Affordable Housing: Supply

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Thursday 25th April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, on a tremendous speech, one that I—as someone with forebears from the beautiful island of Ynys Môn, or Anglesey if you prefer, one of the most beautiful places in the world—particularly welcome. She is very welcome, and I am sure will be a tremendous asset to this House. I also thank my noble friend Lord Chandos for introducing this debate. In his and all the other contributions, a powerful case has been made. I am looking forward to the Minister’s reply. I hope she will adopt a constructive response to what has been said rather than just defending the Government’s record. We have to look to the future and to what needs to be done.

I am going to talk about the crying need for more council housing, especially but not necessarily for those on lower incomes. This need has become increasingly critical, given today’s housing crisis, which has been so ably laid out by previous speakers. I emphasise that I am talking about council housing: housing that is publicly owned and subject to a degree of democratic accountability, where tenants have secure tenancies and rents are, in general, substantially lower than in other forms of renting. As a result, as has been argued by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Council Housing, it offers the only real opportunity for mass affordable rented housing in the whole of the UK. There is obviously a significant role for other forms of social housing, but the long-term sustainable solution to the problems we face relies on council housing.

Extraordinarily, it is one of those areas of social policy where we know what works but, for one reason or another, are blind to what needs to be done. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, joined us briefly—he is not here now—to make the point from the opposite Benches about the success of the Macmillan housing programme. That depended on council housing; it was not done by private developers. The success of our new towns, to which I hope my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage will refer in winding up, relied on council housing. We know it works. Council housing provided millions of families with their first opportunity of a decent family home. For one reason or another, we choose to ignore that success.

The changes we have seen in housing during the last decades, have resulted in pushing low-income families into insecure, substandard housing, with overcrowding and—to an increasingly worrying extent—homelessness. Council housing has played a crucial role in ensuring a basic standard of living and security for all.

The case for expanding the use of council housing is grounded in both social justice and economic practicalities. First, I believe that housing is a fundamental human right, crucial for personal stability, dignity and family life. By providing more council housing, Governments can directly support those in need, fulfilling their basic responsibility toward their citizens. Secondly, as other speakers have mentioned, low-income families often spend a disproportionate amount of their earnings on housing, squeezing what is available for other essentials such as food, healthcare and education. More council housing, with socially appropriate rents, would increase disposable income levels, leading to greater consumer spending and more contentment with human life, but also economic growth. Thirdly, councils provide stable and affordable homes for low-income families, reducing their risk of homelessness with the associated social costs which come back on all of us. Finally, having a secure living environment can lead to better educational outcomes for children, greater employment opportunities for adults, and overall improved health for families. Not for nothing were health and housing in a single ministry in the Government following the last war. Good health requires and needs good housing.

From a broader perspective, increased investment in council housing can stimulate the economy. Construction projects—of which there are all too few at the moment—generate jobs, boost local businesses and can lead to the revitalisation of undeveloped areas.

Given the manifest need for more council housing, we must talk about the adverse, malign effects of right to buy. While the scheme has allowed many tenants to achieve home ownership and has been popular among those who have benefited from it, its long-term implications for the availability and affordability of housing have been malign. Clearly, there has been this massive reduction in the stock of social housing that has been referred to, but we have seen that many of those properties which were sold to create this property-owning democracy have been bought up by commercial letting agents. We end up with families still relying on rented accommodation, provided more expensively by the private sector and of not such a good standard.

That has led to a reduction in social cohesion and, although there is not time today to go through all the details, an adverse effect on the financial stability of local authorities—it is one of the major factors in why local authorities are facing the problems they are—and to lengthening housing lists and more people in need of accommodation. To address this problem, we require a comprehensive strategy involving the multiple stakeholders involved, but government at all levels must commit to long-term funding and policy support for council housing development. Public support is essential. Community involvement in planning and decision-making can ensure that developments meet local needs and integrate well with existing neighbourhoods.

