policy for the local authority. The question arises as to whether these provisions would have to be taken into account if enacted, requiring further changes to the local scheme. I apprehend that there will be other local authorities with schemes already in place or being prepared around this area.

As a further and quite different point, I suggest that access to broadband be added to the requirements. There is a very uneven pattern across the country of accessibility to broadband. Some areas are simply not registering with adequate broadband connections. It would seem to me in this contemporary age almost as much a requirement as any of the others that are defined in subsection (4). Perhaps the Minister could consider this. I do not expect an answer off the cuff today, but perhaps he would take this matter back and see whether the Government would be prepared to accept this suggestion as an addition to the matters already raised.

Finally, the clause allows for regulations—yet again—to add further services; broadband might be one of them. Do the Government have anything in mind in that respect? Are other issues being considered and, if so, whom and when will they consult about any further changes? I suspect that this is not a case in which your Lordships will be desperately worried about secondary legislation coming forward, because it would only add to the provisions dealing with adequate connections and adequate development of sites rather than acting as a constraint on local authorities or other bodies involved in development. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to know whether there is anything in the Government’s collective mind or even the departmental mind on these issues. I beg to move.

3.15 pm

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD): My Lords, I support the amendment and I hope that I will not disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, in making the debate too long. Unlike other sections, this section of the Bill has not yet exercised the Committee.

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I visited Exmoor National Park in the recess as it was taking part in a vanguard project on self-build. As part of that project, the park set up, as indicated by the Government, a self-build register, and there was surprise when 84 people registered. However, on further investigation, most of those people were found not to be in housing need at all and were living outside the park area. For example, one person living in Southampton with £350,000 to spare indicated that they would very much like to build in the park. On further investigation, only 15 of the 84 people were identified as being both local and having a housing need, but so far only one is coming forward for self-build who both works and has a rural connection, and therefore fulfils the local tie.

Exmoor is not an easy place to identify flat sites for development. Builders often complain about the difficulties of the terrain and the inaccessibility for their workforces. Nevertheless, the park authority has identified 250 home sites but accepts that not all will come forward for a variety of reasons. It has set up housing ambassadors in the community who are the first confidential point of contact. They will help identify people with housing need and they expect custom-build to come out of this initiative. Exmoor National Park is aware that self-build in the park area will usually require a larger plot, with a double garage. There are very serious concerns about how self-build will be financed as the local tie tends to put off banks and building societies. Even if there are people prepared and willing to engage in self-build, finance might not be available to them.

However, the real concern on Exmoor is that national parks are planning authorities but not housing authorities. They will have a duty to provide serviced plots of land, as listed in the Bill, but they are very concerned about how they will get money back from the investment in the infrastructure. Nowhere is that made clear. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, adding the words “and without unreasonable cost”, is vital for the deep rural areas that national parks cover. National parks appear caught in an unrealistic position and do not have the resources to underwrite this policy. I suggest that the wording of “without unreasonable cost” ought to be “at no additional cost” and I support Amendment 54.

Lord O'Shaughnessy (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for moving this amendment—not, unfortunately for him, because I support it, but for the opportunity to spend a little time, I hope not too long, considering an underappreciated and potentially very important part of the Bill. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for giving us an example about how it might work in practice.

In previous sittings of the Committee, my noble friend Lord Horam said that what we always need to remember in this debate is that this is a housing crisis caused by lack of supply, and it is through that lens I am thinking of how custom and self-build could contribute to solving that problem. This is an area of great potential. According to the impact assessment, only 8% of English homes—just 5,000 to 8,000 a year—were built under custom or self-build under the current regime compared with about 30% in the US and 50% in some parts of Europe and Scandinavia. At the moment, it is a cottage

8 Mar 2016 : Column 1167

industry, but, as other countries show, it could be a game-changer. It could be the biggest deliverer of housing in the country. Critically, it offers an opportunity for a diversity of design that is much more sympathetic to local surroundings than perhaps is the case with some of the big builders, which produce houses to a template. One of the main reasons that people object to local housing is because it does not fit into the local vernacular.

According to Ipsos MORI, around 1 million people would like to take action to build their own homes. That might be a little optimistic, but it is an indication that there is a real groundswell out there. Indeed, the housing vanguards that the Government have established seem to have been quite popular with an average of 80 people signing up to the registers of land to build on within the first four months of their opening, which I think coheres with what the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, was saying. Some interesting examples are given of what that has meant.

If this is what we want to see happen, we have to will the means as well as the ends. The truth is that the crash has been brutal to SME housebuilders who will ultimately deliver many of these houses. They declined by 49% between 2006 and 2013, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, they find it difficult to access finance because they are undercapitalised. This is a really critical aspect which I think is underappreciated. There is also the factor of planning delay. The FMB 2015 House Builders’ Survey of the Federation of Master Builders showed that 68% of respondents said that planning delay was significantly impacting on their ability to deliver houses. So that is the backdrop against which we are looking at this part of the Bill.

Turning to the amendment, I feel that at best it is not necessary because there are provisions for making sure that serviced plots are made available with the costs recovered by the local authority. That is my reading of it, but it would be useful to have clarification from the Minister. At worst it could become another barrier, and I think we need to be very conscious of building extra barriers into the process when we are trying to liberalise the system. We need to make it easy for local authorities to embrace the idea, and indeed make it easy for potential homeowners to take this opportunity.

My one concern with where we are in the Bill is about the timetable for compliance by local authorities, or rather the lack of it. I would like us at least to consider whether the timetable ought to be on the face of the Bill, but we have been told that it will be set out in secondary legislation. It would be useful to understand what the timetable might look like so that we know that local authorities will be held to account for their performance in delivery. If the timetable is not tough enough, I am sure that it is something noble Lords will want to consider while we are looking at the primary legislation. It would also be interesting to hear about what the Government are doing to provide capital support for SME builders. When we talk about self-build, it is not literally self-build. While there will be a few handy people who can build their own walls, most will commission a local architect and builder, but as we know, there are not enough of them. A variety of

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schemes are available to help the big builders capitalise, but not enough for the smaller ones. What will the Government do in that area?

As I say, the Government are providing the right mechanisms, but we need to will the means for this to happen. There is a right for citizens, which is fantastic, but we need a time-bound obligation to be put on local authorities as well as some financial support or at least underwriting to help the builders. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments.

Lord Taylor of Goss Moor (LD): My Lords, I want to associate myself with the comments just made and those of others who have spoken to this amendment. My own view has long been that in looking at the under-provision of housing in this country, the primary issue is not enough land being made available for the homes we so desperately need. Particularly for large parts of the market, the unaffordability of a home is generated by the cost of land in a market which has been so rationed and under-provided; the cost has escalated out of all proportion. Many people in this country can afford the bricks and mortar of a home because they do not cost that much. It is the price of the land that has made those homes unaffordable.

In other parts of Europe and indeed around the world, self-build or commission-build is more common. There is confusion about these terms: we are not necessarily talking about people putting in the time and labour themselves because they may well commission an architect and a builder to design and build the home of their dreams. If they can get a plot, they can not only get the design that is right for them; such designs often have much higher environmental qualities than would otherwise be delivered. Furthermore, this takes out the profits made by speculative land developers and large housebuilders. Small local housebuilders will be prepared to build at rates of profit that the big firms would not even consider.

As I say, in the rest of the world a much higher proportion of high-quality homes are being brought forward in this way, precisely because land is accessible and available. When my former secretary when I was an MP retired, she and her husband sold an old farmhouse outside St Austell and looked to build a home appropriate to their needs in old age, on a plot anywhere around St Austell. They were unable to get a single plot on which they could build such a home because the housebuilders who owned the plots said, in many cases, that they were not prepared to have them build their own home to the high environmental standards they wanted. Others said, “You can build a home for yourself there, but it has to be our design. It has to look exactly like all of the other houses”. They ultimately ended up building a home of their own in France. The big difference was that land was in ready supply.

What the Government are seeking to do is right. My view—the Government are well aware of this—is that, to do it on the scale we need at land prices that will be affordable for many people, we need to enable people to have serviced plots in fantastically well-designed new settlements, where the value of the land has been captured in making a great place, rather than taken by the landowner for their place in Bermuda—or, if it is on a large scale, their helicopter and island near Bermuda.

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The amendment touches on an important issue, and the Government are right to go down the route of making it easier for self-build and commission build to take place. To do that, we need serviced plots. It is right that this should be part of the obligations on local authorities to bring land forward. But that will not by itself answer the question of affordability for the many people who will want to do this if we cannot find ways to make land available at a price that will allow those who may have only modest means, but can afford the bricks and mortar of a home, to get a plot on which they can afford to build.

Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con): My Lords, we have debated with some intensity in Committee so far the need to build more homes, covering a range of tenures. There can be no doubt about the Government’s commitment. Promoting and supporting self-build and custom housebuilding is important in delivering that commitment. Doubling the amount of self-build and custom housebuilding by 2020 will not only result in more homes, but provide much-needed business for the smaller householder and housebuilder. More custom build housing will help drive innovation in alternative building techniques, and support and create new jobs.

We have made a positive start. The Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015, which was guided through this House by the noble Lord, Lord Best, will come into force on 1 April this year, when local planning authorities must hold a local register of people seeking land for self-build and custom housebuilding, and have regard to that register when carrying out their housing, planning, land disposal and regeneration functions. This Bill is the next step: its self-build and custom housebuilding provisions will provide a much-needed definition, establishing that the essential criteria of all self-build and custom housebuilding is that the individuals have a significant input into and choice over their finished home, and intend to live in it as their main or sole property.

