Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 19th March 2018.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing) 6:30 pm, 19th March 2018

I think that I can probably say without contradiction from the Chair that this has been a wide-ranging debate. Nevertheless, it has been an important one. I congratulate hon. Members on both sides of the House who have contributed. We heard excellent speeches from the hon. Members for Clacton (Giles Watling), for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), for Witney (Robert Courts), for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer), from my hon. Friends the Members for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) and for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), and from the two Front Benchers: the Minister and my hon. Friend Melanie Onn.

I say kindly to the Minister that we need some assurances that what the Government claim that the Bill will do is actually what it will do. This will be an important point to consider in Committee. Before we start proceedings in Committee, I hope that she will write to me and my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench so that we can ensure that we understand exactly the legal implications of the Bill.

There is a recognition across the House that we have a duty not only to do everything we can to stamp out domestic abuse and violence—of course we must do that—but to recognise that stamping it out may be an ideal. There will still be victims, so we must do everything we can to support them against the perpetrators by preventing those perpetrators from operating, and by ensuring that there are no artificial impediments to people moving out of and away from situations that put them in danger.

Two women are killed every week in this country as a result of domestic abuse. Throughout my life I have met many people who have told me the most horrendous stories about being trapped in domestic violence. I particularly think of a woman who was into her 70s and had been married for many decades before finally summoning up whatever it took to break the bonds of that relationship. We have to ensure that we do not place artificial barriers in the way of people leaving such situations.

I think that there is a common view across the House on the very real issue of training, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North. When I was police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, every frontline officer there was retrained to recognise domestic abuse. That had previously not been done properly, and that was not only because there was sometimes a lack of empathy or ambition. People simply did not always recognise what abuse was all about or what they as individuals could do to combat it. Training people within the framework of housing is of fundamental importance to ensuring that we have the cultural capacity to help victims of domestic abuse.

The hon. Member for Northampton South made an important point about barriers. It may be a small thing for a Member of Parliament to pay for a letter from a solicitor, a doctor or whoever it might be, but somebody who is fleeing domestic abuse may simply have no capacity to find the resources to pay for a letter of evidence, which can become a barrier in its own right. We need to look at such issues, so the hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to make that point.

I want to press the Minister to comment on a few matters in her response, although we will need to return to a number of these points in Committee. I begin with the important point raised by my hon. Friend Toby Perkins about people who move across boundaries. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby mentioned women being asked to travel from Birmingham to find a place in a refuge in Manchester. It might on occasion be a good thing for women to break ties, and that can be a perfectly sensible opportunity to do so, but I have known of cases in which women have been asked to travel many miles not because they need to break those chains, but because no alternative refuge space is available. If women in such circumstances do not have their rights guaranteed under the Bill, frankly we will not have moved the situation on for that subset of domestic abuse victims. I would be grateful if the Minister would write to us to clarify how a different local authority is caught by this legislation, as that is not automatically obvious from the Bill. It is important that we have certainty about what its words will actually mean when tested, for example in a court of law.

I want to make a fundamental point: even now, at a time when there are secure tenancies—when the situation is as it was before the amendments through which the Government sought to get rid of the old-style secure tenancies—a significant number of women leaving refuges are moved into continued temporary accommodation. It is an interesting but shocking statistic that 22% of women who arrived in refuges in a particular year had a secure tenancy on arrival, but only 13% had a secure tenancy on departure. We need to reflect on that because it means that, even before this legal change, the situation does not guarantee that people leaving secure tenancies move back into those secure tenancies. The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North referred to the Scottish context, and it is worth our thinking about that. I am very supportive of the Scottish Government’s position—I think that this is also the position in Wales—of maintaining the old-style secure tenancies, but if the system is not working even now, because those in flight from domestic abuse do not move from secure tenancy to secure tenancy, we have a systemic problem that we need to look at.

Of course, not every person leaving a secure tenancy will qualify for an offer of rehousing by an appropriate housing authority. I want to give the Minister the opportunity to pause for thought on this point. Will she be clear about whether the offer by a housing association is covered by the Bill? It is clear from the Department’s explanatory notes that somebody moving from a secure tenancy within a housing association to a local authority tenancy would be offered an old-style secure tenancy, but it is not obvious that somebody leaving an old-style secure tenancy of any kind who is offered rehousing by a housing association would automatically qualify for an old-style secure tenancy. This is not a matter of trivia; it is an important issue. Of course, not everybody who moves as a result of domestic abuse will find themselves in a position to be offered a tenancy at all, and we must look at whether this is still a continuing barrier.

The Government were dragged into this situation—I say that kindly—having made a mistake in the original legislation. They faced defeat in Committee at that time because of a combination of their own Back Benchers and, of course, the Labour Opposition. The Government rightly recognised that they had to do something, and it has taken two years for the Bill to come forward. We obviously welcome the Bill, but it is important that we make sure that what it is claimed that it will do will really happen in practice.