I particularly emphasise the importance of cottage estates. That is the sort of housing people want to live in. All too often the financial rules on the development of new housing force the building of flats, which are fine for some, but the great majority of people want to live in the cottage estates that we built between the wars and during the 1950s, but which for some reason are no longer being built in the numbers people require. It is a matter of some concern that Goldsmith Street in Norwich, a Stirling prize-winning development that was built as council housing, is now to be sold off to the private sector for right to buy. This simply has to stop.

Increasing the availability of council housing is a pivotal step towards addressing the housing affordability crisis and the support that is required for low-income families. Not only will it provide the basic need for shelter, but it will serve as an economic catalyst and promote social equity. By prioritising this approach, Governments can make significant strides towards a more stable and just society.

Holocaust Memorial Day

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Friday 2nd February 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, it is an honour to take part in this debate and to listen to everyone’s contributions. We are, of course, particularly affected by the testimony of my noble friend Lord Dubs, but all speakers have posed questions that for most of us like myself, who have had a life free of the sort of discrimination faced by too many people, make us ask, “What are we doing about the issue?”. That is the purpose of Holocaust Memorial Day. It is an issue of considerable gravity and historical significance because it relates to the Holocaust.

The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s website sets out:

“Holocaust Memorial Day is the day for everyone to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution, and in the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur”.

Clearly, we have to pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust for the amazing, extraordinary and dedicated work that they do. One of the key objectives, as set out in the Statement of Commitment for Holocaust Memorial Day, is:

“We pledge to strengthen our efforts to promote education and research about the Holocaust and other genocides. We will do our utmost to make sure that the lessons of such events are fully learnt”.

Clearly, this is a continuing task, a continual battle.

There is no question but that the Holocaust stands out in human history, when the systematic persecution and extermination of 6 million Jews took place under the Nazi regime during World War II. That is why, as a number of speakers have said, we must ensure that “never again” does not become a matter of ritual and is kept firmly in our minds and passed on to our children and our children’s children, echoing down the ages. For all of us, the Holocaust has to serve as a stark reminder of the consequences of hatred, discrimination and the erosion of basic human rights.

It is essential that, in addition to what other noble Lords have said, as well as spending time remembering victims, we remember the bravery of those who resisted the oppression and sought to protect the values of humanity. I take the opportunity of this debate to mention the courageous role played by trade unionists during those dark times. The Holocaust Day Memorial Trust points out that, on assuming power, the first people the Nazis targeted for arrest and imprisonment were political opponents, primarily communists, socialists and trade unionists. Dachau, one of the first Nazi concentration camps, opened in March 1933 to imprison political opponents, including trade unionists. Trade unions were disbanded in May 1933 and union leaders were arrested and incarcerated, or fled into exile. By the end of 1933, almost 27,000 people were imprisoned in concentration camps, the majority of whom were political prisoners.

Trade unionists played a crucial and perhaps overlooked role during the Holocaust. Driven by a commitment to justice and solidarity, they stood against the tyranny of the Nazi regime. They were aware that the principles of fairness, equality and workers’ rights were under direct threat. Despite the dangers they faced, many trade unionists defied the oppressive forces and resisted the erosion of the very fabric of society. They provided shelter, forged documents and facilitated escapes, risking their own lives to defy the Nazi authorities. The lesson for us now is how the courage and resilience of these trade unionists set a model for us to follow, to exert the power of collective action and the importance of standing up against injustice. We all have to ask ourselves what we would have done in those circumstances. They provide an inspiration that perhaps we could have joined in the fight—a fight that continues now.

When we reflect on the Holocaust and the contributions of the trade unionists, we must all renew our commitment to safeguard human rights, promote equality, and resist discrimination in all its forms. The lessons of history have to inspire us to be vigilant against the seeds of hatred and intolerance, and to foster a world where the principles of justice and solidarity prevail.

The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is to highlight the importance of protecting freedom. Will the Minister provide the House with an update on how the Government are supporting greater awareness that events leading to genocide can be subtle, and of the importance that we all recognise the conditions that can lead to persecution?