I know that one of the most significant barriers preventing more people building or commissioning their own home is access to land. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, pointed out, this is very much an issue. We appreciate his general support for this part of the Bill. These provisions will place a new duty on local authorities, requiring them to give development permission—suitable for self-build and custom housebuilding—for enough serviced plots of land to match the demand on their register. But I recognise that there may be some areas where the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding will far outstrip the available land supply. So, to ensure that we continue to protect the environment and build only sustainable developments, we must be able to exempt relevant authorities that are simply unable to permission sufficient land to meet demand for self-build and custom housebuilding.

As a result, Clause 10 will insert a new section into the Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015, which will enable relevant authorities to apply to the Secretary of State for an exemption from the duty to permission sufficient land to match demand for self-build and custom housebuilding in their areas. The detail of the exemption will be set out in regulation.

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3.30 pm

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Beecham, for the opportunity to discuss the financial implications of the self-build and custom housebuilding policy. I agree with them that it is important that local authorities are protected from disproportionate or unreasonable burdens. The reason the Bill requires local authorities to permission suitable serviced land is that people wanting to build or commission their own home usually want to be able to start building as soon as they have purchased their plot of land. It is therefore important that the plot of land they buy is ready, or can quickly be made ready, for development.

The price paid for the land by the prospective self-builder or custom builder will, of course, reflect the actual cost of servicing that land. Hence, the landowner should be able to recoup what they have spent servicing the land at the point of sale. Land where the cost to put in basic services would be greater than its final market value would not be considered as suitable land and the local authority should seek alternative sites to permission in order to comply with their duty. A local authority should never feel that it has to permission land with very high service costs simply because there are insufficient areas more suitable for development. I draw attention to Clause 10, whereby we intend to create an exemption system for areas with a high demand for self-build and custom housebuilding and very limited land for development.

The Bill does not require the local authority itself to service the land. In many cases, including where it is the authority’s own land, we would expect the authority to work with a developer to put in the services, with the cost reflected in the sale price of the land. I hope that this will reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. I know that my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy recognised this in his short intervention. Our £150 million serviced plots loan fund is available to builders, contractors, developers, registered providers, community land trusts and community organisations. Local authorities can also bid for funding, provided that they partner with a third party which can comply with the eligibility criteria. I strongly encourage local authorities to work proactively with such organisations in their areas in order to take advantage of this loan.

We believe that the amendment is unnecessary because the Government are providing local authorities with money to cover any new burdens in order to ensure that they can comply with the new duty. We are also enabling authorities to charge those on the register a fee which will cover the genuine costs incurred by the authority. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked whether the Section 106 agreements will apply. I can confirm that they will, as long as they do not undermine the viability of the scheme. He also asked about a potential exemption relating to community infrastructure. I can confirm that that is the case.

I was struck by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the example she gave of Exmoor. I have some sympathy; it is very much for the local areas to look at such an area of great beauty and work our between them which sites would be suitable, or unsuitable, for development on that basis. She also raised concerns about how self-build is financed.

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My noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy raised the issue of the timetable. Until the registers are in place and we can really understand the level of demand, it is hard to predict the impact of this legislation on the ground. We therefore need to wait until the registers are in place and as such, it is entirely appropriate that the detail is in the secondary legislation, so that it can be changed if necessary. Much of that regulation, including on fees and the time given to authorities, will be debated in both Houses so there will be further opportunities for input.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, raised the interesting and important question of whether servicing will include broadband. The Secretary of State has a regulation-making power to amend the definition of a “serviced plot of land” to add other services. At the moment, he has restricted the definition to electricity, water, waste water and highways, because we do not want to be prohibitively burdensome. The aim, after all, is to encourage more plots of land to be found. However, if broadband ought to be added in the future, we can certainly return to that issue. I believe I have covered the questions that were asked and I therefore ask noble Lords to withdraw their amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): Will the noble Viscount say a little more about the point on planning delay made by the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy? He has made that point a number of times in the Chamber. I am a member of a local authority and I do not necessarily agree with him but it is important to clarify the issue. As this is my first intervention today, I declare that I am a local councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham, a trustee—this is particularly relevant to what we are discussing—of the United St Saviour’s Charity, which runs a number of supported housing schemes in south London, and a member of the Co-operative Party.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, makes a good point. I stress that powers to speed up planning are included later in the Bill. My noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy made a good point. It is very important that we speed up planning.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: On that point, I am a member of a planning committee. Most of the planning matters go through under delegated powers; very little comes through committees now. I do not see this delay.

Lord O'Shaughnessy: I knew that I would run into trouble when I mentioned planning and local authorities, given how many noble Lords represent, or have represented, local authorities. Page 21 of the impact assessment states:

“In June 2015, 68% of respondents in the quarterly survey of homebuilders, conducted by the Home Builders Federation—

which, obviously, may have a dog in the fight—

“considered planning delays a major constraint”.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I thank the noble Lord for that. I can see that we are not going to agree on this because I just do not see the delays that he referred to. This is an issue for regional planning committees and planning departments. Certainly, in Lewisham many plots of land have multiple planning permissions but they are not being built on. That is the problem.

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Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, to complete this short debate, I repeat that the issue of planning will come up later on in the Bill. But I make the point that compulsory purchase orders can slow up planning. This is one of the issues that we are looking at in order to speed up the planning process.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. I am glad that the noble Viscount is connected with broadband up to a point. But perhaps he will go a little further and be more proactive than reactive and initiate discussions with the sector about whether this would be a useful addition rather than wait for somebody to pop up with the idea in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, referred to capacity in planning departments and my noble friend made some response to that. It is the case that there are several hundred thousand outstanding planning permissions up and down the country, where builders have done nothing and are presumably sitting on rising land prices and what they hope will be the rising price of constructed buildings. But, in addition, local authorities with housing planning responsibilities face very large cuts in their budgets. It will be difficult to sustain the planning function—or, indeed, any other function—to the extent which is desirable. That has to be a real concern.

The Government need to bear in mind the possibly self-serving response of the builders, which has been referred to, and lean on their political friends—not normally to be found on this side of the House—to ensure that authorities have the wherewithal to meet these new responsibilities. There is such a thing as the New Burdens Doctrine. We are getting the burdens but not the outcome of the doctrine, which is that these additional responsibilities should be funded.

I will end on a slightly different note, which is more of a question. Again, I do not anticipate an answer. During the discussion and the emphasis on the value of self-build and community schemes of this kind, which I entirely endorse, it struck me that there is the possibility here of involving those bodies—further education colleges and the like—which train people in construction industry skills to enable them to get involved in these projects. This may be useful in terms of the cost of a project and in training much-needed skilled workers to carry out not only this kind of work but others as well. Perhaps the Minister would ask his officials to look at this—not immediately, as it is not a crucial issue at the moment—to see whether the industry and training bodies such as FE colleges and others could be persuaded to look at this small area. This might help get both the buildings on the ground and the skills in the industry.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I agree with the important points raised by the noble Lord about skills and I will certainly take them back to the department. There are other, broader issues of developing skills such as architecture. The noble Lord has made some very good points.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, that being the case I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment 54 withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed.

Clauses 9 to 11 agreed.

Amendment 54A

Moved by Baroness Parminter

54A: After Clause 11, insert the following new Clause—

“Carbon compliance standard for new homes

(1) The Secretary of State must within six months of the passing of this Act make regulations under section 1(1) of the Building Act 1984 (power to make building regulations) for the purpose of ensuring that all new homes in England built from 1 January 2018 achieve the carbon compliance standard.

(2) For the purpose of subsection (1), “carbon compliance standard” means an improvement on the target carbon dioxide emission rate, as set out in the Building Regulations 2006, of—

(a) 60% in the case of detached houses;

(b) 56% in the case of attached houses; and

(c) 44% in the case of flats.”

Baroness Parminter (LD): My Lords, the Government’s attempt to solve the current housing crisis needs, at the same time, to address the issue of what types of homes are built. They should be of high quality and high energy efficiency standards which drive down future energy bills, help to protect against fuel poverty and provide healthy living environments. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill make it clear that its principal aim is to bring forward proposals that make homes more affordable. This laudable aim was dealt a serious blow by the scrapping of the zero-carbon homes policy by the Chancellor last July. Without this standard, which until last July had cross-party and cross-industry support, the new homes promised by the Government will not be as affordable as they might be. They will lock their owners into a cycle of higher fuel bills and the need for costly retrofits. The amendment requires that all new homes built in England from 1 January 2018 achieve the previously agreed zero-carbon homes standard.

Reinstating this housing standard will not only help keep homes affordable for the long term, it will help meet our legally binding climate commitments. We are committed to reducing UK emissions by 50% by 2025. Buildings accounted for 34% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2014, with 64% of building emissions coming from homes. It is in the building sector that most of the cost-effective potential carbon savings are to be found. Housebuilding must, of course, remain financially viable for the private sector, which will deliver the bulk of future housing. Yet the scrapping of zero-carbon homes by the Chancellor was not accompanied by any evidence that building homes to that standard would affect the speed at which the UK can build new homes. Indeed, evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment showed that the removal of the zero-carbon homes requirement has generated uncertainty for homebuilders. Moreover, they were provided with no clear evidence that the removal would lead to an increase in housebuilding. This evidence persuaded the committee—and I declare an interest as a member—to

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call on the Government to reverse the decision to remove the requirement for new homes to generate no net carbon emissions.

