Amendments made: 19, page 17, line 22 , after “section” insert “193ZA(6) or”.
This amendment applies the provision in article 3 of the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 (S.I. 2012/2601), about when accommodation is to be regarded as unsuitable, to a decision by a local housing authority as to whether they should approve a final accommodation offer by a private landlord for the purposes of section 193ZA of the Housing Act 1996 (inserted by amendment 10).
Amendment 20, page 17, line 26, leave out “vulnerable person” and insert—
“person who has a priority need”.
This amendment applies the provision in article 3 of the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 (S.I. 2012/2601), about when accommodation is to be regarded as unsuitable, to accommodation secured by a local housing authority, in discharge of their duty under section 189B(2) or 195(2) (inserted by clauses 5 and 4, respectively), for all persons who have a priority need rather than just “vulnerable persons”.
Amendment 21, page 17, leave out lines 32 to 37.
See amendment 20. This amendment removes the definition of “vulnerable person”.—(Mr Marcus Jones.)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
This is a very proud moment for me. Reaching this stage of the proceedings has been a long road. When my name was drawn out of the hat and I was No. 2 in the ballot, I needed to consider what issue to take on. I was minded to choose something that would make a difference to thousands of people across the country. Little did I know how much work and effort would be involved in getting a Bill to this stage.
The expert panel was convened by Crisis in the summer of 2015. We then had the Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry last summer, to which many of us in the House contributed, plus its pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill in September, and finally an unprecedented seven Committee sittings, involving some 15 hours of debate. I think it is fair to say that no private Member’s Bill has ever been so well informed or well scrutinised. Indeed, it is unique among private Member’s Bills in that it has been the subject of a Select Committee inquiry and report and of pre-legislative scrutiny, and that it is the longest such Bill, with 13 clauses and 18 pages of detailed legalese. It will probably also be the most expensive private Member’s Bill, and I look forward to hearing good news in a few minutes’ time from the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Mr Jones on the funds that could be allocated in addition to the £48 million that he has already set out.
I would like to thank a number of people and organisations who have been instrumental in bringing the Bill to this stage. It is clear that, although I am the sponsor and leader of the Bill, this has been a team effort. The contribution of the Select Committee and its Chair, Mr Betts, has been invaluable. We could not have got to this stage without their input. In particular, the Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny provides an example that all hon. Members should consider, should they be fortunate in future private Members’ Bill ballots. Select Committee Members continued to offer their expertise to the Bill Committee, and I thank them for their time and constructive support.
I also want to put on record my thanks to all the members of the Bill Committee for their hard work and dedication. They asked constructive questions and scrutinised the proposed legislation in detail. The fact that 21 Government amendments have been tabled and passed today is a direct consequence of all the detailed work that was done to ensure that we got the Bill absolutely right.
The outcome of Bills such as this should not be left to a lottery. The Procedure Committee, on which I have the honour of serving, recommends that the first four private Members’ Bills be subject to a bidding process through the Backbench Business Committee so that well-researched Bills with cross-party support can get to the House without depending on the current lottery procedure.
I thank Crisis, which has supported me from the start and facilitated consultations right across the piece to ensure that the Bill was delivered properly. There has been huge interest from a whole host of groups from across the country. I thank the LGA, individual local authorities, Shelter, St Mungo’s, the National Landlords Association, the Residential Landlords Association and the many others that have written or spoken to me about the Bill. Members from across the House will want to mention the charities and support groups that have provided much-needed help and assistance to rough sleepers and homeless people. The advice, work and challenges that I have received from the people at the sharp end have enabled me to ensure that this strong Bill is in the best possible shape to send to the House of Lords and that, critically, it will have long-lasting impact on people who suffer the crisis of being homeless.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for supporting and championing the Bill from the outset and for ensuring that we got the Government’s full support. Not only has he devoted a significant amount of his personal and ministerial time, but he secured resources from the officials to ensure that the Bill reached this point. He also followed through on his commitment to fund the new burdens associated with the Bill. The Government will be providing £48 million for local government to implement the new duties in the Bill. We do not know whether that will be sufficient to meet those new duties, but I am delighted that the Minister has committed to review the figure following not only the amendments that we have passed today, but the new burdens that we are placing on local authorities. I thank the Minister and all his officials for their work in getting the Bill to this point.
I want to put on the record my thanks to Martine Martin, my parliamentary assistant. For those who have not had the pleasure of meeting her, she has ensured that the whole process has remained smooth. Her calmness has kept me calm, and I owe her a particular debt of gratitude.
I also thank Andy Slaughter—something that is hard to do at times—and the Opposition members of the Bill Committee for ensuring that the Bill was well scrutinised and in good shape ahead of Report today. I thank all the hon. Members who are in the House today to wish Godspeed to the Bill so that it reaches the statute book as fast as possible. Many were here on Second Reading way back on
I thank everyone for their time, effort and dedication, but we must remember that this is a process and that we are implementing a Bill that changes the law for the most vulnerable members of society. We must ensure that people who are sleeping rough or threatened with homelessness get the help and support from local authorities that they need and deserve. I have said from the word go that having one rough sleeper on our streets is a national disgrace; the fact that we have so many is something that we must end. Equally, I have said from the word go that the Bill, which will hopefully become an Act, will not deliver any new housing units, which is part and parcel of a new strategy that I look forward to the Government pursuing. What the Bill will do is change the law and the requirements on local authorities to ensure that they deliver help and advice to vulnerable people who need it at a crisis point in their life.
The Bill will also mean a massive culture change for local authorities, and we should not underestimate how much of a culture change it will be. I passionately believe that people enter public service to help people, not to deny them service. For 40 years, at local authority level we have routinely denied vulnerable people service, help and advice. That has to come to an end. It will be a big shock to most local housing authorities when the Bill becomes law and the various regulations are laid before the House, but the key point is that we are aiming to ensure that, for people who face the prospect of having nowhere to live, we move on from an approach where homelessness is always a crisis to one where local government has the duty and the ability to work with people as early as possible so that they never become homeless by helping them to tackle their housing and welfare issues before the crisis point is reached.
I sincerely hope that our work over the past year will make a significant difference, and I firmly believe it will. I am extremely proud to be standing here today with the support of the whole House in bidding the Bill Godspeed and safe passage through the other place so that it can end homelessness once and for all.
I begin where Bob Blackman, the Bill’s promoter, finished by wishing the Bill every success in completing its passage as it leaves for the other place. I also echo some of his thanks. I thank him for putting extraordinary effort into the Bill. I do not know how long he intends to stay in the House, but I suspect that, whenever he departs, the Bill will be one of the things about which he is most proud—it will be a lasting testament to his work—and I am sure that many of us envy him. Such praise is well deserved because he has had to put time and effort in the Bill. I suspect that he now thinks it was all worth it, but I bet there were times when he doubted that.
Obviously the Bill would not be where it is without the support of the Government, which should be acknowledged, as well as that from the official Opposition and others. The Minister has been particularly assiduous in pushing through the Bill. Although he may or may not reveal this in his speech, he has had difficulty with his colleagues in other Departments. The hon. Member for Harrow East will recognise the Minister’s personal devotion to the Bill, which he will count a success.
I extend my thanks to all Members on both sides of the House who have been involved. I particularly thank the Labour members of the Committee who are sitting behind me: my hon. Friends the Members for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and for City of Chester (Christian Matheson). They shared the burden with me in Committee and brought their considerable expertise to our proceedings. I am sure that the Minister and the Bill’s promoter would say the same of Government Members. It has been a good session.
We must also acknowledge the various interest groups involved, not only because they stood up strongly for their interests, but because, in the end, they wanted the Bill to succeed. They include the landlords and charities, but we should not forget local government, because it is local government that will have to execute the provisions of the Bill and on which its burdens fall. It knows more than anybody else the difficulties in dealing with homelessness, given the levels of funding and demand. The officers and councillors who are at the sharp end deserve our thanks. Some do fail—a number of authorities have lamentable records—but many do their very best under difficult circumstances. That is true of my own council and, I am sure, of many others.
The Bill has been a collective effort, and my final mention is to the Communities and Local Government Committee. Its work has formed the bedrock of the Bill and the basis on which it can go forward.
As the hon. Member for Harrow East said, our proceedings have been something of a template for the way in which complex private Member’s Bills can go forward. I, like him, hope that it can be a precedent for a change to just not just the House’s procedures, but in the way in which the Government approach private Member’s Bills, It might change the way in which some of our colleagues approach such Bills, but perhaps that is a matter for another day.
As we have discussed the Bill for so long, it is quite easy to gloss over what it does. It does several fundamental things, such as introducing the prevention duty. Although, as we have heard, that is nothing new—the previous Labour Government encouraged that approach through legislation, and it is also encouraged by best practice in local government—the Bill puts the matter clearly and firmly into statute. That is a major change to the way in which homelessness is addressed.
The Bill also extends the relief duty to anybody who is homeless. Although the assistance to be given to those who are non-priority homeless cannot, for reasons of resources, be as comprehensive as it is for those who are priority homeless, that is, again, a significant change.
