11.33 pm

Sir Edward Garnier: I congratulate all those who have had rather more to do with this Bill than I have on getting to this point, and I hope that it will have fair passage in the other place next week. I am particularly pleased that, after a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing, the Bill still contains clause 32 on deferred prosecution agreements. I have a bit of a one-track mind on the subject, but I suspect that this piece of the Bill is going

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to earn, rather than cost, the Treasury some money—acting as a criminal justice weapon that will be to the advantage of the Chancellor. I hope that as he thinks about this Wednesday, he will remember clause 32 of this Bill.

I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—and the Justice Secretary, who is temporarily absent—to get on with the underlying secondary legislation, Crown court rules and so forth, which will allow the deferred prosecution agreements to be implemented. I hope that we can prosecute the first deferred prosecution agreement before the end of this year and, if not before Christmas, very shortly after it. It will be a valuable addition to our criminal justice armoury.

I heard what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said about further consideration of extradition matters. It was, if I may say so, pretty dreadful that we did not have an opportunity to discuss any aspect of extradition this evening. This was an entirely self-inflicted wound, and I suspect that with a little more flexibility it could have been achieved—but there we are. I know that my right hon. Friend has said that something will be done about it later in the year. I am sure she will be as good as her word. I shall certainly be watching to see that she is.

11.34 pm

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): The Home Secretary began by noting how much the Bill had improved since Second Reading. As one who has sat through all the Bill’s stages so far, I must admit that I found it difficult to remember what was in it, given the huge range of other issues with which we were confronted at a very late stage. However, it is indeed a very important Bill, and I compliment those on both Front Benches on the assiduity with which they have debated the issues and led the argument, both in Committee and in the Chamber.

The National Crime Agency is now with us. I have never accepted the Home Secretary’s premise that it had to be introduced because what had gone before had failed—I think that the Serious Organised Crime Agency was an excellent organisation—but if the Home Secretary has judged that the NCA can take SOCA’s work forward, it has my full support. I do not quibble with that for a minute.

I am pleased that, in Committee and in other debates, we were given clear assurances that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre would remain as an independent force for good in our society. It is a global leader, and I am delighted that Ministers have ensured that its reputation and its work will be protected.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) mentioned the difficulty involving the legislative consent motion. We debated that extensively last Wednesday. It is deeply regrettable that the National Crime Agency will not be able to operate fully in Northern Ireland, and I urge the Home Secretary and all Ministers who are concerned with the issue to do everything that they can. I urge them to negotiate, to discuss the issue in detail, and to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom in this regard. As my right hon. Friend said, it is essential for the same rule of law to operate there, and for the same resources to be applied to the combating of organised crime. I know that the Home Secretary shares that view, and I hope that she will be able to secure an agreement soon so that all those additional amendments can be implemented and the NCA can work properly in Northern Ireland.

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Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Because of his experience in Northern Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the importance of establishing measures for it. He has appealed to the Home Secretary to do what she can. Will he also appeal to the parties in Northern Ireland that have blocked such action, namely Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour party? The Democratic Unionist party, the Ulster Unionists and the Alliance party are strongly in favour of it. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will widen his appeal still further.

Paul Goggins: I am happy to agree with my right hon. Friend. That is a very important point. Let me put a rhetorical question to those who are not in the Chamber tonight, but who represent all the parties in Northern Ireland. SOCA was able to sit alongside the Police Service of Northern Ireland from 2006 onwards, and did an excellent job. Why should that work not be continued to ensure that those whose organised criminality poses a threat are dealt with, and dealt with properly?

Mark Durkan: My right hon. Friend will recall from the debate last week that some of us made clear that we had drawn attention for a long time to problems about which no one in the Northern Ireland Office, the Ministry of Justice or anywhere else had talked to us. Since people have talked to us, the negotiations have made progress. Let me also say that, unlike Sinn Fein, my party has never had any problem with the provisions relating to asset recovery. We want asset recovery to go the distance.

Paul Goggins: I warmly welcome what my hon. Friend has said. He will recall that last week I intervened on his speech to observe that it was strange that the Minister had not leapt to his feet and embarked on negotiations with him there and then, because he was clearly willing to discuss this matter. I urge the Home Secretary, in good faith, to talk to the parties in Northern Ireland and work with Northern Ireland Ministers to ensure that legislative consent is secured as soon as possible.