Reinstating the zero-carbon standard would help deliver affordable homes for the long term, and not burden occupants with needlessly high energy bills. This would also make the UK’s statutory greenhouse gas emission targets more achievable. Post-Paris, it is surely time for leadership and not backsliding. I beg to move.

Lord Krebs (CB): My Lords, I support the amendment. I put my name to it because I believe that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, we have an opportunity to ensure that the proposed 1 million new homes are not just suitable for their immediate occupants but for the long term. I declare an interest as a member of the Committee on Climate Change and the chair of its adaptation sub-committee. The committee, established under the Climate Change Act 2008, is the statutory body that provides advice to the Government on how to achieve the legally binding target, already referred to, of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The adaptation sub-committee advises the Government on how to prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change.

3.45 pm

I thank the Minister for the meeting we had on 3 February and the associated exchange of letters. In my capacity as chair of the adaptation sub-committee, I wrote to the Minister on 21 December to set out my concerns. I said in my letter:

“Housing built now will exist for many decades, if not a century or more. Choices on where to build, how homes are insulated, are heated in winter and kept cool in summer will have lasting consequences and will be difficult and costly to change. There is an opportunity through this Bill to make sure that the aspiration to build an extra one million homes by 2020 does not come at the expense of burdening their occupants with long-term costs and climate impacts, whilst also rendering the UK’s statutory greenhouse gas emissions targets more difficult to achieve. We have to be confident that the new homes will be as energy and carbon efficient as possible, whilst also resilient to the impacts of climate change”.

I went on to say, specifically about heating and energy efficiency, the purpose of this amendment:

“In ending the programme of work and policies associated with Zero Carbon Homes the Government threw away many cost-effective aspects that had widespread industry support. The EU Energy Performance Directive from 2021 will introduce a ‘nearly zero energy’ requirement. The Bill should build”—

excuse the pun—

“towards this by requiring new homes to go beyond the current Part L requirements”.

As an aside, Part L requirements are the part of building regulations that deal with conservation of fuel and power, dating to 2006. I went on to say:

“At the same time, the new housing should begin to achieve the widespread adoption of low carbon heating that is needed. The uptake of low carbon heat should be consistent with what is needed to meet the fourth carbon budget”,

which has been legislated and is now binding on the Government.

The matter is really very simple. Why build homes now that will not be fit for purpose in a few years’ time? To me, it is a no-brainer—we should be thinking

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of the future. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, it is not as though the industry objected to the concept of zero-carbon homes; in fact, there was widespread support. When the initiative was abolished, Kate Henderson, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, said:

“The cancellation of the policy marks the end of any benchmark for building the high quality, sustainable homes that we so desperately need”.

Paul King, managing director of sustainability, communications and marketing for the developer Lendlease Europe, said:

“Industry needs as much policy clarity and consistency as possible in order to invest and innovate, and after almost 10 years of commitment and progress, UK house builders and developers have come a very long way. It is therefore extremely disappointing that the Government has today removed a World-leading ambition for all new homes to be zero carbon from 2016”.

So we have support for this; it is a no-brainer to prepare these homes for the future. Why should we not do it? Is it cost effective to build to a higher energy standard? My understanding is that under most likely scenarios, the extra building costs will be in the order of a few thousand—1% or 2% of the total cost of a new home. We heard much in earlier debates on the Bill about the affordability of housing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has said, affordability is not just about the cost of purchasing the house but also of maintaining it, heating it and of retrofit if, in a few years’ time, we decide that standards have to be increased.

The Minister’s reply of 25 February to my letter and our meeting was somewhat less than clear. I hope that some clarification will be shed on it at the end of this debate. I quote what I think she said on energy efficiency as follows:

“During the last Parliament the standards were raised by 30%—most recent uplift only coming into effect in April 2014. This has been a big ask of the industry, which is why we are not taking forward a further uplift this year. We have also said that we will keep energy requirements under review”.

But I think there has been enough review. We do not need to keep it under review; we need to act now through the Bill to bring about the necessary change.

I hope that the Minister will not only clarify the contents of the letter but will reconsider the Government’s position and accept the principle of this amendment. To summarise, there are three reasons for that. First, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, in order to meet our legally binding greenhouse gas emissions target, we will need to reduce the one-third of our emissions that come from buildings, two-thirds of those from homes. We have many old and poorly insulated homes that are proving hard to retrofit, so building new homes that are not of the highest possible energy efficiency, including the use of low-carbon heating, will simply make it more difficult to meet the 2050 target. If the Government are not prepared to add this amendment to the Bill, they should explain where else the savings are going to come from in meeting our 2050 target.

The second point is that the new homes will be cheaper to run if they are built to the highest energy-efficiency standard, reducing the risk of fuel poverty,

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as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said. One estimate I have seen is that a zero-carbon three-bedroom semi would have an annual energy bill of £1,220 less than the equivalent Victorian house. So it would be a very short time indeed until the extra costs of purchase had been paid back through energy savings. Thirdly and finally, if we do not adopt the highest standards now, we will inevitably have to retrofit the houses in coming decades, which will be both costly and inconvenient.

If we do not adopt this amendment, I predict that home owners and policymakers alike will look back in 20 years’ time and say, “Why didn’t they just do it? What were they thinking of?”.

Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab): My Lords, I am very pleased to join the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in adding my name to this amendment. I declare an interest as a member of the Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment and, many years ago, as a founder member, with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, of the adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change.

It is rather bizarre. At a time when we are talking about building 1 million new houses by 2020, of which 200,000 will be starter homes and even, allegedly, some will be affordable homes, and we are planning to build at a faster rate than previously and for households that are likely to have lower incomes, George Osborne’s cancellation of the zero-carbon policy, which had wide cross-party and industry support, represents a major missed opportunity. It is a missed opportunity to ensure that new homes make their contribution, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, to achieving our climate change targets and to ensuring that homes are affordable on an ongoing basis, with reduced fuel bills and protection against fuel poverty.

The zero-carbon homes standard is important for climate change targets: 22% of our total CO2 emissions come from energy use in homes. It is very practicable. It was agreed originally by a cross-industry task group, based on a balance between costs and benefits. It is becoming an increasingly cost-effective proposition because the supply chain has evolved and the design and construction industry has got the hang of it. The additional costs of a zero-carbon home have halved since 2011 and could well be less than £3,500 per home by 2020. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, this is small-scale compared with the potential annual savings, which the National House-Building Council and the Zero Carbon Hub calculated would be about £1,200 less for a three-bedroom zero-carbon home than an equivalent three-bedroom Victorian semi.

This is also an amazing volte-face in government policy. In 2013 the Prime Minister launched DECC’s energy-efficiency mission with the following ringing endorsement. I will quote it in full because it was rather splendid. Mr Cameron said:

“I want to tell you why I believe energy efficiency is so important. Yes of course it is a vital part of how we cut carbon emissions and continue to meet the ambitious targets set out in the Climate Change Act … Of course that is important, but my argument today is not just about doing what is right for our planet, but doing what is right for our economy too. Because make

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no mistake we are in a global race and the countries that succeed in that race, the economies in Europe that will prosper, are those that are the greenest and the most energy efficient”.

He said he wanted the Minister,

“to bring together everything we are doing in one coherent strategy to make Britain the most energy efficient country in Europe”.

However, not very long after that, George Osborne unilaterally removed the zero-carbon buildings provision, despite his Prime Minister’s aspiration, causing a major backlash against the change among industry leaders. In an open letter to the Chancellor, senior leaders from 246 organisations, including the major housebuilders, developers, product manufacturers and energy firms, warned that the policy U-turn had,

“undermined industry confidence in Government”,

and would,

“curtail investment in British innovation and manufacturing”.

We have a real problem here, and this amendment is a splendid opportunity for the Government to graciously backtrack on a wrongheaded decision by the Chancellor. I recognise it is quite difficult, because the Chancellor at the same time pretty well trashed the feed-in tariff, which provided the economic basis for the zero-carbon homes policy, but this nevertheless has to be remedied if we are going to see through this massive push to get 1 million homes built by 2020. They must be affordable, they must make a contribution to tackling climate change and—beyond those two, since noble Lords have already stressed those points—they must support innovation by British business.

Lord Foster of Bath (LD): My Lords, in supporting my noble friend Lady Parminter’s amendment, I echo the words of both the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The noble Baroness was absolutely right to say that the move towards zero-carbon homes had cross-party support; importantly, it also had cross-industry support.

It is interesting to reflect that the policy was first introduced by Gordon Brown in 2006. When he announced the policy, he said that it would mean that this country would be the first in the world to introduce such a commitment, which would help us to meet in turn our commitments in relation to tackling the real and growing problems of climate change. He understood the policy at that time as meaning that all new houses built from this year, 2016, would generate as much energy on site through renewable energy—wind, solar and so on—as they would use for heating, lighting, ventilation, hot water, cooking and so on.

