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In section 11 of the Local Government Act 2003 (use of capital receipts by a local authority) after subsection (5) insert—
“(6) The Secretary of State and a local authority in England may enter into an agreement with the effect that a requirement imposed under subsection (2)(b) does not apply to, or is modified in its application to, capital receipts of the authority that are specified or described in the agreement.”’.—(Andrew Stunell.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 3—Disestablishment of an arm’s length management organisation—
‘Schedule [Disestablishment of an arm’s length management organisation] has effect.’.
New clause 24—Landlord notification of succession of tenancy —
New clause 25—Recovery of a tenancy granted on ineligible grounds —
‘In section 167(8) of the Housing Act 1996, after “scheme”, insert “and any allocation which is not in accordance with the allocation scheme shall be void and shall not give rise to a tenancy”’.
New clause 26—Housing co-operatives —
‘(1) Schedule 14 of the Housing Act 2004 is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 6 insert new sub-paragraph—
“(3) This paragraph does apply to any building which is owned by a fully mutual co-operative housing association as defined by section 1(2) of the Housing Associations Act 1985, the management of which is undertaken by general meeting.”.’.
Amendment 273, in clause 123, page 108, line 11, after ‘1985)’, insert
‘or who have been owed such duties at any time within the previous five years’.
Amendment 360, in clause 124, page 110, line 37, Clause 124, leave out ‘two’ and insert ‘five’.
Amendment 270, page 110, line 39, at end insert—
‘(7A) In subsection (7AC) at end, insert—
“(d) In so far as reasonably practicable, the private rented sector offer must be within the local housing authority’s district.”’.
Amendment 269, in clause 125, page 111, line 33, at end insert—
‘(2A) Omit section 190 and replace with—
“190 Duties to persons becoming homeless intentionally or who are not in priority need.
(1) This section applies where the local housing authority is satisfied that an applicant is homeless and is eligible for assistance but are also satisfied that he became homeless intentionally.
(2) The local authority must—
(a) secure that accommodation is available for his occupation for such period as it considers will give him a reasonable opportunity of securing accommodation for his occupation, and
(b) provide him with (or secure that he is provided with) advice and assistance in any attempts he may make to secure that accommodation becomes available for his occupation.
(3) The applicant’s housing needs shall be assessed before advice and assistance is provided under subsection (2)(b).
(4) The advice and assistance provided under subsection (2)(b) must include information about the likely availability in the authority’s district of types of accommodation appropriate to the applicant’s housing needs (including, in particular, the location and sources of such types of accommodation).”.
(2B) Omit section 192.’.
Amendment 274, page 111, line 39, leave out ‘two’ and insert ‘five’.
Amendment 275, page 112, line 12, leave out ‘two’ and insert ‘five’.
Amendment 276, page 112, line 34, leave out subsection (6).
Amendment 361, in clause 126, page 113, line 15, at end insert—
‘(1A) In preparing its tenancy strategy a local authority must ensure that to the greatest extent possible, tenancies granted in its area provide security of tenure so as to support and develop stable and confident communities.’.
Amendment 363, page 114, line 19, leave out clause 128.
Amendment 13, page 114, line 36, leave out clause 130.
Amendment 271, in clause 130, page 115, line 7, at end insert—
‘(2A) Subsection (2) shall not apply to a secure tenancy if immediately before the tenancy was granted the person who became the tenant under the tenancy, or in the case of joint tenants, one or more of them was—
(a) a secure tenant of the same or another dwelling-house, or
(b) an assured tenant of a private registered provider of social housing or a registered social landlord (otherwise than under an assured shorthold tenancy) in respect of the same or another dwelling-house.’.
Amendment 272, page 116, line 33, leave out from beginning to end of line 30 on page 117 and insert—
‘sections 83 to 85A of the Housing Act 1985 shall apply equally to Flexible Tenancies and references to secure tenancies in those sections shall be read accordingly.’.
Amendment 362, page 116, line 33, after ‘Subject’, insert
‘to the discretion of the court, in circumstances where the tenant has made representations against the granting of possession, not to make an order if it considers that order disproportionate, and subject’.
Amendment 14, page 118, line 19, leave out clause 131.
Amendment 277, in clause 134, page 121, line 36 at end insert—
‘(c) or P is another member of the tenant’s family and has resided with the tenant throughout the period of 12 months ending with the tenant’s death.’.
Government amendments 191 to 203.
Amendment 364, page 128, line 35, leave out clause 148.
Government amendment 204
Amendment 278, page 130, line 18 leave out clause 153.
New clause 23—Litter deposited from motor vehicles —
“(8) Where litter is deposited from a motor vehicle, the person in charge of the vehicle shall, for the purposes of subsection (1) above, be treated as having deposited the litter whether or not he gave any instructions for this to be done.
(9) The registered keeper of a vehicle shall, for the purposes of subsection (8) above, be deemed to be the person in charge of the vehicle unless within twenty one days of receipt of the summons for an offence prosecuted by virtue of subsection (8) above the registered keeper provides in writing to the prosecutor notification of such identifying details as are available to him of any other person he claims to have been the person in charge of the vehicle at the relevant time.
(10) For the purposes of subsection (8) above a constable or an authorised officer of a principal litter authority may by notice in writing served on him, require any person to furnish such information specified in the notice as may reasonably be required to ascertain the person in charge of the vehicle at the relevant time, in such form and within such period, being not less than fourteen days following service of the notice, as is so specified.
(11) It is an offence for a person, without reasonable excuse to fail to comply with any requirement imposed under subsection (10) above.”’.
New clause 33—Street litter notices —
‘(1) In Part 4 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (litter etc.) in section 93(2) after “unoccupied” insert “or where there is multiple occupancy”.
(2) In Part 4 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (litter etc.) in section 94(1)(a) omit “commercial or retail premises” and insert “premium other than dwellings”.
New clause 38—Protection of businesses and non-domestic users of buildings from complaints —
‘(1) The Environmental Protection Act 1990 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 80(2) insert—
2AA (1) Except that a local authority must not issue an abatement notice to a business, place of worship or other non-domestic user of land for a statutory nuisance falling within section 79(1)(g) if the following conditions are met.
(2) The first condition is that the relevant premises was already in use for the same purpose at the time when the complainant became a local resident, and that such use resulted in a similar noise, and a similar level of noise, at that time.
(3) The second condition is that use of the relevant premises complies with the planning permission for that land and other legislation in force.”.’.
New schedule 1—‘Disestablishment of an arm’s length management organisation —
1 This Schedule applies to the disestablishment of an arm’s length management organisation (ALMO) by a local authority as a result of which responsibility for the management for housing previously managed by the ALMO is transferred to the local authority.
2 (1) The Secretary of State shall not entertain an application for his or her consent to the disestablishment of an ALMO and a transfer of management to which this Schedule applies unless the authority certify either—
(a) that the requirements of paragraph 3 as to consultation have been complied with, or
(b) that the requirements of that paragraph as to consultation have been complied with except in relation to tenants expected to have vacated the dwelling-house in question before the transfer; and the certificate shall be accompanied by a copy of the notices given by the authority in accordance with that paragraph.
(2) Where the certificate is in the latter form, the Secretary of State shall not determine the application until the authority certify as regards the tenants originally consulted—
(a) that they have vacated the dwelling-house in question, or
(b) that the requirements of paragraph 3 as to consultation have been complied with; and a certificate under sub-sub-paragraph (b) shall be accompanied by a copy of the notices given by the authority in accordance with paragraph 3.
Requirements as to consultation
3 (1) The requirements as to consultation referred to above are as follows.
(2) The authority shall serve notice in writing on each tenant informing him or her of—
(a) such details of their proposal as the authority consider appropriate, but including the identity of the person to whom the transfer is to be made;
(b) the likely consequences of the transfer for the tenant, and
(c) the effect of the provisions of this Schedule and informing the tenant that he or she may, within such reasonable period as may be specified in the notice, make representations to the authority.
(3) The authority shall consider any representations made to them within that period and shall serve a further written notice on the tenant informing him or her—
(a) of any significant changes in their proposal, and
(b) that the tenant may within such period as is specified (which must be at least 28 days after the service of the notice) communicate to the Secretary of State his or her objection to the proposal, and informing him or her of the effect of paragraph 4.
(4) When a notice has been served under sub-paragraph (3) the authority shall arrange a ballot of the tenants in accordance with sub-paragraph (5) to establish whether or not the tenants wish the transfer to proceed.
(5) The authority shall—
(a) make arrangements for such person as they consider appropriate to conduct the ballot in such manner as that person considers appropriate; or
(b) conduct the ballot themselves.
(6) After the ballot has been held the authority shall serve a notice on each tenant (whether or not he or she voted in the ballot) informing the tenant—
(a) of the ballot result; and
(b) if the authority intend to proceed with the transfer, that the tenant may within 28 days after the service of the notice make representations to the Secretary of State or (as the case may be) the Welsh Ministers.
Consent to be withheld if majority of tenants are opposed
4 (1) The Secretary of State shall not give his or her consent if the result of a ballot arranged under paragraph 3(4) shows that a majority of the tenants of the dwelling-houses to which the application relates who voted in the ballot do not wish the transfer to proceed; but this does not affect his or her general discretion to refuse consent on grounds relating to whether a transfer has the support of the tenants or on any other ground.
(2) In making this decision the Secretary of State may have regard to any information available to him or her; and the local authority shall give him or her such information as to the representations made to them by tenants and others; and other relevant matters, as he or she may require.’.
Government amendments 221, 222, 224 to 252, 256, 257, 259 to 262, 267 and 268.
The Bill brings forward a package of reforms to social housing. Taken together, they strengthen localism, giving greater flexibility to local authorities and to social landlords in providing the needed housing and the right basic safeguards for tenants. The provisions will allow landlords to make better use of resources, allocating existing homes more sensibly, making sure that support is better focused and providing the right basic safeguards for tenants.
The Bill’s provisions include: giving back to local authorities the freedom to determine who should qualify to go on the housing waiting list; new flexible tenancies in addition to, rather than replacing, secure and assured tenancies for council and registered social landlord tenants; flexibility to meet the homelessness duty with an offer of accommodation in the private rented sector; and, perhaps most popular of all, replacing the unpopular housing revenue account subsidy with a devolved system of self-financing.
New clause 19 relates to that, ensuring that the Secretary of State may continue to enter into agreements with local authorities to determine that specified new homes be exempt from the requirement that most of the receipts from any sale under the right to buy should be surrendered to central Government. This will help remove obstacles to local authorities investing their own resources in new homes. To be clear, new clause 19 preserves an existing relaxation in the rule that requires 75% of receipts to be paid to the Treasury in certain circumstances.
The Government are also taking the opportunity at this stage to make technical improvements with regard to flexible tenure and succession, which I would like briefly to outline. Amendments 202 and 203 exclude shared ownership leases from the landlord repairing obligation, in line with established practice and policy.
Amendments 191 to 201 are needed to rectify drafting errors in clauses 134 and 135, which deal with succession rights. They clarify the original intention that where there has not already been a succession, someone who is not a spouse or partner can succeed where there is an express term in the tenancy agreement to allow it.
The Opposition have tabled a number of amendments. Proposals for social housing reform proved to be one of the more contentious areas of the Bill in Committee, with strongly held views often reflecting points of principle. That is reflected in Opposition amendments 13 and 14 as well as in amendments 271 and 272, which would remove flexible tenure in the one case or, frankly, make it unworkable in the other. There have been some misunderstandings over points of detail, so it would be good for me to address them.
Before my hon. Friend deals with that, will he put it on the record that nothing in the Bill changes the status of any person who is a tenant in a local authority home or a housing association social home in England in respect of security of tenure? Will he also confirm that nothing in the Bill will require any local authority or any social landlord to change that policy in future—in other words, that the Bill is enabling, not prescriptive, in that respect?
My right hon. Friend is right on both counts.
Let me begin by saying that, as I ended up summing up a two-hour debate in 16 seconds yesterday, I hope the House will forgive me if I do my summing up at the start of today’s debate.
There are some concerns that I think any sensible observer of the social housing market understands and shares. The current market does not work as well as it could. Caroline Flint, the shadow Secretary of State, made that point herself when her party was in government, and the facts speak for themselves. There are about 5 million people on the social housing waiting list, and a quarter of a million overcrowded households already in social housing. At the same time, there are 400,000 homes in the social housing sector in which more than one bedroom is under-occupied.