We discussed community orders at some length in Committee. I thank the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, who, along with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), has had constructive discussions with the Restorative Justice Council, with me and with others about the merits of moving restorative justice to the mainstream of the criminal justice system. I know that the Minister shares that aim and aspiration, and I welcome amendment 110, which the Government tabled last Wednesday. We did not have time to debate it, but the substance is there, and that is important. I thank the Minister for the attention that he paid to the issue.

I hope that the amendment relating to women offenders, which was cruelly removed from the Bill in Committee, will be reinserted when the Bill returns to the House of Lords, because I think it important to focus on the needs of women offenders. The aim of working with any offender is to try to ensure that they do not reoffend and that they can re-establish their lives in a proper way. The Lords amendment was right to focus attention on the needs of women offenders and if that is re-inserted into the Bill, I urge Ministers to accept it as a positive move that they can work with.

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May I also thank the Ministers who have responded to the debates on child neglect? Again, we did not have time to debate an amendment on that on Report, but the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice made positive assurances about continuing to discuss the matter. The law is very outdated and it is important that we try to modernise it in a way that works and protects our children. Again, I pay tribute to him for what he has done on that.

Finally, I think that the Home Secretary is wrong to bring the super-affirmative order proposal back. I say to her that the way in which this has been done is not acceptable. She told us on Second Reading that she had not made her mind up, the Minister in Committee never raised it there, except obliquely, and yet right at the end it is brought back in. There is a debate about who should lead on counter-terrorism, but I find it odd—it is nice to be able to say this to her personally, as I said it the other day when she was not here—that this Home Secretary told us that to extend pre-charge detention beyond 14 days and to get the enhanced terrorism prevention and investigation measures we had to have fresh primary legislation, but to change the lead responsibility for counter-terrorism we need only secondary legislation. I ask her to reflect on that again. I hope that their lordships will take that measure out of the Bill again, and I urge her to think carefully before she moves to try to put it in.

Let me end by saying to the Home Secretary, to her colleagues and certainly to my Front-Bench colleagues that they have done a fine job in leading this difficult and complex Bill to the conclusion that we have reached tonight.

11.41 pm

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): The Home Secretary introduced her remarks by referring to how the Bill had been enhanced by parliamentary scrutiny. I have no doubt that the Public Bill Committee did good work, but as a description of the 20 minutes we have had in today’s debate to consider all the remaining non-Leveson clauses, “enhanced by parliamentary scrutiny” is probably not the appropriate one.

I welcome what I see as the core of this Bill: the creation of the National Crime Agency. The shadow Home Secretary cavils in respect of how it is not going to be greatly different from the Serious Organised Crime Agency, but surely the key difference is that the NCA will be able to task police forces with carrying out necessary policing activities in the national interest. SOCA has not had that power and has been reliant on persuasion to get co-operation from local forces, and the creation of the NCA is the other side of the coin of the election of police and crime commissioners. We are making local and democratic what properly should be local and democratic while ensuring the necessary central control over national policing, which we have not really had in this country previously.

I very much regret the attachment to this Bill of what I consider to be, in all prospects, a press law. An organisation, Hacked Off, seems to have taken over both the Liberal Democrat and the Labour party positions on this issue. In response to an apparent allegation that

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the Labour party was the political wing of Hacked Off, the deputy leader of the Labour party did not deny it; she merely gave great congratulations to Hacked Off on what it had achieved. I am concerned that what it has achieved is eliding two different groups: the genuine victims of the press, such as the Dowler family, and a group of celebrities who would like to engage with the press on their own terms. I fear that what is coming out of today’s proceedings will benefit that latter group at least as much as the former. Some older Members of the House may recall the days of the industrial relations court in the early 1970s. When trade unions did not co-operate with that body, it failed in its objectives. That could, and I hope will, also happen to the royal charter, with its statutory underpinning that we are pushing through today.

The problem with the royal charter is that in many ways it is worse than a statute, because we cannot actually scrutinise it; it is just Ministers and senior people in the Opposition meeting behind closed doors to cook up these instructions to the press, and next to no scrutiny is provided in this House. For instance, article 11.7 of the royal charter states that the board

“shall have the right to request further reasonable sums from the Exchequer. In response to such a request, the Exchequer shall grant such sums to the Recognition Panel as it considers necessary”.

It could be argued that that was a disbursement of public funds without scrutiny from this House.

Another area of concern to me in the charter can be found in paragraph 11 of schedule 3, which states:

“The Board should have the power (but not necessarily the duty)”—

whatever that means—

“to hear complaints…from a third party seeking to ensure accuracy of published information.”