Over time, as people considered the policy, it was recognised that there would be some occasions when trying to build an individual zero-carbon housing unit would prove very expensive indeed; hence the idea of introducing a mechanism that would allow developers to have an off-setting mechanism—so-called allowable solutions—whereby, if they could not get a particular home completely zero-carbon, they could provide funding or carry out work that would off-set the amount of carbon by other means. For example, that could be through building a combined heat and power unit for a group of housing units, putting solar panels on some existing housing or—although, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, this can sometimes be very expensive—retrofitting energy efficiency measures to some existing homes.

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The policy was developed with all-party support. It was certainly true that when I took over from my noble friend Lord Stunell as the Minister in DCLG, he had been battling to persuade his Conservative colleagues in the department at that time to keep going with the policy. I certainly had some difficulty in doing that, but to be fair, under pressure, they were prepared to stick with it. It even appeared, very clearly, in the Chancellor’s Budget of 2013. I was able to go ahead and strengthen Part L of the building regulations, which as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, pointed out, increases the energy efficiency requirement on buildings. It was good to hear then that there was support across the industry for the increase being demanded in energy standards for new homes that were being built. John Alker, one of the industry’s spokesmen, said,

“it’s a victory for all those who know that industry can continue to innovate, to improve standards and reduce carbon cost-effectively … it is encouraging to see government remains committed”,

to it.

4 pm

While I was Minister, I was also concerned about an issue that has not yet been mentioned. Buildings are sometimes built to particular energy efficiency standards, but after they are built and measurements take place, we discover that they do not live up to those standards; there is a gap. The Government were able to fund research through an organisation called the Zero Carbon Hub to try to identify the cause of that gap. As an aside, following the earlier debate on self-build, it is interesting that self-build provides not only an opportunity to give jobs to small builders but often the development of off-site construction techniques that appear able to bring together the actuality with energy efficiency standards. When the Minister replies, I should be interested to hear where we are with the work from Zero Carbon Hub on that issue.

There was growing concern among some Conservatives within the coalition Government that continuing with the policy of zero-carbon homes would be expensive, that builders would become dissatisfied with it and that we would reduce the number of homes being built. I was able to convene a round table of all the major builders and ask them what they thought of it. All the major housebuilders, developers and others involved in the industry wrote to the Government saying that they were fully behind the zero-carbon homes policy. They wanted it because they believed it was right, it did not add significantly to the costs of building and it meant that they could make their contribution to tackling the problem of climate change. They are all incredibly disappointed—as am I and Stephen Williams, who eventually succeeded me in the department—that the Government decided last July to renege on the cross-party commitment by different Governments since 2006. I therefore hope that noble Lords will recognise that in my noble friend Lady Parminter’s amendment, we have the opportunity to reverse a catastrophic decision and to give housebuilders the opportunity to contribute to dealing with climate change and reducing energy consumption in this country.

Baroness Whitaker (Lab): My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. When the Select Committee, of which I was also a member, recommended measures to reduce

8 Mar 2016 : Column 1179

carbon emissions, it recognised, on copious evidence, not only that mitigating climate change was of overwhelming importance but that there was a need for clarity, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, as a means to achieving that objective, which also enables much cheaper energy. As I see it, clarity is exactly what the amendment provides.

Briefly, it looks as though the Government have lacked leadership to drop those requirements. If it was decided under the influence of the Treasury, surely that was a culpable abdication of a rational, long-term view of our national interest. I hope that the Minister will take the amendment very seriously.

Baroness Maddock (LD): My Lords, during the previous Parliament, we discussed this policy in some detail in other Bills. The Minister will have heard that everything was in place to make it happen. The Government owe it to the Committee to tell us what big thing happened to cause this reverse in policy. We have heard that everything was in place, so we are owed an explanation on that.

Secondly, this morning I hosted a breakfast for the National Home Improvement Council. We were discussing energy efficiency, and one of the big criticisms was about why Governments cannot give some consistency to policy. When we set up the Committee on Climate Change and passed the Climate Change Act, I thought we would have consistency of policy because all parties agreed on it. I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that, since last year, so many of the things that we thought we all agreed on have been reversed. The Government owe it to us to explain why. What are the big factors that have changed their mind?

Lord Cameron of Dillington (CB): My Lords, I had not really intended to intervene in this debate because better, more knowledgeable people than me have spoken. However, I add my voice in support. I have built houses in Scotland and England in the past 10 to 12 years and therefore put in a very low-carbon spec. No consumer of any intelligence would build a house without a low-carbon spec because the annual savings in heating that you get give you a nearly 50% return on your money, but unless builders and developers are obliged to give the consumer what they really want, it is unlikely to happen in all cases.

It is interesting that this debate should follow the one on self-build because I cannot believe that anyone who is building their own house would ever dream of not putting in a very good low-carbon spec. The Government should ensure that consumers—also known as voters—get what they want.

Lord Stunell (LD): My Lords, I support the amendment. I do so as somebody who in the other place proposed the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act, which was the foundation for the changes to Part L which were introduced in 2006, and also as the Minister who preceded my noble friend Lord Foster in the department in 2010.

I am disappointed to find that the arguments that were going on between the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Treasury at that time appear still to be burning. Those arguments were

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repeatedly put and repeatedly refuted, yet this time the Treasury has come out on top. This amendment provides an opportunity to revisit that, and I hope that the Minister will take away the spirit of this debate as well as the substance of the amendment. The problem is that there is a completely false tension between quantity and quality in housing. There seems to be a very firm grip in the Treasury on the concept that, if it is cheaper to build, more homes will be built and, as good building costs more than bad building, it is obvious that you have bad building rather than good building in order to get more building.

The Minister gave us some figures on Thursday which she described as the,

“implied first-time price of new build”.—[

Official Report

, 3/3/16; col. 1014]

She went on to distinguish that from “demand price”. I am not quite sure what the difference is, and I am not quite sure what the first-time price of new build is, but for the south-east of England she gave an implied price of £352,000 for a property which would be affordable and within the scope of the starter homes project. That is an interesting figure because it highlights the fact that something approaching £250,000 of that price is nothing to do with the construction of the house, which will be about £100,000, and everything to do with the land price, which is actually what drives house prices universally. The construction cost is a minor part of the house price cost that the retail purchaser has to pay. It does not set the retail price, let alone whatever the demand figures are, which I strongly suspect would be higher sums of money than the Minister gave us last Thursday. The costs of complying with this amendment per house are trivial in relation to the construction costs, let alone the total retail price at which a house will be put on the market.

I will be interested to hear what the Minister’s brief tells her is the right figure for the extra cost of zero-carbon homes. I would be astonished if it did not have such a figure in it; mine always did. If there is one thing that history tells us, it is that that estimate will be too high. I say that because back in 2010, when the original improvements were made—I say “original”; perhaps I just mean original to me—and that 30% rise in building standards that took place in that five years was initiated, the UK Green Building Council, which has already been referred to, estimated that a typical cost addition would be £5,000 per home. The Treasury disbelieved those figures and believed that it would be an additional £10,000 per home, and it was those figures that were hotly debated between the departments and which formed the basis of impact assessments and so on at the time.

Actually, the cost per home has turned out to be £3,000 lower than the Green Building Council assumed and only one-third of the cost that the Treasury assumed. A £3,000 price differential in building a house is absolutely lost in the noise of housebuilding, purchasing and disposal. The cost is marginal, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, rightly said—something around 1% of that south-east London house going on the market, at a time when house prices in the south-east are rising by something like 6% a year. Indeed, if they were not, there would be some kind of political backlash because people would fear that their houses were losing value.

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So the barrier to more private sector building is not construction costs. Rather, it is the knowledge that, if a home is completed next year rather than this, the seller will be 6% better off because of the rising price of land and of sales. The very last thing that a developer wants to do is to produce so many houses that the price falls next year; indeed, you can see with some building in the centre of London that that is exactly what is happening. So the quality versus quantity argument, which is the only slightly tenable point of view in this U-turn, is not actually credible or realistic.

On the other side, there is the reputational risk to the Government. “The greenest Government ever—not!” is the message that seems to be coming through, and that is a really sad outcome, both for the present Government and for the country. There is an environmental risk because so much CO2 comes from our housing stock. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, eloquently put it, if we put up another 1 million homes alongside the 22 million that we have at the moment, and deliberately make them of lower quality than we could, then that affects not just the environment but our international reputation regarding, for instance, last year’s Paris agreement.

There are economic and social risks as well. Poor energy efficiency means higher costs to those poorer householders who are going to be moving into the starter homes that the Government want to see built. People whose income is so stretched that without the starter home they would not be able to get into the market are going to be saddled with an extra £1,200 a year of running costs simply because of this U-turn. It occurs to me that this sort of process usually takes longer than Ministers hope, and that those starter homes will start to come on to the market in a significant way in about 24 months’ time, which is of course pretty much the time when interest rates will no doubt also be rising, so their mortgages and fuel prices will go up but their energy efficiency will be deliberately lower than it needs to be.

I ask the Minister to have a rethink, to go back and yet again have a good push back at the Treasury, and to ensure that by Report we have a rather better picture of what the Government intend to do to be the greenest Government ever.

