Local Government (Exclusion of Non-commercial Considerations) (England) Order 2022

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 day, 17 hours ago)

Grand Committee
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Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Local Government (Exclusion of Non-commercial Considerations) (England) Order 2022.

Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, this order was laid before your Lordships’ House on Monday 25 May 2022, under Section 19(3) of the Local Government Act 1999, for approval by a resolution of each House of Parliament. The order was considered and approved in the other place on Monday 20 June.

The illegal invasion of Russian forces into Ukraine has shocked the world and has been met by unprecedented global condemnation. Soon after the invasion, many local authorities also gave their own public condemnation of the Russian state’s action. They were clear they did not want local taxpayers’ money to be used to fund this reprehensible attack, and many noted their own intentions to break contracts with Russian-controlled companies. Local authorities are, however, subject to Section 17 of the Local Government Act 1988, which prohibits “non-commercial considerations” playing a part in commercial decision-making. Such non-commercial considerations include, at Section 17(5)(e) of the 1988 Act,

“the country or territory of origin of supplies to, or the location in any country or territory of the business activities or interests of, contractors”.

With regard to Russia and Belarus, this element of the Act is untenable.

This limitation was laid out in the Cabinet Office’s policy procurement note 01/2022, which was issued in March. In this advisory note, organisations in scope—government departments, their NDPBs and executive agencies—were asked to review their contract portfolios to identify Russian and Belarusian prime contractors and consider the termination of these contracts. The PPN particularly noted that the Government were actively considering a solution for local government to enable councils to follow the Cabinet Office’s advice. Council leaders have rightly been calling for action, requesting a flexible approach for those councils that wish to divest themselves of any dependence on Russian state-owned companies. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State wrote to leaders on 11 March, preparing them to consider their exposure to Russian and Belarusian-owned companies.

Your Lordships will recall that we held a debate on 24 March regarding Gazprom UK. In that debate, noble Lords made clear their desire to amend public procurement rules to align local authorities with the rest of the public sector, so I am pleased that today we are considering this order, which will enable us to disapply the provisions I have referred to at Section 17(5)(e) of the Local Government Act 1988. The order will enable best-value authorities and parish councils in England, if they so wish, to terminate both proposed or subsisting public supply or works contracts, in accordance with the terms of the contract, where either: first,

“the country or territory of origin of supplies to the contractor”

is Russia or Belarus; or, secondly,

“the location of the business activities or interests of a contractor”

is Russia or Belarus.

As council leaders have requested, this order will allow relevant authorities the flexibility to terminate proposed and subsisting contracts should they so wish. It will allow them to take comparable action to central government, as set out in the PPN, and ensure they are not funding Putin’s war machine. It is important to note that the Government are not mandating the termination of contracts nor creating new burdens on local authorities. This is a permissive power and the decision to terminate contracts rests with the authorities in question. As the PPN sets out for central government, and as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has advised local authority leaders, decisions to terminate such contracts should be made on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the terms of the contract, and only where an alternative supplier can be sourced in line with value for money and affordability, and with minimal disruption to public services.

It is important to note that this policy will not enable these bodies to instigate their own unofficial municipal foreign or defence policies, but will not prevent them from undertaking their own divestment measures where these align with official government sanctions, as in this case.

As I have said, this will not add a new burden to local authorities. Nevertheless, the Government remain committed to engaging with any local authority with concerns about its financial position or service delivery or that may be facing pressures that it cannot take steps to manage locally. I reaffirm that commitment today.

This Government send a clear and strong message: Russia and Belarus should not benefit from public contracts and from the British taxpayer. We condemn Russia’s unprovoked, premeditated and illegal war. Across the United Kingdom and at all levels of government we remain steadfast in our support to ensure that Ukraine wins its battle for self-determination and that Russian forces withdraw.

This Government have introduced financial and investment sanctions. We provide military support, humanitarian aid and lead international efforts to support Ukraine’s objectives. We will continue to use all levers at our disposal in central government and, in the case of this order, local government, to cut off funds to Vladimir Putin’s war machine and demonstrate that we will not tolerate this abhorrent attack on Ukraine. I hope your Lordships will join me in supporting the proposed order. I commend it to the House.

Lord Jones Portrait Lord Jones (Lab)
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My Lords, I support the Minister in what he has said and thank him for his introduction. I also thank him and his department for the Explanatory Memorandum, which is lengthier than usual, and very helpful. There was an echo of these matters in the Chamber less than an hour ago in one of the Questions, which was about Russia. This order is the consequence of the gangster style of Russian leadership, with its cruel and dreadful impact on the nation of Ukraine.

Time is of the essence. I will pose several questions to the Minister and, if he cannot answer at the moment, I ask that he write. First, does he know how many contracts might be involved as a consequence of his order? Following that, what might be the employment consequences? It is a question of numbers, and some answers on these matters might be helpful. Lastly, can he give an example or two—or more—of the sorts of contracts that shall be terminated? In the departmental consideration of the making of the order, surely examples were brought forward. It might help the whole House if answers to these questions were proffered, either now or later.

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, first, I refer noble Lords to the register, which details that I am still a local councillor in the finest borough in the country, Burnley Borough Council. I thank the Minister for his speech outlining the sensible and pragmatic proposal before us, which responds to the sector and ensures that we show our solidarity at not only the national government but the local government level across the United Kingdom.

I am pleased to say that we on these Benches strongly support this statutory instrument. We support the Secretary of State and the Government giving local authorities the flexibility to make the decisions that are right for their localities. It is the right thing to do. We have continuously called on the UK Government to move faster and harder on economic and diplomatic sanctions against Putin’s barbarous regime. Too often we have lagged behind the EU and the US, while some promised measures have yet to be implemented. Ministers need urgently to introduce a new US-style law to act against those who act as proxies for sanctioned individuals and organisations. Supporting this statutory instrument further demonstrates that our support for Ukraine at all levels of government remains undiminished. The UK and our allies have shown remarkable strength and unity in response to President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. We will not be party to funding his war machine. Noble Lords have spoken with great solidarity in relation to the situation in Ukraine and supporting the order.

Having listened to noble Lords—in particular my noble friend Lord Jones, who, like the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked some excellent questions—I want to ask the Minister a few questions of my own in the same spirit. How has the department engaged with local authorities to make them aware of these new powers? Will the Minister encourage local authorities to exercise these powers? If so, how? What assessment has the department made of the level of contracts in the public sector with Russia and Belarus?

I just want to pick up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, about highlighting the challenge of overcentralisation. Like the Minister and the department for levelling up, we must look to ensure that, rather than responding after pressure from local authorities, we lead from the front so that local authorities are not put in difficult positions. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the Committee for considering the order and for all the contributions to the debate. I am sure we can agree that it will further simplify our already strong message to Russia that we stand firmly with Ukraine and will use all levers possible to cut off funding to this illegal invasion. Allow me to try and respond to the points made by noble Lords.

I start with the points raised initially by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, and then backed up ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, around what we know about which local authorities have contracts with Russian and Belarusian-backed companies and the value of those contracts. The Government do not hold data on how many contracts and sub-contracts are held by local authorities with organisations under the control of Russia or Belarus. However, we know that there are contracts and that the Secretary of State has been asked by a number of council leaders to amend legislation to allow councils to terminate such contracts.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, wanted some examples of contracts that fall into this. I will give one, which makes two points that have been raised by noble Lords. The first is that Portsmouth City Council has a contract with Gazprom and has decided not to terminate the contract. I make this point because it is not for Ministers or central government to use the bully pulpit. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, I say that we are giving a permissive power for local authorities to make the decision about whether they withdraw from these contracts or not. We want them to go through the process and have the ability to do so, which currently in theory they do not, which is why we are bringing in this statutory instrument. We have been asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, about the impacts of employment—

Lord Jones Portrait Lord Jones (Lab)
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Did the Minister see the piece of paper his noble friend Lady Scott whipped fast to him under the papers she has just put down?

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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It is Lord Khan, not Ahmad.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The Minister’s getting up, but the Minister’s getting confused. I am sorry; I meant “the noble Lord, Lord Khan”. I have been confused by people writing the wrong name. I am just reading from the top of the page—my apologies.

Here is the piece of paper. Going on to the next point, I say that we do not know about the impact on employment, and the impact on business is dependent on whether the country or territory of origin of supplies or location of business activities is Russia or Belarus and whether the relevant authority has decided to terminate contracts. Therefore it is not easy to estimate the impact on employment. But, again, this is a permissive power, and local government will ultimately make the decision in the interest of local services and value for money.

I will answer the noble Lord, Lord Khan, about what local authorities should do when these regulations come into effect. The Government will make sure that we provide guidance to local authorities as and when this order comes into force. There has been considerable engagement, and a need has been identified to do this and to bring forward the secondary legislation. These councils have been writing to the Secretary of State since the invasion of Ukraine, setting out the need for the Local Government Act 1988 restrictions in this area to be lifted, to allow local authorities to act. This statutory instrument will allow them to do this, so there has been considerable engagement, as noble Lords can see, and I hope your Lordships will support me in supporting the order.

Motion agreed.