Let us not forget the duty to co-operate, about which we have had quite an extensive discussion. Perhaps the co-operation that will be required does not go as far as some of us would have liked—my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East moved an amendment relating to that in Committee—but local authorities cannot avoid their responsibilities. We know that the homelessness sector and the charities have been working to perfect the way in which they deal with the complex needs of homeless people. Sometimes other institutions do a good job—those in the health service or probation, for example—but we really need everyone to step up to the plate. I am pleased that the duty to co-operate is in the Bill, but I hope we hear more about it as the codes are developed.
With the current pressures on the public sector, it is easy for people to say that these things are just too difficult. The reality is that a number of homeless people have been in mental health units or have just come out of prison. They need assistance, and that cannot come only from homelessness charities and local government. Everybody has to do their bit.
For those three reasons, among others, the Bill is a significant piece of legislation. I will not repeat what I said in the previous debate about what remains to be done, but let me mention just two things. First, when the White Paper is published, I would like to see in chapter 1 a commitment from the Government that is the same as that given by my right hon. Friend John Healey before Christmas on behalf of a future Labour Government: rough sleeping will be eliminated over a single Parliament. Earlier this week, we saw shocking figures showing that 4,134 people are sleeping rough in England. That is a 16% increase on the previous year, and a 134% increase since 2010. I could not have agreed more with the hon. Member for Harrow East when he said that one person in that situation is one too many, but 4,134 is a national disgrace. Nevertheless, it is a figure that we can manage.
Many other aspects of homelessness are getting much worse over time. Statutory homeless households have increased by almost 50% since 2010, with the number now standing at just under 60,000. That is a huge problem, and while the difficulties with housing conditions such as overcrowding all need to be tackled, the first step has to be dealing with rough sleeping and the street homeless. I would love to hear from the Minister today that that will happen, but I will look particularly at whether the issue is addressed in the White Paper. I would not say that that would silence us—we will never quite be silenced—but it would be an effective way of dealing with the points that have been made throughout the passage of the Bill when we have said, “Yes, legislation is great and yes, this Bill does some great things, but in itself it is not going to build one more house or house one more person—it is words on a piece of paper.”
I plead with the Minister to do what I have said. I praise the initiative of the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne, in taking the lead, but he will be the first person to say congratulations if the Government go ahead with this.
There are so many aspects of the problem that need to be dealt with to start to tackle homelessness that we could think that it is all just too much. I was impressed by the briefing that Shelter sent to us, which highlighted two aspects. It said:
“we consider it inevitable that, to be able to help people under the new duties, councils with significant levels of existing homelessness will require not only additional resources but, more importantly, an adequate supply of accessible, affordable and suitable homes in the social or private rented sectors.”
That is self-evidently true. The two things that are at the top of Shelter’s wish list are:
“Reverse the freeze on Local Housing Allowance rates”; and an
“indefinite suspension of the forced sale of high value council homes in areas with high levels of homelessness”.
Neither of those is going to solve the problem, and they might not even be the most effective steps that could be taken, but they are the two most obvious ways in which the Government are actively making the situation worse. It is very difficult to accept the Government’s wholehearted support for the Bill when at the same time they are pushing those measures through.
I say that with clear personal knowledge from my own constituency, where, when a Conservative council was in charge for eight years, social homes were regularly sold when they became vacant. Several hundred individual homes were simply sold off at market rates rather than being used to rehouse homeless families. That has created devastating problems, the consequences of which we are still suffering. If we see that replicated on a grand scale throughout the country through the sale of high-value council homes—in my borough it would mean, over time, 50% of council homes being sold off—the homelessness situation is going to become far worse.
Local housing allowance rates are utterly distorting local housing markets and leading to what the Minister, the hon. Member for Harrow East and others have said today that they do not want to see: people being forced out of central London—and out of London and the south-east altogether—and separated entirely from their support networks, their families, their children’s schools and sometimes their jobs.
I am beginning to see another disturbing trend that I hoped never to see recurring. I shall refer to a case that I dealt with in my surgery only last week. Landlords are letting properties at rates that are just within local housing allowances, but they are doing so by letting properties that are unsafe and degrading, with no proper electricity and in danger of collapse. I never thought that I would see those housing conditions in this country.
The Government have to come to terms with the effects that their policies have on individual families living in the private rented sector. I beg them to look again at the freeze on the local housing allowance rate, because it is having a severely detrimental effect on thousands of families around the country.
We wish this good Bill well as it goes through its stages in the other place. We will do what we can to assist to ensure that it is enacted. I still look forward to the Minister’s comments about the extra funding, and I know that people in council finance departments all around the country are hanging on his every word about that. Let us celebrate the Bill today, but let us also be aware of how much we need to do if we are to tackle one of the worst crises in homelessness that we have experienced, certainly in my political lifetime, and one of the worst blights on our society.
I rise to congratulate my hon. Friend Bob Blackman on getting so close with this Bill, and with relative speed. Interestingly, most of our constituents will not understand that it is really hard to get private Members’ Bills to this stage and that very few such Bills make it to the end, so he has done incredibly well. Obviously, as he said earlier, he has had help from an awful lot of people, not least from a couple of Opposition Members whom he has already praised.
Cross-party work to help vulnerable people is one of the most important things that we as Members of Parliament do, and my hon. Friend was fortunate to be drawn high enough up the ballot to be given an opportunity to bring something into law.
Homelessness is a very difficult issue. Not many Members in this Chamber will remember “Cathy Come Home” or even Rachmanism, but it is clear that we have progressed hugely as we no longer see those sorts of problems on our streets and in private rented households today.
Andy Slaughter talked about private landlords. I think that that problem is bigger in London than in places such as Mid Derbyshire. Our landlords are better sorted out by the local authorities than they are in London, which is a much harder market on which to focus.
I wish to return to an earlier point, which is that, when women are on the streets, they are one of the most vulnerable groups. Very often, they are on the streets because they have been abused by their partners or their husbands. It is a very difficult situation when a vulnerable young woman—or a woman of any age—is thrown out on to the streets, or chooses to leave, and has to sleep rough. I have experience of that with a family member who, because she was being beaten up very severely, had to run away and sleep on the streets. In the end, she had to go back, because she had nowhere else to go—or so she thought. Eventually, she went back to her family. It was a very difficult situation. It does not matter where in the country vulnerable people are, they depend on the support mechanism to pick them up and help them out. Some people have nowhere to go. That may be due to the fact that they were in care as a child or are mentally ill. As constituency MPs, we know how many mentally ill people there are out there. They write to us on a regular basis on a range of issues because they do not know where else to go. Some of the most vulnerable people become homeless for those and many other reasons.
My hon. Friend talked about all the charities that helped him to prepare for this Bill. I pay tribute to many of the charities that I have worked with over the years in Derby city and Derbyshire. A huge number of people want to help the vulnerable, and I commend them for their work. An organisation called the Padley Centre in Derby helps vulnerable people not only by housing them overnight—and sometimes for extended periods—but by giving them additional skills so that they can eventually get a job as well as housing. Very often, the homeless out on the streets do not have a job because they have missed out on education.
At this time of year, the city centre churches come together so that a different church is open every night or every week; seven churches have participated. In that way, people do not have to sleep out in this really cold weather that we are experiencing at the moment. The initiative has been incredibly successful. Even the cathedral in Derby city has opened its doors to the homeless. Milestone House and Centenary House in Derby work hard with the homeless to support them and give them a roof over their heads. The YMCA, of course, has been going for many years and particularly helps young people, although it also helps others as well.
I am sure that all those organisations will appreciate the Bill’s coming into law. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East said that he felt proud standing in the Chamber today talking about his Bill and about having got so close. So he should: he should accept the praise he deserves. His Bill is tackling a problem that many people would like to have addressed but never have. I am pleased that this Conservative Government are supporting him.
Women are more vulnerable when they are out on the streets. There are fewer places where they feel safe to go and ask for help because of the predominance of men. I clearly remember coming across a woman while walking through the centre of Derby after a council meeting. I do not generally give money to beggars on the streets because I would rather contribute to a charity that will help them. But this particular woman came up to me and said, “I’m in the middle of my period. I have no money, so I cannot buy any Tampax.” I had never thought about that, and I decided to give her the money. As every woman will appreciate, it must be very difficult for a woman on the streets to have a period and no money. Perhaps we forget about that. As I say, I did give her the money—whether it went on that or whether she bought drugs I will never know. I hope that it was a genuine call for help from this poor, young woman who looked freezing cold and needed help from people. I hope that the Bill will help such women.
Earlier I mentioned the family from Borrowash who found themselves homeless. They had been in a private rented house that burned down—when they were not there, fortunately. They had no insurance because they are very poor. Both parents work but they have four children and do not have any savings to fall back on. They have received some money through crowdfunding, which has helped them get back on their feet. They are the sort of people who have a problem when they are with private landlords. In such situations, it is, apparently, the landlord’s job to rehouse such families—but if there are no vacant houses, how can they, particularly if four children are involved?
I rang the Derbyshire County Council helpline, but all the people there were interested in was whether the children were being abused or vulnerable. All homeless children are vulnerable, of course, but so were the parents. I did not feel that the mechanisms to help were in place. Eventually, Derby City Council, which I would not normally praise for very much at all, stepped in and helped this couple with their children.