4.15 pm

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate at all until I heard what I can only describe as the brilliant exposition by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, of the economics of housebuilding. He showed quite clearly that the cost of land is the critical factor in all this, and the additional cost of building in environmental protection issues, such as solar energy or whatever, is marginal. The only reason why I rise is to draw to the attention of the Committee the series of amendments which will come up later—Amendment 89L and a number of attached amendments—which deal with the cost of land. At the heart of the Bill is the failure to deal with the cost of land. If we could deal with the cost of land in the United Kingdom and bring it down to the prices charged for land abroad, we would not even need the Bill or any of the incentives in it. The whole Bill is predicated on the need to compensate for the benefit

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that landowners make out of selling land at huge profits, which the rest of the country has to bear when they buy their houses.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, Amendment 54A, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has our full support. As noble Lords have heard, the amendment seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State makes regulations that will require that all new homes built after 1 January 2018 achieve the compliance standards as set out in the amendment. This is achieved by using an energy-efficient approach to building design and reducing the CO2 emissions on-site through low and zero-carbon technologies. As noble Lords have heard, Britain has been a world leader in taking measures to reduce carbon emissions. With that in mind, it is disappointing that we have to have this debate at all. The amendment is achievable and realistic and pushes us further forward as we seek to reduce the energy demands of new homes. I very much agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, when she expressed her regret that the Government have removed the zero-carbon target for new homes.

I do not often agree with what the Prime Minister said, but I also agree very much with the quote from him that my noble friend Lady Young read out. However, it puts the Prime Minister at odds with his Chancellor, who removed it a few days later. It will be very interesting to hear the response to that from the government Benches. The amendment will of course help to support innovation in construction by requiring high standards and will help future-proof homes, reducing the need for retrofit later, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said in his contribution. In particular, I will be interested to hear the response from the Minister to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, about the whole issue of agreements that are made and then reneged on. I will also be interested to hear the Government’s response to the very challenging points made by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, made, in his excellent speech.

The amendment would allow the housebuilding and supply industries, related trade associations, consumer representatives and bodies with a specific interest in environmental objectives to play their full role in being properly consulted in what is achievable and what is the way forward. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who posed the question, “Why build homes today if they are not fit for purpose tomorrow?”. I will listen with interest to the Minister’s response and I may have a few further questions depending on the Government’s position.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, first, I applaud the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for braving the Chamber today with what sounded like a few unwanted gremlins in her voice. I heard her loud and clear. I thank her for giving us the opportunity today to debate her proposed new clause, which seeks to put into primary legislation a carbon compliance standard for new homes from January 2018. The proposed carbon compliance levels are well intentioned—we all share the desire to see energy-efficient homes built that help to reduce carbon emissions and fuel bills—but the new clause is a step too far at this time. I listened very carefully to all the comments and, as the noble

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Baroness, Lady Maddock, pointed out, this issue has certainly been much debated in this Chamber in recent months.

Over the last Parliament, we implemented significant strengthening of the energy performance standards for new homes—a 30% improvement on requirements before 2010. These standards are reducing energy bills by £200 annually on average for a new home and saving carbon. At this stage, we need to give the homebuilding industry breathing space to build the highly energy-efficient homes already required by the recent changes to building regulations, and I will say more about that in a moment.

Lord Foster of Bath: My Lords—

Viscount Younger of Leckie: Perhaps I may make some progress. We all recognise the need to build more homes, and they should be sustainable, but we do not need to make building them more difficult than necessary. We need to consider whether it is realistic for the majority of builders to deliver even higher standards without unduly affecting site viability or housing delivery.

In the productivity plan, Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation, published last summer, we committed to keeping the energy standards under review, and we will ensure that any changes that may be introduced are cost effective. This includes looking at not just new buildings but across the whole of the existing building stock, where carbon emissions tend to be higher and energy efficiency is poorer than for new homes.

In raising or lowering the energy requirements for new homes, it is always necessary to consult carefully with industry. We should not forget that we are talking about a technical area which impacts across the construction sector. It would therefore not be workable to deliver the proposed standard within six months. Even if it were, it is not prudent to have such a rigid framework for delivery in the Bill, or to set requirements such as this in primary legislation. If, in the light of consultation, any slight adjustments to requirements were needed, we would not be able to make them without further primary legislation.

I understand the intention of the new clause proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, but it would create a significant regulatory burden on housebuilders at a time when we need to increase housing supply and access to home ownership. We are giving the industry breathing space to ensure that it catches up with the already highly energy-efficient new standards that came into force only in 2014.

I would like to say more in attempting to address many of the questions that were raised, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. Some builders, big and small, already go beyond the current minimum standards. New homes built to the performance requirements introduced by building regulations in 2014 are highly energy efficient. They need to have high levels of insulation, double-glazed windows with low-energy glass, and A-rated, high-efficiency condensing boilers.

Perhaps the nub of this debate is the difference the amendment would make to new homes. I understand the strength of feeling on the Liberal Democrat Benches

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in particular, but the current regulations have already pushed the fabric energy performance of homes to the point where further increases may result in only marginal returns in energy efficiency. Therefore, to meet the proposed levels of carbon compliance, homebuilders would need to consider further technical solutions for providing heat and power to the home—for example, photovoltaic panels, solar hot-water systems, and air and ground-source heat pumps. These would add considerably to construction costs for homebuilders. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell—

Lord Beecham: Can the noble Lord comment on that question? The noble Lord who spoke before indicated that the cost would be around £3,000. Does the Minister have a figure to counter that suggestion?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: Yes, I was just coming to that point. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, raised the issue of costs. Research by the Zero Carbon Hub indicates that, for an average semi-detached home, the lowest cost of meeting the proposed standard would add almost that sum of £3,000 to the construction costs. Originally we thought it would be £10,000—indeed, I think that figure was mentioned by somebody in this debate.

The new clause proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, would increase the bill cost for all housebuilders, irrespective of their size. With regard to small builders, the availability of small sites is declining and extra regulatory costs would impact on the viability of these developments, leading to even fewer small sites.

Lord Stunell: Will the Minister reaffirm that his brief tells him that the additional cost would be £3,000 per dwelling of the type he just described? If so, I am absolutely delighted to see that that reflects reality rather more closely than some of the Treasury’s figures.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: That is the figure I have mentioned and I am very happy to reaffirm that. However, in the same breath I would also say that it is deemed to be a step too far in adding costs to housebuilders, particularly given that the focus is on the smaller housebuilders who need the breathing space to build such houses.

Lord Krebs: Can the Minister confirm that his brief contains a full cost-benefit analysis of these additional measures and, if so, over what time period the analysis applies?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: This is definitely getting into a technical area, and I am happy to write to the noble Lord with the details of the research to establish the figures we have come up with.

Lord Beecham: May I ask a non-technical question—I am about as technical as the Minister—if £3,000 is an excessive amount, what would be an acceptable amount?

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Viscount Younger of Leckie: I reiterate the figure that we have. I am very happy to write to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to give the specific technical details as to how we reached that figure. But that figure is the figure we have.

Lord Beecham: It is not about how the Government reached that figure but what, in their eyes, would be an acceptable increase in cost to provide the result the amendment seeks to achieve. If £3,000 is too much, what would be acceptable?

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I wonder whether the Minister might clear up a confusion that is arising in my mind. It strikes me that we are not talking about a cost that falls upon the builders of these homes, because it will be reflected in their price. The point we are making is that, if an additional cost of £3,500 would genuinely be passed on to the purchaser of the home, within a period of less than three years they would have recouped that amount and be in profit thereafter, for however long they stayed in that home. It is not about an undue burden on the builders, but about trying to remove an undue burden on the purchasers and residents of those homes in perpetuity.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: It does depend on where in the country we are talking about. Prices, as we know, can go up or down. However, with the same theme in mind, I would like to address a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and the evidence he produced. We have strong evidence from the Federation of Master Builders, which represents small builders—a broad and very important sector in terms of building the houses we need to build. The federation welcomed the decision last July not to proceed with zero-carbon homes, saying that it will boost the supply of housing via this very sector—small and medium-sized housebuilders. I will quote its press release, because it is relevant to this debate. It said that the policy would have “held back” small builders’ ability to build more new homes and that,

“over recent years it has been these smaller firms which have been hit disproportionately hard by the rapid pace of change”.

Hence our view that the breathing space is there; it is not that it will never happen. I reiterate the point I made at the beginning of debate: we are reviewing this and we want to have carbon-neutral homes.

Lord Foster of Bath: I am very grateful to the Minister for that. He is absolutely right to point out that any government decision will be supported by some people and opposed by others. However, although he has cited one organisation, he will acknowledge that an open letter was sent from more than 230 major organisations in the construction industry opposing what the Chancellor has done. Given that the Minister has said that the whole purpose of this is to give breathing space to the industry, is he prepared, either now or later, to share with Members of your Lordships’ House the letters and documentation he has received requesting that pause?

4.30 pm

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): Before the Minister replies to that, perhaps I may follow up the point made by my noble friend Lady Young. What consumer research

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—that is, purchaser research—have the Government done, as opposed to listening to selective representatives or voices of the building industry? I think that very few consumers, if asked, “Would you prefer to pay £3,000 which you’ll pay off in two-and-a-half years and thereafter make £1,250 profit a year on your energy bill?”, would regard that as a poor deal.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I listened carefully to the evidence produced by the noble Lord, Lord Foster. Of course, I am very happy to make available whatever I can to the noble Lord and to copy in other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.

Perhaps I may come back to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on purchaser research. But I make the point that we are talking about the costs of building a house, which is a housebuilder matter. Whether those costs can be passed on to the owner of the house will depend on the area and on the prices, but this is to do with stimulating the building industry to build more houses—that is extremely clear.