The schedule goes on to say:

“Although remedies are essentially about correcting the record for individuals, the power to direct a correction and an apology must apply equally in relation to…matters of fact where there is no single identifiable individual who has been affected.”

Instead of the interplay of ideas between different journalists and individuals competing to have their material published and heard in the public sphere, a regulator will determine the meaning of truth—a Ministry of Truth, as it were.

People will have to submit to this process, and if they do not there will be exemplary damages or they will have to pay the costs of anyone who wants to take up a case against them, however ill-founded it might be. We are not going to the right place with this royal charter; it is not where we should be heading.

It is also extraordinarily unclear how the charter will apply in the blogosphere and to the web. The definition of relevant publisher almost suggests that one particular blog, that of Guido Fawkes, has been singled out to try to ensure that it is caught by the terms of the charter. Let us consider the statutory underpinning. Public bodies are exempted under paragraph 6 of new schedule 5, and apparently a public body

“means a person or body whose functions are of a public nature.”

I hope that my blog will be exempt and I will not have to answer to the Home Secretary for any transgressions I make within that sphere. The final issue in considering the charter is where it will go next. We are setting it up without any idea of its final destination.

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One thing we failed to consider in today’s debate was the excellent new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab). The Home Secretary referred to the respect in which she holds my hon. Friend, but judging by the letter she issued earlier today he would have caused the release on bail and the non-deportation of 4,000 people a year. We were not told that his advice has been signed off by three eminent QCs, whereas the record of the Home Secretary’s officials and, in particular, her lawyers in this area is, to put it mildly, less than stellar.

We heard yet again from the Home Secretary about the supposed binding rule 39 injunctions when, as the Abu Hamza case showed, they are merely indications to the Government of the European Court’s view according to its rules of what might be in the interests of justice. They are not binding on the Court and it is the Home Secretary who decides that these people will not be deported. It is as if she has not even read the second leg of article 8, under which she is able to interfere in the operation of the right to a private life in the interests of national security, public safety and the prevention of crime. What else could be covered by a rule saying, “You cannot consider this”, when a crime has been so serious that the foreign national has been imprisoned for more than a year? Those people should be sent back and if we had agreed to the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton, they would be sent back. Because we ran out of time, and because the Home Secretary is not prepared to take on his far better ideas, the situation will, unfortunately, continue.

11.48 pm

Richard Drax: I want to speak very briefly on the royal charter, if I may do so again. As a former journalist of some 17 years’ experience, I am extremely concerned about where the House is going. What has happened today has been described by those outside as a bit of a love-in; it was self-congratulatory. When all the parties agree, I am pretty concerned that something is wrong. In this case, to use a military analogy, we have dragged a tank out with nothing on it—just the frame. We have parked it on the press’s lawn and said, “Here’s our latest

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toy, our latest weapon, that we are going to use to control you.” What frightens me about this toy is that inevitably, now that the royal charter is underpinned by statute—whatever people say, however they disguise it, that is the fact; it is—politicians in the future will not be able to resist the temptation to slap on an extra gun, a mortar tube, because they need it to control the press because the press have done something that does not please the House.

This, for me, is a red line, and my biggest fear. I have spoken to many of the local press down in my constituency and already, because of the Data Protection Act and other law, it is a nightmare for them to get hold of the facts. When I was a journalist, the police, the fire brigade and others used to tell us what was going on because it was in the public interest. Local journalists now are finding it harder and harder to get information from local authorities, the police or the fire brigade—information that is in the public interest. Freedom of information requests, which have been mentioned, have increased because journalists have to use that method to get information that is in the public interest and which this place, on occasions, is trying to hide. That cannot be right and it certainly cannot be in our interest in the future.

I do not believe the House will divide on Third Reading, but I leave it with this thought. I fear that this tank will rumble forward in the years ahead. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) said, the next Government—for example, the Opposition—can get rid of this and bring in their own legislation anyway. What we are doing is purely notional, nothing more.

I conclude on this cautionary note: what we are doing affects the freedom of our country and the freedom of our press. As the final irony, I understand from a source—perhaps the Minister who sums up can reassure me that this is not the case—that former MPs who have been disgraced in the expenses scandal could stand for the new regulatory body. If that is the case, what an irony it would be.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

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Under-occupancy Penalty (Nottingham)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Greg Hands.)