Will the Minister make it clear what the disparity between overcrowded and under-occupied properties actually means? Is it not the case that overcrowded accommodation is overwhelmingly concentrated in London and the south-east, while under-occupied property is almost wholly concentrated in the north of England? How does the Minister expect those two types of stock to be matched under his proposals?
I have news for the hon. Lady. As one who represents a constituency outside London, I can tell her that I see both problems. In the last two months, I have been contacted by a family with three teenagers living in a two-bedroom house who have little chance of being allocated a larger house in the near future. Meanwhile, many older people, widowed, are under-occupying large three-bedroom houses. I appreciate that, as is often the case, London presents a special set of problems, but I do not want the hon. Lady to get away with the mythology that this particular problem does not affect every constituency. People visit the surgeries of all Members to discuss it. I hope that the hon. Lady is not seeking to sweep that under the carpet.
The Minister may wish to respond to a statistical point anecdotally, and of course it is true that there are individual examples of both problems in almost every constituency and part of the country. However, will he confirm for the record that it is statistically the case that the bulk of under-occupation is concentrated in the north of England while most overcrowding is concentrated in London and the south-east? Nothing that we have seen so far in the Bill explains the mechanics of how it will deal with the problems of overcrowding in the south-east and under-occupation in the north without the need for large numbers of people to be moved.
Order. I am sure that the Minister wants to answer that question briefly, but I think that any further interventions should relate directly to the new clauses and amendments.
Thank you for your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would have been tempted to talk about our housing investment programme and the impact that our affordable rents policy can have on the securing of new affordable accommodation, particularly in areas with high rental values, of which London and the south-east is an outstanding example, but as you—
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The housing measures in the Bill will provide greater discretion for social housing landlords and their professional staff. They will relax the rigid rules set by central Government in the past, and together they will allow landlords to exercise greater discretion, adapt the services they offer to local needs, and manage a valuable public resource more effectively in the best interests of local people.
I recognise that flexible tenure and the proposals to deal with homelessness have caused the most concern to date. Let me repeat what I said in Committee. In the vast majority of cases in which a social landlord offers a flexible tenancy, we will expect that tenancy to be for at least five years. It will often be appropriate to provide longer—in some instances, lifetime—tenancies. If an elderly lady is offered sheltered accommodation or a bungalow, any sensible landlord will doubtless provide a lifetime tenancy. However, if that family in my constituency with three teenagers in a two-bedroom house are finally allocated a three-bedroom house, it surely makes sense to give them a 10-year tenancy, subject to renewal. After 10 years, when the children are in their twenties and have probably left home and the family’s circumstances have changed, they will have had time enough to decide whether that is the accommodation they want.
Does the Minister not accept that the situation he describes will end up involving an amazingly complex series of different tenures and rents, which will be a nightmare for housing providers to manage, and that it will clearly lead to the system stagnating at times and being hugely unfair?
Of course I do not accept that. A housing provider who decides that this is too complex can choose not to take it up. As has been said, we are offering social landlords an additional way to let tenancies, and they can choose whether or not to take it up. They can base that decision on any sensible factor, including their administrative convenience. We propose that five years should be the minimum term in normal circumstances. We would expect it to be appropriate to offer less than five years only in very exceptional cases, and we have stated in the Bill a two-year lower limit.
The Minister has said he would like the five-year limit to be the normal minimum, with shorter terms only in very exceptional circumstances. Will he therefore tell us why the Bill does not state that, and why he is proposing to vote against the Opposition amendment proposing that five years should be the normal minimum term?
Yes of course I will, although I will take just a few minutes to reach that point in my remarks.
I want to put clearly on the record again that our proposal does not affect any existing tenant, even if they swap or transfer their home, and even if the person they swap with has a flexible tenancy. Our current system for social housing is not working as well as it can and should. A one-size-fits-all approach to social tenancies does not take account of the different needs of both individual tenants and local communities. A more flexible approach is essential.
May I take the Minister back to the scenario he was describing of a family who move into a three-bedroom house until the children leave, perhaps to go to university or because they get jobs? I am a little confused as to what exactly will happen. After the children have left, will a housing officer turn up and tell the parents that they should move out of the property? Based on my experience as a councillor, this is what currently happens in such situations: a housing officer goes to the three-bedroom house to visit the person—often an elderly lady—and has a conversation with them about perhaps moving to a smaller property, but they may well choose not to do so, because that is their home.
Under our proposals, gradually over a period of time there will be a more diverse pattern of tenancies for new tenants. There will not be a wholesale shift to short-term tenancies however, and social landlords have clearly indicated that they will remain focused on maintaining sustainable and cohesive communities and providing appropriate periods of stability to tenants.
I will give an answer, but I thought it might be useful to give a complete answer, rather than a partial one.
The provisions already in the Bill and our proposals for a new tenure standard will be binding on every social landlord, and they contain important protections for tenants. Under the new system, the regulator will set a tenure standard, the local housing authority will have to develop a housing strategy, and the registered provider will have to publish a tenancy policy. That policy will be drawn up in consultation with tenants, and landlords’ decisions on allocating tenancies will have to be in line with it. A landlord’s decision to end a tenancy will be subject to appeal—that is in the Bill—and if the appeal is unsuccessful and the tenant is not satisfied, possession can only be granted by a court So such a process can never come as a surprise to a tenant. They will have taken that flexible tenancy knowingly, in advance of moving in. If, at the point when the tenancy is being allocated to them, they do not wish to accept the terms and they think them unreasonable, they can ask for a review of that tenancy before they start. They will be taking up any flexible tenancy knowing that it is flexible and knowing what the procedures will be subsequent to their doing so.
The Government have made it clear that we intend that the tenure standards, which the regulator sets out, will include the guidelines that cover all these matters. It is a little perverse that the Opposition’s amendment 363 would take away the Secretary of State’s power to issue instructions to the regulator to cover those tenure and mobility standards.
Will not one of the results of this change be that local authorities such as mine in Great Yarmouth will have much more flexibility to manage the housing stock? That will ensure that they do not have problems with the situation that has been outlined, where people who need a one-bedroom property are in a three-bedroom property and families, including the ones I deal with in my casework all the time, cannot get into properties because they are not available. People are being blocked out and this flexibility will allow local authorities to have better management across their housing stock, which will benefit residents in each area.
The hon. Gentleman is right.
This process is not going to be an instant event and a miracle cure; it will happen only as re-lets take place and only then when a social landlord decides that it wants to implement flexible tenancies for some or perhaps all of its tenancies. At the current national rate of turnover, which is about 5% a year, the evolution of this will be slow. Gradually, it will lead to a better match between the needs of tenants and the housing available for them.
The Minister is doing a very good Pontius Pilate impersonation. He is saying, “I’ll wash my hands of it and we will leave it to others.” But he is leaving it to authorities such as Hammersmith and Fulham council or Notting Hill Housing, the second biggest social landlord, which have both said that they will opt for the minimum possible terms for all tenants, including the elderly and the disabled. What he is allowing as a Liberal Democrat Minister—if that means anything—against what many Liberal Democrats are arguing in constituencies such as mine, is the removal of all the security that people, including the elderly and the disabled, have come to depend on. Will he not take a stand on this issue?
The hon. Gentleman has not been listening, and that is perhaps not unusual. We are setting tenure standards that the regulator will be imposing, if that is the correct word, and to which local housing authorities must have regard in creating their borough-wide housing strategies. In other words, there will not be a completely unregulated market and his fears are grossly overstated.
Of course one person’s flexibility is somebody else’s inflexibility—in this case, we are talking about the authorities and, potentially, the tenant respectively. Will the Minister confirm that he is saying what I think he is saying? Let us suppose that somebody has secured a flexible tenancy while their children are living with them and those children then leave home. Is it possible that such a person could find themselves in court and being thrown out of their home because a local authority wants the house back? Is that honestly the situation that we are creating?
No, someone’s fixed-term tenancy is subject to review at the end of the term. There is no automatic eviction; the tenancy is subject to review and the—
I will when I finish the sentence, if that is all right.
The tenure standard will prescribe what local housing authorities can and cannot include in their housing strategy—[Interruption.] At the moment, as the Minister for Housing and Local Government is correctly prompting me, we have ever-growing waiting lists, with people unable to access the accommodation that they desperately need. This is a step towards dealing with that problem. It is not the only step and it will not be a quick step, but it is an important step towards the better allocation of housing.
Going back to the Minister’s assurances that landlords will not adopt the minimum standards of tenancy and that the approach will be regulated, how does he explain the fact that Notting Hill Housing wrote to everybody in my constituency on the homeless waiting list saying that from
Fortunately, I do not have to take responsibility for the actions of that body—[Hon. Members: “You do!”] Let us be quite clear that letters can be sent out by anyone to anyone saying anything. However, they are enforceable only if they are consistent with the tenure standards set by the regulator and with the housing strategy derived from them. Registered providers will need to have in place a tenancy policy that is published and drawn up in consultation with tenants. It sounds to me very much as though the letter to which the hon. Lady refers has been sent in advance of any of those things being in place. It is therefore of no value or significance other than that it does something that concerns me a great deal about our debate on this issue: that is, it serves to whip up misunderstanding and fear among existing tenants that in some way they might be affected by these new proposals. That is absolutely not the case.
I thank the Minister for giving way, as he is being very generous. I think the answer to the question from my constituency neighbour, Andrew Percy, is that clearly somebody who has had a 10-year tenancy and brought up their family can find that when their circumstances change they lose their home. These are homes that people invest in; they are not simply utilitarian houses.
No, that is not correct. Let us be clear that the tenure standards will provide specific protection for the vulnerable. We have already said that in our response to the consultation, and the consultation responses themselves show that the vast majority of landlords will provide longer terms.
Does the Minister have any practical examples? He has talked about long waiting lists for family houses, but there are actually long waiting lists for pensioners’ accommodation, too. If a couple in their 60s, whose children have left home, were on a flexible tenancy, the local authority could ask them to move. If no pensioner accommodation was available, as bungalows are in very short supply in many areas, that couple could be forced to move into a block of flats where the majority of people were young single people or young couples with a completely different lifestyle. Is that the sort of situation that he envisages? If not, will he say precisely where in the guidelines it states that the regulator will stop a local authority or housing association doing that?
The tenure standards will set that out, the housing strategy of the local housing authority will reinforce it and the tenancy policy of the provider, if it is not the housing authority itself, will also set it out.
I want to make some progress and move on to a second issue that is, I know, of real concern to Members: the provisions on homelessness. Much of the debate on our homelessness proposals started off from the proposition that landlords of private rented property are a rogue sector and incapable of offering decent quality accommodation to those families who might benefit from it. I made it clear in Committee, as has my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government on a number of occasions, that the draft legislation includes a number of safeguards that together provide reassurances that an offer of private accommodation would be made only when it is reasonable to do so and when the accommodation is suitable for the needs of the household.
It is important to go back to why we are making the changes in the first place. It is not because we want to make the plight of homeless families worse, but because we want to make their situation better. In London, the average stay in temporary accommodation of resettled homeless families before they get a permanent offer of social accommodation is two years. The impact of that time on schooling, quality of life, health and stress is not acceptable and needs to be tackled. I agree with Ms Buck that this probably is not a countrywide problem, and I suspect that my hon. Friend Gordon Birtwistle does not have the problem, because he has 2,500 empty houses to begin with, but in places of high housing stress it is a real problem. That is why we are making these proposals.
In Committee and elsewhere, hon. Members have raised a number of concerns about the homelessness measures. Some of those focused on standards of accommodation in the private rented sector, the interplay that there might be with housing benefit changes and related issues of affordability. There were also concerns about the location of those private rented sector homes, and whether there might be some loophole in creating intentional homelessness. I want to respond to each of those points in due course.
Before the Minister moves on, will he deal with two points regarding what he has said so far? First, how is it an improvement to go from an average two-year wait for permanent accommodation to never getting permanent accommodation and staying perpetually in the private rented sector? Secondly, I assume, but will he confirm this on the record, that in his definition of “suitable” he also means “local”? The biggest issue for my constituents is being placed far away from their friends, family, schools and jobs, outside London, based on the excuse of the cost of property. If that is for two years, it might be sustainable, but if it is for ever it will not be. Will he deal with those two points?
Yes, I certainly will. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not mind if I do so in sequence, but I will respond.
