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Consideration and Third Reading

1. Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be completed at today's sitting.

2. Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at Nine o'clock.
3. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at Ten o'clock.
4. Sessional Order B (Programming Committees) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Consideration of Lords Amendments and further messages from the Lords

7 Feb 2001 : Column 946

Orders of the Day

Homes Bill

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 15

Application of Part VI of 1996 Act to existing tenants

'For subsections (5) and (6) of section 159 of the 1996 Act (application of Part VI of that Act to existing secure and introductory tenants, to existing tenants of registered social landlords and to certain other tenants) there is substituted--

'(5) The provisions of this Part do not apply to an allocation of housing accommodation to a person who is already a secure or introductory tenant unless the allocation involves a transfer of housing accommodation for that person and is made on his application.'.--[Mr. Raynsford.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.33 pm

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Nick Raynsford): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendment No. 46.

Amendment No. 56, in clause 27, page 17, line 34, at end insert--

'( ) In any scheme, the local housing authority shall state its policy for ensuring that people in need of a move on any of the grounds listed above, and who are existing tenants shall, all other things being equal, have prior claim to new built property over those who would be first time tenants of the local authority, provided that first time tenants can still be offered adequate accommodation.'.

Government amendment No. 51.

Mr. Raynsford: Government amendments Nos. 46 and 51 and new clause 15 seek to simplify the provisions in the Bill that ensure that existing tenants in the social housing sector who seek a transfer of accommodation from a housing authority must have their application considered under the allocation scheme. In other words, they have a right to have their application considered, a right for reasonable and additional preference to be considered, and a right to seek a review of decisions about their application.

The policy intention has not changed, but we have identified a simpler way of achieving it. Amendment No. 46 removes clause 24, which is unnecessarily complex. It is replaced by new clause 15, which in turn substitutes for the current subsections (5) and (6) of section 159 of the Housing Act 1996 a new subsection (5).

Amendment No. 51 will make a minor consequential change to schedule 3.

Under amendment No. 56, tabled by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), existing tenants would be given priority over new tenants in the allocation of new-build accommodation. I find it extraordinary that he considers such detail appropriate to the Bill. We are setting up a robust framework in which local authorities can operate choice-based lettings

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schemes. The framework will provide authorities with the discretion to make local decisions, based on local knowledge, and appropriate to local circumstances.

The framework sets out the principal issues that authorities should take into account in drawing up their priorities and preferences. They are, in the main, closely related to need, but the framework is not prescriptive--nor should it be. Local authorities should have discretion. It makes no sense to direct every nuance, to insist on every detail and dot every i and cross every t. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats' suggestion is curious because considerable discretion would be removed from local authorities by amendment No. 56, yet the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) speaks frequently about diktats from Whitehall and the Government's centralising tendency.

Hon. Gentlemen should be clear about their objective. Do they wish to allow local authorities more discretion, or do they wish to be centralisers? I am afraid that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey shows himself to be a centraliser, and amendment No. 56 is inappropriate. I hope that he will not press it to a Division, and that the House will support new clause 15 and the Government amendments.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I do not wish to detain the House. I shall deal first with amendment No. 56, tabled by the Liberals. For once, I agree with the Minister. The amendment would include in the Bill an incredibly detailed, micro-managed proposal, despite the Minister's reluctance to include many other proposals that we think should be in it. However, the last thing I want to do is to intervene in an argument between the Government and their Liberal Democrat allies. Of course, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will make his own case in a moment.

As for the unlamented demise of clause 24, we agree that new clause 15 represents a much less clumsily drafted approach to what the Government want to achieve. We have no difficulty with new clause 15 or Government amendments Nos. 46 and 51--the second of which is a drafting amendment, so far as I can tell--and we shall not therefore seek to divide the House on any of them.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I shall speak to amendment No. 56. There is of course no difference of opinion between my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and me, on any occasion, in any circumstance. The Minister knows that that is true, but he likes making the odd bit of mischief, so I shall forgive him.

I represent--I still think that the figures are accurate--more council tenants as a proportion of my constituents than any other English Member of Parliament. Therefore, this debate and these provisions are of crucial interest to my constituents and me. The Minister may not have spotted the fact that amendment No. 56 was not intended to determine what the policy should be, but to ensure that local authorities state their policies. I am keen to ensure that each local authority puts out its policy clearly in the shop window.

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The objective of the proposal is slightly different from the one that the Minister suggested. Importantly, amendment No. 56 deals with

elsewhere in the Bill. There is no argument about those grounds. People may need to move if they are overcrowded, or on medical grounds, or whatever. However, when existing local authority tenants need to move,

that is an important phrase--they shall

The reason why I tabled the amendment--I shall not press it to a Division--was to get the Government to think about such issues, and to ensure that local authorities are required to address the controversial question of how they choose between long-standing tenants who live in accommodation that is inadequate by the local authority's own definition, and people who would be new tenants.

From his experience in his present constituency, and from the one that he previously represented--they are both in inner London--the Minister will know of one of the great complaints that tenants who live in overcrowded and damp accommodation frequently make. They desperately need to move because they are ill, or they live in an upstairs flat with no lift. However, people then come off the housing list; the existing tenants do not begrudge those people being housed, but they move into brand new properties. Meanwhile, the existing tenants remain on the fourth floor of a block with no lift, or in a flat that is damp, overcrowded and inadequate for them. They have no chance of moving into the new properties, and that is the cause for their complaint. It is a matter of equity.

I accept that this is not the time and place to be over-prescriptive, and that local councils should be able to exercise their discretion. That is why people vote councils in and out; they choose between policies. I merely ask that the local authority publish its policy on this matter, so that people know what its policy is, and can decide whether to vote against the party in power at the next election. I ask for clarity so that we can remove one of the major causes of grief, aggravation and concern that existing tenants, many of whom have paid their rents for 20 or 30 years, feel towards local authorities.

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