Local Authority and Combined Authority Elections (Nomination of Candidates) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2022

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 day, 17 hours ago)

Grand Committee
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Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Local Authority and Combined Authority Elections (Nomination of Candidates) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2022.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, this statutory instrument was laid before the House on Monday 6 June under Sections 9HE and 105(2) of the Local Government Act 2000, and Section 114(1) of and paragraph 12(4) of Schedule 5B to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, for approval by resolution of each House of Parliament. This instrument amends local election rules to account for the new disqualification for sexual offences introduced by the Local Government (Disqualification) Act 2022. These changes are necessary to ensure that future mayoral candidates continue to correctly declare that they are eligible to stand in elections. This will provide continued clarity for candidates and electoral administrators.

The Local Government (Disqualification) Act closes the loophole which meant that anyone who commits a sexual offence but is not given a custodial sentence could stand for local government election—or, indeed, if convicted once in office, could remain in office following that conviction. The Act passed with cross-party support earlier this year and comes into force today. Election processes now need to be updated through this instrument, which updates “consent to nomination” forms used in local authority mayoral elections. At nomination, a candidate must declare that they are not disqualified by signing such a consent to nomination form. The format and wording of these forms is prescribed in secondary legislation.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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This instrument amends four instances of such forms prescribed in election rules: two instances for county, district and London borough mayoral elections; and two for combined authority mayoral elections. Regardless of the type of office, the amendments to each consent to nomination form have the same effect. The changes update the forms to add a new reference to the updated criteria inserted by the disqualification Act. Further, this instrument updates the forms to require that copies of the relevant new sections from the disqualification Act are reproduced in full and appended to these forms for candidates’ information.

Noble Lords who have been following this matter closely will recall that the disqualification Act was informed by a 2017 government consultation. In our response, we committed to seek to legislate to disqualify sex offenders from local government. This instrument is the last stage to implement this commitment fully.

It should be noted that, alongside this instrument updating mayoral election rules, a similar instrument was made by negative procedure on 30 May. The Local Authority and Greater London Authority Elections (Nomination of Candidates) (Amendment) (England) Rules 2022 updated election rules in the same manner for all tiers of councils, the London Assembly and the Mayor of London.

These amendments to election rules follow statutory consultation with the Electoral Commission. We incorporated its suggestions and the changes have its full support. It has updated its guidance to inform candidates of the new disqualification criteria. Following this instrument coming into force, it will update the nomination packs containing the new consent to nomination forms.

I should clarify the remit of these changes. This statutory instrument applies to England only. Wales has legislated to disqualify sex offenders from local government office but the changes did not require amendments to secondary legislation. Implementation of this instrument should not be delayed as the provisions of the Act are in force from today.

This instrument fulfils the Government’s commitment to protect local communities and make sure that they can have continued trust and confidence in their mayoral candidates. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Lord Jones Portrait Lord Jones (Lab)
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My Lords, the regulations refer to today, so time is of the essence. I rise mainly on a point of principle. The Executive should always be questioned by the legislature; it is in that spirit that I always address your Lordships’ Committee. I fought eight general elections—I am glad to say that I won them—but I never saw forms such as are in the schedule. Their drawing up internally in the department must have been quite something; if they are now in their new form, congratulations should surely go to the department. One can only assess the hours that went into painstakingly putting them together. In a general election, one’s nomination form was always of supreme importance; you had to get it right because, if you did not, you did not get on the ballot paper. It is understandable that we need exactitude.

To make progress, can the Minister say how many mayors there are now? There are not many. Everyone knows of the great mayoralty of London but can the Minister itemise their numbers and say what they are so that the record might be up to date?

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Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I again refer your Lordships to my entry in the register, stipulating that I am a local councillor in Burnley Borough Council.

This instrument will update the candidate consent to nomination forms to reflect the very welcome changes introduced by the Local Government (Disqualification) Act 2022, to which the Minister referred. An overwhelming majority of local councillors, mayors and mayoral candidates serve their communities to the best of their ability in the spirit of public service and public duty. I have done so for 15 years as a local councillor. I know that the Minister served as a council leader, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock.

However, when individuals fall short of the standards we expect from elected representatives we must ensure that action can be taken to remove them from office and, importantly, prevent them standing in the first place. Labour supported the associated Private Member’s Bill, with my honourable friend the shadow Minister, Jess Phillips MP, stating that

“it is important that this change is made in relation to all representatives, but with a special focus on those who act as corporate parents.”—[Official Report, Commons, Local Government (Disqualification) Bill Committee, 1/12/21; col. 4.]

It is great to have some cross-party agreement on what is quite a sensible thing to do. It is vital that we uphold the best standards in public life at all levels of government. I echo my noble friend Lord Jones’s comments. He spoke about the extra effort and hard work that has gone on behind the scenes to get this here.

I shall finish by asking the Minister a few questions, in the spirit of previous speakers. Are any further instruments necessary to implement provisions of the Local Government (Disqualification) Act 2022? Finally, can he confirm whether these measures will be in force for any upcoming local authority by-elections? I look forward to his response.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the Committee for considering this draft instrument. I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to the sponsors of the Local Government (Disqualification) Bill. I thank my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister and the Member for Mole Valley, Sir Paul Beresford—both very distinguished former leaders of Wandsworth Council—for their diligent work to progress the Bill here and in the other place respectively.

I will take a few moments to respond to noble Lords’ questions. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, this has taken a long time, but it was one of those things that came to light. It is a loophole that has been closed because of the Private Member’s Bill taken forward by my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister and Sir Paul Beresford. They are to be commended. It has taken too long, but we have got there. It is one of those things where we are responding to something that, frankly, was not front of mind until, as the noble Baroness said, there was someone in office who chose not to stand down when this became apparent.

The noble Lord, Lord Khan, wanted to know about implementation. My understanding is that the SI will come into effect the day after it is made after the Act commences. The issue is not about speed and delay but whether there is enough time to prepare. Certainly, there was no need for the usual. We are moving at pace. Therefore, by-elections will be covered because of the speed of implementation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, wanted parity, if you like, and asked why not MPs, given some of the recent incidents and cases in the other place. As I previously responded in support of the Bill at its Third Reading,

“standards and conduct for MPs and PCCs are governed under separate regimes, with their own mechanisms to disqualify or sanction unacceptable behaviour.”—[Official Report, 4/3/22; col. 1083.]

We are doing this for members of a local authority, counsellors, local mayors, members of the London Assembly or the London mayor. There are other regimes for MPs. As noble Lords know, MPs can, under certain circumstances, be recalled if at least 10% of the constituency electorate sign a petition.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, really tested me on the number of mayors and having a schedule of mayors. This is not as easy as noble Lords would think. Obviously we have the London mayor and the London Assembly as one model. A number of combined authorities have a directly elected mayor: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, North of Tyne, South Yorkshire, Tees Valley, West Midlands, West of England and West Yorkshire. Obviously we are covering directly elected mayors, of which we have a number now. There are four in London, in Croydon, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Lewisham, as well as all the ceremonial mayors. I am told that the total number of directly elected mayors is 26 in England. That is quite a bit of work in response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Jones.

In conclusion, it is essential that the provisions of the disqualification Act are accurately reflected in mayoral election rules. That is exactly what this instrument achieves, while ensuring that local government can continue to command people’s faith and trust, both now and in future. I therefore commend these regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Roma Community: Levelling Up

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Monday 27th June 2022

(2 days, 17 hours ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Bakewell Portrait Baroness Bakewell
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government how their levelling up plans take into account the needs of the Roma community.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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The Government have set out 12 national levelling-up missions which are already beginning to drive real change across the United Kingdom, including for our Roma communities. They include investing £1.4 million in targeted educational support for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children. We will continue to work across government to tackle inequalities.

Baroness Bakewell Portrait Baroness Bakewell (Lab)
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I am aware of the Government’s plans to deal with the Roma community, but two weeks ago the submissions from local government closed. What guarantee is there that the funding going via local authorities will be ring-fenced for the Roma community and that it will not bring them into conflict with the new extended police power to move people on?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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It is for local authorities to work on their own local housing need. While tackling unauthorised encampments, we have recognised the need also to provide more opportunities for stopping sites. That is why we have invested £10 million in enabling both more permanent and temporary provision for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, an investigation by the Education Select Committee into the achievement of Gypsy and Roma children is under way. Only 8.1% of those children achieve a grade 5 or higher pass at GSCE English and Maths, compared to 49.9% of other pupils. What percentage of Gypsy and Roma children currently attract pupil premium funding? Is there a case that the level of funding should be higher, akin to that which looked-after children attract?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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More than 14,000 Gypsy, Roma, Traveller or Irish heritage pupils are eligible for free school meals, representing over 40% of GRT pupils. GRT pupils do not attract the pupil premium per se, but the Government have increased the amount of money to £2.6 billion in 2022-23. I will look at and discuss with my noble friend in the Department for Education the level set for GRT pupils.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is contributing remotely.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, mission 7 of the Government’s White Paper on levelling up in the UK aims to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy by 2030. However, there is no mention in it at all of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Given that the life expectancy of GRT people is 10 to 25 years less than that of the general population, can the Minister say what the Government are doing to target this disparity?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The levelling-up White Paper does not mention specific communities; it sets the overall ambition. However, it is fair to say that the Government, through the Health and Wellbeing Alliance, have commissioned health guidance for Roma communities. The guidance has been developed by the Roma Support Group, which is part of the Health and Wellbeing Alliance and NHS England, and this will be published as part of the migrant health guide.

Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker (Lab)
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My Lords, in 2019 the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, the Minister’s very effective predecessor, announced a cross-departmental strategy to level out the horrendous inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. I know the Minister is sympathetic to the strategy, but nothing has been announced—no plan, no strategy, no aims, no actions, no lines of accountability—since 2019. Indeed, since then the Education Select Committee, the House of the Lords Public Services Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights have all commented on the severe disparities in all the outcomes. What are the Government going to do about the cross-departmental strategy? Does it still exist?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise that we have not yet published the strategy but I take issue with the idea that we have not moved forward. We have made progress: we have launched the £10 million Traveller site fund for 2022-23; we have invested £1.4 million in targeted programmes, with various pilot projects to improve educational outcomes; and, as I said in response to a previous question, we are developing specific guidance to improve health outcomes in the Roma community. So, while we do not have a strategy, the Government have taken tangible steps to level up and benefit the GRT community.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, Roma used to be able to travel the land finding work as casual agricultural workers and stopping in traditional, unofficial places. The police and crime Bill will now prevent this, but local authorities are not required to provide legally serviced sites for them. The Roma are the last group in society to whom equalities do not appear to apply. Is the Minister not ashamed of the appalling inequalities that these citizens suffer constantly?

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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The Government made a manifesto commitment to tackle unauthorised encampments, but we recognise that not all of them cause harm or disruption. We recognise the financial costs to communities, businesses and landowners of clearing up sites and repairing damages. That is why we have announced the £10 million fund, which has been well oversubscribed. There are opportunities for local authorities to access that fund as well as the £10.5 billion affordable homes fund, but it is the local planning authorities’ duty to work out what they should be providing.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con)
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My Lords, can the Minister set out in specific terms what steps he is taking, working with the Department of Health and Social Care, to improve health outcomes for the Roma community, especially as the health disparities White Paper is being prepared and the ICBs are being established?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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We set out a clear mission in the levelling-up White Paper to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy by five years. We are creating clear guidance for the community, as I have already mentioned, and I am sure that more of the plan will be revealed in the health disparities White Paper in due course.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, my noble friend asked about the national strategy and progress, but surely one of the problems is the Government’s ongoing resistance to cross-departmental strategies on race equality issues. How will the levelling-up Bill address this? How will it get that resistance sorted and get departments to genuinely work together to improve outcomes for the Roma community?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we have a lead Minister who is responsible for equalities matters and has taken on the brief as Communities Minister. My honourable friend Kemi Badenoch is charged with those duties and I am sure will bring forward plans in due course.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, will my noble friend explain what happens to the funding awarded to a Gypsy, Traveller or Roma child if that child fails to complete the academic year, which is disruptive not just for that child but for all the children in that class?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I guess I will have to write to my noble friend on the specific point about what happens to funding, but the Government’s focus is on ensuring that we improve provision and keep more GRT children in mainstream schooling.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, the original Statement about the strategy referred to entrenched inequality, and last year we were told that the strategy would be published in due course. Why has it not yet been published? Is there no strategy?

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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For a great period of time when I held the brief before my colleague Kemi Badenoch, we were working on a clear set of plans, some of which have already been announced. Irrespective of whether or not there is a document, we have a plan around improving temporary and permanent site provision, which is why we have announced the fund. We have plans around improving educational opportunities for GRT children by leading with five pilots with local authorities. I am sure that more will be announced in due course.

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
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My Lords, in a recent conversation with Billy Welch, who organises the Appleby Horse Fair and lives in Darlington, he asked—while recognising the deep problems that have been highlighted in all these questions—that we please start talking about the positive contributions that GRT communities make. Would the Minister like to comment on his view?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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Yes, we recognise that GRT communities make a positive contribution. There is a clear commitment to support them in carrying on their way of life and nomadic traditions. That is why we have announced the fund to give them more opportunities for stopping sites and make it easier for them to live the way that they want to live.

Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL]

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I am proud to be here today to open this Second Reading debate of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill. This Bill will transform the lives of social housing tenants up and down the country. Once it is implemented, more tenants will live in decent, well looked-after homes, enjoying the quality of accommodation that they deserve.

However, it is right that we also reflect on the events that have led us to this point. Just over five years ago, 72 people—18 of them children—died as a result of the Grenfell Tower fire. The horrifying scenes that night ought never to have occurred. The situation in which the residents of Grenfell Tower were placed was unforgivable. The fire at Grenfell Tower exposed failures and decades of malpractice. It is vital that we bring about reform and lasting change so that a tragedy such as Grenfell never happens again.

Noble Lords have debated the Fire Safety Act and the Building Safety Act. The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill represents the next step in this programme of change. Social housing tenants, whether in Grenfell Tower or elsewhere up and down this country, have not been treated with the respect that they deserve. They do not always feel safe in their homes. Everyone should be treated with respect. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their home. In 2022, it is a disgrace that there are social housing tenants who are forced to live in damp, cold, unsafe homes. Some tenants wait months for repairs and are ignored by their landlords. We should be ashamed that this takes place. There are many good landlords in the sector. Many provide high-quality, well-managed, well-maintained accommodation. Many listen and care for their tenants, and many run a fiscally sound organisation. However, that cannot be said for every organisation. The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill will change this.

This Bill is short but radical. The Regulator of Social Housing is responsible for landlords who register with it throughout England. The regulator will be taking a new, proactive approach to regulating social housing landlords on the issues that matter most to tenants: safety, so that tenants feel protected in their homes; transparency, so that tenants know what their landlord is doing to resolve their issues and can hold their landlord to account; quality accommodation and services, which we would expect landlords to provide; and complaint handling, so that tenants are listened to and their concerns are effectively addressed. The Bill will drive significant change in how social landlords behave, forcing them to focus on the needs of their tenants. Where they do not do this, they will be held robustly to account.

The Bill has three key parts. The first is a brand-new proactive consumer regime. This is the core of this legislation. The regulator will be empowered to hold landlords to account and to proactively ensure landlords are meeting the consumer standards we expect them to deliver. We are changing the regulator’s objectives. This will put tenant safety and transparency at the heart of everything the regulator does. We are removing the “serious detriment” test so that this is no longer a barrier to the regulator enforcing breaches of consumer standards. We are setting out the powers for the Housing Ombudsman to issue a complaint handling code to its members and to make orders to prevent problems recurring in future following complaints.

The Government are also taking a power to bring forward electrical safety regulations for social housing. We are consulting on mandatory electrical safety checks in the social rented sector, and this will align standards with the private rented sector. The new regime will also mean that the regulator will regularly inspect the largest landlords to ensure they are delivering quality homes and services to their tenants. Landlords will need to appoint a person with specific responsibility for health and safety. There will be a new access to information scheme. This will work similarly to the Freedom of Information Act for landlords not currently captured by that Act. Tenants of these landlords will, under the access to information scheme, have the right to request information from their landlord so they can effectively hold their landlord to account.

The second part of the Bill tweaks the current economic regulatory regime. The existing regime has been highly successful. The regulator has been effective at ensuring social housing landlords are fiscally well managed, and that tenants’ homes are not lost. However, we cannot rest on our laurels. The make-up of the sector is changing. New models for how landlords structure their organisations are popping up. We need to future-proof the current regime. We are tightening the definition of “non-profit” so that malign actors cannot play the system. We are forcing landlords to notify the regulator when they change their corporate form. We are introducing a look-through power so the regulator can follow money paid outside of the regulated sector, to ensure probity.

The third part of the Bill will give new powers for the regulator to take enforcement action when things go wrong. These powers will ensure the regulator can take robust action where landlords are failing to meet standards. There will be no limit on the amount the regulator can fine a landlord. Where a survey uncovers a serious issue with a property that a landlord has failed to fix, the regulator will be able to intervene and carry out repairs to fix the problem.

Noble Lords will wish to note that there will be a few targeted government amendments to this legislation in Committee. Among these, we are adding a provision that companies will be required to notify the regulator when there is a change in control of a housing association, as set out in the social housing White Paper. We are also adding a duty on the Housing Ombudsman to monitor compliance with its complaint handling code and a power for the ombudsman to recover any associated costs from its members.

The introduction of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill to this House represents a decisive moment for tenants of social housing up and down this country. I beg to move.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank everyone across the Chamber for contributing so constructively to the spirited and very wide-ranging Second Reading. The debate once again highlighted the breadth and depth of noble Lords’ expertise and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Camrose on an excellent maiden speech. He comes with really practical skills—probably more practical than the scribblers out there, even though his family includes very distinguished owners of many of the titles that many of us read today. I am looking forward to his measured and thoughtful contributions to this House over the coming years.

Across all the contributions today there has been a consistent concern to ensure that tenants of social housing receive the housing and respect that they deserve. I share this concern. The Bill will deliver extensive and much-needed reforms. It will continue to drive forward the once-in-a-generation change required to make sure that tenants live in decent, safe and secure homes and are treated with respect. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in praising the contribution of the Grenfell community in advancing this important agenda. I will do my very best to address as many of the points raised as I can—again, this has been an incredibly wide-ranging debate.

