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  • Feb 5, 2016:
  • Feb 4, 2016:
  • Feb 2, 2016:
    • UK's Relationship with the EU | Commons debates

      The Prime Minister's commitment to the sovereignty of this Parliament does not seem to stretch to actually being in Parliament on the day this question is being raised. I welcome the publication of the draft proposals, but, given that Britain's membership of the European Union is about our continued economic prosperity, about whether we are going to protect our security in these troubled times and about whether we are an outward-looking or insular country, is it not bizarre that the Prime Minister claims that this massive decision is down to such narrow and arbitrary demands? However, if he is successful in getting those demands met, will he politely ignore the calls from UKIP and the SNP to delay the referendum beyond the summer, given that that would further destabilise our economy?

  • Jan 28, 2016:
  • Jan 27, 2016:
    • Engagements | Oral Answers to Questions - Prime Minister | Commons debates

      I commend the Prime Minister for his remarks about Holocaust Memorial Day. In honouring the memory of those who were murdered by the Nazis, we provide the best antidote to extremism and anti-Semitism in our own age.

      The biggest challenge facing Europe today is posed by the 3 million refugees who, it is predicted, will flee to our continent in 2016. Many of them will die along the way. Does the Prime Minister agree that the only way in which to challenge a crisis of that magnitude is to start to work with our European colleagues at the heart of a united Europe, and will he take this final opportunity to welcome in and provide a home for 3,000 unaccompanied children, as recommended by Save the Children?

  • Jan 22, 2016:
  • Jan 20, 2016:
  • Jan 18, 2016:
  • Jan 12, 2016:
    • Schedule 6 - Financial penalty as alternative to prosecution under Housing Act 2004 | Housing and Planning Bill - [2nd Allocated Day] | Commons debates

      I probably should not give way to be fair to other Members who wish to speak.

      It is a tragedy that the scale of this crisis is inverse to this Government's puny ambition. Where is the designation of the five to 10 garden cities that are needed over this decade? Where is the increase in income and building capacity for housing associations? Instead, there is a decrease in their ability to raise funds to develop homes. Where is the increase in social housing that we desperately need to meet the needs of 1.6 million people? Instead there is a diversion of funds towards the wrong priorities. In short, we have 200,000 so-called starter homes, instead of 300,000 section 106 actual affordable homes. Right to buy is the second huge assault on affordable housing.

      If we believe that aspiration is right and that the right to own one's home is good and something to work towards, we should be allowing a like-for-like replacement in advance. If, by an act of vandalism, we want to destroy social housing, we should do what the Government are doing.

      The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) took offence at those on the Labour Front Bench who used the word "extreme", but this Government's actions towards rural communities are absolutely extreme. If we consider that three in four council houses in South Lakeland are now privately owned, and many are expensive private lets, we realise the damage done to rural Britain, not just in the lakes but in the west country and other parts of the UK. That shows a complete lack of understanding of rural Britain, as well as a failure to tackle the second homes crisis in those areas.

      The Government acknowledged a broken market and made a choice to keep it broken. It is often said that there is nothing more stressful than the time we move home, because it is costly and psychologically difficult. Well, welcome to real Britain everyday life for millions of people who cannot afford their own home. The Government have looked those people in the eye. To govern is to choose, and they have chosen to let those people down. This Bill should fall.

    • Schedule 6 - Financial penalty as alternative to prosecution under Housing Act 2004 | Housing and Planning Bill - [2nd Allocated Day] | Commons debates

      It is right that the Government included a Housing Bill in the Queen's Speech. Poor housing robs people of their freedom and liberty, and housing is the entry point to a civilised society. It is therefore a tragedy that in response to a broken market and chronic lack of supply, where we need 300,000 new builds a year over 10 years, where 1.6 million people are rotting on a council house waiting list, and where more than a quarter of 18 to 30-year-olds in this country are still living in the family home-

    • Clause 67 - Payments to Secretary of State | Housing and Planning Bill - [2nd Allocated Day] | Commons debates

      Is the Minister aware that in the 1980s, the late Willie Whitelaw expressed concern to the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, about the impact of the right to buy, unmitigated, in rural communities such as the Lake District? Thirty years on, will he at least take note of what was said by the great man?

    • Clause 67 - Payments to Secretary of State | Housing and Planning Bill - [2nd Allocated Day] | Commons debates

      Probably not, because there is not much time left and I do not want to prevent others from speaking.

      In addition, the replacement home should in most cases be equivalent to the one sold off. It should be located in the same local authority area and there must be an initial presumption that the replacement home would be the same tenure unless there is a strong case for changing it, based on local need. This would avoid the squeezing out of social homes for rent, which are often occupied by some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, in favour of other potentially more profitable tenures. My amendment would provide not only a one-for-one replacement of homes, but in many cases like for like. I urge Members to support it.

    • Clause 67 - Payments to Secretary of State | Housing and Planning Bill - [2nd Allocated Day] | Commons debates

      Given the time pressures, I shall limit my remarks to my amendment 109. I have made it clear that right to buy is, quite simply, the wrong spending priority at a time of great housing need when resources should be focused on building new homes. In my view, it is also being used as a means to reduce social and affordable housing at the very time that such homes are most desperately needed, particularly for the 1.6 million people currently rotting on a social housing waiting list who are often struggling to bring up children in temporary and inadequate accommodation.

