Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Lord Lilley:

    My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on securing this debate and recognise that the Church, through the Archbishops’ Commission, is almost alone in having offered to help alleviate the problem by making land available for building.

    The housing shortage is a crisis and a scandal. We talk about it, we set targets and we tinker with the planning rules, but we avoid debating one fundamental cause. The right reverend Prelate is doubtless familiar with Zen Buddhism, and with the Zen master challenging his disciple to describe the sound of one hand clapping. The answer lies in the debates in this House on housing. There is a lot of talk about housing supply and next to nothing about housing demand. We do not talk about housing demand because the increase in demand comes overwhelmingly from immigration.

    A couple of decades ago, I was researching a pamphlet about the housing shortage. I discovered that we were then importing the equivalent of the population of Birmingham every decade. A few years later, we were importing the population of Birmingham every five years. Then it accelerated to the population of Birmingham every three years. Now it has reached the population of Birmingham over the last two years. Where do noble Lords plan to build a new Birmingham every two years? Unless noble Lords are prepared to answer that question, or to admit that any realistic solution must involve reducing net migration to the rough balance which prevailed before Tony Blair opened our borders, they have no moral right to participate in these debates.

    I urge noble Lords to read the article by Robert Henderson in the Times on 23 February. He explains that the better-off elites, who used to display their superiority over common folk by what Veblen described as conspicuous consumption, now do so by adhering to what he describes as “luxury beliefs”, which he defines as

    “ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class at very little cost”

    to them,

    “while often inflicting costs on the lower classes”.

    Support for mass immigration is a luxury belief. It inflicts harm on the poor, the young, and the less skilled. It means that young people cannot afford to leave home and start a family and poor people cannot get on the housing waiting lists, which have doubled, but it makes our elites, who own their own now very valuable homes, feel morally and socially superior. I hope that, in future, the right reverend Prelate will challenge this hypocrisy.


    Lord Stunell:

    My Lords, I am delighted to contribute to the right reverend Prelate’s timely debate. She has worked hard behind the scenes to build the necessary cross-party consensus on the delivery of a long-term housing strategy, and she spoke on it very eloquently today. I have a strong temptation to respond to some of the thoughtful and provocative contributions to the debate, but my actual job is to respond briefly on behalf of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, so I shall forebear on that.

    The Liberal Democrats share the right reverend Prelate’s belief that every person should have an affordable roof over their heads, and we also share her analysis that, despite the good intentions of politicians of practically every stripe, some of which have been well demonstrated here, we remain a very long way from achieving a good outcome. Outright homelessness is rising, precarious tenancies are mushrooming, social housing waiting lists are lengthening, and too many first-time buyers are squeezed out by escalating prices, then knocked out by fluctuating mortgage rates.

    The state is spending billions of pounds supporting tenants’ rent payments, and billions more subsidising buyers’ mortgage payments, but still the housing crisis persists, with all its malign consequences. Given that painful analysis, the right reverend Prelate is clearly right to call for a new approach: a long-term housing strategy that addresses the problems, not just for one Parliament, one Secretary of State or one Housing Minister, but for a generation. That is what is needed to give the certainty, sense of purpose and drive to all those who are not politicians and who have to play a part in delivering the outcomes needed: the construction and development industries—

    Lord Lilley:

    I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Do the Liberal Democrats believe that the long-term strategy should include controlling demand as well as supply?

    Lord Stunell:

    I think that the noble Lord is inviting me to enter into a debate about the merits of immigration and whether or not we want more nurses and doctors, or our universities to have any money from overseas fees. That is an entirely different debate, which I shall steer wide of, if I may.

    If we are going to have a flourishing and successful housing strategy and policy, we have to engage owners and landlords, and get the skills sector, the planners and local communities on board, and we have to get the vital financial sector to play a part. At the moment, none of those can contribute their best because they are falling back on reactive responses to the short-term decisions taken in this building, when what they need to see is a durable and credible strategic vision.

    The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, standing aside from the political fray, has been bold enough to tell us that, unless we can co-operate to deliver a broad consensus that can survive the day-to-day political battles, there will be no end to the housing crisis. Some of us are working cross-party to see how that might be achieved. It is still work in progress, and I want to hear from the Minister that she and the latest Housing Minister will keep their minds open to the opportunity the right reverend Prelate’s initiative gives them to play an important role in delivering a long-term housing strategy that reaches rather further than the forthcoming general election.


    Baroness Swinburne:

    I appreciate the sense and sentiment behind that; therefore, although I am not personally familiar with the issue, I will take it back to the department to discuss where we are at. But I point out that this is a sensitive area in which collaboration is really important, not just with government at the highest level, but with local government and delivery partners, so collaboration is in the DNA of this. We need to figure out how this is going to work; however, I will come back on this issue when I have spoken to the department.

    Returning to the issue of public sector land, we have been working with larger landowning departments, including the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care, as well as with Homes England, to establish this new programme. These departments, along with the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, will come together in a new ministerial task force to ensure delivery by March 2025.

    On affordable housing supply, to give some historical context, since 2010 we have delivered over 696,100 new affordable homes, including over 482,000 affordable homes for rent, of which 172,000-plus are for social rent. In the period from 1997 to 2010, some 557,000 affordable homes were delivered. The Government are on track to deliver their target of building around 250,000 affordable homes—

    Lord Lilley:

    The Minister does not seem to wish to address the points I raised at the beginning of the debate, but did she note that all the speakers opposite seem to believe in a Zen housing strategy involving only one hand clapping? Supply side does not address demand, even though that requires us to build the equivalent of Birmingham every two years just to cope with incomers, before we build a single house to deal with the existing problems the right reverend Prelate so eloquently enunciated at the beginning. Is the Minister a Zen planner too?

    Baroness Swinburne:

    I can assure my noble friend that I am not a Zen planner. However, I am a realist, and I am faced with a multiplicity of policy responses to the rise in demand, no matter where it comes from. The Government do consider the demand and supply side, which form part of our long-term strategy.