We need to keep a realistic view of the private rented sector and the impact of welfare reform. I recognise that there are some concerns and I am prepared to consider further the need for additional protections for homeless households placed in the private rented sector. The Secretary of State already has powers to set out in secondary legislation the circumstances in which accommodation is or is not to be regarded as suitable and to specify other matters that are to be taken into account or disregarded when determining suitability. I am prepared to consider using those powers for the provision of additional protections on standards of accommodation or other matters.
Diligent readers of the Bill will know that there are already important safeguards. Any offer has to have regard to the health and welfare of the tenant, social impacts and affordability for the tenant. Existing legislation is already clear that any loss of income outside the control of the tenant cannot create intentional homelessness. That would be unintentional homelessness and so the duty to deal with that situation would remain with the local authority. The accommodation has to be suitable, or fit for purpose. On the point that Mr Slaughter made, existing housing legislation says that as far as the local housing authority is concerned location must be in the local district so far as is reasonably practicable.
I am grateful to the Minister, who is being extremely generous in giving way. In central London, which is obviously important to me as a central London MP, the changes in housing benefit mean that only 7% of the entire central London broad market rental area for housing benefit or local housing allowance purposes will be accessible to individuals on that benefit. How then can any central London authority obtain accommodation, as a reasonable discharge of duty, in the private rented sector when there is no accommodation to be obtained?
The hon. Lady speaks of 7%. That was her figure; I do not know whether it is exactly right, but a proportion of the rental market will be affordable. Those who are in temporary accommodation in her borough or whose homelessness arises in her borough are being shunted around. We want to end that regime and have people permanently established in their borough in accordance with the legislation. We believe that our measure will achieve that.
My hon. Friend seems to suggest that there are protections in the Bill already for people discharged into the private rented sector, but there is a role that secondary legislation can play. When I pressed the point in Committee, in the context of the viability of a national accreditation scheme for landlords to ensure standards—not just in relation to suitability and size, but taking account of the types of lease offered and whether repairs are done in a timely way—the Government did not seem keen to pursue it. If that already exists de facto, can it not be brought together in a legal sense?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which he made in Committee. As he knows, there are a number of local accreditation schemes and in some boroughs it is a requirement that the landlords of tenants who receive housing benefit in their area are members of an accreditation scheme of one sort or another. I will take stock of his point. The Government are not minded to introduce a national scheme, but there may be aspects that he is rightly drawing to our attention for further consideration.
I was reassured by my hon. Friend’s words about the Government’s intention that people should not have to move outside the district or community. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has given a similar reassurance. There is particular concern in Greater London because of the acute pressure on property, property prices and so on. I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that his right hon. Friend has agreed, together with, I hope, the responsible Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, Lord Freud, to meet to see whether, across parties and with the Mayor of London, the housing associations and local authorities, the remaining concerns can be alleviated. I hope my hon. Friend and his colleagues will give full assistance to that measure as the Bill proceeds from this place to the other end of the building.
Yes. Perhaps my words were a little too opaque a little while ago when I said that we are prepared to consider the need for additional protections for homeless households. Clearly, what my right hon. Friend has just set out forms part of that process.
Two unitary county councils have been established in the north-east of England in the recent past which are now the housing authorities. The right of a tenant to stay within the housing authority area becomes meaningless in the context of a county that provides housing, because the county can be 40 or 50 miles from border to border. If no housing is available in the immediate neighbourhood, the right to stay within the county means that a tenant may have to move many miles away.
I take stock of what the hon. Gentleman says. My hon. Friend Stephen Gilbert might want to make a similar point. Perhaps that is one for us to consider more fully.
The existing legislation requires local housing authorities to locate people within their district so far as reasonably practicable. The homelessness code of guidance sets out all the factors that it is right and appropriate for housing authorities to take into account. Those of us who see real life at constituency level know full well that when those families eventually get their social housing offer, it is seldom in the plum house on the smart estate. It is more likely to be the bottom flat in the hard-to-let block on the least desirable estate in town. I hope we do not have a starry-eyed vision of social housing, when compared with the private rented sector, that blinds us to the essential reality we are trying to tackle, which is that the average stay in temporary accommodation for homeless families in London is two years. That is unacceptable and this reform puts us on the way to ending it.
Does the Minister not agree, however, that for many people the attraction of the housing association or council sector is security of tenure and the fact that they can settle, rather than living in the private rented sector, where they will always have a sword hanging over their head because the landlord may decide to end the tenancy at any moment? It is not just about the relative qualities of the properties, but about people’s sense of security.
I understand the hon. Lady’s concern, but I think that it undervalues the history of tenants in the private rented sector. There is certainly a lot of churn, but there are also many people who spend long periods in very successful private rented sector accommodation. We must be careful not to generalise and should recognise that, if there is a need as a result of a tenancy breaking down, the duty on the authority to deal with that situation remains in the Bill and is part of the protection that tenants have.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government could perhaps do a little more to look at other ways of encouraging the private sector to offer longer tenancies—for example, through more work on real estate investment trusts—so that people can invest in property in a way that is more long term, rather than having buy-to-let properties with one or two landlords, which I think is the sort of thing that concerns Opposition Members? That might offer some assistance and I would like the Government to do more on that.
Yes, I entirely agree that there is scope for innovative solutions. It is by no means the Government’s position that in a majority of cases it will be appropriate for social landlords to follow this route, but where it is clear that there is an obvious disadvantage to tenants who are stuck in the temporary accommodation loop, it is surely right to take steps to deal with that more effectively, and I hope that the House will agree.
The homelessness code of guidance provides that the location of accommodation will be relevant to the suitability of the tenancy and that the appropriateness of the location relates to all members of the household, who must all be considered. Employment, schooling, and family and social connections are all relevant matters that will be taken into account.
New clause 3 and new schedule 1 relate to changes in the governance of arm’s length management organisations, and I hope that I can be helpful to hon. Members as far as that is concerned. New clause 3 would oblige all councils with ALMOs to undertake a statutory ballot of their tenants and seek the consent of the Secretary of State before an ALMO can be closed down. I have listened to the comments that have been made and read the amendment and the briefing from the organisation. I am sympathetic to a number of the arguments put forward, particularly the need to protect tenants and have a consistent consultative model for ALMOs in cases where local authorities are minded to change their status and take them back in house.
For those councils that hold a ballot before establishing an ALMO, it seems reasonable that they should hold a ballot when they are minded to wind up such an organisation. I understand that of the 61 ALMOs that are currently extant, around 30 were formed following such ballots. The principle of “ballot in, ballot out” does not seem a bad one to hold on to. For those councils that did not hold a ballot, our departmental guidance already stipulates that they should consult widely with tenants before an ALMO is wound up. It does not stipulate what specific format the consultation should take. I have asked my officials to look again at that guidance and the options for strengthening it so that all tenants can be assured of their rights.
I welcome the commitment to “ballot in, ballot out” in the disestablishment of ALMOs, but the principle should be to give the 50% or so of ALMOs that are left—the 30 to which my hon. Friend referred—as much power as possible to set their own destiny, rather than being buffeted about by the will of the local authority. May I strongly impress upon my hon. Friend the fact that a ballot for all ALMOs seeking disestablishment would be very welcome?
I understand that that would be very welcome, but at the moment I am not convinced of the need for councils to follow that rule. I remind my hon. Friend that ALMOs are completely the creatures of local government, but the tenant participation in ALMOs is a positive feature. The ALMO covering my constituency works well and is well regarded, but even so it is a matter for the local authority. It is not appropriate for a Minister or the Secretary of State to get in the driving seat, but it is right for us to give careful consideration to the guidance, particularly on the ballot point.
I follow Stephen Gilbert in his request for a ballot in all cases, because that would give us the security of a proper consultation. Changing so fundamentally the management of a tenant’s home is almost as important as changing its ownership, and we should give weight to that. If the Minister is not prepared to go that far, but is simply going to look at “ballot in, ballot out”, which at least would be a step forward, and again at the guidance on consultation, will he have a real look at how the guidance might be underpinned statutorily so that, before an ALMO is allowed to be changed and moved back into a local authority, the Secretary of State can insist that real consultation takes place and tenants’ views are listened to? That does not happen at the moment.
Yes. It is important that we review the guidance—I just said that we should do so—and it would be an unusual local authority that disregarded it. I undertake to reflect further on the best way forward, and I hope that my hon. Friends and the hon. Gentleman feel that that is a step forward which allows them not to press their amendments today.
By a quirk of the legislation, they are caught by the houses in multiple occupation requirement for licensing and, sometimes, planning permission. The Department has been lobbied by the Friendly Housing Action campaign group to secure an exemption for fully mutual housing co-operatives, and I am very sympathetic to the campaign, as such organisations were never intended to be caught by the licensing provisions.
We have to be careful to ensure that in granting an exemption we do not inadvertently allow other categories to slip through the loophole, so I am asking for further advice on how we might achieve that. I hope to return to the issue at a later stage, so I hope that my hon. Friends will not feel the need to press new clause 26 to a Division.
I thank Alison Seabeck for new clauses 25 and 24, which she and her hon. Friends have tabled. They both relate to cases in which courts made decisions that the common-sense man would not have expected. New clause 25 refers to a situation in which the housing allocation scheme was perverted—I think that is the right word—by an officer, and consequently the courts decided that, because of the nature of the current legislation, it was not possible to recover the properties that had been misallocated. I am certainly minded to take some steps in the right direction. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently launched a 10-point plan for tackling council fraud, and that included vetting staff. I hope that that means that it is very unlikely that the situation will recur, but we are going to look at how we might move forward. On a rather significant technical point, the place where Opposition Members have chosen to insert the words means that the provision would apply only to Wales; I suspect that that is not what they really meant to do.
New clause 24 deals with a situation where a death was concealed at the transfer of a tenancy and therefore a vital time line was missed and it then proved impossible to correct that. The new clause changes the time limit restrictions so that when a local authority seeks to repossess a property, the date at which it became aware of the change in circumstances, rather than the actual date of the circumstances, will be relevant. I fully accept the point drawn to our attention. We will explore the issue in more detail and talk to various local authorities and representative bodies with a view to tabling a Government amendment in the other place. I hope that the hon. Lady feels that that is a helpful way for us to proceed.
I cannot be so consensual on other amendments tabled by the Opposition. I do not want to detain the House unduly, but I must say that we have a considerable mixture of amendments of one type or another, to which I will perhaps respond in my final 16 seconds, if that is how it turns out. Some of them are direct negatives of our proposals in the Bill, some are wrecking amendments to one degree or another, and some are quite seductive in their tone, if not their impact. Several of them duplicate safeguards that are already in the Bill or even in legislation as it has stood for some time.
Some of the amendments seem to be based on an Opposition view that social landlords are even worse than they think private landlords are, with their principal business being to get people out of their homes as quickly as possible. Of course, that is not the primary purpose or intention of social landlords, which is to provide suitable accommodation for those who need it, as will continue to be the situation in future. Other amendments seem to be more about whipping up misunderstanding among vulnerable families than about making a contribution towards solving the heartrending problems of homelessness.
I urge hon. Friends and other Members to support the Government’s sensible and thoughtful proposals and to reject the many temptations offered by the Opposition.
I repeat the declaration I made at the start of the Public Bill Committee, which is on the record.
I thank all those involved in Committee proceedings on this large and extensive Bill, including the two very patient Chairs, my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley and Mr Amess. Although we had well-informed discussions in Committee—Members on both sides of the House are to be commended—I am left with the feeling that we could have done with significantly more time to debate the issues.
Yesterday, the Minister started by saying that the Committee was consensual—not so on the housing proposals, I am afraid. We debated more than 40 amendments and new clauses on this part of the Bill, and not one was accepted by Government Front Benchers. Although I welcome the moves that the Minister has made today on a couple of our proposals, I do not get a sense that he is giving any ground. Indeed, having listened to his speech and responses, I think he is rather digging in; of course, that is his prerogative.
The Opposition cannot let these proposals go unchallenged. I will therefore speak to amendments 269, 270, 273 to 276 and 360, new clauses 24 and 25, and amendments 13, 14, 271, 272, 277 and 278, which stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I flag it up at this stage, given that the Minister has not astounded us with a number of U-turns, that we will press for votes on amendment 13 on flexible tenancies and on amendment 271 on security of tenure.
New clause 19, which will allow local authorities to keep capital receipts relating to right-to-buy sales, is welcomed by the Opposition, although we would like to see more detail. We understand that it involves the removal of the ring fence around the proceeds from sales of land or property in that account. That raises the concern that that money could be moved away from meeting housing need.