A number of questions focused on the supply of social housing, including the contributions from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. This legislation is not about supply, as I think they both realised, but we are committed to increasing the supply of affordable homes. We have invested more than £12 billion in affordable housing over the five years, but we recognise the need to build more social rented housing, which is why this current programme of affordable housing is seeking to double the number of social homes we are building to 32,000. I noticed the focus in the excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on the decent homes standard. There is no greater sign that the Government recognise the importance of the decent homes standard than trying to extend it into the private rented sector. It is about raising quality, irrespective of whether you are a social tenant or a private tenant, so we improve quality in the round.

In response to the noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick and Lady Thornhill, I undertake that we will continue as a Government to work closely and engage closely with both the National Housing Federation and the Local Government Association as we bring forward these reforms and improve regulation.

A number of noble Lords, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, raised the issue of why it has taken so long to introduce the Bill. We have to recognise that the Bill is just one of many reforms that the Government have delivered in response to Grenfell Tower, including the Building Safety Act and last year’s Fire Safety Act. We spent time listening to residents, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Camrose. We had to hear at first hand about their experiences and how they wanted a sea-change. More than 8,000 residents contributed to these discussions, including the bereaved, survivors and residents of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. There has been a process: a social housing White Paper, which we consulted on, then we responded to the consultation, and now we are moving to legislation. It is important to get these things right.

A number of noble Lords asked about funding for the new regulatory regime, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox, Lady Watkins and Lady Thornhill, and my noble friend Lord Bourne. We are making significant changes to the regulator, which will drive change in the sector and improve the lives of social housing residents. Given the scale of reform, it is likely that the regulator will need to double in size to deliver the strengthened consumer regulation regime. Further work will be carried out to determine the exact cost of delivering the new consumer regulation regime, in part because the regulator will need to design and consult on the new regulatory framework following the passage of this Bill.

However, the Government are committed to ensuring that the regulator has the resources it needs, both to deliver the new consumer regulation regime and to continue effectively regulating on its economic objectives. A new fees regime will need to be developed for when the new consumer regime has been implemented. This will be subject to engagement and formal consultation with stakeholders. Government policy is to maximise the recovery of costs through fees in the same way that the regulator already does.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford raised, issuing fines is one of the enforcement powers the regulator can use. It is not the only one, and it is for the regulator to decide on the appropriate sanction depending on the circumstances. Government rent policy limits the maximum amount of rent that the social landlord can charge, subject to certain exceptions. It is down to the regulator to get the system of enforcement right, and there are protections on rent levels.

I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, in particular that the vast majority of the cost associated with this regulation, estimated at some £174 million, is largely a result of the requirements on providers to perform five-yearly electrical safety checks. That is certainly the largest source of cost. I know that he, in exhorting me to move from “may” to “must”, recognises that we do not want to pre-empt the consultation on electrical safety measures for social housing. However, we are obviously looking at the financial impact of that and would not be putting those powers in the Bill if we were not very serious in our intention to level up between private and public housing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, asked a difficult question about how the electrical safety power and associated costs affect shared ownership properties. I was scratching my head; I undertake to write to her with details on this critical issue.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox, Lady Thornhill and Lady Hayman of Ullock raised the issue of how we listen to tenants’ voices. We launched this social housing quality resident panel only in March, which brings together social housing residents from across the country so that they can share their views with government and Ministers. Let us see how that plays out. However, I note that the Mayor of London has called for a commission. We will look at that seriously and, I am sure, respond to those points.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, has really been into the details of this Bill. She wanted to know how we focus inspections and why small landlords will not be inspected. The system of inspections will be based on risk profile to ensure that those landlords at greatest risk of failing, or whose failure might have the greatest impact on tenants, are subject to greatest oversight, which makes sense to me. The regulator will continue to develop its approach and the details of how it will manage consumer inspections.

My noble friend Lord Young, who is forensic in his analysis of all housing legislation, asked why this advisory panel needs to be statutory. Placing the requirement in statute ensures that this happens. It also sets out expectations on the make-up of the panel and the range of matters it would consider. I believe it is sensible to ensure through legislation that this happens, rather than relying on the regulator choosing to do so. In other words, we are making sure that there is no way out and that this will happen.

In my meeting before today’s debate and during it, my noble friend Lord Young raised the confusion between the Housing Ombudsman and the Regulator of Social Housing. The Regulator of Social Housing has the emergency repair power. I point out that there is a long track record of close working between the regulator and the ombudsman, and we are ensuring effective information sharing between them. The proposals in the Bill will reinforce and strengthen the co-operation that already exists. We are also delivering a communications campaign to tenants so that they know where to go and are well informed.

There were a series of important contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and my noble friend Lord Young about what has happened to the government consultation on energy efficiency and what the Government are generally doing in this important area, particularly with respect to social housing. The Government agree that improving the energy efficiency of homes is a must. In the 2021 Heat and Buildings Strategy, we committed to consider setting a long-term regulatory standard to improve social housing to EPC band C, and we will consult the sector before setting any standard. The Government have committed some £3.8 billion to the social housing decarbonisation fund, which will help councils and housing associations to upgrade social housing. In fact, Lancaster West Residents’ Association has been a beneficiary of that fund.

I have to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, is incredibly dogged and has raised right to buy on pretty much every occasion, certainly in recent weeks. I know that a number of your Lordships are concerned about the impact of right to buy on social housing stock. The Government agree that it is important that homes sold under right to buy are replaced, and we want to see an increase in the number of replacement homes sold by local authorities. Following a consultation on the use of right-to-buy receipts, the Government introduced a package of reforms in 2021 to help local authorities build more homes. This set of reforms, combined with the abolition of the borrowing cap in 2018, certainly gives councils more flexibility to build council homes. That is what we are seeing: councils are building more council homes. With regard to the replacement of homes sold under the extension of right to buy to housing associations, tenants will be central to the scheme design. I am sure that the replacement of stock sold through that voluntary scheme will be foremost in getting the scheme right.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, raised the issue of tenant satisfaction measures. We believe that these measures provide a snapshot of a landlord’s performance, so they will not include everything. I know that the regulator has worked with the sector, the National Housing Federation and others in developing a balanced set of tenant satisfaction measures that cover the issues that tenants have told us were important to them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, asked a very specific question about whether the Government are looking at compensation for deregistered registered providers. I will take this important issue back to the department, as I do not have an answer here and now.

With regard to the focus on including net zero in the decent homes standard, as I said, we committed in the Heat and Buildings Strategy to consider setting a long-term regulatory standard to improve social housing to EPC band C. We will consult the sector before setting that standard, as I said in an earlier response.

It has been an incredibly wide-ranging debate, but I thank noble Lords, because I think there is a genuine desire to get behind the Bill to make sure that the voices of tenants are heard. I am sure there will be many opportunities to come up with practical proposals. Having taken forward legislation in this area, I look forward to working with those on all sides of the House to get this important legislation right and I beg to move.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.

Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL]

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Monday 27th June 2022

(2 days, 17 hours ago)

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Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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That it be an instruction to the Grand Committee to which the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL] has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 12, Schedule 1, Clause 13, Schedule 2, Clauses 14 to 28, Schedule 3, Clauses 29 and 30, Schedule 4, Clauses 31 and 32, Schedule 5, Clauses 33 to 36, Title.

Motion agreed.

United Kingdom: The Union

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Thursday 23rd June 2022

(6 days, 17 hours ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, for securing this debate on such an important topic. I also enjoyed the valedictory speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. He raised two important issues in a succinct contribution: the role of the monarchy in holding the union together, which is fundamental—we saw this with the Platinum Jubilee—and the role that faith communities, communities of all faiths, play in our lives. For a time, until the first reshuffle, I was the Communities Minister and had responsibility for faith. I was able in my last few days to launch the Faith New Deal, which was a way to put money into projects to work with faith communities to improve the lives of everybody in this United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom is a family of nations and a nation of families, standing up for and embodying in its institutions liberty under the law, respect for all, fair play, free trade, parliamentary democracy and progress. In response to the points made by my noble friend Lord Norton, the union is very much a living political, cultural and economic success story. As he pointed out, there is so much to gain from the union. When we act together as one United Kingdom, we are safer, stronger and more prosperous.

The union also provides safety and security, allowing all parts of the UK to benefit from the economies of scale offered by our shared resources and our ability to influence on the international stage. It enables us to protect the values we hold in common across our United Kingdom. I think a noble Lord called into question whether we would retain a seat on the Security Council. Clearly, that is somewhere where we gain great stature as a United Kingdom.

I also reaffirm that we are absolutely committed to devolution. Devolution offers citizens the best of both worlds. It allows decisions to be taken closer to the communities they affect, while still benefiting from the broad shoulders the union provides. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, mentioned the English question, but we recognise that it is important to celebrate devolution. That is why we launched the levelling up White Paper with a commitment that, by 2030, every part of England that wants a devolution deal will have one. Devolution is critical to delivering levelling up, supporting local leaders so they can more flexibly and innovatively respond to local needs, whether on transport, skills or regeneration.