I would like to move on if I may to a similar theme raised by the noble Lord, Lord—

Lord Stunell: Before the Minister does so, could he tell us what evidence he has taken on the connection between construction costs and the number of homes built, either over the last five years or any interval of time that he has statistics for, and whether he regards the argument that I advanced, that land costs are the overwhelmingly important factor in house sales, as having validity?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The evidence is pretty strong from the Federation of Master Builders, but in the same letter that I shall write to other noble Lords I will include any further evidence that can be produced to back up the evidential information that we have.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked about the scrapping of the zero-carbon element and where else carbon savings might come from. I reassure him that we are already starting to look at heating systems in existing homes. As noble Lords will probably be aware, heat accounts for around 45% of our energy consumption. More than 1.2 million new boilers are installed in our homes every year and we want to consider whether the time is right to raise standards upon boiler replacement, and what the benefits and risks are if we do.

I will also make a point that I wanted to raise slightly earlier in this debate about being overzealous in protecting homes. There is an issue which I know has cropped up in previous debates about overheating homes. There are concerns about making homes so energy efficient and airtight that they can contribute to health issues, so DCLG is looking at that. We need to create a balance between stimulating the building of new houses and making sure that they are user-friendly for people to live in.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: The Minister suggested to my noble friend Lady Hollis that people would not be able to pass on the £3,000 cost. Is he suggesting that people will be building houses and selling them for less than they cost to build? If so, it seems extraordinary.

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Viscount Younger of Leckie: Yes, it is at build cost rather than purchasing cost.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I assume that the builder would pass that on when they sold their houses and make sure that it was paid for when they were bought.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The point is that the onus of the £3,000 is on the housebuilding sector.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: Of course, the properties are bought at the end of the day; that is what they are built for. That is an extraordinary comment from the Minister.

Lord Porter of Spalding (Con): My Lords, can I declare all of my interests, although we might be here forever? I am chairman of the Local Government Association, leader of South Holland District Council, chairman of South Holland homes, which is a community interest housing company. I am also a private sector landlord. One of our rural housing providers delivered six code level 6 homes for us about four years ago, which are the closest to real zero carbon. The zero-carbon homes that the Committee has spent the last hour talking about are not really zero carbon. There was no proposal to ever deliver proper zero-carbon homes in this country because they are far too expensive.

The code level 6 ones that we delivered a few years ago did not save people a few hundred pounds on their electricity bills; they generated a few hundred pounds. Once the feed-in tariff had been factored in through the solar panels and the wind turbines that were installed on the site and the way that they were built for carbon mass heat production, which maintained the homes at a standard 18 degrees, the tenants actually made money on those homes. So that is really good news. We built six of those, and that is really bad news because the same capital cost of delivering those six would have delivered 12 standard construction three-bedroom semis that we were also building on a similar site at the same time. The homes on the affordable site were built on rural exception sites. There was hardly any land cost in there and the capital cost of the physical build was almost twice as much as for the three-bedroom standard semi-detached properties.

We can talk all we like about a few thousand pounds being saved, but that is not an accurate figure and I do not know where that figure came from. Zero carbon costs considerably more than £3,000 a unit. Even if you only put a 4 kilowatt solar system on your house that would be at least £6,500, and that would generate probably enough electricity to run your lights during the day when you do not need them.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, I had concluded my speech, but my noble friend made an interesting and useful intervention.

Baroness Parminter: I thank the Minister for his comments and I will be understandably brief, but I was very disappointed to hear that he thought this

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amendment was a step too far. Two of the main points that were reflected in the debate were not satisfactorily addressed in the Minister’s summing-up remarks. First, there was the outstanding issue of whether the costs of building homes to a standard that would guarantee them for the future would prevent sufficient housing being built. That was not satisfactorily answered. The Minister made it clear that the Government believe that the figure of £3,000 per property would be a material barrier to the housebuilding that we all accept is needed. That did not satisfy a number of our concerns.

The second issue is that the Government seem to respond to every single request by saying that it would impose a regulatory burden on the respective industry. But that is not clear from the evidence collected by the recent House of Lords Committee, which did not just listen to one area of the housebuilding fraternity but took evidence from across the industry including, as my noble friend Lady Young said, from consumers as well as housebuilders. This was not seen by the industry as being a regulatory burden. The industry had agreed to these standards and was clear about the future investment trajectory. But it now does not see how to make the investments to help us meet the targets that we have as a country—the legally binding targets that we have to deliver.

I thank all noble Lords who spoke in the debate this afternoon, but I point out to the Minister that while the strength of feeling on these Benches is great, there was strength right across the Committee. This is an issue that we will return to. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 54A withdrawn.

Clause 62: Grants by Secretary of State

Amendment 55

Moved by Lord Beecham

55: Clause 62, page 28, line 8, at end insert “with the exclusion of—

(a) supported housing for older people;

(b) supported housing units (including self-contained homes where floating support is provided for vulnerable people);

(c) key worker housing (which includes self-contained flats subject to nomination agreements with third-parties);

(d) units that form part of major regeneration schemes planned or already under way;

(e) rural settlements;

(f) homes built for charitable purposes without government grant and homes provided through s.106 agreements (agreements under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (planning obligations)) requiring stock to be kept as social housing in perpetuity;

(g) cooperative housing;

(h) ALMOS (arms length management organisations); and

(i) alms houses.”

Lord Beecham: My Lords, the Committee will now deploy its energies to the part of the Bill that deals with the extension of the right to buy. Clause 62 is

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prefaced by two lines identifying Part 4, “Social housing in England”, and Chapter 1, “Implementing the right to buy on a voluntary basis”. The effect of this part of the Bill will of course substantially undermine the provision of social housing in England and the voluntary basis on which the provision purports to rest will, I predict, prove temporary and will not survive the re-election of this Government, should that misfortune occur.

The radical changes to the provision of social housing by “private registered providers”, as the Bill terms the housing associations and kindred bodies which have played and are still playing a hugely important role in the provision of decent affordable homes for millions of people, will result, as has happened already in the case of council housing, in a substantial reduction of affordable homes to rent and a substantial increase in the proportion of private rented properties let at higher rents. One of the perverse effects over time is likely to be an increase in the amount of housing benefit paid to private landlords. The anodyne wording of the 53 lines that encompass this radical change belie their importance and their impact, as do the 14 lines of the so-called Explanatory Notes. It is a measure of the importance of the issue and of the concern it has aroused that it has stimulated the tabling of 16 amendments in this and the following groups.

Amendment 55 sets out a list of proposed exemptions from the provisions of Clause 62 which permit the Secretary of State, or at his direction the Homes and Communities Agency, the right to provide grants to fund the right to buy discounts. I would not normally read out such a list, but in this case the mere recital of the nine categories embodied in the amendment serves to reinforce the concern they have aroused. Unless they are excluded, the following will be subjected to the right to buy:

“supported housing for older people … supported housing units (including self-contained homes where floating support is provided for vulnerable people) … key worker housing (which includes self-contained flats subject to nomination agreements with third parties)”—

the latter, I interpolate, infringing on the interests of such third parties who would have no redress—

“units that form part of major regeneration schemes planned or already under way … rural settlements”—

about which I and others will have more to say both in relation to this group and the groups of amendments that follow—

“homes built for charitable purposes without government grant and homes provided through s.106 agreements … requiring stock to be kept as social housing in perpetuity”—

thereby interfering, I again interpolate, with freely negotiated arrangements unsupported by government funding—

“co-operative housing”—

completely undermining the ethos which led to its provision in the first place—

“ALMOS (arms length management organisations) and—


“alms houses”.

Amendment 59B, also tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Kennedy, adds “tenant management organisations” to this list, and one or other of us has subscribed to Amendments 57B, 57D,

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66D, 67A, 68D and 69B. Underlying our support for these amendments are the fundamental concerns which have repeatedly been expressed about this Bill both outside and inside this House, and from all parts of this House. These include worries about the impact on communities of a reduction in affordable rented homes, and huge uncertainties about the number, location, cost and quality of possible replacements. In particular, there is opposition to the application by diktat of a one-size-fits-all policy by central government, exemplified by the inclusion of rural areas in the right to buy provisions in the social housing sector, even if this is initially, but I suspect temporarily, left to individual providers to adopt.

I ask the noble Baroness the Minister to say which if any of the list of categories of social housing the amendments identify should not be excluded from the provisions of this part of the Bill, and in each case why. She will no doubt say that it will be up to individual housing associations providing homes within any of the categories to decide whether or not to allow tenants the right to buy, but she must know that an expectation will have been created among some tenants, and it is not too cynical to suggest, their families, which it will become increasingly difficult to resist, thus in addition paving the way to converting a voluntary scheme into a statutory one, as has of course been the case with council housing. Moreover, that possibility in itself is surely likely to have a chilling effect on the willingness of the sector to invest in the provision of new affordable social housing.

4.45 pm

One particular area of concern relates to the provision of housing for the elderly, where the double whammy of right to buy and the alternative impact of the proposal to sell high-value properties as they become vacant could significantly restrict access to appropriate properties such as bungalows. A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report states that one in five elderly people live in bungalows, with the proportion increasing as they reach the age of 75. Of course, not all of these are in council or social housing properties, but the foundation estimates that 25% of high-value sales would be bungalows, representing 9% of all the relevant housing. This could lead to the loss of 15,300 bungalows in the next five years—one in 15 of the relevant total in England. The foundation points out that replacement would be unlikely because of the larger site requirements and the cost of building single-storey properties. The policy and research manager of the foundation warned:

“The Housing Bill will reduce the number of affordable homes at a time of an acute housing crisis”,

and that we risk holding a “Great British bungalow sell-off”, which will,

“make things worse for elderly and disabled tenants who are trying to find suitable, affordable accommodation”.