Representation of the People (Overseas Electors etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

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Tuesday 12th December 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

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The Government will allow attestation when an overseas elector wants to register to vote, and unlike with people living in the UK, this may become quite common practice. However, such a system is not allowed when UK citizens living in the UK want to cast a vote at a polling station. Perhaps the Minister will explain this inconsistency, and let us know why the Government will not follow the advice of the Electoral Commission on this issue and why they have ruled out the principle of attestation at polling stations if it is good enough to get on the voting register. Democracy requires a level playing field, but this Government do not seem to believe in it.
Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Khan of Burnley, following his excellent speech. I have just one additional point to add to this discussion. The argument is that these are British citizens and they should be entitled to vote. The thing about the way the rules will work in practice is that they will tend to be older voters, many of whom may even be past retirement age.

The issue I want to raise is frozen pensions. I am particularly pleased to see in his place the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, who is the relevant Minister. We have discussed these issues before. We have a Government who seem to think it appropriate for these people to have a vote, but who do not think it appropriate for them to have the pension increases they have paid for. It is a total lottery. If they live in the US, they get pension increases; if they live in Canada, they do not. If they live in New Zealand, they get increases; if they live in Australia, they do not.

The whole system is irrational—as rational as if the noble Viscount came to this House and tried to persuade us not to pay pension increases to people who live in Yorkshire. They are all British citizens; that is the basis of this proposal. My question for the Minister is, what logic is there in giving many British citizens who live abroad a vote if you are not going to give them their pension increases?

Lord Hayward Portrait Lord Hayward (Con)
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My Lords, we were, I think, discussing the statutory instruments that relate to overseas voters and their registration, rather than a range of other matters. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, took us down a series of other paths. I will pick up on two or three of them very quickly. On voter ID, a resolution was passed by this House, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in a previous debate, whereby that process would be reviewed. Equally, the noble Lord made reference to a process that applies in the statutory instrument which is rarely used in this country but is already in law. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that this application should be extended elsewhere.

The noble Lord referred to postal votes in Australia and other parts of the world arriving after the actual polling date. I think I am correct in saying that in many of those domains, such votes have to be date stamped before or on the actual election day, so there is no extension to the election period by that application.

Returning to the SIs themselves, in any process of trying to extend the entitlement to vote, there is a risk that you reduce the level of security of voting. That is inevitable. Whether it is postal votes, an extended period of voting, votes abroad or whatever it may be, there is an increased risk. The question is, how do you find that balance between extension and security of the ballot? These SIs apply the process that was established under the Elections Act a few months ago. Therefore, I do not see a particular issue with them.

On the question of trying to achieve some form of financial largesse, I wish that the noble Lords, Lord Khan and Lord Rennard, had been present—as I think my noble friend Lord Mott and other noble Lords will have been—at meetings of overseas Conservatives, who were certainly not promising vast quantities of money in return for the opportunity to vote. It was just a genuine desire for the opportunity for a vote in a country to which, as the noble Lord, Lord Khan, acknowledged, those people who are most likely to register do still feel committed.

The concentration is naturally on national elections, but we should also be conscious of local elections. As the Pickles report identified, if those have insecure systems, you are far more likely to end up with a corrupt and influenced local authority, many of which have huge budgets, than at a national election, where it would be much more difficult to overturn the result by the levels of registration, which, to be honest, I expect. However, if the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, is taken up—Members of Parliament having constituencies around the world—I am sure that a number of people would be happy to represent Spain, the Canary Islands or France, for example, rather than some of the domains they have in this country. I say that in respect of all sides of the House, not necessarily this side alone.

I will not be supporting the amendment. I approach all these matters with great consideration because they are important, and my reasoning is twofold. First, as I see it, these SIs implement the process that was approved by the Elections Act. They do not result in an undue threat. There are other processes and aspects of election law which are far bigger threats than this. Cyberattacks have been referred to, as has AI in one form or another, along with dubious registration and intimidation.