I am delighted that the Bill is to pass into law. I wholeheartedly support it. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and many others have worked incredibly hard to get it on to the statute book and I commend him for his hard work. I support him, this Bill and the Minister.
This is obviously a time for congratulations, and I shall not disappoint, but we should still remember that, tonight, in this rich country, there will be people sleeping rough on our streets, individuals sleeping on sofas that belong to friends, families trying to live with relatives in overcrowded accommodation, and other families living in unacceptable and inadequate interim accommodation.
We also have to be careful not to give the impression that, as a result of this Bill, all these problems will be resolved. It will make a contribution to solving the homelessness problem, but it will not actually solve it. It will help to reduce homelessness—that is what the title of the Bill says—but it will not, of itself, solve the problem of homelessness.
However, congratulations are due, particularly to Bob Blackman—on this occasion, I will reciprocate and call him my hon. Friend. We should not underestimate the amount of time, sheer hard work and effort that he and his staff have put into bringing the Bill to this stage, as well as the forbearance—there must have been times when he was tearing his hair out. [Interruption.] Yes, it’s the same with my hair. He must have been tearing his hair out at the complexities and at the need to get different competing forces together to take the Bill forward on a consensus basis. There have not necessarily been problems with getting consensus across this House, but there has been a lot of consensus-building to do outside, and everyone does not always see and appreciate that. I express many thanks and congratulations from the whole House, I think, to the hon. Gentleman for what he has done.
The cross-party nature of proceedings extended right through the Bill Committee to all Members. That applied particularly to the Minister—[Interruption.] I thought for a minute that he had gone—that he had given up and left us to it, but he is still there. Throughout, he engaged with all members of the Committee. Where we had issues we needed exploring, he tried to deal with them in the Committee, but also outside—either himself or through his officials. That is really appreciated. Even today, he has suggested ways in which the Select Committee can continue to be involved in the code of practice, the code of guidance and the reviews. That is really constructive and helpful, and it shows a recognition of how the whole House can make a contribution.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter, who has obviously held the Government to account, and quite rightly, including on some broader issues today. Nevertheless, he has played a constructive and positive role. My hon. Friends the Members for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), who are here with me, also played their role.
I want to say a little about the Select Committee. It is good that, as well as the hon. Member for Harrow East and my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood, David Mackintosh has seen this process right the way through. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that he first suggested that the Select Committee look at homelessness as the subject of a report. It was around a year ago that the Committee started taking evidence. Indeed, I have the report here—I carry it around with me at all times, of course—and we had our first hearing on Monday
As I mentioned on Second Reading, the way in which the Select Committee was involved from the beginning—doing our report and then the pre-legislative scrutiny—has not merely followed precedents, but actually set precedents for the House, and I hope those precedents will be followed on other occasions. That is very important, and the Committee will follow the Bill with a look at the new burdens review the Government are doing, at the code of practice—when it is produced—at the code of guidance and then at the two-year review of how the Act is operating.
Let me finish by saying that the Select Committee’s initial report looked at the wider issues. There is still the issue of the shortage of homes in this country. We are now doing an inquiry into the capacity of the house building industry, and as part of that we hope to ask Ministers questions about the housing White Paper. I think that the permanent secretary said when she came to the Select Committee two weeks ago that it will be available soon, and we hope it will be. The word “soon” has an expandable quality in Government circles, but I certainly hope it will be before the end of March.
Building enough homes, particularly homes that people can afford, or afford to rent, is absolutely crucial in dealing with the problem of homelessness in the long term. I will not go into issues about the sell-off of high-value assets, although it is interesting that the permanent secretary used the word “if” in relation to that when she came to talk to us. Of course, Ministers could not possibly comment, but let us hope that there may be substance to the word “if” on this occasion. We want co-operation in dealing with homelessness. Organisations at the local level—health authorities and others—need to properly engage with councils in tackling homelessness. That is absolutely crucial. It is also important that Government Departments get their act together and understand that the policies of one Department can affect the operation of policy in another.
In our report we drew attention to welfare reform in general terms, and to the particular issue of the withdrawal of housing benefit from 18 to 21-year-olds and how that can affect people. Young people who lose a job should not be put out on the streets or forced out of their home while they try to find another one. We addressed the problems with universal credit and the difficulties that can be created, and already are being created in some parts of the country, in driving up rent arrears. That is a serious potential problem. We hope that Ministers will look at this to see whether, on occasion, payments direct to landlords, where tenants are satisfied that that is appropriate, can help to stop such problems occurring—and stop homelessness occurring, given that one of the major causes is the loss of private rented tenancies, as we heard in evidence.
With just those caveats about issues that we need to look at further, I very much welcome and support this Bill. I am really pleased that we have got to this stage. Once again, I particularly thank the hon. Member for Harrow East for selecting this subject and for operating so consensually and collectively to get the Bill to this stage.
It is a great pleasure to follow a whole litany of speeches rightly paying heartfelt tribute to my hon. Friend Bob Blackman. I congratulate him and all those who have been involved in this Bill. I am glad that it is a cross-party effort, and also that there has been collaboration across the sectors that he has had to navigate and deal with over the past weeks. I am proud that a Conservative Member of Parliament has led the way on this. It is right that that should be the case. I was pleased to encourage him down this path when he was picking a subject. Everyone, including the Government, wanted to encourage him to take an easier route—a hand-out Bill. That would have involved less effort but would not have addressed a burning injustice—a phrase rightly used by the Prime Minister. Homelessness is a burning injustice, and it is right that my hon. Friend chose it. It was a great pleasure on this occasion, and probably the last occasion, to be a “Whip” on a Bill. [Interruption.] Who knows? We live in interesting and surprising times.
There is a long track record of Conservatives tackling homelessness, not least one of my predecessors from a part of Enfield; there were boundary changes then and we may or may not have boundary changes to come. In 1967, 50 years ago, Iain Macleod helped to found the homeless charity Crisis, to which we pay particular tribute for its great work in supporting this Bill. It is right to pay homage to him for that. Like others, I pay tribute to the other homelessness charities that have been supporting us along the way, particularly Shelter, St Mungo’s, and Centrepoint.
Iain Macleod fought for the first piece of legislation to protect homeless families. It is right and fitting that, 40 years on from the last substantive piece of homelessness legislation, Members across the House acknowledge that this is a good Bill. It will make prevention a statutory and core duty for all councils, which will make a significant difference. Homeless households will no longer have to put up with the current situation. There is some good practice on preventing homelessness, but that will now become the norm across the country.
My council in Enfield will no longer be able to wait for a bailiff eviction notice before it has to help vulnerable people threatened with homelessness. A constituent of mine fled domestic violence and needed help to move to alternative, private sector accommodation that would not be known to her attacker. She and those like her will no longer have to put up with the response she received from the housing officer when she made the call for help. They said, “What do you expect us to do?” She and others like her now know that, under this Bill, there in an expectation and a clear duty of prevention with regard to vulnerable people.
The Bill will also help—this is a particularly challenging case, but I look forward to it being delivered on—an elderly 72-year-old in my constituency who as we speak is in unsafe and unsuitable temporary accommodation. Basically it is a bedsit. The bed is propped up by chunks of wood and cold air comes through big gaps in the windows. There is very little furniture. There is an office chair. He and his wife have serious health needs, but they have been placed in unsuitable accommodation. He told my office manager recently, “My life isn’t worth living because I’ve been sent to a hellhole.” A lot more needs to be done, but I hope that the Bill will help to address the issue of inspections and the private sector, which, sadly, is increasingly a cause of homelessness, so that that does not happen again to that 72-year-old and others like him.
As has been said, the Bill will not end homelessness. There are structural issues, but those are for another day. We need to debate the issues of welfare reform and the local housing allowance; matching housing costs and benefits; the supply of affordable and supported housing; and the forthcoming White Paper. I look forward to the Bill being part of making progress on a cross-Government homelessness strategy.
I welcome the progress that has been made in London and the Mayor’s announcement of a record-breaking £3.15 billion deal for affordable housing, supporting 2,000 places for adults with complex needs. We have spoken about reviews and assessments, but the litmus test for the Bill will be its success in addressing the complex needs of those individuals who visit our constituency surgeries because they are always in and out of the system. The Bill will break that cycle of crisis management. It is about early prevention to help those complex individuals into sustainable housing.
In conclusion, in 1967, Iain Macleod spoke at a candlelit vigil in Hyde Park to raise awareness of homelessness. Sadly, his words continue to resonate 50 years on:
“This is an appeal to help those who no longer have any dignity and self-respect…What we do expect is that you will acknowledge that they are fellow human beings, and that they have nothing left to look forward to…We call upon the talents, ideas and enthusiasm of people from all different prejudices and beliefs in a constructive attempt to tackle this growing urban problem.”
The Bill is a constructive attempt to follow in that spirit of continued and sustained collaboration, with the aim of finishing the race—on a cross-party, cross-Government and, indeed, cross-housing sector basis—to end homelessness.