Nowhere have concerns about the impact of right to buy been expressed more profoundly, in this House and well beyond it, than on rural areas. The Campaign to Protect Rural England, as might be expected, declared its opposition to the proposal, together with Hastoe Housing Association, about which we heard last Thursday, the Country Land and Business Association, the National Association of Local Councils, the Lincolnshire Rural

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Housing Association, Exmoor National Park, the Rural Services Network and the National Parks association—none of which, as far as I know, are affiliated to the Labour Party. I half expected to see the entire cast of “The Archers” and “Downton Abbey” joining that. They specified concerns that rural affordable housing lost to the open market would not be replaced; that a portable discount alternative would not help rural areas; and, as we heard last Thursday from Members including the noble Duke, the Duke of Somerset, we are unlikely—if he will excuse the pun—to see more landowners offering to provide land for social housing if there is no guarantee that the homes built on it would remain available for letting at affordable rents and not be sold on as second homes or buy to let.

The CPRE and its partners in resisting crime point out that, under the agreement reached with the sector, one-for-one replacements need not be created in the locality where the right to buy is exercised, but could be anywhere. Moreover, the portable discount, seen as an alternative to buying the house one lives in and permitting it to be used to buy a different housing association property, does not minimise but merely relocates the damage. Affordable housing already accounts for only 8% of the stock in rural areas, compared with 20%—itself an inadequate proportion—elsewhere. These low levels of affordability, already exacerbated by lower average incomes in rural areas and by house prices higher than in many urban areas, foreshadow a dire future for rural communities.

The chief executive of Hastoe, England’s largest specialist rural housing association, states that the situation,

“makes a mockery of the Government’s plan to replace affordable homes to rent with ‘starter homes’ to buy—at nine times the median salary of rural workers”.

In her words, the right-to-buy deal,

“will mean that young workers on lower incomes are bound to see their chances of rural accommodation disappear; many of the houses sold to tenants will … be resold on the open market at prices far beyond the reach of the people they were designed for”.

The campaign of the CPRE and its partners has been endorsed by its president, the former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion—perhaps an appropriate name for our discussions. He asserted, in blunt prose rather than verse, that if the countryside is to be prevented from turning into a “gentrified museum”—or as I would add, being given over to second homes or holiday lets—there must be a “full rural exemption”. He called for an exemption for,

“communities of under 3,000 inhabitants, as well as rural market towns”,

with a population of up to 10,000,

“where there is a significant need for affordable housing”.

I await the Minister’s reply to that call later this afternoon.

I made brief mention of starter homes, which we discussed at some considerable length last Thursday. Since then, some important information has come to light which I must draw to the attention of the Committee. The respected magazine Inside Housing has reported:

“Major lenders have warned government officials they will not support Starter Homes unless ministers agree to a major climbdown over the discount period.

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An ‘impasse’ has been reached between a number of major lenders and the government over its plans to allow buyers to sell the flagship housing product at full market value after five years … This would allow buyers to cash in the original 20% discount, meaning they could make profits of £141,000 by selling an average home bought under the scheme after five years.

Large lenders have now reached a deadlock with government, as they fear this could distort market values and incentivise people to overpay. Most large lenders therefore want the 20% discount to be held in perpetuity, or for the period where the discount applies to a resale to be extended to 20 years. However, it is understood Department for Communities and Local Government … officials have so far rejected potential compromises, including a 15-year discount period with a taper after the first five. One lender said: ‘There is an impasse … no one has communicated an absolute red line, but if there is no compromise then some [lenders] will opt out of supporting the scheme.’

Another source close to the discussions said: ‘There has been an enormous amount of pressure brought to bear [on lenders]. If the government carries on like this, the scheme won’t work’. Stephen Teagle, managing director of affordable housing and regeneration at Galliford Try, who is part of the group helping to develop the policy, said there is ‘keen support’ across the sector to extend the discount to 10 years. He added: ‘That may be the amendment required to ensure we can all get on and start delivering the Starter Homes programme’.

The Housing and Planning Bill does not commit to the five-year period of discount, and it is understood Downing Street officials have privately hinted at a willingness to ‘listen’ on this point. As a result, lenders hope the government will extend the discount period via a forthcoming consultation on regulations. The government did not comment”.

I have to say that this is an extraordinary revelation. I cannot believe that the Minister was a party to these discussions. After all, she is only a Minister of the Crown, not a Downing Street official. Had she been aware of them, she would surely have made some reference to them last Thursday, if only to the extent of saying that the Government were in discussion with the lenders about the very issue this House spent hours debating. So what is the position? If the Minister is not in a position to tell us today—doubtless because she was not included in these discussions—I expect that she will agree to write to us accordingly.

Are the Government considering changes to the discount period or not? Will they be in a position to clarify the position by the time we get to Report? What options, if any, are they considering? Members of your Lordship’s House need to know before we start tabling amendments at Report. What answer do the Government make to the critical concern of lenders that the scheme, as presently drafted, could distort market values and incentivise people to overpay? Would this not also impact upon the rest of the housing market and drive sale prices on the existing stock?

There is a further extremely worrying issue raised by the report, namely the reference, yet again, to the possibility that the Government will extend the discount period via a forthcoming consultation on regulations. Since we will be spending a good deal of time debating rural concerns today, I hope I may be forgiven for suggesting that, in the absence of clarity about the Government’s intentions, we are, in effect, being invited to buy a pig in a poke, something which, on religious grounds alone, I am reluctant to accept.

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The Government may have chosen not to comment on the Inside Housing report thus far. I believe that the House will wish the Minister to do so today, or, at the very least, before the end of Committee, and I invite her to confirm that she will do so. I beg to move.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 56 and 57A. In doing so, I add my support to the other amendments in this group. I associate myself with all that my noble friend Lord Beecham has said.

Many of the amendments in this group share the same definition of “rural area”; that is to say,

“(a) any settlement with a population of fewer than 3,000 people at the most recent national census, or

(b) any settlement with a population of between 3,000 and 10,000 people at the most recent national census, and designated as a rural area by the Secretary of State following representations from the relevant local authority”.

Does the Minister agree that that is the definition the Government will use in respect of this Bill, and in all legislation in which such a definition is required? To have differing definitions is both confusing and open to contest.

Rural communities are not just a smaller version of urban communities. They have different strengths and different challenges. The lack of affordable housing is one of the greatest challenges and the extension of the right to buy to housing association tenants in rural communities will exacerbate the already chronic shortage of affordable properties. Indeed, without affordable homes, villages become unsustainable. The only people able to live there are incomers, who often do long-distance commutes; second-home owners and those who rent out properties for holiday lets, when what is needed are homes for those who have grown up in the area and who wish to stay or return, and for those who work in the local area, including teachers, tractor drivers and community nurses. At the moment, the homes provided by housing associations enable communities to thrive, with a school, a shop and a pub. There is great anxiety that, with the extension of the right to buy in these areas, villages will no longer be sustainable. That is not merely a personal concern, as we have heard from my noble friend, but is shared by a wide-ranging coalition from housing associations such as Hastoe to the CPRE, the CLA, the LGA and many more, all of which have a real understanding of the needs of rural communities. Indeed, a representative of the CLA said at a recent meeting that the right to buy could be a further barrier to what is already a very difficult situation, and could lead to community breakdown.

In 2011, already only 8% of the housing stock in rural areas was owned by housing associations and local authorities. The Minister has told us of the Government’s support for social housing, which I have to say, judging from this Bill, looks dubious. However, I would be grateful if she would say what percentage increase in social housing in rural areas they envisage over the next five years as a consequence of the Bill. Does she agree that an increase is absolutely necessary for the sustainability of our rural areas, where wages are low and house prices, even at a discount, are out of reach for most local people?

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There is compelling evidence from previous incarnations of the right-to-buy policy to show that, when stock is lost from the social rented sector, it is not replaced in the same quantity or in the same geographical area. This is particularly true in rural areas, where development is constrained and where it is often significantly more expensive to build due to the cost of land and the lack of main services. It can also take longer to bring forward through planning applications. Between 2012-13 and 2013-14, the ratio of sales to replacement was eight to one. That is nowhere near the one-to-one figure vaunted by the Government. With the current Bill, there is no robust and fully modelled funding mechanism in place to pay for replacement. In addition, there is currently no requirement for replacement stock for homes to be sited locally, which means that housing association properties sold in small villages will undoubtedly be replaced on larger windfall sites elsewhere.

The NHF has reached its understandable—but, I believe, very regrettable—agreement with the Government to make the right to buy voluntary; and, furthermore, that tenants should have a right to a portable discount. We do not yet have any further details, which is frustrating, especially for those working in the sector. However, I know that the noble Baroness is aware of the frustrations and I will not press her further on this at this stage. However, I believe that both concepts pose more problems than solutions to the housing crisis. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the portable discount makes absolutely no sense at all.