Two aspects are particularly important. First, as I think Members on all sides of the House agree, electoral law is a complete mess and needs to be consolidated quickly, so that we do not face the problems we do. Secondly, there is the burden imposed on elections administrators, which has also been alluded to. When I was young and an election occurred, you registered and did everything months or years in advance. Now, there is an elections event, which takes place over three weeks, and everything is concentrated into it. We should not underestimate the burden imposed on elections administrators in any number of different ways. If our elections system fails, it will be because our electoral law is inadequately clear—it is a mess—or because the administrators just cannot cope.

It is for those reasons that I will be supporting the Government’s Motion and not the amendment.

Windrush: 75th Anniversary

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Thursday 19th January 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I join all speakers in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for introducing this important debate. I have three questions.

First, the Windrush generation has given the UK so much, since docking at Tilbury to help us rebuild our country after the war—extra hands that were so sorely needed. However, those people have also contributed dance, art, writing, cuisine and music, which have done so much to enrich British culture. Do the Government recognise that the Windrush generation has made such an important contribution, which merits a jubilant celebration on the 75th anniversary? Can they give an unequivocal commitment to supporting and sponsoring such a celebration?

Secondly, we cannot avoid the Windrush compensation scheme in this debate. It is a scandal. If there is any doubt about the extent of the scandal, I invite people to read the Commons debate that took place in Westminster Hall, when MP after MP expressed the problems that they faced in their constituencies. It seems that the Home Office would rather make gestures to change but continue with the same culture. The only solution is to take the scheme out of the Home Office and transfer it to an independent organisation that will properly deliver the compensation due.

If the Government are serious about giving the generation its due, they should commit to enact in full all the recommendations of the Wendy Williams review. They should not mark their own homework but should invite Wendy Williams to come back and tell us whether her recommendations have been fulfilled.

Thirdly, there should be a celebration; that is absolutely clear. The lead in determining the form of that celebration should come from the Windrush generation itself—this is absolutely essential—although, in conclusion, I hope I might be forgiven for suggesting that Brixton should have an important role in such a celebration.

Housing Market

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Thursday 17th November 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, it has been a relatively short debate so far, but it has been a privilege to be here and listen to contributions and, inevitably, to the magnificent introductory speech of my noble friend Lady Taylor. I think it has set a difficult standard that not all of us reach.

We have a very broad subject before us. I am going to focus on the private rental market in London. It is arguable that, because of the nature of London, the private rental market is particularly important because of the people who come to London, how long they stay here and the sort of people they are. The problem is that the private rental market in London is failing.

First, I will say a word about London. It is, of course, the greatest city where all human life can be found. To pick up a point from the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, we welcome people to London from all over the world. They are welcome and we regard them as being a net benefit to our life—even taking account of the decent housing with which they must be provided. The important point is that the success of London is not counterposed to the success of the rest of the country. I would argue, though it is not always a popular argument, that the success of the rest of the country depends on a successful London. To a significant extent, because of the particular and distinct importance of the private rental market in London, the success of the country depends on a functioning private rental market in London. This echoes the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, that it is an economic issue; decent housing is not just about accommodation but about the whole economy and its success.

The 2021 census estimated that London’s population stood at 8.8 million. It is forecast to grow, heading towards 10 million on some estimates. Of course, that is a churning population: people come, and people leave. I find it difficult to understand why they leave—I have stayed. The private rental housing market in London does not serve the purposes of this rotating population. This is in the context of our worsening cost of living crisis; the fiscal Statement earlier today forecast that things are going to get worse over the next few years.

Already, more and more Londoners, particularly those in private rental accommodation, are finding it such a struggle to make ends meet and to afford their basic needs. They are faced with a situation where, as the GLA reported this year, in

“March 2022, the median rent for a privately rented home in London was £1,450 per … month, … twice as high as the median in England as a whole … London’s rents are so much higher than those of other regions that the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom home in the capital (£1,225) is higher than the median rent for a home with four or more bedrooms across all of the North and Midlands.”

Following the success at moving away from Covid—I am not suggesting that we have solved the problem, but we are in a favourable trend—rents are now increasing faster than the temporary respite they had during the Covid pandemic. Zoopla reports that average rents in London were 17.8% higher this July than they were in the year before.