We are also committed to working collaboratively with the devolved Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Many noble Lords mentioned that in January 2022, we marked a new chapter in intergovernmental relations with new principles and structures for working together, agreed after a joint review. Each Government have agreed to operate under the improved arrangements and to move forward together with implementation of this new system. I point out to my noble friend Lord Norton, who called for comity, which, I believe, is an association of nations for mutual benefit, that we are absolutely committed to translating both the spirit and the content of the new arrangements into consistent approaches and actions. Already, more than 10 portfolio-level inter-ministerial groups are fully up and running, and the two middle-tier inter-ministerial standing committees have each met at least once. We have a Minister for Intergovernmental Relations; I am in his department, and that is why I am at this Dispatch Box. The Minister has had 80 meetings, I think, in the past year on aspects of the union, and there have been 440 inter-ministerial meetings with Governments. We show a real commitment to working collaboratively with the devolved Administrations.

It is hard to characterise the working relationship as one of imperial condescension when the facts are that we are providing 20% more funding per person as part of the spending review. That is 26% more per person for the Scottish Government, 20% more per person for the Welsh Government and 21% more per person for the Northern Ireland Executive. These are substantial sums of investment into the other nations.

I return to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, about taking forward my noble friend Lord Cormack’s idea. We believe that interparliamentary relations were strengthened by structures such as the Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit, and the Government will consider further developments in this area. Should the Speakers of each House whish to explore setting up such a forum, we will consider supporting it. We will take that away from this debate and consider it in due course.

One of the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, was on Civil Service capability. We have implemented the vast majority of the recommendations of the Dunlop review, and we have a programme to enhance the devolution knowledge and intergovernmental working of civil servants, enabling them to deliver more effectively when designing and implementing policies—it is important to have that underpinning.

Further to getting devolution to work, we started the process of city and growth deals, which began in 2014, with a joint agreement between the UK Government and the relevant devolved Governments, local authorities and partners from the public, private and education sectors. The UK Government have so far committed almost £2.9 billion in funding across 20 such deals in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including almost £1.49 billion in Scotland, £791 million in Wales and £617 million in Northern Ireland. We continued this good work by reaching a landmark agreement with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to work together to deliver two new freeports in Scotland and one in Wales.

Comment was made on the common frameworks that have been developed. The common framework programme is an integral part of our consensual approach to the union. Throughout its development, the programme has embodied the spirit of openness and transparency with the devolved Governments. It has enabled us to manage regulatory divergence covered by the programme in a way that works for consumers and businesses in the union. We are working closely with colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to publish the six remaining frameworks for scrutiny by Members of this House and the devolved legislatures. Ministers within the UK Government and the devolved Administrations play an important role in scrutinising and approving those frameworks.

I turn to Northern Ireland. It is vital that the parties form an Executive as soon as possible—that continues to be this Government’s central message. Northern Ireland has the best of both worlds when it has a stable Northern Ireland Executive backed up by the support and strength of the UK Government. The New Decade, New Approach agreement previously restored the devolved institutions after a three-year impasse. As set out in legislation, this agreement provided for a period of up to 24 weeks for Northern Ireland’s political representatives to restore functioning devolved institutions. The Government expect the parties to make full use of this time to engage with one another in earnest to restore fully functioning devolved institutions at an early stage. The people of Northern Ireland need a stable and accountable Government who deliver on the issues that are important to them, which is why we continue to urge the parties to come together and form an Executive as soon as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, all mentioned the proposed legislation introduced last week, which aims to fix the practical problems that the Northern Ireland protocol has created. We believe that the legislation avoids a hard border, protects the integrity of the United Kingdom and safeguards the EU single market. However, it is our preference to resolve this through talks; our door remains open, but the EU has so far not been willing to change the protocol, which is necessary to deliver the solutions needed for Northern Ireland.

The union’s strength and its value have been displayed time and again over recent years, from providing up to £400 billion in Covid support to individuals, businesses and public services, including 1.7 million jobs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to having regular meetings with devolved government Ministers to discuss the illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and agreeing the UK-wide approach for settling Ukrainian refugees.

Now more than ever, we should pool our collective efforts in addressing the most pressing problems of the day. That is why our citizens expect our focus not to be on divisive activities that threaten our union. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said, Scotland has not voted for independence. I am pleased that my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Cormack stand firm in preserving the union and, in the case of my noble friend Lord Cormack, campaigning through his son against Scottish independence. As the Government have said many times, this is not the time to be talking about referenda. The people of Scotland rightly expect both their Governments to work together and place their full focus on the issues that really matter. That is what is important at this time.

Last year’s Autumn Budget provided the largest annual block grants in real terms of any spending review settlement since devolution in 1998—that is real commitment—and included the first allocation of the UK-wide funds, including the levelling-up fund and the community ownership fund. The Spring Statement set out measures to support citizens across the United Kingdom with shared challenges, not least the cost of living. Since then, families and businesses across the UK have benefited from a 12-month cut in fuel duty, and millions of UK households are eligible for access to a £15 billion package of targeted support.

We are taking specific action in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, including putting local voices at the heart of decision-making through the UK shared prosperity fund, launching an innovation accelerator in Glasgow City Region and establishing a UK national academy to provide a first-class education to all children in the United Kingdom.

Levelling up is a national effort that will require all levels of government to use the levers at their disposal. We look forward to ongoing collaboration with the devolved Governments on this crucial work and will support our citizens to take advantage of opportunities wherever they may live, for that is in the best interests of our union.

I hope that I have made it clear that this Government are doing what we believe to be in the best interests of the union and the citizens who live in every part of it. We will continue the mission to deliver a strong, prosperous and united kingdom, one which stands strong on the world’s stage.

Housing: Private Renters

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd June 2022

(1 week ago)

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to their English Housing Survey: a segmentation analysis of private renters, published on 16 June, what plans they have to improve conditions for private renters.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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First, I declare my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register. Our White Paper sets out how we will provide a better deal for renters and our commitment to consult on introducing a decent homes standard in the sector—the first Government ever to do so. This will mean that homes must be free from serious hazards and disrepair, warm and dry, and with decent facilities. We will also provide councils with the powers they need for robust and effective enforcement to drive up standards.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, by planning to remove Section 21, the Government have rightly recognised that security of tenure is one of the biggest issues for renters. The White Paper talks about the need to protect renters from evictions while also talking about making the eviction process as straight- forward as possible. The Government say:

“After eviction, tenants cannot always find suitable housing nearby, interrupting their employment and children’s education”,


yet the White Paper also says:

“Claim forms for possession will be simplified and streamlined for landlords.”


I ask the Minister for clarification: is it the Government’s aim to make it easy for landlords to get their house back at short notice even if the tenant is not at fault, or is it to give tenants security and to protect them from the cost of unwanted moves?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, the purpose of this 12-point plan of reforms is to ensure that we balance the interests between landlord and tenant, but first remove the Section 21 no-fault evictions. In doing so, we are enhancing the grounds around Section 8 so that it is easier to remove tenants who disrupt the community and cause persistent anti-social behaviour, while bringing grounds for egregious rent arrears and moving and selling grounds, because landlords have a right to ask the tenant to leave if they need to sell the property. We are making those grounds work for the landlord so that we can remove Section 21. It is all about balancing those interests.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, I warmly welcome the measures that my noble friend announced on Monday, which will improve the terms of trade for private tenants, particularly against bad landlords. But is there not a risk that these bad landlords see the legislation coming and, before it is enacted, introduce leases that deny tenants that protection? Is it not imperative that this legislation is introduced as soon as possible and, if possible, backdated to the time of its Second Reading?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I always appreciate my noble friend’s eagle eye. We do not want landlords gaming the system, and we want to make it very clear that any abuse of the future system will not be tolerated. We are committed to ensuring that local councils will have the right powers to crack down on any rogue practices such as those that my noble friend has outlined.

Baroness Thornhill Portrait Baroness Thornhill (LD)
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My Lords, on Monday, in response to my letter about landlords leaving long-term lettings in favour of the more lucrative Airbnb, particularly at a time of increasing demand, the Minister replied that the English Housing Survey says that we are seeing some landlords leaving but an equal number coming in. Can the Minister tell us the source of the statistics that allow the Government to make that assertion, against mounting evidence to the contrary? I could not find it in the quoted English Housing Survey, nor the Government’s Private Landlord Survey, and the National Landlords Association could not help either. This is a vital piece of data, given what we believe is really happening on the ground.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I suppose I should always be very careful about giving data. In response in the other place, the Minister—who was driving forward with the 12-point plan—made it clear that we are seeing as many landlords leaving the sector as we are seeing entering the sector. I will go back and find the data that underpinned my remarks in the debate we had earlier this week.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that part of the problem with the private rental sector is that many people in it would rather be in social housing at a fair rent, and that, because of a shortage in that housing, private landlords are often able to exploit some of the most vulnerable in our society? What could we do about that in the future, to increase social rented?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, it is important to recognise the balance of having more tenants who cannot afford renting in the private sector having social or affordable homes. That is why we have an £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme, and we are seeking to double the amount of social rented homes that we build to 32,000, because clearly, the housing benefit bill has been growing astronomically and we need to contain that over time.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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Agreeing as I certainly do with the thrust of the previous four questions, I ask whether the Minister can confirm that in the last 20 years, the proportion of households living in private rented accommodation has doubled, whilst the proportion of owner-occupiers has reduced and the proportion living in social rented accommodation has reduced dramatically. This is despite the fact, as the previous questioner has pointed out, that the private rented sector is often the most expensive and certainly the least popular of the various forms of tenure. Is the Minister satisfied with these trends and is he happy for them to continue, or does he not think that it would be preferable to enable more people to move into the owner-occupied sector or the social rented sector, and stop this huge rise in the private rented sector?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I am not going to glorify one type of tenure over another. The noble Lord is right, however, in the sense that we have seen a doubling of the amount of private rented, but it is approximately the same proportion of the amount of housing stock: it has broadly stayed around 19%. You can look at percentages, or at the absolute amount. One of the benefits of Governments over the last few decades is that the proportion of non-decent private rented sector homes—those with category 1 hazards—has come down dramatically. In 2006, to pick a date at random, it was 46%. It is now down to 21% of homes, which is still too high, but that is why we are bringing in these measures, to drive that down even further. For young people, who are mobile, private renting is often a very good option and I am not going to knock it, but we do recognise that we need to build more homes for sale and have more social homes. I acknowledge that, but let us not put one form of tenure ahead of another.

Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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Can we look at this in a very cautious sort of way? I am glad that the Minister used the word “balance”. I remember the Rent Act 1965, which was so well-intentioned that it led to a 25% fall in the amount of rented accommodation. The reason for that was that they did not keep the balance, and in the private sector, probably more than any other housing sector, we need to keep that balance, so that it looks as though both sides win.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I am not sure I detected a question, but I am completely with the noble Lord in spirit, in the sense that it is an important comment. We need to recognise that landlords have a choice. We need to make sure that it works for tenants but also that when landlords have reasonable grounds to recover their property, those conditions are in place. These reforms seek to get that balance right.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab)
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My Lords, can the Minister reaffirm the assertion he made that the fundamental problem we have is an overall shortage of accommodation, with a growing population? In those circumstances, what policy do the Government have—any radical turn? Does he not recognise that many people now want to stay at home, do not want to work in offices and do not want to go to retail premises, which are now declining? Waitrose is converting some of its property into homes. When will the Government encourage people to stay at home? Then, we can use offices and retail premises to create more accommodation.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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That is a very reasonable point. In a sense, we have to recognise that the world is changing and that there are opportunities to build more homes. We see that in the urban setting, where retail will diminish; people are buying online far more than before. Equally, I talk to my friends who live in the country—I am a city guy—who say that there are also agricultural areas that could easily be rezoned to provide opportunities for growth. We need to look at that, and that is why we are bringing forward the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to look at how we reform the planning system so that we get the right use of the right places and grow in the right way.

Baroness Wheatcroft Portrait Baroness Wheatcroft (CB)
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My Lords, many local authorities borrowed money to invest in commercial property; they were not allowed to borrow money to invest in social housing. I wonder whether the Minister can tell the House how much money those local authorities that invested in commercial property have now lost, and how much they might have bettered themselves and the country had they been able to invest in social housing.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, as someone who was a local authority leader for six years and in local government for 20 years, I know that not all councils invested in commercial property. We have some examples, such as Croydon, that got into that sort of game, but I do not think it was something that most councils did. Most councils have been seeking to get back into the council house building business. In 2018 we removed the cap on the housing revenue account, and I think it is great that this generation of council leaders are building more council homes for their residents. Proper oversight will ensure that the sorts of practices that the noble Baroness mentions are kept to the absolute minimum. If necessary, we will move in to take over control if it gets really bad.

New Homes Commitment

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Tuesday 21st June 2022

(1 week, 1 day ago)

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Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they remain committed to building 300,000 new homes a year.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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Delivering new homes and regenerating left-behind communities are central to our levelling-up mission and we remain committed to our ambition of delivering 300,000 homes a year. We have made progress, with more than 2 million additional homes being delivered since April 2010. Over 242,000 homes were delivered from April 2019 to March 2020, which is the highest level for over 30 years.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend. The Construction Industry Training Board has forecast that we will need an additional 266,000 construction workers over the next three years if demand is to be met—and that is in an industry already facing shortages. What action can my noble friend take to see that those numbers are met? If there is to be a shortfall in output, can he ensure that that does not fall on the affordable sector of the market?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My noble friend is right that there has been a recent report by the CITB, but I point out that that shortfall is for the whole of the construction industry, not just housing. We have significant cross-government intervention and investment in skills, and the CITB made £110 million available in training grants to support 14,000 businesses. However, we continue to recognise—this was picked up by the Federation of Master Builders—that there are stresses and strains in terms of labour and materials. The Government are working hard to overcome these.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation, which estimates that we need 90,000 social homes a year in England. Can the Minister tell us how the Government will ensure that their reforms in the planning system contained in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will help deliver that much-needed social housing?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, there is a real commitment to build more social housing, including more affordable housing. As the noble Baroness knows, the programme is for some £11.5 billion, with a target of double the number of social rented homes in this particular grant period than the previous one. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill recognises that, in order to get the housing, we need the infrastructure in place and must ensure that neighbourhoods have mixed communities at their heart. That is what the Bill is planning to do.

Baroness Walmsley Portrait Baroness Walmsley (LD)
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My Lords, can the Minister tell us that all the new houses will be built with a high level of insulation, the quality of which is properly inspected, and will not be fitted with gas boilers but will be heated by renewable energy?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we recognise that in order to meet our net-zero commitment we need to implement the future homes standard, which comes in, I believe, in 2025. Building regulations will reflect that ambition to ensure that we build not only more homes but more sustainable homes that use heat pumps and other devices to meet that target.

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation board. Does my noble friend agree that many public bodies would be willing to get on with delivering homes if they had access to the brownfield infrastructure land fund? Nearly three months into the financial year, can my noble friend say when the allocations from that fund will be announced?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, £550 million has been allocated to seven mayoral combined authorities. However, we recognise that we need to announce the availability of funding for smaller brownfield sites, which will happen very shortly.

Lord Best Portrait Lord Best (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister will know that half of all the affordable housing that is produced annually within the 300,000 target comes from the planning obligations on housebuilders. Can he reassure the House that the planning reforms in the levelling-up Bill will not diminish the amount of affordable housing that housebuilders have to produce, since we need to double the output of affordable housing and not halve it?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I can give an assurance that the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill recognises the role of building more housing, including more affordable housing. We are trying to ensure that there is a more transparent approach to the levy. There is reform around the current community infrastructure levy to get that right and to make sure we get a proper contribution to affordable housing in the coming years.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Portrait Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, has there been a detailed assessment of the decision by Mrs Thatcher to sell off council houses 40 years ago in the light of chronic shortages of houses for sale and rent at affordable prices? Are the Government positively encouraging local authorities to increase their public housing stock?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we can prima facie assess that 2 million people chose to buy their own council home and are now homeowners as a result. We make no apology for that. We want to make sure that, in spreading the ability for housing association tenants to buy their own homes, we design the scheme in a way that enables the homes sold to be replaced on a one-for-one basis, which I think everyone can get behind.

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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Can my noble friend confirm that an unbelievable 1 million people were given the right to come and settle in this country last year? Even if we assume that 300,000 return or emigrate, can he confirm that the remainder—even if they occupy houses at twice the density of the indigenous population—will use up half of the houses we build every year?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise that this has been a very welcoming country. We have welcomed refugees from Afghanistan and there has been the very successful programme of welcoming British Hong Kongers to this country. We make no apologies for that. We recognise that there is a need to hit our new-build housing targets and that those will be homes for people who have come to this country for a better life, but we need homes for the younger generations as well.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, the housebuilding index produced by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply found that, last month, residential construction slowed to levels last seen during the first Covid lockdown. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact this will have on house prices and private rents?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I do not recognise the cataclysmic drop since the pandemic. We hit a record number, as I pointed out, in 2020-21; there was a slight falling back, but all our internal assessments are that we will see a rebound and that the dip this year will not be pronounced or continue into the mid-decade. Hitting 300,000 is a stretching target, but we will see increasing numbers in the years to come.

Lord Bishop of Blackburn Portrait The Lord Bishop of Blackburn
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My Lords, is it possible for a developer to pay the local authority a certain sum of money to be relieved of its responsibility, and for that local authority then to use the money elsewhere? I hear that is happening in other parts of the country.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I do not recognise that you can discharge your responsibility. That is almost describing a bung—I do not think that happens. If there is an affordable housing requirement, you can choose to discharge that off-site, but you still have the requirement to deliver it. We see that in some areas where there is very high-value housing; it is simply more economic to build it elsewhere. I do not recognise that, but if the right reverend Prelate has specific examples, I am happy to look into them.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, it is said that pressure on housing supply is often at the expense of regional and national economic development, and that government departments work on their own strategies in silos to the detriment of the broader strategy. Can the Minister give assurance that this is not the case and that he will take up the cause if evidence is presented to the contrary?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I recognise that we cannot look at housing in isolation; we need to get investment in the infrastructure and other factors to allow for growth. It is a good start to have had a £10 billion investment in housing supply since the start of this Parliament, but there is also investment to enable brownfield sites to be built out rather than the—sometimes easier—greenfield sites. We want to see brownfield development and that requires infrastructure, and the money is in place to do precisely that.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, is it not time that we had a meaningful new towns project which would benefit both owner-occupation and social housing throughout the United Kingdom?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I think we need to find ways of coming up with new town projects but to do that we need the infrastructure, the transport, the roads and the rail, and that is why we recognise that a programme just to build homes is not enough. We need to get that in the round, and we are taking it forward as part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill in this Session.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I was very pleased to hear the Minister say enthusiastically last night that we need more affordable housing and social housing, and that the Government were happy to look at ideas. There are currently 500 projects for community land trust homes, creating 7,000 new homes around the country. Will the Government look at how they can encourage further this model of providing homes in perpetuity, of a structure and type decided by local communities for local communities?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I think there is quite a degree of interest in how community land trusts can operate; Coin Street is an example, and I believe there are other examples in Watford. We are happy to take all ideas, including how we can use community land trusts as a vehicle to deliver more affordable housing.