In relation to the voluntary agreement, what would happen in an area where at least two housing associations have homes but only one decides that its tenants can exercise their right to buy? Apart from the understandable anger, what would happen? I wonder how long the voluntary concept will remain voluntary. Amendments 57A and 57B are identical and rather similar to Amendments 57C and 57D, with all of which I agree. However, for me, as well as for Sir Andrew Motion and the rural housing group, they are very much second best.

5 pm

My strong, strong preference is for Amendment 56. Although the amendment was not laid at Second Reading, there were many cogent arguments supporting it. I remind noble Lords of two very powerful contributions. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said:

“The simple fact of the matter is that, as things stand, houses in rural areas sold under the right to buy will not be replaced in the same area—or indeed, in all likelihood, in any rural area. In so far as they are sold, they will be lost for those who need access to affordable rented accommodation and will be replaced by affordable housing in urban areas, where the costs of development are usually cheaper and where more sites are available”.—[Official Report, 26/1/16; col. 1205.]

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, made the case eloquently when he said:

“It is dangerous, however, to introduce the concept—or the possibility—of the right to buy in rural communities. Farmers and communities will have to grapple with new safeguards to protect their sites in perpetuity and will naturally be suspicious, making these much-needed exception sites less likely than ever to

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come forward. I would, therefore, like to see a blanket protection in law from this right to buy for communities of under 3,000 people”. —[

Official Report

, 26/1/16; col. 1212.]

Hear, hear.

I have no doubt that the Minister will not accept this amendment today, but I hope that she will not dismiss it out of hand. All those who best know and understand rural communities and their specific challenges, and who are passionate about their sustainability, agree that extension of the right to buy should not be allowed in rural areas. To continue with this policy would imperil their vitality and viability.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 57B, tabled in my name, and also Amendment 57D, where I am an also-ran behind the noble Lord, Lord Best. First I restate what I said at Second Reading: I am keen to encourage the Government’s desire to develop more home ownership. There is no doubt that the big change in social mobility since my post-war youth has been assisted by the growth in home ownership that has happened during my lifetime. So I am all for encouraging that direction of travel.

Nevertheless, in the countryside at any rate, where the availability of housing is limited, and while the desirability of country living is so deeply embedded in the English psyche, we have to make absolutely certain that we do not leave any casualties behind on the road to the home-ownership ideal. Unless we cater for the high demand for affordable homes for the less well- off, we will undoubtedly leave such casualties. The Government recognise this, which is why they agreed to only a voluntary right to buy for housing associations in the expectation that, in the most rural areas, the associations would choose not to allow it.

But in an effort to compromise and refine that, so that we do indeed maximise the potential to provide extra rural, local affordable housing, Amendment 57B, which stands in my name and those of others, ensures that if any party—a housing association or a householder —decides to take advantage of the discount available from the Government, the resulting sale will only take place if a new affordable house is provided in the parish or adjoining area. The key word there is “adjoining”. It is important that the new affordable housing replaces the existing homes being sold within the same community or group of local communities. It is no good having the replacement housing on the other side of the county or, in the case of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, even on another island in the Isles of Scilly. We both go on holiday to the Isles of Scilly so we know a little bit about them.

It goes without saying that the housing association houses being sold must not be on an exception site, as that would undoubtedly result in the abandonment of the “in perpetuity” for locals that would have been written into the original planning permission and by which the site is forever legally bound. We are talking here about Section 106 housing, on sites where the housing association houses are within a larger commercial development adjacent to or part of either a large village or market town. It behoves all parties, the vendor housing association, other housing associations and the local planning authority, to pull together to

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make this work. If the local planning authority can use its strategic housing land availability assessment review—known to its friends as SHLAA—to encourage landowners, farmers and indeed parishes to assist in the finding of new sites for new affordable homes, so much the better.

It will not have escaped your Lordships’ attention that the advantage of this amendment over the mere existence of the voluntary undertaking on the part of the housing association is that if the scheme works and is seen to work, we might get more housing for locals in our villages, even if the house being sold eventually gets sold on, inevitably, to an outsider and is thus lost for ever to the people of the village. In this way, our amendment and others of a similar nature in this group promote the Government’s agenda of greater home ownership, so I hope that it will be acceptable to them. Without amending the Bill in this way, and without the co-operation of all parties to encourage this extra housing, I do not see many responsible housing authorities volunteering their rural properties for the right-to-buy scheme—which I suspect is contrary to what the Government would really like to see. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I support Amendment 56, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, to which I have added my name. I, along with other noble Lords, have received a number of letters from people living in rural areas who are deeply concerned at what seem the inevitable consequences if this issue is not addressed.

The major force of this amendment, as the noble Baroness pointed out, would be to change the emphasis in the current right-to-buy arrangement from one in which housing associations can choose to exempt themselves from exercising right to buy in rural areas, as per the current agreement, to one in which housing associations would be unable to exercise right to buy in rural areas, unless in exceptional cases, as set out in proposed new subsection (1A) of the amendment.

The rationale for the amendment is pretty simple. Affordable housing should not be sold off in communities where it will not be replaced. Among the other options, adjacent areas, for example, may be quite some way away and include urban areas, so there are issues about definition. The broader definition of “rural” that is included in the amendment—as well as the inclusion of dwellings in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and rural exception sites—is designed to capture those additional settlements in which planning restrictions and natural features make the replacement of affordable housing sold under right to buy highly unlikely.

Everyone in the Committee will understand that affordable housing in rural areas is essential for the long-term sustainability of local communities, yet despite prices that are beyond the reach of many of those who live and work in rural areas, the level of affordable housing in rural areas is very low—only 8% compared to just 20% for urban areas. There is a variety of reasons for that, one being that it is so difficult to build in these areas. Planning regulations mean that rural villages struggle to produce any new developments, and what new developments there are tend to be much

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smaller, yielding little in the way of affordable housing through Section 106. Of course, proposed changes to the Bill to the requirements of developers to include affordable housing in any new developments will only make the situation far worse with regard to the provision of affordable homes for rent.

All of this means that any measure that puts existing rural affordable housing stock at risk needs to be treated very carefully—but the current right-to-buy arrangements make exactly the threat that I am concerned about. The chances of any rural affordable housing that is sold under right to buy being replaced by similar rural affordable housing is very small, as one sees when one visits rural areas and talks to people working on the ground. It is far more likely that those housing associations which choose to sell off expensive rural housing will choose to build replacement homes in urban areas, where the costs of development are likely to be far cheaper. That might be good for the housing associations which are facing a period of belt tightening over the coming years, but it will be devastating for rural communities.

Another reason for considering the amendment is for the sake of simplicity. Tenants require clarity about where they will be able to exercise the right to buy, as has already been pointed out, and a system based on housing association discretion is almost designed to create disappointment. I know that noble Lords on all sides have serious concerns about the feasibility of providing a portable discount as an alternative. It is also true that initial indicators suggest an enthusiasm for right to buy that will far exceed the Government’s ability to provide replacement funding—again leading to disappointment. Excluding areas that are most likely to be harmed by right to buy will ensure that resources are directed to the areas where they can do the most good. I hope the Government will reconsider and will listen very carefully to these arguments before pushing ahead with this.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville: My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interests as a vice-president of the LGA and a councillor on South Somerset District Council. I support all the amendments in this group, including those in the names of the noble Lords who have already spoken, and I will speak specifically to Amendments 56, 56A, 57A and 57C. This extremely important group of amendments will have far-reaching effects on communities throughout the country.

As indicated previously, I visited Exmoor National Park to talk to the chief executive. Exmoor has a population of 10,000 people and 5,500 homes actually in the park for those who can afford them. Exmoor National Park wants to provide homes for people who will never get mortgages or loans. Its focus has been on affordable homes for renting. All its new houses are intended to be affordable in perpetuity. It aims to build up its stock of homes to the level it was before the first round of right to buy depleted it. In recent years 100 homes have been provided and 200 people have been accommodated—its policy is working. Some 30% are privately rented or privately owned and 50% are socially rented, but all require a local tie or connection.

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The Exmoor and Northumberland national parks are the most sparsely populated areas in the country, with very small settlements. Other national parks have larger settlements, where it is easier to provide affordable homes. The statistics are stark. Of the first tranche of right-to-buy sales, a majority have gone to outsiders and for holiday lets. In Lynmouth, in a row of terraced properties sold under the right to buy, only two are not now holiday lets and 20% of the properties have no usual residents. We must prevent this from happening a second time. In Northumberland the undersupply of affordable rented properties at rates related to average wages has led to a gradual decrease in housing. Hard evidence is difficult to obtain due to the paucity over nearly 30 years—young couples have just accepted that to get a home they have to leave the park area. However, when 30 homes were built in Norham, they were let to the relevant people in a morning, despite only four or five appearing on housing lists.

Incomes in Exmoor National Park are in the lower quartile for England, at around £12,000 for a household. Many people have no regular work. Their work is seasonal or portfolio work. The majority of people on the park are in work but on very low incomes. Affordable housing schemes are very popular. However, when rents went to 80% of market rents, people pulled out as they could not afford them; 80% is still unaffordable on Exmoor. The self-employed on Exmoor are nowhere near the living wage. Lambing is a good example of seasonal work which pays cash in hand. These people can never get mortgages due to their inability to prove a living wage over the relevant period of time. The “at least 20%” discount will need to be considerably more to assist these residents. A home at an affordable price of £130,000 would have to be discounted by nearly 30% to be truly affordable to the workers on the park.