There is indeed a cross-party consensus in support of the Bill, as we showed on Second Reading, in Committee and again today. It is a step in the right direction and will, I hope, lead to a significant cultural shift in the way that homelessness is treated, especially—although not exclusively—for single homeless people and those who have traditionally been non-priority need. It is a good thing that we will put into legislation the duties in the Bill to assess and to co-operate and the duties of prevention.
I warmly congratulate Bob Blackman on introducing the Bill and leading on it in recent months, as well as Members who helped to put it together, with the support of Crisis and the expert panel. We want the Bill to proceed with speed and to bring about a transformation. Although in many cases local authorities have no barrier to carrying out the kinds of duties in the Bill, we know that given recent financial pressures—and, in some cases, for other reasons—local authorities have taken the law literally and tested and challenged it to its outer limit, and beyond in some cases. It will be good to have a legislative framework that will make it harder for some of those bad practices to continue.
It is also true, as my hon. Friends and other hon. Members have said, that the Bill does not exist in isolation. We have already referred to the fact that existing non-statutory duties for the prevention and relief of homelessness, which assist some 100,000 households every year, have not been able to check the remorseless upward trend in homelessness, for those in priority need and non-priority need, and rough sleepers, in recent years. That is because the pressure on resources— in many areas, and by no means exclusively local government—has been a contrary driver to any attempts to bring down homelessness.
Rough sleeping, the sharp edge of homelessness, has leapt by 16% just this year—Westminster, my local authority, is on the frontline with the highest number of rough sleepers. New information that I obtained from the health service last week shows not only a rise in rough sleeping but—terrifyingly—an escalation in the number of rough sleepers for whom mental health problems are the main driver. Since 2010, the number of rough sleepers with serious mental health problems has gone up by 80%. That is a really disturbing figure and reflects something else that is happening across the public services, especially the NHS.
I agree with my hon. Friend on her support for the Bill. As I am sure she knows, last Sunday was Homelessness Sunday and I happened to be in her borough, although not her constituency. Attention was drawn to the large number of church-based night shelters of various kinds that operate all over the country to try to meet the rapidly growing need. Will she join me in commending those initiatives for their efforts?
I am happy to do that. Stunningly good work is being done by volunteers, churches and other faith communities on homelessness. At Christmas I went to the Crisis centre at the City of Westminster College in my constituency and met volunteers, some of whom have been going to Crisis for 20 years to provide the support that is given over the difficult holiday period. We should congratulate those people, whether it is their job or a voluntary commitment, who put so much into helping the homeless.
The fact remains that fundamental problems are pushing in the opposite direction to the Bill. On welfare reform, the House of Commons Library briefing confirms that, this year alone, £2.7 billion less will be spent on housing support than would have been the case on trends from 2010 and that £5 billion has been taken out altogether since 2010. Unfortunately, that puts the £48 million contribution to the Bill into rather alarming context. Of course, the delay in universal credit payments is driving more and more tenants into arrears, which in turn is making private landlords—the default option for many homeless people—less likely to let. I see no signs of that problem reducing. In fact, the trend is likely to go in the opposite direction. The hon. Member for Harrow East said that we should judge the Bill on its merits, and I am happy to do that, but we cannot ignore the wider context.
As Mr Burrowes reminded us, this is fundamentally about people. It is not just about money and the legal framework; it is fundamentally about those at the sharp end. In the last few weeks, I have dealt with many cases of people either homeless or at risk of homelessness. This week, I heard from a young mother of two children, 20 years resident in my constituency, who was made homeless from the private rented sector. Her sick parents, for whom she provides care, live in the constituency. She had to wait until the bailiffs came before she could be rehoused, and she has now been rehoused in north London, over an hour away from her support network and sharing a single room with her two children. That is the reality of homelessness.
Even more acute was a case that came to me just before Christmas. It goes to the heart of the challenge, particularly of single homelessness. With the House’s permission, I will read a few lines from the letter that came in from a young man who was kicked out of home for reasons that I will not share with the House but which are very profound and difficult and which I understand:
“After I was kicked out, I was forced to live in a friend’s car through the winter of 2016. One night when I was sleeping the car was broken into… the people held a knife to my neck and took everything I owned in the world, even my only shoes. I slept on a park bench in Victoria until a stranger told me about a hostel… I was given a place 3 days later… In the meantime, I went back to sleep at the park, which I found very unfair.”
Unfortunately, at the hostel, he was subject to an attack and robbery, and so the hostel place broke down. When he finally came to me the week before Christmas, he had been sleeping rough for the whole year. His letter finishes:
“I don’t want to be robbed or killed… 2016 has been the worst year of my life. I have wanted to kill myself so many times… You hear about people being killed on the road every day, and I know if I don’t get help, I will be the next to be killed.”
That boy is 19 years old. He will be scarred by that experience for the rest of his life. The mother of the two young children will also be scarred. Homelessness scars people’s lives, even after they have been found somewhere to live. If the Bill can do anything for that 19-year-old boy, I will happily support it, but the test of the Bill, for that mother and her children and for that 19-year-old boy, and indeed for the hon. Member for Harrow East, is whether it can exist in a context of support and financial backing that seeks to deal with the drivers of homelessness, whether housing supply, the failures of universal credit or the impact of welfare reform. If it does not, welcome though the provisions will be, we will unfortunately find ourselves back here again, in a year or two, facing yet more increases in homelessness and yet more individual lives scarred by this terrible scourge of modern life.
It is a pleasure to follow Ms Buck, who has always been diligent in pursuing the issue of housing in her constituency. I am also delighted to thank my hon. Friend Bob Blackman for his wonderful work and my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, the Bill’s de facto Whip.
Today, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East is a bit of softy—we are being very consensual and cross-party—but, having known him for 20 years as a political bruiser, I know how painful it must have been for him to praise inordinately Andy Slaughter. In the same spirit, however, I echo his remarks. We are all here to help needy and vulnerable people, whom we have the great honour and privilege to represent in the House. I was concerned a few days ago when it appeared that the Opposition were intent on effectively—potentially—wrecking the Bill. I am glad that they resiled from pushing the amendments to a vote, not necessarily because that was indeed their intention, but because when the Bill reached the other place peers might have complicated the issue, thereby endangering the Bill’s viability in the long run. That has not happened, for which I thank the Opposition and, indeed, my hon. Friends.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East said earlier that the Bill was in the great Conservative tradition of progressive social change. We look back on public health reform, municipal reform, local government reform and, of course, the housing boom of the 1950s in the Macmillan era, and we see that the Bill demonstrates a similar commitment to encouraging people to make the world a better place.
I think I am fairly unusual in being a Conservative Member of Parliament who is very keen on house building, and who believes that we must tackle the housing crisis at source by building more homes. That does not always happen. I do not decry the motives of my hon. Friends, and other Members, for wanting to protect the residential amenities and quality of life in their own areas, but I think we all accept that if we are to solve the housing crisis in the long term, we must build more homes. I was, I think, a lone voice when, a month or so ago, I argued against some of the more restrictive amendments in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, because in doing so I was arguing against not building more homes.
We look forward greatly to the housing White Paper, and I thank the Minister for the excellent work that he has done with his colleagues. I particularly thank the Department for allocating funds to Peterborough City Council as part of the £48 million homelessness reduction programme. Peterborough has seen an uptick in the number of people presenting themselves as homeless and in the number of rough sleepers living on the streets. The impact of welfare reform has been an issue, as has the large proportion of peripatetic foreign workers from eastern Europe who may lose their jobs very suddenly and be unable to pay their rent. However, as we heard from the hon. Member for Hammersmith, the precipitous termination of housing agreements under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 is also having an impact, and I therefore think that the Bill is extremely timely. I strongly supported it on Second Reading, when I also did some work with charities in my constituency.
While I am at it, let me give a plug to the fantastic work done by the congregation of my own local church, All Saints parish church in Park Road, and to the parochial church council. This winter, All Saints, along with other churches in Peterborough, has participated in an ecumenical initiative to provide a night shelter for some of the more vulnerable people in the city, who would not otherwise have a bed on a very cold night. Those people have been treated with the warmth and human kindness and given the dignity that one would expect from good Christian people pursuing their mission. So I say thank you to Father Greg Roberts and the others for that.
This is the beginning of a journey. The Bill will not end homelessness and rough sleeping. However, we are on that journey, and the good thing about the Bill is that it represents a proactive effort, especially in relation to early intervention and advice. We have to concede that it is not just about dry, arcane legislation; it is about human beings and the problems they are suffering, which mean they are having to take difficult decisions. I therefore urge the Minister to think in a more holistic way around substance misuse and mental health issues as that impacts on people who are homeless. If it is possible to give more support in the course of the secondary legislation of this Bill to assist local authorities, that will be very important indeed.
Another important issue to raise is that for those authorities such as Peterborough, which participated in a large-scale stock transfer some years ago, there just is not the capacity to think ahead in terms of local trends for homelessness. Therefore, they need some expertise and help, and that costs money. But it should not be the case that the first time anyone can receive help is when the bailiffs are knocking on their door.
