Housing Bill Diary


10 December, 2015

WHAT LIES BENEATH. On the final day of the House Committee stage of the Housing and Planning Bill, Brandon Lewis, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, without producing impact assessments (though the government hasn’t done this for any part of the Bill), without providing the Committee with background information in advance, and without consulting with the social housing sector, local authorities or social housing tenants (who will therefore have no opportunity to make their views known), went ahead and tabled two new clauses to their own Bill. Schedules 4 and 5, which together constitute an additional 20% on the original Bill, propose legislation according to which:

S.4) Local authorities will only grant secure tenancies for between 2 and 5 years to new social housing tenants, after which they will have to reapply;

S.5) Children or dependants of tenants who have died, and are currently living in existing secure tenancies, will not automatically succeed to the tenancy but will be required to reapply to live in their own homes.

With such sleights of hand is law passed in this land.

However, as with every piece of legislation proposed in the Housing and Planning Bill, there lies another, even more dangerous one hidden beneath the surface.

If the new legislation contained in Schedule 4 to phase out secure tenancies is only applied to new tenancies, leaving existing ones secure, then the question arises whether tenants ‘decanted’ from homes that have been demolished for estate ‘regeneration’ projects will continue the terms of their secure tenancy when (or rather if) they are rehoused on the new developments; or whether, as seems more likely, their new tenancy will be subject to the same limitations of 2-5 years.

If the latter is the case, and we think it is, then the regeneration process will add the elimination of secure tenancies to its already long list of sins.

Moreover (because there’s always more with this Bill), once those homes are made vacant after as brief a period as 2 years, they will, under Part 4, Chapter 2 of the Bill, be subject to the duty of local housing authorities to sell so-called ‘High Value’ housing, the definition of which, like so much of its legislation, is not contained within the Bill but will lie entirely at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, currently Greg Clark.

Devastating as it is to families and communities who thought they had a home for life, the phasing out of secure tenancies is only the tip of the iceberg into which social housing is being driven by the Housing and Planning Bill.

19 December, 2015

TWO WEEKS AND THREE DAYS until it’s read for the third and final time in the House of Commons, but in today’s issue of The Guardian there’s nothing about the Housing and Planning Bill.

There’s an article saying that as house prices have accelerated, the richest 10% of households in the UK now own 45% of the country’s private wealth, but there’s nothing about the Housing and Planning Bill.

There’s an article saying that the richest 10% of households has seen a 21% increase in their wealth in the past two years, but there’s nothing about the Housing and Planning Bill.

There’s an article saying that property wealth in Britain increased by almost £400 billion in the past two years, but there’s nothing about the Housing and Planning Bill.

There’s an article saying that, compared with Finland’s GDP of £184 billion, Britain’s property market is effectively an economy in itself, but there’s nothing about the Housing and Planning Bill.

There’s an article saying that UK homeowners have been able to sit back while their properties collectively generate more cash than entire countries, but there’s nothing about the Housing and Planning Bill.

This is why we need to demonstrate on 5 January, against the Housing and Planning Bill and for secure and genuinely affordable homes for all.

1 January, 2016

WE HAVE BEEN WARNED . . . ‘I genuinely believe we are in the middle of one of the great reforming decades in our history – what I would call a “turnaround decade”, where we can use the platform of our renewed economic strength to go for real social renewal. It is not just an economic outrage, but a moral one that hardworking young people are priced out of the housing market. With Right to Buy and Help to Buy, we have helped people onto the housing ladder. In the next five years, Britain needs to get building. We doubled the annual housing budget in the Spending Review; we will build 200,000 Starter Homes; and if local councils can’t get their act together and build the homes their areas need, we will intervene directly. There are many people who will tell you how deeply they care about these issues. They will shout into megaphones, wave banners and sign petitions. But we’re the ones who are able to make the arguments and take the difficult decisions in order to defeat these social scourges and deliver real security. So while others are on protest march, we remain on the long walk to a Greater Britain. We won’t get there overnight. But during 2016, we will make some of our most significant strides yet.’

– David Cameron

2 January, 2016

THREE DAYS until it’s read for the third and final time in the House of Commons, but in today’s issue of The Guardian there’s still nothing about the Housing and Planning Bill.