Leasehold Reform: Forfeiture Provisions

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Monday 20th June 2022

(1 week, 2 days ago)

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a leaseholder.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register. The Government believe that forfeiture is an extreme measure which should be used only as a last resort. In practice, forfeiture happens very rarely, and the leaseholder may apply for relief from forfeiture subject to the court’s discretion. We asked the Law Commission to update its 2006 review of forfeiture law, Termination of Tenancies for Tenant Default, to account for wider leasehold reforms currently under way, and we are considering what action may be needed.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, there is a desperate need for root and branch leasehold reform. Does the Minister agree that the execution of forfeiture, or even the threat of forfeiture of a lease on a home, to recover a debt or deal with a dispute is totally disproportionate in comparison with the value of the asset, and that what should be in place is a simple procedure to recover the debt or deal with the issue at hand commensurate with the issue or the value of the debt concerned?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that forfeiture is an extreme measure. We have asked the Law Commission to look into this and it has come back not with removing forfeiture but with simplifying the process, making it more transparent and coming up with a mechanism that is more proportionate. We are considering these as part of the second stage of our leasehold reform.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend recall saying on 9 June last year that it was the Government’s aim to complete the leasehold reform programme in this third Session of Parliament? Is that still the case, because the Bill was not in the Queen’s Speech? If it is not, can we at least have a draft Bill in this Session so that we can hit the ground running in the fourth?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I always thank my noble friend for his interventions. We want to move forward with the second stage of leasehold reform. It will not be part of the third Session but there is a commitment to this Parliament. My noble friend is right that we can use this time to get a Bill drafted. We will take time so that we can get it through Parliament as soon as possible at the beginning of the fourth Session.

Baroness Thornhill Portrait Baroness Thornhill (LD)
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My Lords, I look forward to the leasehold reform.

Two weeks ago, I attended a meeting of leaseholder residents in a block of retirement flats. It will be no surprise to the Minister that their main complaint was the exorbitant increases in management fees, with no transparency of cost or answers as to why the increase had in one year gone from 5% to nearly 16%. When will the Government finally put a stop to this obfuscation and general bad practice by regulating management companies, as advised by the Government’s own expert working group, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Best, back in 2019?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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Once again, the noble Baroness is right that we need to sort out some of the practices that we see among managing agents. We are still considering how to take forward the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Best, but as noble Lords know, there is also a move to introduce voluntary codes, which I hope will elevate this. Overall, we need to see professionalisation of managing agents.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, we have a virtual contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.

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Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, with vulnerable, low-income elderly groups in this highly inflationary period facing unaffordable, escalating service charges and possible loss or even forfeiture of their homes, why not promote or sponsor a national scheme for elderly leaseholders that rolls up service charges in the form of a debenture against property title—effectively a rising legal charge? The debenture holder would pay the service charge on behalf of the resident, and then claw back payments—interest-serviced or otherwise—on death or even before.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for some exciting policy ideas. It is important that we recognise that forfeiture is a very lengthy process, and there are ways in which we can cover debt. In fact, where there is an outstanding mortgage, you typically find that mortgage companies step in and pay off any remaining amounts, because they want to protect their financial interest in a property that is worth far more than the debt. But it is an idea that I will take back to the department.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I support fully the Government’s intentions for urgent leasehold reform; I look forward to seeing the legislation. Does my noble friend agree that it is really important to ensure that landlords are still incentivised to let their properties? With the shortage of housing that we have, it is important to balance the interests of leaseholders and freeholders. There are really important areas of reform, such as have been raised, that need attention for this market to function much better than it does.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for once again underlining that, when we reform landlord and tenant law, we need get the balance of interests right. As a Government, we have committed to a number of ways in which we try to get that balance right and, indeed, to move away from the idea of having leasehold as the tenure of choice to an era where we have full-throated commonhold, which I hope has the support of many Members of this House.

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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Does my noble friend agree that there is great interest in leasehold reform? Would not this be an ideal opportunity to take advantage of a procedure which we have always had and greatly valued, pre-legislative scrutiny? If, indeed, there is to be a Bill in draft, perhaps this procedure could be used to let the House look at this in the round, which is urgently required.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising that. I am conscious of that way of starting the process; when you get the Bill written, pre-legislative scrutiny is a good way of getting broad support. In fact, that is how we started the process of scrutiny for what is now the Building Safety Act.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, as we are not going to have the Bill in this Session of Parliament, which is very disappointing, would the Minister welcome seeing a number a campaigners to discuss the reform with him, so as to get ready for the Bill period in the last Session of this Parliament?

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I reassure the House that, as the Minister with responsibility for leaseholds, I engage regularly with campaign groups, including the National Leasehold Campaign, and, of course, the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, but I am always happy to meet other campaigners so that we get the reforms right. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and it is important that we listen to those stakeholders.

Private Rented Sector

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Monday 20th June 2022

(1 week, 2 days ago)

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Baroness Thornhill Portrait Baroness Thornhill (LD)
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I say to the Minister that there is general support across all sectors for these reforms in the White Paper, which we too broadly agree with. In fact, I agree with so much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has said that I could just say, “#MeToo” and sit down—but I am not going to. I will not go through the proposals and rationales for each point in the White Paper, because I believe that there will be opportunities to do that later. I want to stress our key points that we would seek a chance to influence and explore.

First, we are disappointed by the speed at which this has gone. We are now only going into consultations and pilots, not legislation—at a time when homelessness and evictions are set to rise. Does the Minister have any timelines or milestones for us?

Our greatest area of support for these reforms—and, paradoxically, of concern—is around evictions. We totally applaud the ban on no-fault evictions, but ask whether any lessons have been learned from Scotland about the application in reality of the new grounds for eviction. How tightly are they drawn, and how have they measured success? Let us take one example which the noble Baroness mentioned: eviction because the landlord wishes to sell the home. How will that be proved and dealt with, or are the Government considering recourse, as happens in Ireland?

We know that revenge evictions are more common than we might like and hope that the decent homes standard and the annual rent rise will discourage such evictions, as do the Government. But even after a year, a tenant can still be priced out of a flat by an unreasonable, excessive rise in rent that they can ill afford. Have the Government considered encouraging rent rises only in between tenancies—a practice that many good landlords already do? Given that the cost of living crisis will not be short lived, what, if anything, will the Government do to curb excessive rent rises, or will it all be left to the market? Why have the Government yet again decided to freeze the local housing allowance?

The Government’s commitment to extending a legally binding decent homes standard to the sector is a potential game-changer, but only if there is enough capacity in the system to monitor and enforce it. Local authorities are definitely down on capacity and funding. What reassurances can the Minister give us that there will be capacity and resources within the system to enforce this standard—a vital part of the reforms?

Regarding capacity, the proposal for a private sector ombudsman is a good one. After all, there is one for the social housing sector. But we know that the social housing ombudsman is under pressure due to capacity issues already, so how will this one be any different? After years of stressed budgets and the demands of the pandemic, will the Government use one of the pilot schemes to review the available capacity of all the partners whom they will need on board to make sure these reforms work, and look at how their roles effectively all knit together?

Finally, there is a legitimate concern in the sector that these changes will force landlords out of the system at a time when we need more, not fewer. Is there a danger of unintended consequences? There is some anecdotal evidence that this is happening in areas popular with tourists, such as Cornwall, the Lake District and Edinburgh. Homes once for long-term let are now seen on more lucrative Airbnb sites. Consequently, locals are priced out of the housing market due to second home owners and they are unable to rent due to a lack of supply. Do the Government recognise this as an issue? If so, are there any possibilities of looking at ways to incentivise landlords to stick with longer-term lettings? There will be time to go into detail in the future, but hopefully not too far in the future.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the Opposition and Liberal Democrat Front Benches for a constructive critique of this important Statement. There is a recognition on all sides of the House that the private rented sector is the most expensive, least secure and lowest quality of all housing tenures. A fifth of renters are paying a third of their income to live in substandard accommodation, which is completely unacceptable. I think that is why the chief executive of Shelter described the proposals around the 12-point plan as a game-changer for the 11 million private renters in England.

This White Paper really is the biggest set of reforms in a generation. It seeks to ensure that tenants have access to safe and decent homes; to increase security and stability by abolishing Section 21, which I know is supported by the vast majority of people in this Chamber—I have not come across anyone who is against that; to improve dispute resolution but, importantly, ensure that there is better compliance and robust enforcement; and to improve the renting experience for private rented sector tenants.