I welcome in particular the help-to-secure parts of the Bill and of course the individualised plan, because we are talking about individuals, each of whom has a different set of circumstances that have brought them to make the decisions they have made—life sometimes
“happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”, to quote John Lennon from many years ago. The fact is that that proactive forward-looking advice will be good for the taxpayer, and, more importantly, good for those individuals, particularly individuals with families. That is very important.
On selective licensing, my hon. Friend Pauline Latham, who is no longer in her place, made the important point about vulnerable women who are affected by homelessness. Vulnerable women are also affected by very poor quality housing and very poor quality private sector lets. I am honest about saying that I am willing to look at the trade-off of ending slum landlords by reducing some of the provision, because I do not want my constituents living in slums at the whim of rapacious landlords who are milking the taxpayer. That might mean some turbulence in the market, but the duty does not end once we have housed that person; the duty ends when we are convinced that that person or family is in decent accommodation. A number of years ago Cambridgeshire Constabulary looked at crime committed against women in new migrant households—sexual crime, theft and other crimes. So we have, and should have, a much more general duty to people in private accommodation.
May I say a bit about the saga of St Michael’s Gate, on which I had a Westminster Hall debate? This was the ludicrous Alice in Wonderland situation where my local authority was forced to move people who were statutorily homeless and who it had been housing in a Travelodge into a development called St Michael’s Gate. Its landlord, Stef & Philips, had a dubious and morally reprehensible business model which I mentioned earlier, which meant that it served a section 21 notice on 74 of those households and made a number of them statutorily homeless. So it was recycling homelessness. It did that because it was more lucrative for it to cream off the administrative fee for overnight homeless accommodation —and of course those people who were chucked out of St Michael’s Gate have ended up as statutorily homeless. That is a ludicrous situation. I have asked the Local Government Association to look at that in detail, to make sure it can never happen again, or is very unlikely to do so.
That brings me to the key issue of the trend of many local authorities to begin to discharge their homelessness obligations under the Housing Act 1996 by shuffling the most vulnerable people around the country—different authorities are keen to push people to other local housing authorities. There should be at the very least a protocol or concordat in place to make sure that stops, because it is not fair on those people and ultimately it is not fair on the taxpayers.
I warmly welcome this Bill. It is the culmination of an enormous amount of effort and hard work. I particularly welcome clause 2 and the duty to provide advisory services, which was sorely needed, and of course clauses 4 to 6 on homelessness. We have seen the best tradition of the House of Commons today, with people of goodwill and faith coming together in the service of our constituents, sticking up for decent people who want a better life and who have a human right to a roof over their head. It is our job to look after their interests; they are the people we serve. I warmly endorse the Bill and I hope that it will soon receive Royal Assent and become an Act so that it can begin to make a difference to the lives of many needy people.
I welcome the Bill, and I want to add my tribute to Bob Blackman for taking on this subject and for the diligence and commitment he has shown in seeing the Bill through. I also welcome the process of the Bill. I have been pleased to be closely involved from the beginning, taking part in the inquiry as a member of the Select Committee and also serving on the Bill Committee. This is an excellent example of evidence-based legislation.
The Select Committee saw undeniable evidence that the problem of homelessness is increasing at an exponential rate and that the current system is not working. The Bill will play an important role in setting some of that right. This is a principled reform that will set the basis on which homeless people receive support on the right footing. It is right that local authorities should have a responsibility—and indeed a statutory duty—to intervene earlier when residents are threatened with homelessness, to provide help and support and, wherever possible, to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. This is the compassionate thing to do, and it is what a decent society demands, but it is also the cost-effective thing to do. When someone becomes homeless, the personal cost to them and the many different costs to the public sector rise to a level that we simply cannot afford. Money spent propping people up and dealing with a situation that should never have arisen in the first place is not money well spent.
It is also right that more people should be eligible to receive support than is currently the case, and this legislation will help in that regard. We have all had examples in our constituencies of people, usually single people, who common decency demands should receive support but who are not eligible to receive it under the current system. The Bill will help to address that problem. It is also absolutely the case that the culture of work around support for homeless people should change, as well as the practice. The Select Committee saw evidence of significant levels of gatekeeping by local authorities, and of people being treated in ways that are simply unacceptable. They were made to feel that they were somehow to blame for their predicament or that they were a problem or just a statistic. Witnesses described the dehumanising effects of being in the current system, and it is absolutely right that this legislation seeks to change that.
I support the Bill on its own terms and I believe that it will make a significant difference to the nature of the support that homeless people receive. However, we cannot for one minute kid ourselves that by supporting a piece of legislation that has the words “homelessness reduction” in its title we are solving the problem of the housing crisis in this country. I cannot speak about the Bill without speaking in the same breath about the wider context of the housing crisis. This Government’s record on housing is shameful. Under Labour, rough sleeping fell by 75% in 11 years. Under this Government and the coalition Government, it doubled in just five years and it has gone up again by a further 30% in the last year alone. The number of people in temporary accommodation is rising, and the experience in my constituency is that homelessness is becoming more intractable for those who find themselves in that predicament. Individuals and households are in temporary accommodation for longer and it is much harder for them to secure the affordable accommodation they need. That is about the supply of new homes and, more importantly, of secure, high-quality, genuinely affordable homes.
People face insecurity in the private rented sector, and I urge the Government to take reform of the private rented sector seriously. If someone decides to become a landlord, their primary responsibility should be to their tenant under the terms of the tenancy agreement, but the problem is that far too many people are living under tenancies that are not fit for purpose and do not provide the security that they need. While we wait for new homes to be built, reform of the private rented sector would make a rapid difference to people facing the terrible situation of homelessness. If more people had security in the private rented sector, fewer people would present to our hard-pressed councils’ homelessness departments for help and support. The LHA cap, uncertainty around funding for supported housing, the bedroom tax, the forced sale of council homes and many other aspects of Government housing policy are simply not helping to deliver the secure, affordable homes that we need to solve the problem of homelessness.
Funding for the Bill’s provisions is the second issue that I want to flag up. I welcome the Minister’s assurances about reviewing the funding and how the Bill works in practice. I accept that there are many unknowns about the new burdens that the Bill introduces and that a greater focus on prevention is expected to save councils money, but the Government’s working to date lacks clarity about what councils will be expected to use the funding for. Will it be for additional staffing costs only, or will it enable the provision of additional support to help people bridge a gap if they are finding it difficult to pay their rent for a period of time? Serious doubts exist about whether the funding will be enough.
I am particularly worried on behalf of Lambeth and Southwark Councils about the severe problems and pressure that they face. Some 5,000 children in Lambeth—more than 1,500 households—will spend tonight in temporary accommodation. While the Bill will help the councils to provide more support to families to prevent them from becoming homeless, the system is clogged up to the point of being at a standstill. We all want councils to be provided with sufficient resources to implement the new duties in a way that enables them to be effective. I hope that the Government will use this process of developing legislation in a private Member’s Bill on the basis of evidence through the Select Committee process as a precedent for their approach to housing in the future. They should look at the evidence of where the current system is simply not working and take decisive action on the wider contributors to our housing crisis.
I end by once again offering my congratulations to the hon. Member for Harrow East. I thank Crisis and the other homelessness charities that provided input and supported the Bill. I also thank the Minister for his support and for seeing the Bill through. Finally, I thank my Front-Bench colleagues and the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, my hon. Friend Mr Betts, for their excellent contributions and for scrutinising and pressing the Government on this most important issue.
It is a pleasure to follow so many passionate speakers, not least Helen Hayes, who spoke well and with great knowledge of this issue. I join the tributes to the enormous success of my hon. Friend Bob Blackman. In my working life, I was part of the Government machine that produces legislation, so I am in awe at how he has managed to go through the process effectively alone, albeit with the team he outlined earlier.
I am pleased that the Bill has Government support and that funding has been promised, although I hope the Minister was listening carefully to my hon. Friend when he said that more might be necessary. On that note, I thank the Department for Communities and Local Government for the £790,000 that has been given to Oxfordshire under the Government’s homelessness prevention programme to fund the trials of new initiatives on homelessness.
We have heard a great deal about the importance of co-operation and cross-party working, and I make a plug for the cross-party co-operation in Oxfordshire over the past year that has led to good practice in the reduction of homelessness. For example, our district council and charities have been working closely together to reduce the number of rough sleepers in our district by 20%, which shows how well a more holistic approach of the type set out in the Bill can work.
We have seen some great initiatives in the past year, including the production of a pocket guide for the homeless. That might not sound like much, but having all the phone numbers in one place for short-term and long-term solutions to homelessness problems is useful to people whose life is chaotic and who are moving from place to place.
We also have some great local charities. I have seen the Beacon centre at St Mary’s church in Banbury offering friendly but firm advice to some of our rough sleepers, and one of my favourite buildings in my whole constituency is the one that houses the Banbury Young Homelessness Project, which takes a forward-thinking, holistic approach to preventing the causes of homelessness. The project provides counselling and therapy for family groups, and it has a brilliant job club. In 2012, the project won the Queen’s award for voluntary service. I love going there; it is very much like being at home with one’s own teenagers. Madam Deputy Speaker, I know that you will understand and empathise with the fact that the sort of support it provides is almost that of a parent for a group of teens who are uncertain about which way to go, who need a bit of help and encouragement to get through job interviews, and who might not get such support from their family or at home in the way that we hope our own children do.