11.53 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): “Nowhere to go”—that is how today’s Nottingham Post describes the crisis facing thousands of social tenants in our city. Why? Because two weeks today the Government are set to play the cruellest joke on more than 6,000 of our city’s poorest households. On the same day as they deliver a huge tax cut to the UK’s highest earners, they plan to take £4.23 million from the pockets of those people in our city who are least able to afford it. Whether we call it the bedroom tax, the under-occupancy penalty or the spare-room subsidy, it is a heartless policy that, the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research concluded, will create “severe hardship” for affected households.

Let us look at the households affected. Two thirds of them include someone who is disabled, one third are families with children, more than a fifth are working households on low wages, and many of them do not have a spare room at all. They include families whose children have their own rooms. Let us face it, some bedrooms are so small that they are barely big enough for one child, let alone two. Many families do not think it is fair to expect their teenage son or daughter to share with a toddler, even if they are the same sex, and children’s education can suffer if they do not have somewhere quiet to study.

So-called spare bedrooms are also needed where couples sleep separately, especially where a husband or wife cares for their disabled partner and desperately needs a decent night’s sleep. Some are used to store disability-related equipment. Where parents are separated, these bedrooms are needed for when their children visit at weekends. Are the Government really saying that people who live in a council or housing association home cannot have a spare room for their children or grandchildren to sleep in when they come to visit? It seems so. People who have lived in the same house for decades and spent time and money making it their home all face the same impossible situation: move out or find the extra money.

For people in Nottingham, that means on average an extra £11 a week if they have one room more than they are allowed, or £22 a week if they have two rooms. That may not sound like very much to the Minister, but for someone on jobseeker’s allowance of £71 a week, it is the difference between eating or going hungry, turning on the heating or sitting in the cold, borrowing money to pay your rent or going into arrears. This morning on Radio Nottingham, a local Tory Member of Parliament did not know what the fuss was about. She had explained to her constituent that she should simply move house. But of course, it is not that easy.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The bedroom tax and the under-occupancy terminology will affect people throughout the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, we will be £10 million shy in the money available, and 32,000 households will be affected. Is not one of the greatest discrepancies of the whole process that there are not the smaller occupancy houses to move to, so all these people will have to find the extra money?

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Lilian Greenwood: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I shall come to that point.

In Nottingham, 6,103 people face the bedroom tax in two weeks’ time. The key website is Homelink, which advertises properties for the arm’s length management organisation, Nottingham City Homes, and most of the local housing associations. This week, 21 one-bedroom properties and 14 two-bedroom properties are available. So even if they were all allocated to households that are currently under-occupying, that would help only 35 households—fewer than 1% of those affected. That is before one considers the 2,269 families in Nottingham waiting for a two-bedroom property, or the 7,333 individuals or couples waiting for a one-bedroom property.

In my constituency, 1,423 households are affected by the bedroom tax. In the whole of the last 12 months only 175 of Nottingham City Homes’ one or two-bedroom properties became available to let in Nottingham South, and on average people had waited 78 weeks on the list. Worse still, evidence from the local homelessness charity, Framework, reveals particular problems for tenants who are in arrears. They have been told that even if they have repayment plans in place, they cannot be considered for a move. As Jon Leighton, who helps co-ordinate the crisis team for Framework, says:

“Essentially they are stuck. Pay the additional charge or get into more arrears. And given this is the choice, the likely outcome is eviction proceedings.”

The Minister may argue that social tenants should move into the private sector. How will that cut the housing benefit bill when, according to figures produced by the National Housing Federation, the average social rent for a two-bedroom property in Nottingham is £64.02, but the average private rent for a one-bedroom property, into which a household occupying a two-bedroom social home might be expected to downsize, is £88.85? There is also a question about whether landlords in the private sector will be willing to take on tenants on housing benefit, given their significant concerns about the risks posed by the introduction of direct payments under universal credit.

The truth is that most people cannot avoid paying the bedroom tax, and the Government know it. Their 2012 impact assessment is clear:

“Estimates of Housing Benefit savings are based on the current profile of tenants in the social rented sector, with little tenant mobility assumed. If a significant number of tenants wished to move, this would reduce direct savings and place extra demands on social landlords”.

It is clear that the burden of cutting public spending on housing benefit relies specifically on the inability of tenants to move; balancing the books on the backs of poor and vulnerable people.

Of course, the Minister might claim that this is not about saving money, but about making better use of our social housing stock. Action to tackle overcrowding is important, which is why the Labour Government published good practice guidance on managing under-occupation and, in 2007, allocated funding to 38 pathfinder areas to devise solutions to address overcrowding and focus on under-occupation.