The Government’s proposals on housing and homelessness are deeply damaging, and none more so than the proposal to end security of tenure in social housing. That will create two classes of tenant in social housing. There will be great uncertainty, because there will be different lengths of tenure and different levels of rent, with little rational relationship between the two. There will be a divide between those who have been fortunate enough to get security of tenure in their social housing, and those who have been made to wait for too long and will be granted a tenancy for as little as two years. Tenants whose financial circumstances improve above an arbitrary level will potentially be told to pack up and move on.
As a result of the complexity of the system that is being brought forward, which will be a bureaucratic nightmare, a household in a three-bedroom house could pay less rent and have greater security than a household next door in a two-bedroom flat. Frankly, that will be divisive. We all have people who come to our constituency surgeries and say, “We don’t understand why so-and-so has higher priority than me.” These proposals will add a further layer to that and will be problematic.
We heard in the run-up to the announcement on the military covenant—I digress a little, but this is housing-related—about how difficult it is for military families to have to move every couple of years. That often happens and I see it a lot at the naval base. Only this week in questions, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Robathan, said that he had spoken with the Minister for Housing and Local Government on this issue. The Under-Secretary has said in the past that this instability is unacceptable and that soldiers, sailors and airmen need and deserve help to protect the stability of their families’ homes and education.
However, the message from the Department for Communities and Local Government to all families in social housing is, “Get a better job and you will lose your home. Invite your partner to move in with you and start a family, and you will put your home at risk.” At a time when we want people to do their best to get on in life, and to build something better for themselves and their families, this is the wrong policy. Labour will stand up for people who strive and who put the hours in to better their lot. What will happen to people who fall foul of the new Tory rules and are told to leave their council or housing association home simply because they have worked hard, if they subsequently lose their job or fall ill and are unable to work? What will their entitlement be then? They will go to the back of the queue and start all over again. Where is the incentive to work and where is the fairness?
In Committee, we received a powerful submission from a young woman called Jessica Sim, who lives in social housing. Her experience will be mirrored by many other tenants. She said:
“To get an affordable secure home was a great incentive to pursue my career. I also spent a great deal of time and money improving my council home and garden…and getting involved in my community association to improve the area, knowing that we could stay.”
She went on:
“What if the people who are kicked out lose their job or get fed up being hardly better off working? Back on housing benefit, back in the queue, the bill will be enormous. Families have a better chance if they have a secure place to live. Moving people on does not solve a shortage of housing.”
She rightly identified that to solve the housing crisis, the Government need to build more homes. Their policy seems to be aimed at trying to solve the shortage of social housing by allowing everyone a year or two in a social home before moving them on. Ministers seem to have failed to realise that to house people we need not to give them shorter tenancies but to build homes.
What will be the consequences of that policy of limiting social housing so that it is not available to those who work hard to build something for themselves, or to those who invest in their homes and communities? What will happen when we reduce estates to being areas that people pass through at their most vulnerable point, and transitional communities of the most deprived? We will go back almost to the state of social housing in the first half of the last century, when access to it was limited by law to the “working classes”. That term was only ever defined once in legislation, in paragraph (12)(e) of the schedule to the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1903, as those
“whose income in any case does not exceed an average of thirty shillings a week”.
In today’s money, that would be an annual income of just over £7,000. Mean as the Government are, I do not expect them to set a threshold as low as that, which would make them comparable with Tory Governments of the late 19th and early 20th century. However, the message that their change will send is the same now as it was then: that social housing is for the poor. It is to segregate people from other sections of society that are seen as doing better.
It is more than 62 years since the House decided, without a Division, to accept that segregating social housing off for just one deprived section of society was entirely wrong. In that debate, Aneurin Bevan said—it is as true now as it was then—that it was
“entirely undesirable that on modern housing estates only one type of citizen should live…that from one sort of township should come one income group and from another sort of township another income group…if we are to enable citizens to lead a full life, if they are each to be aware of the problems of their neighbours, then they should be all drawn from the different sections of the community”.
The principle of mixed communities in social housing, in which the Labour party should take great pride, was welcomed at that time by the Tory Front-Bench spokesman, the Member for Hertford. He said:
“It is, of course very desirable that the black-coated workers”— administrative workers—
“should not be shut out from the benefit of local authority housing accommodation.”—[Hansard, 16 March 1949; Vol. 462, c. 2126-38.]
I am only sorry that the wisdom of Churchillian conservatism, such as it was, has not carried through to coalition Cameronism.
Sixty years on, the idea that this country is stronger when its communities are more diverse, and that its society is more cohesive when it comprises a broad and mixed swathe of people, is no longer supported by the Conservative party. Nor is it supported by the Liberal party, whose MPs did not oppose the measures in this Bill in Committee despite trying to raise their concerns by tabling amendments. They consistently withdrew those amendments without a vote. Just where is their fabled voice in government and their backbone? We still believe in mixed communities in social housing, underpinned by security of tenure, which the Bill targets so directly.
Earlier, the Minister assured us that there would be regulations to protect secure tenants—he mentioned a period of five years and, I believe, used the word “scaremongering”. May I share with my hon.
Friend the letter from Notting Hill Housing that I mentioned, which I have now obtained? It states:
“The Government have recently set out their plans for the future of social housing. Up until now, this has been known as permanent housing. New homes will be let with fixed-term tenancies for a minimum of two years”.
“Since permanent housing will no longer be available, these changes will affect everyone seeking housing from April 2011.”
Does that not indicate that the Minister was completely wrong in the assurances that he gave?
That is clear evidence of the case that we are trying to make. There is always a risk, when minimum standards are set, that eventually everybody will end up at that level. Clearly some people want to move more quickly than others in that direction.
Let us not forget that there is a stronger localist voice if a range of interests are represented in an area. Amendment 271 is intended to address the threat in the Bill to take security of tenure away from existing social tenants. That is something of a sore point for the Government, because the Bill represents just another broken promise. Before the general election, the now Prime Minister’s spokesman was briefing the media that the Tory party had no plans to alter security of tenure. The Liberal Democrat manifesto said nothing on the subject, and the Housing and Local Government Minister spent only about 10 minutes in the Chamber on Report.
Some of us who fought very hard on the issue of secure tenancies and the future of rents at the last election were accused of scaremongering and lying. The Conservatives’ election manifesto explicitly states that they will
“respect the tenures and rents of social housing tenants.”
Ministers have made promises today on respecting the future of tenancies and rents, but how can we believe them when the Conservatives said that in their general election manifesto and wrote it off so soon afterwards in the coalition agreement?
I am very clear that secure tenancies are a good thing, that council housing is a good thing, and that housing association properties are often good things—they are not always as good as council properties. Will the hon. Lady confirm that the proposal does not affect secure tenants? Does she now accept that? Will she also confirm that the proposal affects people only in future, and that it gives discretion to local authorities? If there were any Government imposition on local authorities, I would not support the proposal for one second, but the proposal gives discretion.
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall address some of those points later in my speech. I find the Liberal Democrat position quite extraordinary.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto said nothing on the issue, and as I pointed out, the Housing and Local Government Minister, who is, sadly, no longer in the Chamber—he obviously has more interesting things to do than listen to a debate on housing—said that
“there is no chance of, or way in which, a social tenancy can be broken or changed for anybody already in council or housing association homes.”—[Hansard, 28 February 2011; Vol. 524, c. 19.]
In November, I asked the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark whether he would give me his personal guarantee that secure tenancy rights would not be changed. He gave a brief, direct answer: “Yes.” If only the Bill that those Ministers now promote were consistent with their previous statements in the House.
The framework published by the Department is quite clear that tenancies will be secure only for tenants who have a secure tenancy before
The Homes and Communities Agency is clear that the expectation is for both flexible tenancies and affordable rents in re-lets and new developments. In future, those families will have an absolutely impossible choice. Do they stay in a home that is no longer suitable for their needs, leaving them overcrowded but with the security they crave and a rent they can afford, or do they accept the move to a larger home, lose their security, and risk losing their home altogether if they are deemed no longer to meet the eligibility criteria for social housing, which could happen two years down the line?
The right hon. Gentleman sits there and shakes his head, but there are enough questions about this measure. The Minister had four goes at answering those points in Committee, but his answers were not entirely satisfactory. I urge the right hon. Gentleman either to abstain on Government new clause 19, or to come into the Lobby with the Opposition.
I appreciate that this is very serious and I am listening very carefully to the hon. Lady—I do not doubt her commitment. I am open to correction, but my understanding is that in the circumstances she describes, when somebody needs to move from a council home because their family has grown, it does not necessarily follow that they will be unable to be offered a secure tenancy where they go to. If Southwark council kept secure tenancies for all its council stock, people would move to a secure tenancy if they moved to another council property. Will the hon. Lady please at least accept that that option will be just as possible next year as it is this year?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a point about Southwark council, but evidence suggests that significant numbers of councils—largely Conservative councils, but no Labour councils—are already saying they want to introduce this proposal quickly. The system allows for discretion, but the evidence suggests that it will not be used, and that Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster and other councils will simply say, “Sorry, no!” If someone chooses to move—the key point is the choice—they will probably find themselves with a higher rent and a shorter tenure. These proposals contain no guarantees and are inadequate, which is why we tabled our amendments. We need to consider the tenants. The council in Southwark could become a Conservative council in the future—
Perhaps, but the point is that there is clearly an appetite among Conservative councils for making use of this provision, offering the minimum they need to and removing security of tenure from people who choose to move.
It is not a choice I would wish on any family, and it will create disincentives to move within the sector by throwing sand in the wheels. We need to make it easier for people to move within the sector, yet the Government’s proposals will make it harder. If the Government press ahead and create this dog’s breakfast of a flexible tenancy, we want them to stick to their promise not to break secure tenancy rights of existing tenants, even if they choose to move. I and my right hon. and hon. Friends raised this issue with the Minister in Committee during the stand part debate on clause 132. He revealed that the previous guarantees given by his ministerial colleagues were worthless, when he said that the decision on whether tenants would keep their security of tenure would rest with the discretion of the landlord, but that
“if a tenant chooses to move to an affordable rent property, it is reasonable that discretion should be available to the landlord as to whether that remains in place”.––[Official Report, Localism Public Bill Committee,
For us, that is simply not good enough. It does not retain security of tenure, and gives landlords a degree of flexibility that we think is negative for tenants. That is why we oppose it. I am disappointed that amid the 234 Government amendments and new clauses there is no amendment to match their rhetoric. That is why we tabled amendment 271. The Government might not be willing or able to stand up for the rights of existing tenants, but the Labour party certainly is.
Amendment 277 is similar to an amendment debated briefly in Committee at the end of a morning sitting. At the time, the Minister said that clause 134 was part of a cleaning-up exercise, to which I said we would leave things there and consider whether we needed to come back to the issue on Report. As the House of Commons Library rightly points out, the clause removes the statutory right of those other than spouses and partners to succeed to a secure tenancy. Currently, in the absence of a spouse or partner, the close relatives of a secure tenant who have resided in a dwelling as their only or principal home for 12 months prior to the tenant’s death also have a right to succeed to the tenancy.
Our amendment would extend statutory succession rights beyond spouses and civil partners, to those who have acted as live-in carers for at least one year and siblings who have co-habited for at least one year. Carers contribute an enormous amount to society and to those—almost always close family members—for whom they care. We will all know of cases in our constituencies in which family members have moved into their parents’ or other relatives’ homes to act as carers. It is an act of love that can place tremendous strain on the carers, and the commitment it requires should not be underestimated. Nor, on a more transactional level, should the amount of money they save the Treasury be underestimated. Age UK, in its submission to the Bill Committee, wrote:
“Given the contribution of carers, they deserve to succeed to a tenancy or have an offer of alternative social housing with a lifetime tenancy.”
Does the hon. Lady accept that the Bill will give registered landlords the opportunity to have tenancy agreements that allow carers to succeed to a tenancy even if they are not related to the person holding the original tenancy? The Bill will give landlords that flexibility for the first time, not take anything away.
Yet again, this is all about discretion and saying, “Trust us.” I am afraid that we would like to see something clearer in the Bill.
Live-in siblings are another group for whom there should be statutory succession. Once again, we can all look at our constituency experience. During the passage of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman said:
“It is profoundly unfair that carers and siblings who cohabit are disadvantaged on the death of one or other of them by being forced out of their home by their tenancy terms”.—[Hansard, 12 October 2004; Vol. 425, c. 188.]