As I have explained, London’s economic success depends on a successful privately rented housing sector, alongside an important role for social housing. I gave a speech on social housing in this Chamber last week on the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, in which I emphasised the importance of council housing. I will not repeat that, although it is worth repeating it again. I discussed Harold Macmillan’s success, when he was Housing Minister, of achieving the then Conservative Government’s target of 350,000 new houses a year, many of which, I assume, were in Stevenage—so it can be done. However, I will not address that on this occasion; noble Lords can read my detailed contribution in Hansard.

Instead, I will continue to focus on private rental housing. I do not go along with the idea of demonising private landlords. I do not assume that they set out to provide poorly maintained stock at excessive costs, but clearly there are problems. The GLA, which I will cite again, has undertaken a survey of private tenants, finding that

“55% of private renting households in London”—

only 55%—

“said they were satisfied with … their accommodation”.

In other words, 45% were dissatisfied—representing an increase from 33% two years previously. The underlying problem we must confront is the inevitable tension that arises between, on the one hand, the provision of a human service—in this case, housing, which should be a social right that is available, of a good standard and affordable—and, on the other, a service that is being provided commercially. As we operate it at the moment, it is to the detriment of the people who are in the private rental sector.

I am glad that the issue of Airbnb was mentioned, because that is creating particular tension in some areas of London. However, I am not talking about Airbnb or the high-value rentals available to those on high incomes; I am talking about the lower-cost housing for people on incomes that are lower than average and who cannot afford to buy, but who need or want to work in London for employment, family or other reasons.

There is the oddity and counterintuitive fact that it is often more expensive to rent than it is to buy the house, provided that you have some capital in the first place. People are in the fix that they cannot afford to save to buy a house, because they are paying too much in rent. It is in that light that, again, these GLA figures tell us that 40% of London’s private renters are likely to struggle to make their rent payments in the next six months—so we have an immediate crisis.

The mayor, Sadiq Khan, held a housing crisis meeting earlier this week with representatives of the housing sector, and they are calling for greater security and safety for London’s private renters. I support the mayor’s call on the Government to introduce a two-year rent freeze, analogous to holding down the cost of energy, to address the soaring costs of living in London. Such a freeze has been introduced in Scotland. The Government should represent the democratic mandate that the mayor achieved; he fought on the basis of achieving this rental freeze, and we should look to the Government to support him in achieving this policy.

Housing (Built Environment Committee Report)

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Tuesday 8th November 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for introducing this report. A bit to my surprise, I found myself agreeing with virtually everything he said. I mainly thank the committee for its hard work in this important area. Given the nature of an all-party report, it is excellent, covering the whole territory. There is much to learn.

I will focus on one part of the report, which simply states:

“There is a serious shortage of social housing”.

I want to make one straightforward point on the importance of council housing. We face some public policy problems to which there is no obvious solution, but we have other problems to which we do know the solution. History tells us what the solution is but, for some reason, we avoid the obvious. We know from history that the way to obtain a bigger supply of social housing is to build council houses.

I could quote the experience of the 1964 Labour Government—there is justification for that—but I am going to look at the 1951 Conservative Government. I have been rereading Harold Macmillan’s autobiography. There is much to learn. As I read, I had to ask myself whether he would have a place in today’s Conservative Party. I think the answer is no, but I do not know; obviously, he was a man of many parts. He was the Minister for Housing from 1951. He inherited a decision of the Conservative Party conference that it wanted to build 300,000 houses a year—an interesting figure. Of course, it is worth stressing that this was new-build and at the same time, it was having to undertake a massive restoration of the housing stock, which had been destroyed or run down during the war.

Macmillan set about achieving that objective. In 1953, there was a White Paper, Houses: The Next Step. I will quote for noble Lords the biography of Harold Macmillan by Charles Williams, which says that, after the White Paper, Macmillan realised that he would

“have to persuade his own colleagues that the only way to meet the promise given to the electorate”—

the manifesto promise—

“was to engage in a sustained programme of local authority housing.”