The Salvation Army has been turning lives around, particularly those of rough sleepers, for many, many years. It helped members of my family who came home from the first world war, and I am impressed by the cutting-edge work it continues to do. It is clear that rough sleepers have very different needs—families at risk of eviction differ greatly from people with drug and alcohol dependencies who have been rough sleeping—and our charities and council, working together, recognise that. I accept that not all are working together so well and that we need the safety net enshrined in the Bill, but it seems right that there should no longer be a double standard of priority need. Anyone who does not have a bed for the night is, of course, a priority.
We have heard a lot this week about difficulties in the Prison Service, and it is right that we draw attention to the link between homelessness and imprisonment. Some 15% of new inmates going into prison for the first time are homeless, and 80% of those previously homeless prisoners reoffend in the first year after release, which compares very badly with a reoffending rate of under 50% for those who were not homeless when they went into prison. Dealing with homelessness will really help in the battle to reduce reoffending, so I add my support to this well-balanced Bill, which will support the homeless without putting undue pressure on councils. I hope that, by working together, claimants and councils will help to reduce the problem of homelessness.
I was pleased to serve on the Bill Committee and to be part of the consideration of a Bill that will make a big difference to many vulnerable people. There are two aspects that I particularly welcome: the extension to 56 days; and the measures on the personal adviser and assessment. I hope that I will no longer have constituents in my surgery who are waiting for the arrival of the bailiffs as that is the only way they can declare themselves homeless under existing rules.
In Portsmouth, the average time spent in temporary accommodation is three to four months. I hope that under the new system created by the Bill, temporary accommodation could become unnecessary for the majority of homelessness cases in my city, saving the local authority money. Removing the threat of a prolonged fight to regain possession will also encourage private landlords to take on benefit claimants referred by the local authority. The measures in the Bill will therefore ease the need for temporary accommodation at both ends of the process. Private landlords will take on more tenants, and those who are given notice will more frequently be found a new tenancy without an interval.
I hope that local authorities will look on the Bill not as a burden, but as an opportunity. Many, including Portsmouth City Council, are already working on the Bill. I hope that it will pass smoothly through the other place and will return to us with few changes, unless they make things dramatically better.
I thank the Minister and his civil servants, and the charities, especially Crisis, for providing excellent briefings. Of course, I thank my hon. Friend Bob Blackman in particular for his many hours of hard work to get the Bill through.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond, with whom I served on the Bill Committee. It is right that we pay great tribute to my hon. Friend Bob Blackman—he will be blushing all afternoon, I am sure. Andy Slaughter might be right that this process will be the model of how to get difficult legislation through in a private Member’s Bill. All the praise that has been given is due.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith invited me to exercise iron discipline today. In fact, he invited me not to speak at all, but that would have been a step too far. However, I will exercise discipline, not least because as you will have noted, Madam Deputy Speaker, my Bills appear on the Order Paper at positions 3 and 4. I am sure you will be interested to hear that my speech on Bill No. 4 refers to cricket in some detail, so it would be a shame indeed if we were not to get to that. Pages 3 to 5 of my speech are beautiful prose about cricket, and the House will be disappointed if we do not get to those Bills this afternoon.
I want to sound a note of caution. I was disappointed by one speech this afternoon—that from Andy Burnham, who is no longer in the Chamber. I was disappointed because it sounded more like a campaign speech than points about new clauses 1 to 3. It might be that he misunderstood the situation because he was not here on Second Reading and did not have the benefit of sitting on the Bill Committee. He was wrong when he said that there was a cosy consensus. There is cross-party support for the Bill, but there were robust debates in Committee involving exchanges from both sides to ensure that the Bill got through.
If there was consensus, it was on one fact. I believe that every member of the Bill Committee, and every single individual in the Chamber, shares the same view—my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and the hon. Member for Hammersmith have mentioned this—that one person sleeping rough is one person too many. If there is a cosy consensus around that, so be it; I stand guilty as charged.
Moving on from that one sour note, let me say that it was a huge pleasure to serve on the Committee. This was my first private Member’s Bill Committee, and if they are all like that Committee, they will be a pleasure indeed.
We cannot pat ourselves on the back at this stage because there is more work to be done as the Bill goes through the Lords. I agree with Ms Buck that this is but one step—it is not the complete answer—and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East made the same point. The Bill is not the whole answer, but it is a big step in the right direction.
I am delighted to support the Bill and to have served on the Bill Committee. I commend the work of my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, who has worked tirelessly on the Bill, giving 100% commitment and garnering cross-party support, which is quite an achievement. It is important to note the extent of the involvement and input of local authorities throughout the country, as well as that of national homelessness charities. We should also note the dialogue that each of us has had with our local charities. I am a long-term supporter of a homelessness charity called Doorway in my Chippenham constituency. Its views on the Bill have proved invaluable in giving me a more detailed insight into the exact impact it will have on the ground.
There has been some talk today about what the Bill does not cover, despite, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East pointed out, it being one of the longest ever private Members’ Bills, and perhaps the most expensive. It is important that we emphasise what it does cover. We must remember that while there is much more to be done and the Bill will not do everything that we hope it can achieve—it will not be a cure-all—the existing legislation has not been changed in 40 years, so perhaps this is a monumental step forward.
The key aspect of the Bill is prevention: it does exactly what it says on the tin. Yes, it is true that some local authorities are already going above and beyond, but that is not consistent; in fact, the provision is patchy throughout the country. The Bill will end the atrocious postcode lottery and ensure that one minimum yet high standard is in place throughout the country to address and prevent homelessness. It will give local authorities guidance and create a level playing field, ending the hit-and-miss policy that has gone on for far too long.
Prevention really is the key. Perhaps the most important element of the Bill is the prevention duty that enables local authorities to provide help from 56 days before homelessness, rather than 28, meaning that they will be able to help while there is still time and that action can be taken before complex needs develop any further. That point has been raised with me several times by local charities. It will save local authorities, the NHS and other bodies money in the long run. It will prevent people from getting county court judgments, as has been mentioned, as well as helping with similar issues, and it will ensure that desperate people really do have the opportunity to get back on their feet. It will free up homelessness charities so that they have more time to help effectively.
Above all, however, prevention is the right thing to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East said that if one person is sleeping rough on the streets, that is one too many and a national disgrace. I fundamentally agree with him. A key role for all MPs is to create opportunities and help the vulnerable and needy in our society, whatever our party. Surely the Bill goes right to the heart of that. I know that other Members wish to speak, and I never intended to speak for long because I have talked about this issue in the House numerous times. I shall finish by reaffirming my support for the Bill and its intention to prevent homelessness.
It is a pleasure to support the private Member’s Bill promoted my hon. Friend Bob Blackman. He deserves congratulation, and it has been a pleasure to work with him.
It is great that the Bill has reached this milestone in the legislative process. Our debates in Committee were thorough and productive, and we were able to analyse every aspect of the Bill, so I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. I am also pleased with the role played by the Select Committee, which played an important part in giving the Bill proper scrutiny, so I thank its Chairman, Mr Betts.
Throughout the process, I have always believed that, as others have said, one person who is homeless is one too many, so every opportunity we have to highlight this problem in modern society is helpful. All Members taking part in the debate will be particularly mindful of the human stories behind the statistics, and it is important that we remember the people whom we are trying to help. I put on record my gratitude to the Hope Centre in my constituency, of which I am proud to be patron. The staff there do fantastic work to help homeless people to rebuild their lives.
I express again my wholehearted commitment to the Bill and what it would achieve. Along with many other colleagues, I have said that it will not be the only solution to end homelessness, but it is a crucial step on the path towards helping people who are at risk. I am sure that in the near future the opportunity will arise to make further changes, and I eagerly anticipate the Government’s housing White Paper. The all-party group on ending homelessness will continue to push on these issues. Indeed, just this week we had an informative and helpful session on prison leavers. Last night, I had the pleasure to watch a new documentary called “Slum Britain: 50 Years On”, which was created by Shelter, Channel 5 and ITN. It focuses on the plight of hidden homelessness in our country. At the screening, which was also attended by Helen Hayes, we were able to meet one of the families whom the documentary had followed. We were told of their struggles with their local authority and the seemingly impossible challenges that they faced when trying to access help. Such things remind us why the Bill is so necessary and why it must progress through the House and into the other place. People are looking to us to help them in their most desperate times.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has already thanked the many people who have contributed to this Bill from both sides of the House. I am grateful to the Minister and his officials, colleagues from the Select Committee and the Bill Committee, and the charities that have backed us so strongly, including Crisis, Shelter, St Mungo’s, and Homeless Link. I am glad to give my support to the Bill today.
I do not want to repeat too many of the comments that have already been made, but I cannot fail to pass on my thanks to my hon. Friend Bob Blackman for his tireless work, drive and dedication on the Bill. I, too, very much hope that the Bill does proceed through this place and becomes an Act. I wish to thank the Minister and his officials, not least for setting aside the £48 million that will go to help local authorities support the implementation of this Bill. I also thank Opposition Members, who have played such a key role in this Bill.