There’s an article saying that in 2015 London property developers sold more than two-and-a-half times as many two-bedroom homes (5,300) costing between £650,000 and £1 million as they did cheaper homes (2,000) priced at around £300,000 – but there’s nothing about the Housing and Planning Bill.

There’s an article saying that to afford a £1 million apartment, buyers would need an annual income of £200,000 – but there’s nothing about the Housing and Planning Bill.

There’s an article saying that in the first three-quarters of 2015, 57,500 new homes were under construction, a 29% increase on the previous year and more than double that in 2007 – but there’s nothing about the Housing and Planning Bill.

There’s an article saying that the Tory government has promised public money to subsidise 20% discounts on 200,000 new starter homes – but there’s nothing about the Housing and Planning Bill.

This is why we need to demonstrate on 5 January, against the Housing and Planning Bill and for secure and genuinely affordable homes for all.

4 January, 2016

IF YOU BELIEVE IN PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY. Tomorrow, the Housing and Planning Bill will enter the Report stage.

The Report stage gives MPs an opportunity, on the floor of the House of Commons, to consider further amendments to the Bill, which has already been examined in the Public Bill Committee. MPs can also suggest amendments to the Bill or new clauses they think should be added. All MPs may speak and vote. For lengthy or complex Bills the debates may be spread over several days.

The Report stage is normally followed immediately by debate on the Bill’s third and final reading, which usually takes place as the next item of business on the same day. Amendments cannot be made to a Bill at its third reading in the Commons. At the end of the debate, the House votes on whether to approve the third reading of the Bill, after which it passes to the Lords.

The government has plans to fast track the Housing and Planning Bill into law, so the third reading may take place tomorrow.

We have plans to stop this Bill.

6 January, 2016

WHAT NEXT? After yesterday’s demonstration, we went into Parliament, where Defend Council Housing had booked a committee room. Representatives from housing sector, disability, homelessness and other groups spoke of their fears about the consequences of the Bill. Some spoke of how we can oppose it. Several MPs came in and spoke too, first of whom was Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion.

When we asked her how the debate on the Bill was going in the House, she answered – to our amazement – that they hadn’t even begun yet. Despite this being one of the most important pieces of legislation to be proposed in this country in decades, despite the government having put aside, we were told, a mere two days in which to debate it in the Commons, and despite the fact that it was then 7.30pm on the first day, they were currently debating . . . counter terrorism. Another example, if another were needed, how the perpetual state of war in which this country exists serves to distract the British public from the class war being waged against itself.

Robert Blackman-Woods, Labour MP for Durham and Shadow Minister for Communities, said that the Tories had put aside a total of 2 hours that day to debate Pay to Stay, and a further 2 hours for security of tenure. That’s what they think the millions of people whose lives and homes will be affected by this Bill are worth. The second day of debate had yet to be announced, but I’ve no doubt the government will be launching a new bombing campaign on that day. As I said at the time, this is an indictment not only of this Tory government, but also of our parliamentary process.

Shortly after, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonell, the Shadow Chancellor, came in. John McDonnell said that they would fight the Bill into the small hours, but that he expected it to become law. Given that, with the new rules on English Votes for English Laws (EVEL), the Tories are likely to have a majority of around 90, this is hardly surprising – especially when so many MPs are themselves landlords, a conflict of interest our parliamentary codes of conduct do nothing to address. What he did say, though – and this is a direct quote – is that the Housing and Planning Bill will be defeated not in Parliament, but through campaigns of ‘direct action’.

Which leaves us . . . where? Two options lie before us: to allow ourselves to be driven into the workhouse – which, as I said to the committee room, everything in this Bill is designed to bring about; or to get out onto the street, onto the estates, and to take direct action to stop this Bill, and in doing so hopefully bring down this government. When the parliamentary process has failed, these are the only two options – but at least they still are options. At least they are for the moment. But they won’t be for much longer.

