Brown makes housing his priority

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown put housing at the top of the political agenda today as he announced plans for three new Bills to tackle the shortage of affordable homes.

In a Commons statement, the Prime Minister said the Queen's speech in November would include measures to overhaul the planning system and to encourage local authorities to provide more affordable housing.

He said the Government would be releasing 550 publicly-owned, brownfield sites for housing development.

In other measures, he said the Queen's Speech would include a Health and Social Care Bill and a Children in Care Bill as well as introducing new measures in the Criminal Justice Bill which will be carried over into the next Parliament.

Conservative leader David Cameron was dismissive of Mr Brown's announcement, which he said repeated Labour policy goals and initiatives dating back a decade or more.

"I know this is meant to be some great constitutional innovation, but I have to say most of what the Prime Minister announced sounds rather like the Queen's Speech last year, the year before and the year before that," Mr Cameron told the Commons.

"A long list of Bills, the same priorities and the same failures, and I have to say we've heard it all before...

"For 10 years, he has plotted and schemed for the top job, but all we have got is a sort of re-release of the 1997 manifesto. The country has moved on, but he simply hasn't."

Mr Cameron said that although he claimed to want to listen to the people, there was nothing in Mr Brown's statement to suggest he would respond to the 86% of voters who opinion polls suggest want a referendum on the new European Union treaty.

The Tory leader promised to "work with the Government" on anti-terror legislation, and called on Mr Brown to leave open the possibility that this autumn's Queen's Speech will include measures to create a national border police force.

The decision by Mr Brown to outline the Government's legislative programme ahead of the Queen's Speech marks a break with tradition.

Other measures will include an educational opportunity bill to provide for all young people to stay on in education or training until the age of 18, while a Pensions Bill would require all employers to provide staff pension schemes.

A Constitutional Reform Bill will include measures to limit or surrender Royal Prerogative Powers exercised by ministers - such as the power to make war.

On housing, Mr Brown announced that he was raising the annual house-building target for England from 200,000 to 240,000 new homes a year.

"Putting affordable housing within the reach not just of the few but the many is vital both to meeting individual aspirations and a better future for our country," he said.

A new Housing Bill will bring together English Partnerships with the Housing corporation to form a new homes agency responsible for bringing more surplus public land into public use.

A Planning Bill will implement the recommendations of two recent reports to speed up the approval of major infrastructure projects as well the planning system more generally.

A Planning Gain Supplement Bill would ensure that some of the value added to land with the award of planning permission is channelled back from developers to local authorities.

However Mr Brown said that he was prepared to defer legislation until the next parliamentary session if alternative proposals were brought forward.

At the same time he said that Chancellor Alistair Darling would be consulting on a new regime for "covered bonds" to enable mortgage lenders to develop more affordable, fixed-rate mortgages.

Mr Brown insisted that he would continue to protect "robustly" the green belt.

A Climate Change Bill, already published in draft, would bring in a legal framework for reducing carbon emissions, while an Energy Bill would provide greater incentives for renewable energy generation and a Local Transport Bill would help tackle congestion and improve public transport.

Mr Brown said that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith would consult the proposed new counter-terrorism measures in the Criminal Justice Bill in an attempt to build a "broad consensus".

They will include measures to "ensure more successful prosecutions" against terrorist suspects and increased penalties for terrorists charged with other offences as well as a fresh attempt to extend the time suspects can be held without charge.

In other measures, a Health and Social Care Bill will strengthen the powers of the regulator, a Children in Care Bill will provide added protection for vulnerable children while a Child Maintenance Bill will seek to prevent children falling into poverty when their parents split up.

An Enforcement and Sanctions Bill is intended to ease the burden of red tape on business while an Employment Simplification Bill will simplify the enforcement of the minimum wage.

An Unclaimed Assets Bill will channel money from dormant bank accounts into improving youth and community facilities. The Government has also published a Human Tissues and Embryology Bill in draft.