HC Deb 13 December 2000 vol 359 cc153-6W
Helen Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to implement the proposals in the Housing Green Paper, "Quality and Choice: A Decent Home for All?". [142561]

Mr. Prescott

Our Housing Green Paper was widely acknowledged as the most comprehensive Government review of housing for 23 years. We are tody publishing a policy statement, "Quality and Choice: A decent home for all—the way forward for housing". This sets out our plans for taking forward the proposals in the Green Paper, taking account of the views expressed during consultation. New legislation is a key part of those plans, and they are backed by the significant increase in resources for housing announced in July.

There was widespread support for our proposals. Only seven out of more than 1,000 respondents disagreed fundamentally with our aims and principles.

Broadly, we are taking forward the proposals in the way we set out in the Green Paper. In a number of cases we have modified proposals to reflect suggestions or concerns raised in the consultation process.

Decent homes are an essential requirement for all. They improve health and educational achievement. They have a major impact on the quality of our lives and on the strength of our communities.

In taking forward the proposals in the Green Paper, we are implementing a comprehensive policy that will help us to meet our aim to offer everyone the opportunity of a decent home.

Housing policies are an integral part of our broader agenda to tackle poverty and social exclusion and to regenerate the most deprived areas. Our Housing Green Paper and today's policy statement complement the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal and our Urban and Rural White Papers, which together establish a framework for improving the quality of life and promoting sustainable communities.

Our policies will deliver improvements in quality and choice for everyone, regardless of their circumstances.

For the majority of people in this country who already own their own homes, or who aspire to home ownership, we are: introducing legislation to improve the home buying and selling process to make it easier and more reliable, and to help tackle gazumping and other problems; overhauling local authority powers to allow better targeted help to renovate and improve homes owned by poorer households and in deprived areas; launching a Starter Home Initiative to help nurses, teachers, police and other key workers to buy homes in areas where high housing costs might otherwise have priced them out of the communities they serve; reforming leasehold law and introducing a new tenure, commonhold, for the joint ownership of blocks of flats; and improving benefit help for unemployed home-owners moving back into work.

For people who rent in the private sector, we are: spreading good practice among private landlords through voluntary accreditation schemes and through the further development of the National Approved Lettings Scheme and a pilot Tenancy Deposit Scheme; introducing, as soon as parliamentary time allows, legislation for a national licensing scheme to raise standards for Houses in Multiple Occupation; developing for further consultation proposals to take action to tackle problems associated with bad landlords in low demand areas, through selective licensing and benefit measures.

The Green Paper set out our policies for the future of social housing, provided at affordable rents by local authorities and registered social landlords. We see a continuing role for social housing in providing decent homes for individuals and families who cannot afford the costs of buying their own home or renting in the private sector in the short or long term. Our strategy will modernise social housing, turning it into a tenure which offers quality and choice and promotes sustainable communities by: bringing all social housing up to a decent standard by 2010; promoting diversity and a wider range of landlords through stock transfer and new investment and ownership options for council housing; improving the supply of new social housing through an increase in investment, more effective use of planning powers for affordable housing, and better integration of social and private housing; increasing choice through lettings policies that treat tenants as customers and promote sustainable communities; examining new tenure options to improve social landlords' use of housing to meet the needs of local communities; ensuring high standards of service through the rigorous application of Best Value; and empowering tenants in the management of their homes through Tenant Participation Compacts.

We are also implementing a 10-year plan to move to a fairer, more coherent system for setting rents in the social housing sector, complementing our drive to improve the quality and supply of affordable housing and to give tenants more choice. We have modified the proposals in the Green Paper in the light of respondents' views. The key elements are: keeping rents at affordable levels, well below those in the private sector, and based on size, relative property values and local earnings; achieving greater coherence between the rents charged by local authorities and registered social landlords, removing arbitrary differences; ensuring that reforms do not impose annual rent increases for any tenant of more than£2 per week above normal inflation-linked increases; phasing reforms over 10 years and allowing social landlords some flexibility over detailed implementation; and ensuring the continuation of a healthy and diverse social rented sector.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has also announced action to improve the delivery of Housing Benefit. We are: setting up an expert team to work with struggling local authorities to turn things round; developing a new national Performance Framework to raise standards of administration across the board; taking forward work to simplify Housing Benefit to make it easier for local authorities to administer and easier for pensioners and working people to claim; and reducing disincentives to work, helping young people in particular through changes to the Single Room Rent rules.

Our strategy also incudes action to tackle social exclusion and protect vulnerable people, including: legislation to strengthen the protection available for people who are homeless through no fault of their own; tackling rough-sleeping, fuel poverty and anti-social behaviour; and ensuring the effective implementation of a new Supporting People programme to provide more effective support to elderly and other vulnerable people who need it.

All of our measures are backed up where necessary by our spending plans for the next three years, which we announced in July. They build on the additional investment which has already been released through our Capital Receipts Initiative and the 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review.

In 1997, we inherited capital spending plans for housing of just£1.5 billion. We increased investment in 1997–98 and have increased it year-on-year since then. This year (2000–01) capital investment is already double the level we inherited in 1997. It will continue to rise to over£4 billion by 2003–04 including, over the next three years: further increases in local authority capital investment to tackle the backlog of repairs and modernisation work in council housing, including additional resources for new arms-length management arrangements, on which we are issuing separate, detailed consultation today; a doubling of the Housing Corporation's Approved Development Programme for new affordable housing; £250 million for the Starter Home Initiative; £138 million over three years to ensure the effective implementation of support services for the vulnerable through our Supporting People programme; £137 million for a new Safer Communities Supported Housing Fund; £11 million to fund pilot lettings schemes that promote customer choice for tenants in social housing; £17 million for the improvement of Gypsy sites; and increases in funding for disabled facilities grants and home improvements.

Our housing strategy sets a national framework. It promotes local implementation, recognising diversity and varying conditions. Local authorities have a key role to play as strategic housing bodies serving their communities and delivering the policies that ensure the social, economic and environmental well-being of their areas.

We have set out in our statement a comprehensive approach to housing policy. We must now move forward to implement these policies. I look forward to working with our partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors to ensure that everyone has the opportunity of a decent home.