It has been an absolute pleasure to serve on the Bill Committee. It was the first real Bill Committee on which I served. Seeing such consensual cross-party working made me wish that more Bills and private Members’ Bills operated on such a basis.
So many years on from “Cathy Come Home”, there is no doubt that we have become blind to things such as rough sleeping. There is also the problem of the homelessness that we do not see—I am talking about the homeless people who are sofa surfing or who are having to sleep over with a friend. We do not see them because they are not visible on the streets. I am as guilty as anyone else of walking past those who are sleeping in doorways. I do so partly because we are advised by many charities, for all sorts of reasons, not to give money. Occasionally, I will buy sandwiches and other types of food.
Something interesting happened to me just a few weeks ago. I was walking along the road to catch the 91 bus back from the Covent Garden area, and a homeless lady approached me. I thought that she was going to ask for money, but in fact she did not; she asked for a hug, because we had had a chat. She said, “Thank you for talking to me. Thank you for engaging with me like a human being. Thank you for recognising that, just because I am homeless, it does not mean that I am not a person.” We must not forget that we cannot ever lose our humanity.
As many Members from across the Chamber have said today, one person who is sleeping rough, one person who is homeless, one family who is sofa surfing or living in a one-bedroom temporary accommodation unit is not acceptable. It is not acceptable in any country; it is certainly not acceptable in the fifth largest economy in the world. That is why I am so proud to support this Bill. As the Minister knows, our record is not great: we have seen an increase in rough sleeping and in homelessness. I am proud that the Government are now taking action by supporting this Bill, which puts prevention at its very heart. Yes, we must do far more to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping on our streets, but the key must be prevention and ensuring that we interact and engage as early as possible with those who come to us asking for help. That is why I am really proud that this Bill increases to 56 the number of days that we can help someone before they become homeless. That means that we can intervene, engage and help those who rightly seek support at the point at which they know they need help but before they reach crisis.
I support this Bill and hope that it progresses to the next stage. I also hope that all Members across the House will support it fully.
First, let me apologise for not referring Members earlier to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I, too, wish to congratulate my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, because, having piloted two private Members’ Bills through the House in the previous Session of Parliament, I know how much hard work is involved. I wish this Bill every success when it goes through the same stages in the other place.
I wish to put the Cornish perspective to the House, and to say how grateful we will be in Cornwall for the changes that this Bill will introduce. Despite the 49% fall in unemployment in South East Cornwall since 2010 and a strengthening local economy, low incomes remain a challenge across Cornwall. Conversely, as a result of our thriving tourist industry, we have one of the highest proportions of second homes, and that naturally has an impact on housing affordability. Only a strong economy that enables incomes to rise will help everyone to be safe and secure and ensure that those who deserve support and care receive it. Unfortunately, however, homelessness remains a considerable challenge in my constituency and across Cornwall—one played out in the casework that comes across my desk every day. That is why I support the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East: it will refocus the efforts of English authorities to prevent homelessness.
We have heard of cases in which people have had to wait until they have been given a bailiff’s letter before the local authority will consider rehousing them, and the situation is exactly the same in South East Cornwall. There are also considerable difficulties for people seeking alternative accommodation. I often see constituents who feel that they have been let down by the Liberal Democrat, independently led local authority. That is why I pointed out in an intervention that the leader of the Liberal Democrats was selling a message of wanting to provide more houses without there being anybody here from that party to support the Bill. I would not be proud of that, but I am so glad to see so many Government Members here today supporting a Bill genuinely to introduce measures to help homelessness.
I am aware that other Members need to speak, so I will not repeat what other hon. Members have already said. I finish by quoting what Crisis said about the Bill:
“It brings much-needed reform to England’s 40-year-old homelessness legislation.”
I could not agree more. I really applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East.
I want to add my respect and blessings to the Bill, but first I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
My absolute respect goes to my hon. Friend Bob Blackman; as Andy Slaughter said, my hon. Friend has surely provided a template for MPs on how to get a private Member’s Bill through and on the tone and thoroughness of work that should go into such a Bill. I give credit to colleagues who have been involved in a lot of work in Committee. I am in awe of their work and it is a pleasure to applaud them now.
I agree with other Members that this is but one part of a whole strategy. In that spirit, I wish to pay tribute to a lot of people in my community. I hope that we do our jobs as MPs and that the Lords will play their part, but local government is also vital. Brian Castle was a housing officer; he has recently retired. I could call him any time during the day or evening if I was concerned about a homeless person in my constituency. He would tell me that day, within hours, what services were being provided and help was being given to that person. That was a great asset for me as an MP.
I also give credit to Colin Kennedy, my previous borough commander. He invited me to go out with the police on a Saturday night-Sunday morning shift. I witnessed how amazing the police are in dealing with people sleeping rough who may not wish to go to A&E. I saw amazing policemen cajole those people, initially against their will, into getting help so that they received the services they needed.
I also pay tribute—this does not happen often—to the Secretary of State for Health, because we are now putting mental health on the agenda. Having psychiatric services in A&E departments, in the triage system, is a vital part of the whole strategy for everyone, and particularly for people who find themselves rough sleeping or homeless. I will not have been the only person in the NHS who treated somebody for an injury and who was then heartbroken to see them walk out of A&E, knowing they had no home to go to.
I also pay tribute to Mia, a young schoolgirl in my constituency who sold amazing cupcakes she had baked to raise money for Streetlink. As she said on her JustGiving page, she smashed it—she smashed her target.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has also smashed his target. There are some heroes who wear capes, and some heroes who have spider webs drawn on their faces, but today there is a hero wearing a suit, a tie and a little lapel pin saying, “Back the Bill. Reduce Homelessness.” It is a privilege to be here.
How can I follow that tribute to my hon. Friend Bob Blackman? I have known him for some time now—since before we both came into the House—and he is a very caring man. He is also a good friend to not only me but other colleagues on the Government Benches and on the Opposition Benches as well. I pay tribute to my friend for getting this Bill through; it is well overdue. I thank him so much.
I pay tribute to the Minister for being patient. It has been quite a marathon, but it is good to know that £48 million is going to be available for these new duties—there is an intimation that there could be more, and I hope there is.
I also pay tribute to Andy Slaughter. I have not always seen eye to eye with him, but I more or less agree with everything he said today, and it has been a pleasure to sit here and listen to him speak, from 9.30 am, when we started, to this point.
It is good that we can now even out the playing field for people who are needy—especially people who were in the armed forces, people with mental health issues and people who find themselves on the streets for no other reason than that life has dealt them a bad blow.
We do not have to be reminded of the problem of homelessness; it has been creeping up over the years—I think we can all agree on that. When I leave the House every night, there are people sleeping in the underpass, and it always makes my heart sink to see that.
Even though I have had nothing to do with the proceedings up until this final point, I feel proud to have sat here today and just to look at everybody who has actually worked on everything that has got us through to this point. What we have done today—what you all have done today—in this Chamber is historic and nothing short of miraculous. I just hope that the Bill reaches the statute book as soon as possible.
I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I want to say how pleased I am to be here to see the passage of this very important Bill, particularly as I am sitting just in front of my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, who put his case, as he did on Second Reading, with passion, with conviction, with real dedication and with real knowledge about this cause.
I also want to thank Crisis and Shelter for all their work behind the scenes and for their public advocacy, and Members have turned up to speak to the Bill and to ensure its passage through the House. I know of the great work that Crisis, in particular, does, because my mum spent Christmas volunteering with it two years ago and had a really fantastic time. I would thoroughly recommend volunteering to all Members of the House.
The Minister and the shadow Minister, Andy Slaughter, were right when they said that legislation alone would not be sufficient to tackle homelessness. We do need legislation, and that is why we are here today—to pass the first significant piece of legislation on homelessness for 40 years. This legislation will, among other things, end the nonsense that I hear time and time again in my advice surgeries, where 40% of the cases I see are about housing: that tenants facing eviction must be made to wait for a bailiff’s notice before receiving homelessness protection from the council.
As well as legislation, to tackle homelessness we need money from the Government and involvement from third sector organisations. Having convened a homelessness summit in Kingston with our many third sector organisations, council officers, the leader of Kingston Council and the lead member for housing, thereby gaining a lot of knowledge of the local processes, practices and needs, I was able to lobby the Government for homelessness funding with, I think, some authority. I am pleased that Kingston is part of a tri-borough homelessness prevention trailblazer area that is to receive £1 million of Government funding to tackle homelessness. This is great news for the Royal Borough of Kingston, which in virtually every funding formula applied by the Government, be it the revenue support grant or the schools funding formula, does not do very well. It was dismissed as a “leafy borough” by the noble Lord Prescott when he sat where my hon. Friend the Minister sits today, but that woefully fails to recognise the fact that it has pockets of social deprivation as bad as those in any other area of London—and yes, it has rough sleeping, which we must tackle.