That legislation was the wrong place for that debate. This Bill is the right place, and our amendments would address the issue. Something else that ought to be addressed, and which we sought to address in Committee, is the right of unmarried couples. I am pleased that the Government seem to have shelved the idea of giving £2 a week—or whatever it was—to get married. However, the Bill gives newlyweds more succession rights to a tenancy than a cohabiting unmarried couple who have shared a home for decades, even when those newlyweds have cohabited for only a matter of days. That is not fair or appropriate. If passed unamended, clause 134 would not reflect modern family life for many families in Britain.
The Minister said in Committee that there was some tidying up to be done. I acknowledge that Government amendments 194 to 201 try to improve the provisions and address the succession issues. In so far as they represent a degree of Government movement since Committee, I welcome those amendments. I also welcome the Minister’s acknowledgment at the time that the Bill was far from perfect. A host of Government amendments have been tabled—more than the norm on Report—which largely reflects the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny that the Bill received and the rushed consultations.
I shall try to get through our remaining amendments as quickly as possible. On the right of tenants to complain directly to the housing ombudsman, we oppose clause 153 and seek to remove it with amendment 278. Clause 153 would require tenants to seek permission and approval from their elected representatives to complain about their social landlord to the housing ombudsman. We support the National Housing Federation position on this issue. Amendment 278 would allow tenants the right to complain directly, as they can now. The National Housing Federation represents landlords, who possibly have the most to lose from the change, yet they are very relaxed about allowing tenants that direct link.
New clauses 24 and 25 seek to clamp down on loopholes in housing law that can be exploited by fraudsters and to deal with the issue of fairness—on which the Minister, he say yes! I am grateful to him for acknowledging that we brought to his attention something on which he thinks he can build. I look forward to seeing further amendments in the other place. When it comes to fairness in the allocation of homes and the transparency of the process, we felt that the local authorities in the cases that we highlighted needed a right of redress. Neither case is sub judice. They were highlighted for us by Arden Chambers, and they are Birmingham v. Qasim and Newport v. Charles. We would be grateful if both cases could be looked at in detail and amendments brought forward.
There are a host of issues concerning homelessness that, given enough time, deserve to be debated properly on the Floor of the House. However, given the constraints on Report, it is neither appropriate nor possible to give them another airing or vote on them all, as we did in Committee. I am sure that a number of those issues will be raised again in another place, given the depth of expertise there. In Committee, we sought a requirement for better standards in the private rented sector—a point touched on by Stephen Gilbert—through proposals for an accreditation scheme. I would support any move in the other place to resurrect that and look at it in more detail.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for indicating her party’s support for such a proposal. It could be quite transformative if the Government, while discharging the homelessness duties into the private rented sector, were to become a big purchaser of services in that sector, and we could drive up standards through an accreditation scheme. Does she agree with me on that?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I agree. I tabled the amendments in Committee proposing exactly that, so the answer is yes. We tabled those amendments because we wanted to see an end to homeless applicants being placed in sub-standard or unsafe accommodation. Sadly, the Government rejected those amendments, and we shall have to wait to see how the matter pans out in the other place.
In Committee, we also sought to improve the advice offered to people presenting as homeless, but that, too, was rejected, as was our amendment to ensure that the Government’s changes to housing benefit would not leave families intentionally homeless. The Government also rejected our amendment to ensure that any private sector accommodation into which homeless applicants were placed should be deemed to be affordable, although the Minister has mentioned taking affordability into account. An amendment seeking to prevent homelessness through better advice, with statutory guarantees on the quality of that advice, was also rejected. The hon. Members for Bradford East (Mr Ward) and for St Austell and Newquay expressed similar concerns, but sadly, they withdrew all their amendments and held the coalition line. I hope that we will be able to convince some Members on the Government Benches to join us in the Lobby today because of the Government’s failure to listen to the arguments that we and they made in Committee. I am sure that their colleagues in the Lords will also look closely at these issues.
More than 160,000 people presented as homeless last year, and I am disappointed that a Bill that will have a profoundly negative impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people has returned to the Floor of the House after its Committee stage, and after a lengthy pause, with no amendments to address the criticisms and concerns of charities and experts who deal with homelessness on a day-to-day basis. Two very good reports have been published in the past fortnight. One from Crisis, on single homelessness, flags up the areas in which the most can and should be done to prevent homelessness. The other, from the Homeless People’s Commission, points out that offering better advice will save the Exchequer money.
The Bill is a retrograde step. Homeless applicants found to be in priority need and unintentionally homeless will no longer be able to draw on the security and stability of a social home with security of tenure. Instead, they will be placed directly into the private rented sector and if they refuse an offer, for whatever reason, the local authority will no longer have a duty to house them. They would then have almost nowhere to turn for help. It does not take much to realise the circumstances in which an offer might be unacceptable to an applicant. The accommodation might be too expensive, too far away from their child’s school—a point made by my hon. Friend Mr Slaughter—or too close to an abusive ex-partner. It might also be damp, mouldy or unsafe—the list goes on. Key among all this is the insecurity that a private rented sector offer can sometimes bring. There was a very good article in Inside Housing this week, following a survey that clearly showed that a homeless person placed in the private rented sector was likely to face eviction very early, and to be turned around and around in a circle of homelessness.
The third biggest cause of statutory homelessness last year was the loss of an assured shorthold tenancy. As I said earlier, stability is vital in order to prevent what people have referred to as the revolving door of homelessness. With tenancies in the private rented sector being less stable and of a shorter duration, the risk of recurring homelessness is greater, so the need for stronger statutory protection increases. Amendments 273, 274, 275, 276 and 360, taken together, would extend the period within which the homelessness duty would recur from two years to five years when the applicant was placed in the private rented sector. They would also provide, during that five year period, that a household accepted as homeless should receive “reasonable preference” on their local authority’s housing allocation scheme.
Under amendment 269, the duty of local authorities to find temporary accommodation for a period that enables the homeless person to find accommodation themselves would be extended to intentionally and unintentionally homeless people who were not in priority need. It is important to note that this duty to accommodate for long enough to give reasonable opportunities to secure other accommodation is distinct from the main homelessness duty. Extending this provision to those not in priority need would help an individual facing a crisis who might just need some short-term accommodation to get back on their feet. It would give the individual and the authority the opportunity to work towards resolving their homelessness, perhaps outside the social sector, helping to ensure that no one faced a situation with no option but to sleep rough.
On that point, perhaps I can press the Minister to tell us whether the rumours on the street are correct—that his Department is considering announcing that no one should sleep rough for more than one night. Do these rumours have any foundation? If so, does he expect to table amendments in the other place to deal with the issue and what will be the additional funding alongside it?
I am sure that the Minister will have noted the story of Chris, a young homeless person in crisis in a recent Crisis publication, “The Hidden Homeless”. Told that he was not entitled to succeed to the tenancy of a social home in which he had been living and caring for his grandmother for 15 years up to her death—this brings me back to my earlier point about succession—Chris found himself homeless and without decent advice or support from the local authority. As a consequence, he slept rough, broke into buildings for shelter, ended up with a criminal record and no break from the cycle of homelessness. Something must be done to address this; the Government’s Bill falls far short of the mark. I hope the Minister will reconsider his position on our amendments to deal with the problem.
Amendment 270 would ensure that, whenever possible, any homeless applicant to be placed in the private rented sector is offered somewhere within the borders of their own local authority first. The point has already been made. For a family with children, this will be essential to avoid having to pull the children out of school, and it is always preferable for reasons of community and stability not to make people move out of an area, except where there are valid reasons such as domestic violence, when a placement out of district might be preferable. There are going to be pressures, given the changes coming to housing benefit, so I hope that the Minister and his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions will bear that in mind.
If the Government are insistent that they wish to place homeless applicants directly into the private rented sector, it is only right for them to acknowledge the need to strengthen protections for the very predictable outcome of their choices. Evidence shows that homeless people housed in the private rented sector are more likely to be evicted.
Let me finish by saying that it is not just this Bill’s provisions that give cause for alarm, as changes to housing benefit will increase homelessness and rough sleeping. We have already seen homelessness increase by some 15% since this Government came into office. The Government’s consultation on statutory duties on local authorities has seen Tory councils like Hammersmith and Fulham viewing it as an opportunity to scale back their duties to homeless people, while Westminster council has been busy trying to ban soup kitchens.
If we had several days to debate this Bill on the Floor of the House, we could easily fill that time, as many issues deserve to be debated—not least issues of supply, whether or not the new homes bonus will work, and why the planning Minister, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, yesterday brought forward an amendment at the behest of the Minister for Housing and Local Government, who is obviously getting desperate: houses are not being built and his new homes bonus needs a kick-start, so he is trying to buy planning permissions. We could have had an entire debate on that provision alone. As I say, many issues deserve to be debated and I have no doubt that my noble Friends in the other place will seek to pursue these areas when they eventually get their hands on the Bill.
Our new clauses and amendments are designed to defend mixed communities, to extend protections and advice to homeless people, to stand up for security and stability for low-income families and to prevent the segregation of those sections of our society that this Bill will surely deliver. I urge colleagues of all parties to join us in the Lobby on amendments 13 and 271, which we intend to press to the vote.
I wish to discuss amendments 13 and 271, and in doing so to draw on my experience of serving for 10 years as a local councillor in the city of Hull in east Yorkshire. I represented a large council estate, including the house in which my dad grew up, as well as the three-bedroom house in which my grandma lived until the day she died, because it was her home.
I have no problem with the concept of flexible tenancies, and I think that councils should be given tools enabling them to offer some form of flexibility. However, although I broadly support the Bill—an odd feature of this place is that Members tend to get to their feet when they are unhappy rather than happy about something, but I assure Ministers that there are plenty of provisions in the Bill about which I am perfectly happy—I should like to be given a few more details. The Bill states that local authorities may offer flexible tenancies, but I should like to see more commitment with regard to the proportion that they should offer, and also an absolute guarantee that they will continue to offer secure tenancies.
The Bricknell estate, which I used to represent, illustrated the importance of mixed tenure. We had some problems. People lived in three-bedroom houses long after their children had left. The worst experience that I used to have at my surgeries was being asked by people after someone had died, “May we please have their house?” People were literally on death watch trying to obtain homes. I do not pretend that there is not a problem with people living in homes that are too big for them. However, they should not be forced out of their homes, to which they have a sentimental attachment. I do not want some official from the local authority to turn up all of a sudden and tell people whose children happen to have left home that under the terms of their flexible tenancies their time is up, and they must move on and make a home somewhere else.
My hon. Friend is making an interesting point, but the fact is that many people downsize whether they are in social housing or not. They should not be forced out, but offering them alternative accommodation might be a solution.
My local authority had a clear policy. Housing officers would talk to tenants and try to encourage them to move into smaller, more appropriate accommodation if it was available, although of course it is not always available. There is nothing wrong with that, but I understood from the Minister’s response that people might end up in the courts when the terms of their flexible tenancies were enforced, and might effectively be forced out of their homes.
I am also worried about the two-year period. One of the problems on our estate was the difficulty of making people feel part of the estate and part of the community. A transitional arrangement, with people coming in for two years and then being forced out and different people coming in for another two years, does not help to maintain the sustainability and viability of the community.
My hon. Friend is making a number of excellent points. Does he agree that the Government cannot create a big society and increase community cohesion if we continue to move people around?
I agree. We experienced several problems of antisocial behaviour in the community that I used to represent, but we dealt with them over a period. After a while, people who had moved in from outside the area started to appreciate the community in which they were living and became part of it. Children befriended other children at the local school, and their parents then befriended one another. The sense of community was protected, which had a major impact on what had been huge antisocial behaviour problems. We had a sustainable community in which people had invested and in which they wanted to remain. There is a risk here. If people are constantly moving after short periods of time, they might not look after their houses and gardens. That may sound a bit silly, but the condition of houses and gardens gives an impression of what a community is like. If people feel they have a personal investment in their homes, they will maintain their gardens and do work to their properties; they will have some pride in the house in which they live, because they see it as their home.
The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case. Does he accept that because such rapid turnover of tenants will inevitably result in a lack of care for properties, lenders on housing association properties in particular will start getting nervous about their investment and may want to revisit their loan books and reduce their investment in certain properties?