Last year Nottingham city council received a grant of £75,000 to help tackle overcrowding and under-occupation through its “Right Size” project, a modest amount that it used to good effect. It worked with people to look at their options, provided intensive support to help them

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overcome the hurdles to moving home and effectively held tenants’ hands through the process, in some cases covering removal costs. The project was effective, and between 1 April 2012 and 28 April 2013, 81 properties were freed up for families. However, last Friday, after a prolonged period of uncertainty, the council finally received an e-mail from the Department for Communities and Local Government confirming that:

“Ministers have now decided not to make any further special grants to councils specifically to tackle under-occupation”

Now we know that this is not about addressing under-occupation or overcrowding; it is about cutting public spending, taking money from the very households that are least able to bear the burden. It is not just unfair; it is immoral.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is making her case exceptionally well. In my constituency, which neighbours hers, the cases that really pull at the heart strings bring the issue most to life, particularly when they involve a disabled person in the household. The majority of cases seem to be like that. I think of the young man who had serious problems with schizophrenia. He was just getting into independent living and needed an extra bedroom so that his father could occasionally stay overnight in order to reassure him when things got particularly difficult. Now, because of the bedroom tax, his whole quest for independent living has been thwarted, and he will have to move back in with his parents. It is the individual cases that illustrate just how heartless and callous the policy is.

Lilian Greenwood: My hon. Friend is exactly right. I wonder how Government Members sleep at night after what they have done.

The Minister might claim that the Government are protecting the most vulnerable, such as the individual my hon. Friend has just mentioned. Ministers have been saying that for months. It was only continued pressure from the Opposition Benches that forced them to concede that the Prime Minister’s assurances about protection for disabled children, foster parents and members of the armed forces were completely hollow and that exemptions needed to be put in place.

Unfortunately, to suggest that discretionary housing payment will provide the answer is disingenuous. Nationally, the DHP allocated for 2014-15 makes up less than 6% of the £2.2 billion in planned housing benefit cuts for the same year, and the Government have failed to provide any assurances on the level of DHP funding as part of the next spending review. The National Audit Office is critical of how the level of DHP funding has been determined, stating that

“it is not clear how the overall level of funding has been determined or whether it is likely to be sufficient to tackle the effects of reforms.”

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Has her council, like mine, considered trying to top up the DHP fund so that it can help people? Is this not simply a central Government cut being imposed on the shoulders of local government, because topping up the fund means a cut for councils? Also, the administration involved in the whole process is huge, and that is another cost for local government.

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Lilian Greenwood: My hon. Friend is exactly right. Of course, this comes on top of huge cuts to local government.

Nottingham city council was allocated £696,000 to support tenants affected by the bedroom tax in the coming year. That amount will be reduced to take account of the U-turn on foster carers and armed forces personnel, and tenants in Nottingham face a shortfall of £4.23 million. I do not know whether it will be enough to protect the disabled tenants whose homes have had significant adaptations, but it certainly will not be enough to help all those with disabilities, for whom the prospect of finding an extra £11 or £22 a week is simply terrifying. Of course, when local authorities target DHP they will have to make impossible choices on whether to protect disabled people or the tenants most at risk of homelessness. The Government do not know how many people will be left short, either. When I asked the Minister how many households in Nottingham would be affected, including households with children, the answer was stark: he did not hold the information. So how can he possibly come to this House and offer assurances that the vulnerable will be protected?

As a responsible landlord, Nottingham City Homes is taking action to help its tenants to cope with benefit changes. It has a welfare reform action plan and has undertaken a range of activities to support tenants, but as chief executive Nick Murphy acknowledges,

“The combined effect of the bedroom tax, reductions in council tax benefit, changes to disability benefits and direct payment under Universal Credit are creating confusion and uncertainty. At Nottingham City Homes we are doing what we can to help with information, advice and support but many of the poorest people in Nottingham are going to get poorer as a result of these changes.”

Of course, we should never forget that behind the statistics and the numbers are real people: people whose voices and stories deserve to be heard; people such as my constituent Paulette Williams, who lives in Radford. She has rented her three-bedroom house from Nottingham Community Housing Association for the past 21 years. She had offered to downsize some years ago when her youngest daughter left home but was told that she did not qualify for a transfer. Last year, Paulette had to take ill-health retirement. She has not been offered a suitable small property and does not know how she is going to make up the shortfall from her benefits. I am interested to know how the Minister thinks a 57-year-old woman with serious health problems, including a permanent incapacity, should try to do so.