NI DIEU NI MAITRE. A memorable moment yesterday evening, which sums up for me some of the conclusions to be drawn from the day. After the demo a large number of us went into Parliament, where Defend Council Housing had booked a committee room. After about an hour it was my turn to talk. I was a minute or two into my speech when suddenly the room burst into spontaneous applause. I thought ‘This is going well’, when I turned around and saw that Jeremy Corbyn had entered the room. The effect, as someone said afterwards, was as if the Beatles had walked in. People started cheering. A woman demanded a chair was offered up. Photographers and filmmakers pushed to the front. Gasps were exhaled across the room. I sat down, my speech apparently over. Then beside me the voice of Lisa Mckenzie from Class War was raised in disapproval: ‘THERE ARE NO MASTERS HERE!’

I resumed my speech, and when I finished Jeremy Corbyn addressed the room. But I didn’t think much of what he said. Telling us that the answer to the housing crisis is to build more council homes, when that doesn’t have a chance of happening for another five years, didn’t strike me as much of a response to the crisis of the Housing and Planning Bill, which is happening right now. What I would like to have heard is how he is going to stop Labour councils being the instruments of Tory housing policy, of their cuts to benefits, of their criminalising of homelessness. If he doesn’t, there won’t be anyone in London left to vote him into office in five years time.

That said, I have considerable sympathy for the man and the task facing him. I thought Neil Kinnock was savaged by the press, but that was nothing to what Corbyn is facing. And to do so with most of his own party stabbing him in the back shows just how low Labour have sunk as a parliamentary party. My point in drawing attention to the reaction to his presence, which I was far from being the only one to find slightly worrying, is the problem of faith in leaders, which takes little account of the parliamentary system or who is really running our society. Corbyn seems like a nice bloke, and he has excellent taste in hats; but I worry about people who see him as their saviour. No doubt Tories feel the same way about Cameron. It’s not our masters that we need to change, but the relationship that produces them. Given what they’re going through at the hands of Labour Councils, a lot of the people at the demonstration wouldn’t be seen dead either in the Houses of Parliament or talking to a Labour politician. It was decent of Corbyn and McDonnell to turn up, but they didn’t answer any of our questions. But in truth, only we can do that.

7 January, 2015

UPDATE ON THE HOUSING AND PLANNING BILL. Day one of the Report stage on the Housing and Planning Bill took place on Tuesday, 5 January 2016. However, due to four ‘emergency’ announcements made in the House that day by the Prime Minister and Home Secretary, the debate didn’t start until 8.47pm.

In addition to the 25 pages of legislation that had been introduced by the government on the very day of the Committee Stage of the Bill, which had taken two months to scrutinise, over the Christmas period a further 65 pages have been introduced, effectively doubling the total length of the Bill. That means over a third of its legislation will not have been discussed by MPs.

When, for these reasons, the Labour Shadow Minister for Communities, Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods, moved to re-programme the debate to a time when it could be properly considered, the House voted 303 to 195 against the motion, and in favour of a programme that scheduled the remaining stages on the bill to take place over two days, including what was left of that evening. 2 hours were allocated to debate Pay to Stay, with a further 2 hours for Security of Tenure.

Further proceedings on the report stage, legislative grand committee and the third reading are scheduled to take place on the remaining day two, when MPs will vote on the Bill. The date for the second day of the remaining stages of the Housing and Planning Bill is Tuesday, 12 January 2016.

And yes, this really is how law is passed in this land of the landlord. Still believe in parliamentary democracy?

FAST TRACKING. ‘I rise to take real issue with the Government’s programming of the Bill. Not only did we have extraordinary cut-offs in Committee that at times made it difficult for the Opposition effectively to scrutinise the legislation, but we must ask why the Bill was brought back today when it had to be fitted in around four statements, meaning that we are starting the debate at this late hour. Why have the groupings been so oddly applied, meaning that little time is available for really contentious parts of the Bill?

‘What I most take issue with is the huge amount of new clauses and amendments to the Bill that the Government tabled over the Christmas period. We are considering most of them this evening when seeking to determine what the changes mean for housing associations with regard to regulation and deregulation, and to large-scale systemic changes to our planning system. Most planning organisations and agencies have simply had no time to assess what these changes will mean for them or the planning system. Never in my experience of many Bills in this House have I witnessed 65 pages of Government new clauses and amendments being produced at the last minute for a Bill that is 145 pages long. That is simply appalling and means that there will be no proper scrutiny in this House of almost a third of the Bill. We wish to register our strong view that that is no way for legislation to be made, and the Government should do the honourable thing and reprogramme this debate.’

– Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods

8 January, 2016

MARCH AGAINST THE HOUSING BILL. Organised by Lambeth Housing Activists, this march, from the Imperial War Museum to Downing Street, will take place on Saturday, 30 January, so there’s no excuse for not turning out. We had 200 at most at Tuesday’s demonstration, which is perhaps understandable on a weekday. We need 2,000 at least at this march. And 20,000 at the one after that. Then we take Manhattan . . . In the meantime, Defend Council Housing have announced a meeting on 16 January to organise where the campaign against the Bill goes next. The real fight will be in the homes and estates and communities that this Bill has been designed to demolish, and we need to mobilise the resistance.

11 January, 2016

THE REAL COST OF STARTER HOMES. Like most of the Housing and Planning Bill, the truth about Starter Homes is far worse than the papers reveal. Under Part 1, Chapter 1, Starter Homes, section 2, paragraphs 7 and 8 read:

(7) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend the definition of “first-time buyer”.

(8) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend the price cap; and the regulations may provide for different price caps to apply —

(a) for starter homes in different areas in Greater London;

(b) for starter homes in different areas outside Greater London.

£450,000 in London, and £250,000 across the rest of England, is the least, not the most, Starter Homes will cost. In 2015, London property developers sold 5,300 two-bedroom homes costing between £650,000 and £1 million, and only 2,000 priced at around £300,000. That was when there was still an obligation under Section 106 to build so-called affordable housing. That’s gone now. As for the condition of being a first-time buyer, as paragraph 7 shows, this too doesn’t exist. It’s put there purely to deceive the public.

Cameron has promised nearly £2.3 billion pounds of public money to build these Starter Homes, which come with a 20% discount paid for by the tax-payer. But they won’t cost £450,000, and they won’t be bought by first-time buyers. This is a public subsidy of the private market, both builders and investors, who in 5 years’ time are free to sell these million-pound-plus homes at the full market price. The profits will be immense.

This is what is driving the Tories’ housing policy. The only thing standing between them, their financial backers, and the greatest jumble sale in London’s housing history, are the people and communities who live on the land they need to build on.

TOMORROW, when MPs will vote on whether the Housing and Planning Bill becomes law, Defend Council Housing and other groups will again be demonstrating outside Parliament against this sociopathic Bill and for secure homes for all. If you didn’t make it down last Tuesday, or you did but there’s something else you want to say to our elected representatives about what they’re about to do to the people of this country, get down there and keep building this campaign.

12 January, 2016

THE FINAL VOTE. There’s always time for one last expression of contempt from the Tories. A third of homes in the private rental sector currently don’t meet the government’s own Decent Homes Standard. Yet in response to the proposed amendment to the Bill by Labour MP and Shadow Housing and Planning Minister Teresa Pearce, requiring landlords to make their properties ‘fit for human habitation’, the House voted 312 to 219 against. Marcus Jones, Minister for Local Government, argued that it would result in ‘unnecessary regulation and cost to landlords’, who would therefore, regrettably, be forced to put rents up. Proof – if further proof were needed – that this Bill has nothing to do with homes for the people who need them, and everything to do with the profits of buy-to-let landlords, housing investors and property speculators. At least 72 of the Tories who voted against this amendment are themselves private landlords, including David Cameron and Brandon Lewis, the Minister for Housing and Planning.

Finally, with a Legislative Grand Committee composed, following last October’s reforms, exclusively of English or, where appropriate, English and Welsh MPs, the decision was a formality, and the Housing and Planning Bill was approved at the Third Reading by 309 to 216. So that’s it. The game that was rigged in advance has ended as we always knew it would. Now the Bill’s off to the House of Lords. But don’t expect them to save us. We don’t call them ‘landlords’ for nothing.

The future is now. What we most feared has just happened. Will we hide under the covers with our eyes closed, pretending it’s all a dream? Or will we stand up and fight?

Simon Elmer

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