That is an interesting point, and I hope all Members would want to avoid that, but it is a possible consequence of short-term tenancies. If authorities are to be allowed to offer flexible tenancies, I would prefer there to be a requirement on them to continue to offer secure tenancies as well so that people can work towards that and so that there is at least some tenure mix.
On the point about housing officers turning up at the end of a secure tenancy and suggesting to the tenant that it is time for them to move on, the issue of what independent advice will be available to tenants has been raised. I would not want tenants to go through a court process and, perhaps, end up being forced out of their home without ever having had access to the correct and appropriate advice.
If we are to take into account the structures of modern families, tenants cannot simply be told, “You have a three-bedroom house and two people have moved out, so you’re only using one bedroom,” because family members frequently move out and back in again. Where is the security for the parent and for the kid who pops off to university or to do a job somewhere else, or who moves out because they are in a relationship which then ends so they want to return to the family home? I keep using the word “home” because these properties are not merely a facility that belongs to the council—although I suppose legally they are that. They are much more than that, however, so where is the security for the young person who moves out and then wishes to return home? I have absolutely no doubt that these proposals have been made with the best of intentions. On the estate I represented we had huge problems with such patterns of occupation and young people not having a chance to get a home, but we do not want to use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point, but I have to say that young families who are seeking a home—very much like ambulance chasers, although I am not saying they are like ambulance chasers—come to my surgery. This issue works both ways, and unless my hon. Friend comes up with an alternative solution, the proposal before us has to be considered as a creative thought that is worth exploring.
The radical solution that I have always favoured—which is not very popular among my party colleagues—is that we should build more council houses, and I am pleased that Conservative-run East Riding of Yorkshire council in my constituency is, indeed, building more council houses in Goole, as it recognises there is a need there.
I think I did offer a solution to the question asked by my hon. Friend Mrs Main, however. I said that I wanted better protection in the Bill so that we can ensure that secure tenancies are guaranteed and will continue. I have nothing against a proportion of council housing stock being made available for flexible tenancies, and as the Minister said, local authorities can certainly determine to do that. However, I fear that, particularly where there is high demand and limited stock, some local authorities will make decisions that will mean we end up with a situation where nobody can ever work towards having a secure tenancy. I would not want that at all.
We heard much about tenure standards from the Minister, and we had many assurances on that. Perhaps if he gets more than 16 seconds to respond to the debate, we can have a little more detail about those standards and how robust they will be. I agree there is a problem here, which is why I have concerns about amendment 13 on the basis that it takes out flexible tenancies entirely. Amendment 271 perhaps has more going for it.
I just hope that Ministers will be able to offer me more assurances that if, after careful consideration, they decide that something a little more robust needs to be put in the Bill to protect tenants, they will make the appropriate changes in the House of Lords, Senate or whatever it is going to become at the appropriate time. I am not convinced that we could not have a situation where somebody who has been living in their home for five or 10 years is then suddenly dragged before the courts and removed from their home. I am sure that that is not what Ministers intend or what any local authority would want to see, but I am not convinced that the protection is robust enough in the Bill. I am sure that Ministers are discussing how those protections can be put in place, and I look forward to the response at some point in the future.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend Alison Seabeck, the shadow Minister, for mentioning the new homes bonus, because people in Gateshead are considering what to do with the magnificent award of £68,000 that we have been given by the Government under the new homes bonus. That is approximately 28p per head of population to spend on the development of new homes within the borough of Gateshead. However, I do not want to discuss that today, because I want to talk about my new clause 23. I declare an interest, because I had assistance in drafting my new clause from staff at the Local Government Association, and I am a vice-president of that organisation.
New clause 23 proposes that the Bill should be amended to include a provision to support local authorities in reducing the level of littering from vehicles. The Bill provides an excellent opportunity to amend section 87 in part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to enable local authorities to deal specifically with littering from vehicles. Such an approach would help to reduce the high level of litter, not only at road junctions, roundabouts and exits from service areas, which are difficult to clean up, but in our streets generally. The new clause fits with the overall aims of the legislation, and with the specific new powers for local authorities to tackle persistent fly-posting and graffiti.
Anyone who wanders around the streets of Britain will notice that litter thrown from vehicles is a problem affecting the cleanliness of highways and roadside verges, creating cleansing issues for many local authorities up and down the country. Furthermore, many drivers and passengers feel that they are anonymous when they throw litter from vehicles. The introduction of a specific offence where the owner of a vehicle is held responsible for such littering, unless they can prove otherwise, would discourage drivers and their passengers from throwing litter. Such an offence would also provide a further means for local authorities to tackle the growing problems of roadside litter.
Littering from vehicles is a major issue for the public. In 2009, Keep Britain Tidy launched a campaign to encourage members of the public to report incidents of littering from vehicles. Although the campaign ended two years ago, more than 9,500 such reports were received from members of the public. We have all seen drivers who smoke depositing the contents of their ashtrays on the kerbside, usually not in their own street but in someone else’s or, as is common, around the country. We have all witnessed soft drinks containers, fast food wrappers, residue from fruit, half-eaten sandwiches and much worse being flung from moving vehicles or being deposited from a vehicle parked at the side of the road when a snack break is over.
I endorse what my hon. Friend is saying. Is he also aware that those of us who cycle face a danger from unthinking motorists who open their window and throw rubbish out, and that is an assault on cyclists?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, with which I wholeheartedly concur. I was going to come on to that. It is mainly cyclists, pedestrians and local residents who have to negotiate their way through the mess that is left. This selfish, antisocial and irresponsible activity must be curtailed.
In London, the power to tackle littering from vehicles was recently introduced by the London Local Authorities Act 2007. Section 24 gives a London borough council the power to serve a penalty charge notice on the registered keeper of a vehicle if any passenger throws litter from it. In that case, the use of a penalty charge notice rather than a fixed penalty notice means that that is a civil offence rather than a criminal one. Furthermore, due to defective drafting, the 2007 Act is not active until amending legislation has been given Royal Assent. I propose that the enforcement section of the Localism Bill should be amended to include a reference to vehicle related litter. That would follow on from the commitment to finding a solution to the problem made by Lord Henley, the Minister responsible for local environmental quality, at the national litter convention in December last year.
New clause 23 has legislative precedent and is in line with the legislation on other road traffic investigation and fly-tipping offences and the approach taken to littering from vehicles in the 2007 Act. The Government have a chance today to do something about the problem and I hope that they will do so. I am convinced that the vast majority of the public whom we serve would not regard new clause 23 as contentious in any respect whatsoever.
I shall be very brief, as I wish my colleagues to have time to make their quite important contributions. We have some concerns about the issues raised this afternoon.
Let me start with new clause 26, tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I was pleased with the Minister’s response. The clause aims to free small fully mutual housing co-operatives from burdensome regulation and significant costs that they cannot and really should not have to shoulder in the same way as private landlords. This would obviously help to provide a more conducive environment for new housing co-operatives and would not cost the Government much money. I know it fits in well with the coalition Government’s agenda for community self help and a mutual approach. That and other innovative schemes will, I hope, emerge from the Bill.
I also want to endorse the amendments on arm’s length management organisations. I, too, urge the Minister to consider a ballot if there is a question of bringing things in house, whatever the circumstances. Poole Housing Partnership, which is an excellent and outstanding ALMO, has provided a lot for our local communities over and beyond good housing stock. I want to put that on the record.
Let me turn now to the key issues we have discussed this afternoon. Is there a place for flexible tenancies? We must ask that question. I think there is a place for flexible tenancies, but is there a case for two-year flexible tenancies? That question really needs to be addressed in the other place. I would hate to see the churn that might happen. I also think that the idea of a mix of tenancies, from a minimum of, say, five years through to secure tenancies, probably has quite a lot to offer. We should not need to be prescriptive from the centre. We ought to be enabling local authorities, but obviously some alarming information has been put before us today and that means that the regulatory side will have to be very secure.
If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I would like to be brief so that my colleagues can get in.
I want to put on record my concern about the two-year tenancies. True, it is said that they will be exceptions but there is a big “but” once we start using the term “exceptions”. The Liberal Democrats want this issue to be revisited in the House of Lords. It is incredibly important to get it right.
Let me briefly address the homelessness issue. Having a roof over one’s head by having something in the private sector might be a good option. However, the point has been made—and I have to go along with it—that we must look at all the individual circumstances such as whether there has been domestic violence and whether there are children in the family who have to be able to access their current school. If they have experienced trauma, it is important that they stay in their school.
As yesterday, time is incredibly short and we are left with very important issues to address, which will affect people’s lives, and we have no time to get to the bottom of them. That is why it is so important that as we pass this Bill to the other place, we do so with a lot of questions.
May I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend Alison Seabeck on her effective criticism of the Government’s proposals on security of tenure? Her comments were excellent and I thoroughly support them.
I also give credit to Andrew Percy, who made some very perceptive comments. The reality is that people will be dragged out of their homes at the end of a flexible tenancy and told, “That is no longer your home.” If people resist, they will be dragged in front of the courts and evicted. That is what is going to happen; there is no getting away from that. He was absolutely right to say that it changes the status of the offer that is made to someone at the beginning of a tenancy from offering them a home that will be theirs for as long as they want it, as long as they abide by the tenancy rules, to offering them a temporary residence. With that temporary residence comes the risk of temporary schooling, temporary communities and all the problems that the hon. Gentleman rightly identified, such as lack of community stability and the possibility of simply creating estates of people on benefits who are moved out as soon as they get off benefits and get a job because their tenancy is then brought to an end. That is not the sort of arrangement that I want to see.
I absolutely endorse what my hon. Friend is saying. Is there not a strange contrast here in that Parliament is apparently about to vote to take away permanent tenancies for new council tenants but the Government would not dream of doing the same thing for owner-occupiers or others in our society? Why should we demote council tenants to this level of insecurity?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. These measures are changing the status of council tenants, downgrading them almost to second-class citizens. That is what this effectively means, and it is creating a form of welfare housing. There will be people who are so desperate for security that they will over-extend themselves in trying to become owner-occupiers, which could lead to real problems. I say to the Liberal Democrats that they should not hide behind the idea that the measures are all right because existing tenants will not be affected or because local authorities will have to choose whether to go for these forms of tenancies. The reality is that, currently, as long as people abide by the rules, they cannot be evicted from council or housing association properties—they cannot have their tenancy ended by their landlord—but under the Bill that will be possible, and if Liberal Democrats vote for the provisions, they will be allowing that to happen.
Let me say one thing about the homelessness provisions. It might surprise some to hear that I am not, in principle, against local authorities being able to discharge their homelessness responsibilities by making an offer in the private rented sector, but I do want to see clear safeguards. If a house becomes available in my constituency, where some areas have very limited social housing, it is by no means apparent to me that someone who has just become homeless should get that property as opposed to someone who has been in the private rented sector waiting on a housing list for six years. However, if an offer is made, it has to be made with the standards of the private rented property being approved by the local authority, with the landlord or their agent being part of an accredited scheme—probably with regular inspections to make sure that the property is kept to a reasonable standard—and with a minimum tenancy length. I would certainly want those conditions to be included.
Finally, let me address new clause 3, which is in my name. I heard the Minister’s comments but I still feel that a ballot is the best way of ensuring that the views of ALMO tenants are really taken into account and that we do not simply have consultations in which the tenants say one thing and the local authority does another, which are already happening. A ballot is the best way forward, but if the Minister is saying that the same process that was used to set up an ALMO should be used to dismantle it, he must firm up the guidance and make it a statutory obligation for local authorities to comply with that. I see him nodding, and that is very good.
I did give that assurance; we certainly are going to take a very close look at the point that the hon. Gentleman is raising.
The Housing Minister has said that he is prepared to have a meeting with me and other officers of the parliamentary all-party group on arms length management organisations. The information we have got from the National Federation of ALMOs, with which we recently had a very good meeting, shows that, in a number of cases, local authorities have simply been flouting the correct processes. Councils are saying, “We are going to get rid of your ALMO; it doesn’t matter what you say—it’s going.” They are then putting factually inaccurate reports to housing committees. They are not offering people a real choice in the consultation, they are not explaining the facts, and they are not presenting balanced arguments. They talk about saving money on the general fund as one reason for getting rid of ALMOs. They do not refer to the new proposals on self-finance or the Government’s reforms.
All those facts are being kept from tenants in unbalanced, one-sided consultations. I hear what the Minister says. I shall not press the new clause, and I look forward to further discussions with him and his colleagues about the best way of constructing the measure to get the best deal for ALMO tenants and to ensure that in the end they make the decisions which affect their homes.
