Roy Kennedy on the first of five tricky days for the government at Lords Report of the Housing and Planning Bill
Opposition parties often find something to object to and oppose in government legislation. But I would suggest that any commentator or observer would be hard pressed to find proposals put forward by Ministers at any point during the past few decades that is more badly thought through, technically deficient and lacking in basic building blocks than the Housing and Planning Bill that today begins five days of Report in the Lords.
It has been suggested that the Conservatives never expected to win last year’s general election. But having done so, they quickly pulled the Bill together from a series of half-baked manifesto promises and think tank ideas that they never thought they would implement. Ministerial ill preparedness aside, there is also an arrogance that they believe it acceptable to pass legislation in such a sorry state. And at the same time, tell Parliament, local authorities and all other interested parties that many of the regulations that would normally accompany the Bill will not be ready until the autumn at the earliest.
Virtually everyone agrees that the UK is in the middle of a housing crisis and we need to dramatically increase the number of homes being built across all tenures. Agreeing with this view, the government have however taken the bizarre and unfair decision to focus almost exclusively on its ‘Starter Homes’ policy to the exclusion of all others. This is a programme that offers a one off discount to a select group of people, with no ability for it to be preserved for others to get onto the home ownership ladder in the future.
A primary aim of the Opposition in the Lords will be to make improvements to the Bill that mitigate its worst effects. So we will support amendments today that give discretion to councils to decide on the best mix of housing tenure for their local area, along with introducing a taper that requires a percentage of the discount for each year less than 20 if the property is sold. We will also back amendments to allow local authorities to exclude rural exception sites from the ‘Starter Homes’ programme, to ensure such sites remain available for affordable housing and are not bought up to the detriment of the countryside.
Today’s deliberations will also consider the Private Rented Sector, and we will continue to press Ministers to accept an amendment to the Bill that ensure homes that are let are fit for human habitation and remain so during the tenancy. The effect on people’s health of living in damp properties with condensation and poor heating is both well documented and generally not disputed. In that context therefore, the government’s unwillingness to shift on the issue is frankly a disgrace. All we are seeking to do is give tenants a more up to date way of enforcing their rights.
We have seen some movement from Ministers on Labour’s calls – both in the Commons and Lords – to require landlords to carry out electrical safely checks every five years. Although it is worrying that the government’s own amendment still leaves it to the Secretary of State who ‘may’ issue such regulations and we will look to change this to ‘must’.
As we reach the final few weeks of the opening session of the new Parliament, Labour Peers and many others across the Lords will be using our powers of scrutiny and persuasion to improve a very badly conceived Bill that as it stands will do far more harm than good. We can only hope that the government wakes up to the problems it is creating both for itself and everyone in the UK affected by the current housing crisis.
Lord Roy Kennedy of Southwark is Shadow Housing Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @LordRoyKennedy
Published 11th April 2016