I turn to some of the points raised in this short debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, raised enforcement of the decent homes standard, which is a centre point of the reform programme. We will consult on applying the decent homes standard to the private rented sector shortly and carry out a number of pilot schemes across the country to explore different ways of enforcing the standards, because it is important that we do not have the decent homes standard just defined but with an inability to enforce.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, also wanted to know why these reforms have taken so long to come forward. It is a legitimate question, but we have had a global pandemic and in the last couple of years we have been focused on supporting tenants during the pandemic with longer notice periods, a ban on bailiff evictions and unprecedented financial support. We have made the very clear commitment to bring forward this renters reform Bill in the third Session, and this White Paper is an important part of getting this right. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get these reforms right.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, quite rightly wanted to know how these new reforms would be enforced. I have talked about the pilots, but equally the property portal will make sure that local authorities have the information they need to enforce the standards so that we are not relying, as we currently are, on tenants coming forward to point out when there is an issue.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Thornhill and Lady Hayman, both raised the cost of living issue. The Government do not support rent controls. When this was introduced in the 1970s, we saw a disincentive and a private rented sector that did not get the quality of housing and investment that we needed. That is why we feel that focusing on allowing an increase in rents only once a year and ending rent review clauses are ways of ensuring that we get a more reasonable approach to rent increases.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, raised an interesting question around the burdens on landlords and whether we are going to get the unintended consequence of more Airbnbs and fewer people wanting to let. The English Housing Survey says that we are seeing some landlords leaving but an equal number coming in, so there is no evidence from the survey yet of an exodus of landlords. It is important that we think about landlords in these reforms, though, and that is why we have strengthened the repossession grounds for landlords, including in cases of serious anti-social behaviour and persistent arrears, and for landlords who wish to move back to their property.

I think there was a strong element of a briefing from Generation Rent in some of the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Certainly, I am aware of the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, about the no-fault moving and selling grounds, wanting to extend that to 24 months and not seeing a Section 21, if you like, by the back door.

As a Government we feel that it is important to protect tenants, and that is why we are limiting the use of moving and selling grounds in the first six months of a tenancy. To mitigate any abuse, we are also restricting landlords from remarketing or reletting the property for three months when they use these grounds. It is about getting a balance between landlord and tenant.

Overall, it is fair to say that there is a fair wind behind these reforms. It is important, as they say, to get things done and better late than never.

Baroness Kennedy of Cradley Portrait Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as director of Generation Rent. The White Paper is welcome. It is serious and ambitious. If the detail of the words follows through to the legislation in the end, it will make significant difference to renters’ lives.

As the Minister said, the centrepiece of the reform is to end Section 21 and give renters a secure and stable home. Insecurity of tenure is the biggest issue for renters, which is why I feel that when we look at the White Paper and the mandatory no-fault grounds, there is a need to strengthen those grounds. I would like to hear a little more from the Minister about how the Government will ensure that those mandatory no-fault grounds will be strengthened to ensure they are not abused by unscrupulous landlords and give renters the security that this legislation is designed to do.

Does the Minister agree that if you are given a no-fault ground for eviction, you have a family and your kids are at the local school, you do not want to move in term time, you do not want to move over the winter and you would need longer than two months in which to make that move under no-fault grounds? It is also expensive, as the Government have acknowledged in the White Paper, so compensation should be given to renters for no-fault grounds. It should be longer than a two-month notice period and increased to four months.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness asks a difficult question. However, I have been encouraged, whenever I cannot directly answer a question, to say that my honourable friend the Minister in the other place will be conducting a drop-in session on 12 July between 11.30 am and 12.30 pm in Room W3, off Westminster Hall. Doing my best as someone who is not the lead Minister for private rental reform, as the noble Baroness realises, I can say that it is about the architecture. The important way of ensuring that landlords are not gaming the system around no-fault evictions is to have transparency through the property portal, so we collect all the available data rather than just relying on renters essentially having to get themselves legal representation and raise the issues themselves. Therefore the property portal is key. We also need to ensure that we get an ombudsman with teeth, with the right powers, and to ensure that the local authorities are resourced in the right way to step in if necessary as well. It is around getting that architecture which will turn the rhetoric into reality.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, in the light of the Minister’s previous answer, do I take it that the Government have undertaken a study of the potential effect of the growth of Airbnb on the proposals outlined in this White Paper? If it was felt that that was adversely affecting the rented sector, what action might the Government be minded to take?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I am not aware that we have undertaken a specific study on the impact of Airbnb on the private rented sector. However, we have a clear mission within the levelling-up White Paper to reduce the number of non-decent homes by 50% and therefore see equality of supply. We are looking at whether there is an erosion in the private rented sector through the annual English Housing Survey, which gives some indication of whether there is a need to dig deeper. So far, all indications are that the sector is robust; 4.4 million households are renting privately and it seems to work well. However, we are keeping that matter under review.

Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, I welcome many of the reforms. However, have Her Majesty’s Government made any sort of formal economic assessment as to whether these protections will do anything to address the higher costs of private rented accommodation, which can so often drive people to social housing? If not, can they assure this House that there will be sufficient affordable social accommodation for those who really need it?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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There are two parts to how the right reverend Prelate has put the question. The first is that we need to make sure that there is enough supply of social housing, otherwise people who should be in social housing rather than in private housing lose out. There is a real commitment in the affordable homes programme to deliver far more social rented homes: 32,000, which is double the amount of social rented homes in this period than in the previous one. On the cost of living, the best thing is to take action now, and there have been quite a few measures. Some are universal but some are aimed at pensioners; there is a separate one-off payment of £300 to 8 million pensioner households, and obviously there are the measures around people who require support around the costs of essentials. The Government have stepped in where there need to be specific measures, as well as universal measures around fuel bills. Equally, however, the right reverend Prelate is right that we need to ensure that we continue to build more homes and especially ensure that there are more social homes.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, tenants’ groups and campaigners say that they need three layers of foundation to give everyone the secure and stable home that they need. The first is decent structural condition, maintenance and repairs, and the second is not to be evicted unfairly. As other questioners have said, this White Paper makes considerable progress on both those areas. However, the third key part of the foundation according to renters’ groups is to have a home that you can afford. The Minister said that the Government were looking at rent controls and pointed back to the kind of rent controls that we had in the 1970s. However, are the Government prepared to consider different, more flexible, smarter forms of rent control? In Scotland, the Green Tenants’ Rights Minister is looking at ways in which rent controls can deliver what people actually need, which is rental costs that are not more than 25% of their income. Another way of looking at this might be that powers for rent control are given to mayors, like the Mayor of London and other regional and city mayors around the country. That would be a way of experimenting and working. How can the Government ensure that people can afford to rent, which is an essential foundation?

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I am sure the Government are happy to look at ideas. We have had ideas from Wales, Scotland and Ireland that I am sure the policy officials can look at and advise Ministers on. We have to recognise that there are often unintended consequences on supply if you tinker too much in the private rented market and try to control rent levels. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, that you might find it more lucrative to use Airbnb than to have longer term rents. I think that what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, is really saying is that to tackle the affordability crisis we need a fair amount of taxpayer subsidised housing, whether that is affordable rent or social rent. We recognise that as a Government. Not every person can own their own home or afford market rents. That is why we need a steady supply of affordable housing available around the country. We need communities of mixed tenure to allow households with different incomes to live cheek by jowl. That is good social policy and something that the Government certainly support.

Baroness Thornhill Portrait Baroness Thornhill (LD)
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In that case, may I ask why the Government have frozen the local housing allowance, which was the question I asked, if they have what sounds like a very sincere commitment to social housing? Following what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said, I was thinking that the people we are really concerned about, with the grottiest landlords and flats and the worst deals, in the past would have been in the social housing sector being looked after by good councils and housing associations. We are really trying to play catch up but let us not kid ourselves; it is a huge task that we have.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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It is fair to say that we raised the local housing allowance and maintained that raise. What the noble Baroness is saying is that we have not increased it further. Let us give the Government credit for having raised it in the first place and having maintained it. The reality is that it goes back to getting the balance of tenures right. We have far too many people who cannot afford to live in market-rate accommodation and therefore they need taxpayer support. The housing benefit bill has effectively ballooned from when I was first a council leader from around £7 billion to around £30 billion, I think—or at least, that is what the projections are. That is completely unsustainable. We need more affordable housing and social housing to mitigate the unintended consequences of getting the taxpayer to fund these very high-cost homes for people who cannot afford to live in them. That is why there is a need to look at other ways of answering that point.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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I join the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, on the Minister’s celebration of social and genuinely affordable housing. In that case, why are we looking at extending the right to buy instead of ending that great privatisation of social and affordable housing?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I can answer that very sincerely, having been a local authority leader in an area where one-third of the housing was social housing. It had very high levels of council and housing association housing. I start with a definition that social housing should be a springboard to home ownership, for those who want it to be. It should not just be a destination. The issue is that once you have got the receipt, it gets pocketed by the Treasury and not reinvested in social housing—something that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, has raised before now. The Government are putting more flexibility in and allowing more money to go back into supply. There are strong arguments that all that money should go back in; therefore, you allow mobility and fluidity and create a springboard for those people who can afford to own their own homes. That is a great thing, which should be available to both council tenants and housing association tenants.