Like Ian Mearns, I shall speak not about housing, but about litter, and I shall say a little about new clause 33. The new clause would extend street litter control notices to office buildings by amending the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Although this is only a minor amendment, it would have a major impact on the ability of local authorities to clean up their streets.
Four years ago I launched a project in my constituency called Litter Angels to highlight the nuisance of litter. The idea of Litter Angels—which has now applied for charitable status, so I suppose I should declare an interest as one of the trustees—is to work with our local primary schools to educate children about the harm that litter does to our local environment. We take the view that catching them young might encourage more of them to practise good habits as they get older.
More recently, Litter Angels launched a “Big Clean Up” campaign in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, which is encouraging local groups and individuals to commit to undertaking at least one project to clean up our local area. The “Big Clean Up” will take place during August, and I am proud that my constituency was one of the first in the country to embrace the national “Love Where You Live” campaign being run by Keep Britain Tidy.
It was Keep Britain Tidy which highlighted to me a particular problem with smoking-related litter, with which new clause 33 deals. Sections 93 and 94 of the 1990 Act give local authorities the power to issue street litter control notices on premises that have a frontage on a street and outside of which litter or refuse is causing a defacement of the land. The problem is that the legislation was originally envisaged to tackle fast food litter and other such rubbish, and pre-dated the ban on smoking in public buildings and places of work. The House might be surprised to learn that the latest local environment quality survey of England revealed that smoking-related litter is present on 76% of the sites surveyed and is the most frequently found litter type.
Much of that smoking-related litter can be found outside office buildings. Unfortunately, street litter notices cannot normally be served on office buildings unless they sell food and drink, whether or not for consumption on the premises—for example, from a canteen or snack kiosk. Extending the street litter notice provisions to include office buildings would provide local authorities with the means to deal with localised litter problems and would close an unintended loophole in the legislation. The new clause would also allow local authorities to require occupiers or owners of offices and non-food retail outlets to play a greater role in dealing with the scourge of litter and encourage members of the public to take increased responsibility for their litter.
It is worth pointing out that in June 2007 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs undertook a final regulatory impact assessment on the extension of street litter control notices. This was as a response to the potential impact of the smoking ban on littering and its extension to office buildings. That assessment confirmed that if local authorities were able to issue street litter control notices in respect of offices and other venues not currently covered by the provisions, it would give them the power to place a greater responsibility on the occupiers or owners of those premises to clean up, particularly the smoking-related litter in the area immediately around them, perhaps by installing appropriate disposal facilities where this form of littering is a significant problem.
The assessment noted that such a proposal was in line with changes introduced by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, which followed the “polluter pays” principle by improving the powers available to local authorities to take action. A cost-benefit analysis undertaken by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in June 2007 calculated that such a proposal would result in a net benefit to society overall because notices would be issued only in a minority of cases and that costs imposed on local authorities and businesses would be relatively small and outweighed by the benefits associated with improved amenity, reduced cleaning costs resulting from preventive measures, and a reduced fire risk.
To allow notices to be issued in respect of any type of office premises, rather than the current limited number of offices, the new clause proposes to widen the definition set out in section 94(l)(a) in part IV of the 1990 Act by omitting reference to “commercial or retail premises” and inserting “premises other than dwellings”—I draw the House’s attention to a typing error in today’s amendment paper, which shows “premium” rather than “premises”. My proposal has a legal precedent in London, where street litter control notice powers are currently extended to office buildings by part III of the London Local Authorities Act 2000, which, in reference to the 1990 Act, explicitly omits the words “commercial or retail premises” and substitutes the words “premises other than dwellings” for notices issued in the capital. All I seek to do is extend that principle to other areas of the country.
Additionally, section 93(2) of the 1990 Act states that the local authority may serve a street litter control notice
“on the occupier or, if the premises are unoccupied, on the owner of the premises”.
As office buildings may have multiple occupancy, I propose an amendment specifying that notices may be issued on the owner of any premises where there is multiple occupancy. New clause 33 is uncontroversial and designed simply to close a loophole in the current legislation. I hope that the Minister will agree to include it in this important Bill.
I draw attention to the interest I declared at the beginning of the Bill’s passage through the House and again in Committee.
It is, in my view, a sad day for housing when we come to consider this Bill on Report, as it involves a series of retrograde steps that are damaging to the future housing prospects of millions of our fellow citizens, weaken tenant rights and safeguards for homeless people, and undermine the future of social housing in this country.
It is particularly sad that we have had most of the debate during the extraordinary absence of the Minister for Housing and Local Government, who is responsible for this and yet graced us with his attendance for only a few minutes in a previous sitting and has made no contribution whatsoever to the passage of the Bill through the House. That is an extraordinary comment on his values. His approach, which the Government have adopted since coming to power last year, has been to cut drastically the funding for social housing, including a massive 65% reduction to the Homes and Communities Agency budget.
We are seeing individual rights cut back, such as tenant rights for homeless people. There is a curious element in this that Andrew Percy hinted at in his impressive contribution. He rightly highlighted the fact that the Government are giving greater priority to the interests of the providers of housing than to the public, the customer and the user of services. That is not compatible with normal Conservative rhetoric, and we have heard, again and again, their attack on provider interests and their wish to support the position of the customer and the user of services, but not here. Tenants’ rights and the rights of homeless people are being cut back, and when we argue that point we get the answer, “Don’t worry, because the providers will do the right thing. They will look after the interests of tenants. They will give lots of security, they won’t undermine tenants’ security and they will look after the interests of homeless people. Trust the providers.”
That is an interesting stance for the Government to take in this policy area, because in almost every other we hear a completely different rhetoric—the rhetoric of increasing the power and the influence of the customer, of the user of the service. Indeed, this Bill contains a great many passages where exactly that has motivated the Government, so there is a curious disconnect between the Government’s rhetoric and what they are doing on housing. The only way I can explain it is by saying that they clearly have no interest at all in the future of social housing or in the interests of the people who live in social housing or depend on it for their future prospects.
We do have a concern: it is for the 5 million people who are waiting for social housing, and about trying to make a better fit between the houses and homes that we have and the people who desperately need them.
Were that true the Government would not have cut the Homes and Communities Agency investment budget by 65%. This Bill is the fig leaf presented by the Government to cover their embarrassment at their failure to provide adequately for the needs of social housing in the years ahead, and it is shameful that the Minister should try to cover that policy by pretending that they are acting in the interests of the homeless and the badly housed.
I understand what the right hon. Gentleman says, but will he not acknowledge that at the end of 13 years of Labour government there were fewer social homes in this country than there were at the start? At the end of this period of government there will be more than there were when we started.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. There is no way in which there will be more social homes, because he knows perfectly well that the only social homes provided will be provided because the previous Government funded them, and that most of the homes for which this Government will be responsible will be the so-called affordable homes—although that is a travesty of English, given that they are based on the principle of 80% of market rents, which will in many cases be a real test of affordability—and homes that are created as flexible tenancies under the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, because we have debated it and I am sorry he cannot acknowledge it, that the previous Government inherited from their predecessor the most disgraceful backlog of poor condition housing in the social sector and rightly concentrated investment in the early years on putting that backlog right. A huge number of tenants now live in decent homes because of the Labour Government’s work, but that Government also allowed those tenants who wanted to buy their homes to do so, and that inevitably accounted for some reduction in the volume of social housing.
Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that in the five years between 2005 and 2010 the Labour Government built more than 250,000 affordable homes? In the five years between 2010 and 2015, we expect at most 150,000. Is that not pretty pathetic?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point that I entirely endorse. It shows that the Minister’s claim was entirely incorrect, and he should be ashamed of making it.
The first amendment in my name, amendment 361, is about security of tenure. It is not the wrecking amendment that the Minister tried to pretend it is. It simply states:
“In preparing its tenancy strategy a local authority must ensure that to the greatest extent possible, tenancies granted in its area provide security of tenure so as to support and develop stable and confident communities.”
That is absolutely in keeping with the intelligent comments of Annette Brooke on how there is a place for flexible tenancies, but they should not take over, and to the greatest extent possible we should try to support security and help to build stable communities.
That is the purpose of the amendment, and I cannot understand why the Government are reluctant to accept it. I give the Minister one last chance. If he wants to be held to have any real credibility on the issue, he should accept it, because it would indicate that he is not simply performing a sleight of hand that will deny tenants security, but is genuinely interested in maximising the number of tenants who enjoy security of tenure. That would at least be a step in the right direction, and I hope that the Government will change their mind. I note, however, that he did not bother to respond to my question about why they have not accepted the amendment on a minimum of five years, so perhaps I might do a little better on this second try.
Amendment 362 is designed to safeguard the Government against embarrassment. As the Minister will know, because we debated it in Committee, this is about the incompatibility of the phrasing of the Bill with article 8 of the European convention on human rights, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in two recent judgments. The Supreme Court indicated that where tenants make representations against a possession action, the courts must have the discretion to consider whether it is proportionate to grant possession in the circumstances. That is clearly incompatible with the passage in the Bill that says that the courts must grant possession in all cases, without any doubt at all. I do not see how it is possible for the Secretary of State to have signed the statement saying that the wording of the Bill is compatible with article 8 when clearly it is not—or perhaps compatibility can apply only if it is put aside when cases come before the courts. It would be a rather odd position for a Minister to take if he was expecting the courts to ignore the wording of a Bill that he was putting before Parliament. In the interests of avoiding embarrassment for the Government, I hope that they will accept the amendment, which the Minister will know I have slightly amended to take account of one of the objections that he put up in Committee.
The Minister entirely misinterpreted my purpose in tabling amendment 363, which was not to weaken tenancy standards but to safeguard housing associations from the risk of reclassification as public sector bodies. This is a long and complex story, and I will not go into it, but it was debated at length when the legislation creating the Tenant Services Authority was going through Parliament. I took a similar line then, from the Government side of the House, which is that while we want to see frameworks in place that ensure proper safeguards for standards, we should be very careful about creating a chain that goes directly from a ministerial fiat to an instruction to a housing association which could lead to the view being formed that they are no longer independent bodies that can be classified as being in the private sector, or not in the public sector. If such a change were to take place and housing associations were to become classified as public sector bodies, they could no longer borrow from the private sector without that counting against public expenditure. That would, at a stroke, wholly undermine the programme of housing association investment, and it would cause considerable financial embarrassment to the Government.
I hope that the Government will think carefully about this. The individual, particular reference to standards would not necessarily, of itself, constitute sufficient grounds for the classification to be changed, but cumulatively the impact of an ever-increasing number of instances where the Secretary of State was able to instruct the Tenant Services Authority, or whatever body, to then instruct a housing association on how to act could lead to the view being formed that these are no longer bodies that are independent of the public sector. That is a very dangerous step. I tabled the amendment simply to advise the Government that this is a dangerous area that they need to think about carefully, because it could seriously undermine the whole funding of social housing in this country.
Now that I have explained my amendments, I hope that the Government will be more thoughtful and reasonable in responding to them than was evident in the line that the Minister adopted earlier. If there is no change, I sincerely hope that all Members of this House who care about the future of social housing will vote to safeguard the interests of the public, users of the service, tenants and homeless people rather than those of the providers.
I remind the House that one of the new clauses and amendments in this group is my new clause 38. The Minister did not specifically refer to that in his introduction. I had helpful conversations with Ministers before tabling it, and I hope that the Government will be sympathetic towards it. I understand that it may not be possible to agree to it today, but obviously there will be other opportunities if the principle is accepted.
My proposal deals with the straightforward point that, often, an existing occupier of land who is acting perfectly properly and within planning permission, such as a bakery, a print works or another business, is challenged by people who move in nearby—often it is residential occupiers, who in my constituency will have paid quite a large price for their property—who complain about the activity that was known to happen there when they moved in. People who had moved into Bermondsey street alongside the Ticino bakery, which has been there for decades, if not centuries, complained that there was a noise at 4 o’clock in the morning because people were baking bread. That complaint is completely unacceptable. People who had moved in opposite the print works on Surrey docks complained that vans came in and out in the middle of the night to deliver newspapers. That is not altogether surprising and is absolutely obvious. That complaint is therefore unacceptable. I could go on. People who move in next to farms complain about the cockerels crowing, people who move in next to churches complain about the bells ringing, and people who move in next to mosques complain about the imam calling people to prayer. Those complaints are all nonsense.