      Paying for the extension of right to buy through selling off high-value council housing is simply absurd and will have a crippling financial effect, taking away resources that are much needed by councils to build homes in their areas. The fact that no definition of "high value" is given in the Bill provides far too much wriggle room, with no guarantee of replacement-with the exception of amendment 112, which relates only to London. It has been discussed at length, so I shall not go into any further detail. I see no good reason, other than a political one, for not extending the deal to all regions and not just to London. London is so often the focus of attention when it comes to housing, but the housing crisis is just as real in many other places, especially in rural parts of Britain, including the west country, Cumbria, Northumberland and North Yorkshire.

      The extension of right to buy, furthermore, is not genuinely a voluntary option for housing associations, as the Government have attempted to claim. The only voluntary aspect was the vote taken by members of the National Housing Federation last September, in which 45% of associations either voted against or abstained, masking the fact that many felt that the extension was already a done deal. The choice on the table was essentially between the immediate death of social housing or a slightly more drawn-out affair.

      To cast this assault on social housing, and especially the assault on rural communities, as something willed by the housing associations is just bogus. The Bill puts many small and specialist housing associations, particularly those in rural areas such as mine, in an extremely difficult position. Some are worried about the impact it will have on maintaining additional services to residents-jobseeking advice, for example, which is often crucial to getting people back on their feet. I would therefore like to see the right to buy extension taken out of the Bill altogether. If the extension is to go ahead, however, a commitment to replacing the property sold off must be included. That is what would be achieved by my amendment 109.

      Let me make it clear that I am not opposed to right to buy in principle. I am a supporter of the aspiration of those who wish to own their own home, and I want us to support housing associations as they seek to build mixed developments to give people the opportunity to get on to the housing ladder.

      There are two possible reasons for extending right to buy. The first is to encourage aspiration and the second is to decimate and get rid of social housing. If it is the first that people care about most, legislating to extend right to buy would be focused on ensuring replacement, in which case my amendment 109 should be supported to make sure that that happens. This would provide people with the opportunity to buy their own home without at the same time depleting affordable housing stock for other families in need.

      If the motivation were simply to reduce social housing-those motives are too depressing at this time even to bother discussing-the policy would be exactly what the Government are doing: right to buy would be extended and housing associations would be press-ganged to go along with it, with verbal expressions of intentions to replace homes. That would also mean ensuring zero guarantee in the legislation that any replacement must happen.

      Sadly, it is clear that this Government's reasons for press-ganging housing associations to extend right to buy are based on a pretty grubby desire to get rid of social housing. We know what happens when intentions to replace homes are expressed, but not enforced, in legislation. We have had many decades of experience of that. We know that one-to-one replacement simply does not happen. Even in recent years, since the one-to-one replacement policy was introduced in 2012, only one in every nine homes sold has been replaced.

      My amendment 109 is designed to overcome that problem and guarantee the replacement of homes by insisting that before a home is sold off under right to buy, a replacement home must first be identified. This could be a home within a new planned development or an existing home that is acquired by the housing association with the proceeds of the sale. Housing associations should be required to identify that replacement property and communicate the plan to the regulator before selling the home.

    • Clause 67 - Payments to Secretary of State | Housing and Planning Bill - [2nd Allocated Day] | Commons debates

      The right hon. Gentleman makes a good case. I understand entirely why he is focusing on London, but we must not allow the Government to pretend that London is a specific and solitary special case. There are many parts of the country, particularly the Lake district, the Yorkshire dales and many rural parts of the United Kingdom, where house prices are incredibly expensive, wages are low and the availability of social rented housing is essential to the social mix of those communities. Does he agree that that is not just a problem in London?

  • Jan 5, 2016:
    • Housing and Planning Bill - [1st Allocated Day] | Housing and Planning Bill (Programme) (No. 2) | Commons debates

      I have already given my view on that-it is blindingly obvious, really. Supply and demand plays a significant and critical part, which is one of the reasons I am very proud that my council in South Lakeland has already built 1,000 affordable homes and has plans to build another 5,000. Why do things other than supply and demand have an impact? The answer is that property is a clear investment and people with enough money will buy more than one. Indeed, my constituency is strewn with such properties.

      In conclusion, my worry is that in 10 years' time, the housing crisis will be even worse, with thousands of affordable homes having been sold off, some converted to buy-to-let properties and very few replaced, at the same time as waiting lists for homes soar and homelessness rises. Poor housing is a barrier to success in life, and that impacts not only on individuals, but on communities and wider society. That is why it is essential for families across Britain-and, indeed, for our economic ambitions as a country-that we ensure that everyone has a decent and affordable place to live.

      It is often said in polite society that the most stressful thing in life is moving home, because of the insecurity, the uncertainty and the cost. Well, welcome to the reality of everyday life for millions of people in Britain who do not, and cannot aspire to, own their own home. Millions of families live with the financial, psychological and emotional burdens that inadequate, insecure and unaffordable housing brings. The Bill deliberately misses the opportunity to help those people in order to settle old ideological scores and ride some pretty ropey old hobby horses. Doing nothing in the face of this housing crisis would be bad enough, but by actively promoting a Bill that will make the crisis worse, the Government are ensuring that their legacy will be scorned by the future generations that the Bill betrays.

    • Housing and Planning Bill - [1st Allocated Day] | Housing and Planning Bill (Programme) (No. 2) | Commons debates

      Indeed, and I have a great aspiration for the 1.6 million people in this country who are rotting on a social housing waiting list, and that number will grow larger as the years go on. I want to bring down house prices so that they are affordable to people, but this is a displacement proposal that will help better-off private renters and will not help a much larger number of people who are in a much worse situation.