New Clause 19 — Capital receipts from disposal of housing land

Part of Road Safety – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 18th May 2011.

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Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government 4:00 pm, 18th May 2011

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.

My hon. Friend Mr Leech has tabled new clause 26, which relates to a specific situation for fully mutual housing co-operatives.

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.