I want it to be clear that caveat emptor—or caveat mover-in—is the principle that we should apply. The important point is that such unacceptable complaints threaten businesses. They threaten the livelihood of the farmer, the baker, the print works or the night club. My constituency is regularly afflicted by people who think that they have a right to complain, even though they are the Johnny or Joanna-come-lately. I hope that that issue can be dealt with.
I will move on to the wider subjects in this group of amendments. I am very supportive of the comments of my hon. Friend Annette Brooke, who expressed her concern not that the Government are not listening, but that they may need to go further in the House of Lords to accommodate the points made by those of us who for years have had a passionate concern for social housing and council housing.
I commend the speech of my hon. Friend Andrew Percy. I, like him, have an absolute commitment to council property, and think that we should have more, not less, of it. I think that local authorities should be encouraged to build it, not discouraged from doing so. He speaks from his personal and constituency experience. I think that I am still the Member of Parliament who represents more council tenants than any other Member in England, so this issue is hugely important in my constituency.
Of course we need to deal with under-occupying and with the fact that people may become council tenants when they are poor and then become very rich. It seems to me that the way to deal with that is not to evict them, but to ask them to pay more money for the property, so that rather than changing their status, the cost of the property reflects their ability to pay. Otherwise, communities are broken up. Social housing should provide people with a spare bedroom to deal with the flexibility of the household. Alison Seabeck and my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole referred to that issue. As they grow older, a couple may need two bedrooms rather than one. Somebody might need a carer or their family or friends to come and stay. I therefore hope that we will always assume that there should be a spare bedroom.
Lastly, I hope that while accepting the principle of flexibility, the Government will have a presumption that the stability and security of communities is what we are striving for. Every year, about a quarter of the electors in my constituency move on or off the electoral roll. They do not necessarily move in or out of the constituency, but sometimes within it. I appreciate that the position in inner London is more extreme than elsewhere. However, we must build communities, and that is done by having more, not less, security. That does not mean that there should be no flexibility or that councils and other providers should have no ability to have tenancies that are not secure, but security of tenure should be the presumption. I hope that as the Bill goes from this place to the other place, the concerns from across the House will continue to be considered. This is not just an urban issue, but a rural one.
I look forward to Ministers being positive about the noises that they have heard from Government Members, as well as from Opposition Members, this afternoon.
I rise to speak in support of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Alison Seabeck. There appears to be inherent conflict between different Bills that are proceeding through the House. I have been sitting on the Welfare Reform Bill Committee, and it seems to me that we are not looking at the whole picture. That Bill is concerned with, among other things, the amount of housing benefit that is paid out. There are concerns about the rising bill and what has to be done about it, and the Government are proposing measures to bring down the bill that will affect people up and down the country.
At the same time, there are proposals in the Localism Bill that would have the opposite effect. For example, it would create so-called affordable houses at 80% of market rate. However, the people who need those houses, the people everybody is wringing their hands about, will not be able to afford those properties unless they can get housing benefit, which means that the housing benefit bill will rise. The Government are cutting benefit for some people and making their lives more difficult, but at the same time creating measures that will inherently increase the housing benefit bill.
In the same way, increasing the use of the private rented sector for homeless families will have an effect on the housing benefit bill, because inevitably their rents will be higher than they would be if we could find genuinely and truly affordable homes for people. I am concerned that two parts of the Government appear to be proceeding in conflicting ways.
Another aspect of welfare reform that we hear about constantly, in the Welfare Reform Bill Committee and elsewhere, is the need to make work pay and get people into employment, which we all agree about. Flexible tenancies may well have exactly the opposite effect. I was not on the Localism Bill Committee, so it may have been different there, but I noticed today that the one issue related to flexible tenancies that the Minister was comfortable in talking about was the vexed question of houses that are under-occupied or overcrowded. We all know that that is a problem, and it is not a simple one to address. Flexible tenancies are not only intended to address that situation, but that was what the Minister wanted to talk about. Perhaps it is the slightly more cuddly side of flexible tenancies. It might make people think, “Oh, I can see the point of that. We have to get a bit of flexibility to get that changed.”
Actually, flexible tenancies are about much more than that. If they are implemented in the way suggested in some of the speeches that we have heard and the articles that we have read, it will mean that people who are trying to get back on their feet and have found jobs may be told that it is time to leave their home. What incentive does that give people to enter employment or work harder to increase their income?
I certainly find that extremely surprising given what is in the Bill.
We have to ask the Government why they are moving in different directions in different legislation and why they cannot get their act together. Surprisingly, however, there is an underlying similarity between the two Bills—they are about shrinking the welfare state and leaving only residual provision, whether it is residual housing for the poorest and neediest or residual benefits for the most vulnerable. That illustrates the difference between the Government and Opposition, about which we must be clear. There are inconsistencies in the Bills, but at the same time there is a united theme to which we are opposed. We are concerned that in four or five years, the welfare state will have shrunk out of all recognition.
The key to social housing is longer-term tenure, which gives families, and particularly those with young children, confidence that they have a home for their family for the future. That is why we need to focus on the fact that social housing is meant to be not for short-term crisis accommodation but for family homes.
I should preface my remarks by saying that I absolutely accept that my hon. Friend the Minister’s intention is to tackle the waiting list problem, which is a huge—[ Interruption. ] I hear an Opposition Member say, “Build more homes,” but as we all know, the waiting list is longer than it was when the Labour Government took office 13 years ago. We can therefore take that with a pinch of salt.
I absolutely understand the Government’s aspirations to increase the availability of social housing, but we need to look at how we can increase and stretch shorter-term tenancies in the private sector, rather than reducing social housing tenancies to equivalent levels.
I also accept that the Government are saying that the minimum level would not be an expectation, but, as we have already heard, some providers of social housing are taking it as such. Good councils and the better registered social landlords will not do that, but some will be waiting to implement that measure, which concerns me. I am worried about tenants when providers take that proposition seriously.
We have more second homes than council houses in my area. The previous Government failed to tackle that huge problem, but I hope that this Government listen to what Cornwall Members and Members for other rural areas say about it. We need to look at how to ensure that those who are fortunate to get a social tenancy can have confidence that they can raise their family without fear of being moved on. People live in fear of being pushed into assured shorthold tenancies in the private sector, where they might be asked to move on every six months or so. We must avoid that situation.
Although my hon. Friend the Minister’s intention is to provide good local authorities with the flexibility to use the measure when that might help, my worry is that the measure is not robust enough to stop others misusing it and making it the norm. That is where my concerns with new clause 21 lie.
This is not Third Reading, but I should say that I am very keen on many aspects of the Bill. However, I am very concerned about the provisions on tenure. I should like a great deal of reassurance in that regard from those on the Treasury Bench before I join the Government in the Division Lobby.
In two minutes, I shall try to make three points. I apologise for not being in the Chamber throughout the debate. I was here at the beginning, but then I attended a debate in Westminster Hall and chaired a meeting elsewhere.
My first point is a warning, and it comes from the excellent speech by Andrew Percy. He asked whether tenants will be evicted when councils come round to inspect a property. The answer is that they will be—that is what will happen. Just as universities increased fees to £9,000, the bulk of councils will seize upon the two-year tenure rule. As a result, we will see the invidious inspection of properties to see how much people are earning, and there will be evictions. I give this warning to hon. Members: if this measure is enacted, MPs will be the first people those tenants will come to. On Monday, I tied to prevent a constituent from being evicted from a private rented property. She was being evicted not because she had not paid the rent and or because of antisocial behaviour, but simply because the landlord wanted the property back so that he could re-let it at a higher rent. That will happen time and again, and those who are evicted will come to our surgeries. I warn Members to be careful what they vote for tonight. The measure will cause untold suffering that will land on our doorsteps.
My second point is a statement. The reality is that tonight is the end of council housing as we know it. The argument has been made that there is a turnover of 5% a year in tenancies. If so, within a generation nobody will be given a secure tenancy. We need to be aware of what voting for this legislation would mean: let us admit that it is the end of council housing.
Thirdly, as someone who is proud to have been brought up in a council house in a thriving community, I do not understand why council tenants should be discriminated against in this way. We are not a different type of people: we, too, want secure accommodation; sometimes when our children grow up and leave, we enjoy that extra bedroom, or when things go wrong and they want to come home, we want them to be able to do so—but above all people want security. This is discriminatory legislation, and to be frank it discriminates on class grounds. As my hon. Friend Mr Betts said, it is as though council house tenants are second-class citizens, yet their rents cover the costs of their properties—in fact, they subsidise others because of the amount they pay in relation to the cost of the property itself.
For those three reasons, people need to think very carefully before voting tonight. People will interpret this measure as an attack on a large number of people, some of whom are vulnerable, and it will undermine the basis of housing in our country for a long time to come.
I will be brief, because many of my points have been made already. Indeed, I could have written the speech of my hon. Friend Andrew Percy for him. If he needs a speechwriter, I am readily available. My speech will contain some repetition, therefore.
The Government’s aim not just in the Bill, but in all their policies, is to build and strengthen communities, but strong communities mean strong, stable and settled communities. I have a concern about the Bill, so I put this simple question to the Front-Bench team: how will the Bill and the tenancy provisions build stronger, more settled communities? I am afraid that I remain unconvinced. It has been said that people grow attached to their homes. They are not just bricks and mortar; they are homes, not houses. I suppose, in one sense, I speak from experience, because I was brought up in a council house. I can vaguely remember moving from Fuller street in Cleethorpes at the age of 5 to a new-build council house in the centre of Grimsby. No doubt that was under the enlightened Conservative Administration at the time and the targets determined by Harold Macmillan.
I cannot get my head around the aim of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole used a line I gave him during one of his interventions: more flexibility for the landlord means more inflexibility for the tenant. What happens when children who have left home want to come back has not been satisfactorily dealt with. I share the view of my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes that a spare room for carers or returning children should always be available in a home. Ministers know of my concerns. I raised them with three Ministers in Committee and on Second Reading—I am sure that my Second Reading speech was bedtime reading for all Front-Bench Members—but to sum up: how will shorter tenancies help to achieve stable communities?
I certainly have longer than yesterday, but not quite long enough to answer all the points raised.
I start by saying that we absolutely and emphatically refute the argument that we are ending security of tenure for social housing tenants. We are not doing that. This is not the end of council housing or social tenancies. On spare rooms, I would say to my hon. Friend Martin Vickers that the under-occupation figures that I quoted were for properties with more than one spare bedroom.
The amendments are wide-ranging, but at their heart they are about not permitting a flexible tenancy arrangement at all, and about under no circumstances transferring families for whom the council has accepted a homelessness duty to the private rented sector. To my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who have raised concerns that there might be unscrupulous public landlords as well as unscrupulous private landlords I would say that the point of having a housing regulator and tenure and mobility standards is to provide a solid framework for the decisions that providers make when they draw up their housing strategies and tenancy policies, which they will be required to do in consultation with tenants too. There is a legislative framework, and there will be tough rules and guidelines. There is also the guide on homelessness, which sets out the factors that must be taken into account.
Let me say to colleagues on both sides of the House that the Government are trying to help homeless families to get into satisfactory accommodation sooner, not handicap them. In relation to those who require social housing, our reform and the introduction of flexible tenancies will be one way of improving the fit and getting more of the 5 million people who need council housing into council housing. There are various myths, one of which is about the insecurity of the private rented sector. In fact, in the past three years only 8% of low-income households in the private rented sector moved because the tenancy was ended by the landlord. The other 92% moved because they wanted to move. We need to keep the facts of the case in proportion and try not to overdo the mythology.
Mr Betts on the ALMOs legislation. To those who have raised their concerns about tenure security let me say that the guidelines on tenure standards will be available for inspection shortly.
Let me deal now with those Members who have made specific proposals. I can tell my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes that I am making “sympathetic noises”—I think that is the correct phrase—even if the neighbours are not in his case. On new clause 23 and 33, let me tell Ian Mearns—who was speaking, I thought, on behalf of the LGA—and to one of my hon. Friends who made the same point in relation to a separate amendment that we will certainly look carefully at the matters that have been raised.
I am under strict instructions to stop promptly. I apologise to the House for not responding in the depth that I would have liked to the many points that have been raised. I have been listening, as have my colleagues, and we will obviously take forward the views that have been expressed and ensure that they are not overlooked when the Bill is considered in the other place in due course. I urge my hon. Friends to support the Government amendments this evening and to resist the Opposition amendments.
Question put and agreed to .
New clause 19 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.