He goes on to explain that

“the only way to achieve the housing target was by subsidising local authorities to build for rent. In other words, council housing was to have the top priority.”

By way of background, during the subsequent debate in the Commons, Macmillan gave a routine acceptance of a property-owning democracy. His whole argument was that, as a long-term aim, property ownership was fine. However, Williams states:

“Council housing for rent was the only way to meet the political objective he had been set—and which he was determined to achieve.”

We have the same target now and the same means of achieving it; that is the true meaning of the shift.

Many years ago, when I was a member of a local authority, people said, “We shouldn’t be subsidising bricks. We should be subsidising people”. That is clearly wrong. The only way to solve a housing shortage is to build houses, and the most direct and simple way to achieve that is through a massive council housing programme.

Inequalities of Region and Place

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Thursday 14th October 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I join in the congratulations to my noble friend Lord Stansgate. I wrote that it was an “excellent” maiden speech in my prepared notes, but we should change that to “outstanding”. It is such a pleasure to join him once again after our time working together on the late, lamented Inner London Education Authority. He will be a considerable asset to the House as someone who is clearly in command of his subject and who will stand up for science.

I also thank my noble friend Lord Liddle for initiating this important debate on a matter that is central to our country’s future. He has brought a necessary note of realism to this issue. I agree with his conclusions and one point I add, where I am sure he shares my concerns, is the need for greater involvement of trade unions in the process of renewal.

The approach of the Motion, in contrast to the bluster from the Prime Minister, is stark. The Prime Minister claims to have a policy—levelling up—but in truth all he has is a slogan in search of a policy. We all know this. I never thought I would say this, but I find support in that view from the Adam Smith Institute, the right-wing think tank. Commenting on the Prime Minister’s final speech at the Conservative Party conference, the Adam Smith Institute’s head of research, Matthew Lesh, said:

“The Prime Minister’s rhetoric was bombastic but vacuous and economically illiterate.”

I also agreed with the Adam Smith Institute when it said that:

“Levelling up so far consists of little more than listing regions and their local produce”,

and that the Prime Minister

“throws out impressive-sounding economic terms like ‘Pareto improvements’ to hide the fact that he lacks policies to drive growth.”

I do not agree with all the institute’s comments, but it went on to say that the Prime Minister’s policy

“was an agenda for levelling down to a centrally-planned, high-tax, low-productivity economy.”

We already have a low-productivity economy, and apart from the rhetoric there is nothing to suggest that the Government have got to grips with this issue. But when we come to the suggestion that the Prime Minister’s policies represent a move to a centrally planned, higher-tax economy, your Lordships might think that this is something I, as a socialist, might favour. Unfortunately not, at least not in the version presented to us by the Government. To the limited extent that there is a policy hiding behind a slogan, it consists of expecting water to run uphill—futile and ignorant.

Of course, as the Motion suggests, we need a coherent, cost-effective and long-term strategy. I have one note of caution, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. Casting this as a regional issue runs the risk of ignoring the real problems we face in London. All human life is in London, from great wealth to extreme economic hardship. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours correctly mentioned the injustices of the rating system, but north Westminster encounters as great social problems as the north of England, and any policies instituted need to recognise that.

In conclusion, I end with another quote from the Adam Smith Institute:

“Shortages and rising prices simply cannot be blustered away with rhetoric about migrants. It’s reprehensible and wrong to claim that migrants make us poorer. There is no evidence that immigration lowers living standards for native workers. This dogwhistle shows that this government doesn’t care about pursuing evidence-based policies.”

In no area of policy is that more stark than the vacuum that fills the space which purports to be levelling up.

Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development etc.) (England) (Amendment) Order 2021

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Tuesday 8th June 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and my noble friends Lord Kennedy and Lord Berkeley for setting out so clearly what is wrong with this statutory instrument. I agree with all they have said about its shortcomings, and in particular, I share the anger of my noble friend Lord Kennedy. I want to add my voice on a couple of key issues.

The Government pay lip service to the idea of localism. We know that the Conservative Party pays no heed to its manifestos, but the 2019 version says explicitly:

“Local government is the bedrock of our democracy.”