Third sector organisations are, and have always been, vital in the fight against homelessness and in homelessness prevention. It is notable that many of these are faith-based organisations where people, as part of their worship and devotion, give service to the most needy in their local community. In Kingston, that includes Kingston Churches Action on Homelessness; the Joel Community Project; the YMCA; Churches Together, which offers up churches as night shelters in the winter; and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. I thank all those organisations, and others I have not mentioned, for their work, in collaboration with the council, to tackle homelessness in Kingston. I look forward to working with all of them, and with Kingston’s Conservative council, in implementing the provisions of this Bill, and working out how best to spend the trailblazer funding we have been granted by the Government to end the disgrace of homelessness in Kingston and in our country as a whole.
I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in thanking and congratulating my hon. Friend Bob Blackman. I think that today we have heard the beginnings of his next general election leaflet, “Hero for Harrow East”.
I very much welcome the Bill’s emphasis on preventing homelessness. It is practical and compassionate, and has the added benefit of being cost-effective. I welcome the fact that the Government have committed £48 million for councils to help them to improve services throughout the country. It is also welcome that the formula will be flexible enough to ensure that the money is directed to the boroughs and districts that need it most. I am very conscious that the House of Commons Library has estimated that there are seven rough sleepers in the entire district of East Lindsey. Although that is a tragedy for each and every one of them, I am, I hope, mature enough to realise that there are other parts of the country where, sadly, the figures are far higher, and I would much rather that the formula is flexible enough to help the areas that most need it.
I end with the words of the very helpful briefing paper from Crisis:
“The Homelessness Reduction Bill could transform the help available to homeless people, and if passed could represent one of the most important developments for homelessness in nearly 40 years.”
If that is not a fantastic sending off for this Bill, I do not know what is. I wish the Bill a speedy legislative journey to its natural home on the statute book—pun properly intended.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, my fellow Home Office Parliamentary Private Secretary. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Bob Blackman— a doughty campaigner who has shown great determination in steering this Bill through this House. I look forward to its receiving Royal Assent in due course and becoming an Act of Parliament.
It has been an absolute pleasure to be here on a couple of Fridays to support this Bill. I have been conscious on both occasions that I did not want to detain the House for any length of time, so I have chosen to speak at this point. This Bill shows the real value of private Members’ Bills in enabling us to command support across the House and really get things done. The process is a useful vehicle to achieve that. It may well be that modifications are needed to the system, but when it works well, it works very well, and this is an example of its value. It is good to see the House working so collegiately, which people out there in the country will think makes a refreshing change.
The issue of prevention is very important. My hon. Friend Will Quince put it better than I ever could. Our public services more generally are going to have to focus more on prevention in the years ahead to get things right and to relieve the pressures. The Bill is considered, logical and sensible. It is right to clarify the importance of rights and responsibilities not just for local authorities and public services, but for the individual concerned, and the Bill does that very effectively indeed.
I want to say a few words of thanks to people in my own constituency. The housing departments of both East Northamptonshire Council and Corby Borough Council do a terrific job in making sure that we do not often get to the point where people find themselves homeless. I pay tribute to them for all the work they do, including with me as their local Member of Parliament, and the support they provide to my constituents, to try to get these things right.
I also pay tribute, as many other Members have done, to both Crisis and Shelter for all their efforts, not only on the ground, but in getting the Bill’s provisions right, and for working so constructively with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and the Bill Committee members to achieve that.
I also thank those in my constituency who do so much good work to help those who find themselves in the most difficult of circumstances. Over Christmas, Rev. Dennis Binks and his congregation led a delegation on to the streets of Corby and Kettering on many cold winter evenings. They helped a number of people and I am very grateful to them for their efforts. I know that Ministers and everyone else in this House will send their thanks and appreciation to them as well.
There is clearly more to do—I do not think that any Member in this House would dispute that—but this Bill is a significant and important step forward in eradicating homelessness once and for all.
I am very pleased and proud to speak in support of the Bill’s Third Reading. Homelessness, as we all know, is a chronic issue with which successive Governments have grappled. Given the complex issues that many people face, no one could claim that tackling homelessness is easy, but, as I and many colleagues have said many times, one person without a home is one too many. Everyone who can help clearly has a duty to do what they can.
Supporting important proposed legislation such as this Bill is what we can do in this House. We have scrutinised and improved the Bill, and we all hope that it will complete its passage without incident and deliver the change that we want to see. Royal Assent is only the start, however, and I want to talk about what the Government will do to make the Bill a success on the ground.
I can confirm that the amendments agreed today are estimated to increase the cost of the Bill by £13 million over the course of this spending review period. That increases the total new burdens cost of the Bill from the £48 million that I had announced, to £61 million. I am pleased to confirm that the Government will meet those costs.
I do not know whether it is true or not, but I suspect that, as several hon. Members have suggested, my hon. Friend Bob Blackman has achieved a record in having the private Member’s Bill with the most significant cost implications for Government spending. In that sense, he can consider that he has had a very good outcome.
The final new burdens assessment will be published once the distribution formula for the funding is complete, and when the Bill has completed its passage through the House. As I said in Committee, we will work with local authorities and the Local Government Association to develop a fair distribution model for the funding. That needs to reflect the different need in different areas, reflecting, for instance, the additional pressures and costs faced by many councils in London.
Ahead of implementation, we will work with local housing authorities to ensure that they have the resources and support they need. Key to that is updating the code of guidance, which will be reviewed in co-operation not only with local housing authorities but others with an interest and expertise, such as the homelessness charities and the landlord groups—not to mention the continuing role that the Select Committee will no doubt play in the process. That guidance will be needed by local authorities as they prepare to implement the new duties in the Bill, and as they support their staff to understand the new legislation and undertake the training they will need.
The Government will also have key implementation tasks. We will prepare the regulations setting out which public authorities will be subject to the duty to refer, identifying those authorities and working with them to ensure that they understand their new responsibilities and are ready to play an active role. We will also continue our work to improve the data we collect, so that we can monitor implementation and assess the impact and success of the Bill.
We do not see the Bill as the only way to reduce homelessness. It is an important part of our armoury, but it is not the panacea. The Government have initiated and are working on several other programmes in this area, because we are determined to do as much as we can to tackle the issues of homelessness and rough sleeping.
I want to finish by paying personal tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East for all the effort that he has put into the Bill. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with him over many weeks on his Bill. As he mentioned, the time and scrutiny the Bill has been through is unusual, but he has remained calm in the face of some real challenges and has been focused on his final aim, which has been a key factor in getting the Bill this far.
Earlier, I mentioned hon. Members on both sides of the House who have been instrumental in bringing the Bill forward, but I also wish to mention my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, who—in the absence of a Government Whip in a private Member’s Bill Committee—acted as Whip and wing man for my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East. I also wish to thank one of our long-suffering departmental Parliamentary Private Secretaries, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow, for the effort that she has put into the process. The other person on the Committee I have not mentioned is my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond, who also made an excellent contribution to the debate today.
I also wish to mention Martine Martin, the parliamentary assistant to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East. I will not say she kept him in check, but she worked extremely hard and diligently to help him to bring the Bill forward.
Finally, I also thank my officials for doing a tremendous job, the charities, particularly Crisis, Shelter and St Mungo’s, the relevant landlords associations, the LGA and the many individual councils and others in local government. I look forward to the Bill’s enactment. I am sure that my hon. Friend will remain hot on my heels as it is implemented, and I look forward to continuing to work with him on this extremely important issue.
With the leave of the House, I rise to say a few thank yous and to wish the Bill Godspeed through the other place.
I would like to thank the no fewer than 20 right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed on Third Reading. This is a complicated Bill with 13 clauses. It was 18 pages long before we agreed the Government amendments today, so I suspect it is now about 20 or 21 pages. It is a comprehensive Bill that attempts to ensure that anyone threatened with homelessness, or who has already reached that crisis point in their life, receives help and advice and a plan for securing accommodation from the local authority. The Bill, which encompasses the whole public sector, will concentrate efforts in the hands of experts so that they can assist those who face this terrible crisis.
I particularly thank hon. Members for their appreciation of me, and I point out to my hon. Friend Dr Mathias that it is national cake day, as well as Holocaust Memorial Day—and we should remember the plight of those individuals too. As for the Bill, the heroes are not in this Chamber; the heroes are those who go out every day to combat homelessness throughout the country—they are the people who deserve the plaudits.
I thank the Minister for his kind remarks, and for the extra money he has managed to stump up—perhaps we should have put his feet to the fire even more. But I will draw a line there. We have done as much as we can, although the Select Committee will be following carefully the implementation and operation of the Bill to make sure that sufficient funding is available and that local authorities are doing their job. I reiterate my thanks to the officials from the Department. I will miss our regular briefings, and the texts and emails requiring my assistance at 11 o’clock at night. I hope that once the Bill is enacted we can work together again in the future.
I would like to commend and thank the charities, particularly Crisis, Shelter and St Mungo’s, as well as the landlords associations, which helped get the Bill to this stage, the LGA and all the local authorities—they, after all, have to implement the Bill. Most importantly, I hope that they plan now for the Bill’s enactment, rather than waiting for it to become a reality. Finally, I wish the Bill Godspeed. I hope that the other place will have observed our proceedings today, as well as our Second Reading debate and all our hours in Committee spent scrutinising the Bill, and that they speed it through their House, so that it might become an Act as fast as possible and start to combat homelessness on our streets straightaway.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.