It also promises

“beautiful, high-quality homes with every community able to decide on its own design standards for new development, allowing residents a greater say on the style and design and development in their area, with local councils encouraged to build more beautiful architecture.”

Really? Are these proposals going to lead to more beautiful architecture? What nonsense. The reality is that this approach is not localism, it is that the Secretary of State knows best.

I am another ex-councillor who believes in local government, warts and all. These regulations are wrong in principle. There is no doubt that changes which are this fundamental and will have an impact on the look of our towns and cities for decades to come should be enacted in primary legislation. It is clear that in practice, these new rules will limit the role of the local planning authority in determining the appropriate uses for its particular area.

The fundamental problem is actually more than a problem—it is a catastrophe. The new rules will allow residential development in potentially unsuitable locations. That is the whole point of the proposals because otherwise this statutory instrument would not be required. What we know is that these will be the slums of the future. More specifically, the new rules will allow commercial frontages on high streets to be converted to residential use in a way that will wreak even more harm on the traditional function of town centres, already under so much pressure. Albeit that there will be a need for separate planning permission for the external treatment of buildings, we know from experience that there is always considerable room for uncertainty by gaming the system, in particular about the vacancy requirement.

We all know that developers cheerfully agree to include shops and pubs within a development and then ensure that they remain vacant until the local authority gives in to the effective blackmail. Of course we need more housing, but this is the wrong way of providing the high-quality stock that we so desperately need. History tells us how to achieve the massive new-build housing programme we need, and it was provided, surprisingly, by a former Conservative Government in the 1950s, summed up in an adequately resourced programme of council housing.

Then there is all this stuff about statues, memorials and monuments. How will the Minister present this with a straight face? We know what they are doing, they know we know what they are doing, and we know that they know, et cetera. Where is the problem that this is supposed to address? It is there only to play to the ignorance and prejudice of the base. The giveaway is in the press release by the Secretary of State on 17 January 2021 under the heading “New legal Protections for England’s Heritage”. It says:

“New legal safeguards introduced for historic monuments at risk of removal. All historic statues, plaques and other monuments will now require full planning permission to remove, ensuring due process and local consultation in every case. The law will make clear that historic monuments should be retained and explained”.

The giveaway is that the Secretary of State will be able to call in any application and ensure that the law is followed. The threat is clear: it will be the Secretary of State who decides, not the local authority and the local community. That is made even more manifest in the statement in the Explanatory Memorandum to the effect that the Government will introduce a requirement for local planning authorities to notify such planning applications to the Secretary of State. Really? Does he not have better things to do?

What needs to be understood is that saying that monuments should be retained and explained is a political statement, taking one side in a deeply contested debate. It is a view that members of the Conservative Party are fully entitled to hold, but it is wrong to write such a political statement into the law of the land.

Finally, as an aside, free ports are a pointless zero-sum gimmick, and there really is no more to say.

Social Housing

Lord Davies of Brixton Excerpts
Monday 24th May 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, the Affordable Housing Commission’s September report proposed a fund to support social housing landlords to acquire both existing private sector stock and new-build stock from private developers. Through the affordable homes programme, we already allow social housing providers to use grants to acquire from developers market-sale properties that are above their existing planning requirements.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister’s initial Answer was a masterpiece in obfuscation—he referred to affordable housing, but the Question quite clearly relates to social housing. The Minister has also referred twice to 32,000 additional social housing units. May I draw his attention to the relative success of the Conservative Governments in the early 1950s, when they built more than 200,000 social housing units? They did so because they gave a leading role—the powers and the finance—to local authorities. What we need is a thoroughgoing council housing programme to get the number of social houses that we require.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, in the last 10 years we have built more affordable homes than in the previous 10. We have seen around 148,000 homes built specifically for social rent in the last decade, and through this programme we are proposing to build more. The real revolution that has occurred is in the number of council homes: councils have built 29,993—nearly 30,000—affordable homes in the last decade, up from a paltry 2,994 over the previous 13 years. That is a record to be proud of.