According to the Government, pensioners are not affected by these changes. Try telling that to my constituent Pat Lister and her husband, who live in Wilford. Pat’s son has serious mental health problems and has battled heroin addiction and homelessness. He has achieved some stability since he got a two-bedroom council flat. He has been in the same flat since 1996. Now all that is at risk. Pat and her husband want to support their son but cannot afford to pay the bedroom tax from their pension. Pat told me:

“We have reached the end of the line. We are retired and support him wherever we can, but this additional burden will place his social housing home out of reach and he must leave…And the wretched cycle of homelessness will begin again. For our vulnerable son, and nameless others like him.”

I called for this debate after I had sat in my surgery facing Paulette, Pat, and many others whom this Government are abandoning to a life below the breadline.

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I have focused on the impact of the bedroom tax, but the situation is even bleaker. On the same day that tenants face a shortfall in their housing benefit, they, along with low-income households in the private rented sector, face a cut in the help that they get with their council tax. According to Nottingham city council, the shortfall for the scheme is £6.2 million in 2013-14—a reduction of nearly 18% in funding as a result of central Government cuts. This year 19,000 people in Nottingham will have to pay at least 8.5% of their council tax bill. In 2014-15, when transitional protection expires, that could rise to 20% or more. The situation is set to get worse, not better. Rents and prices are currently rising by more than 2.5%. With benefits capped at 1%, the poorest households will find their incomes squeezed even further over the coming months.

This chaotic policy is wreaking havoc on the lives of many of my constituents. I hope that I have convinced the Minister of the disastrous effect that it is having in Nottingham, as it is in cities across the country. He should take this opportunity to do the right thing and scrap this wretched bedroom tax.

12.9 am

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) on securing this debate. She made no reference whatsoever to the context in 2010 in which an incoming Government had to make decisions or to the fact that the previous Government spent £150 billion more in their final year in office than they had coming in. She knows perfectly well—she did not mention this, but she knows it—that any incoming Government, including an incoming Labour Government, would have sought to take tens of billions of pounds out of public spending. She also knows that out of public spending there are two big things on which Governments spend money. The first is public sector pay, on which the Opposition were very slow to agree with us—they have now finally agreed—that restraint was required. The second is what is loosely called welfare—benefits, tax credits and pensions. It is completely implausible that an incoming Labour Government would not have cut social security spending. This is not a debate about whether social security spending has to be cut back; it is about how.

Lilian Greenwood: Will the Minister explain why his Government will deliver a tax cut at the beginning of April for the highest earners in the UK? Individual millionaires will get more than £100,000 each. Why is he choosing to balance the books on the backs of poor people in my city?

Steve Webb: I would be happy to respond to the hon. Lady’s question, although I was trying to keep to the subject of her debate. The higher rate of income tax in April will be 45%. For 13 years under the previous Labour Government the highest rate of income tax was not 45% but 40%. If she thinks that a 45% rate of income tax is immoral, why was a 40% rate acceptable for 13 years under the previous Labour Government? In addition, higher earners will pay a bigger share of tax as a result of a combination of measures. The hon. Lady has chosen to mention one, but if she takes the capital

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gains tax increases and the cuts in pension tax relief into consideration, she will see that overall we are taking more from higher earners than the previous Government did.

Let me focus on the specific issues that the hon. Lady raised. A number of voices were silent in her remarks. She used the word “fairness” and seemed to think that the suggestion that benefits should, broadly speaking, support a household size that a family needs rather than spare rooms was immoral, but that had been the case for private sector tenants for a long time under Labour party policy. The local housing allowance scheme introduced by the previous Government was, broadly speaking, for benefits to cover the household size needed. Why is it immoral to ask social tenants to pay the cost of a spare room, but not private sector tenants?

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Steve Webb: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I continue to respond to the points raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham South.

Why is it acceptable to restrict private sector tenants on a low income, but okay to allow social tenants to have a spare room?

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Steve Webb: I hope that the House will forgive me, but I want to respond to the points raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham South and have limited time to do so.

There is an issue of fairness as between private sector tenants on a low income and social tenants on a low income, but there is also a second issue of fairness. Our estimates for Nottingham are ballpark figures—the hon. Lady is right to say that we do not have exact figures for her constituency, but we do have regional figures and we can estimate overcrowding—but we estimate that of the order of 2,000 or so households there are overcrowded.

Lilian Greenwood: I thank the Minister for giving way. I specifically asked Nottingham to provide me with the figure for the number of people who face overcrowding and it is just short of 630 households, compared with 6,103 households that face the bedroom tax.

Steve Webb: One figure over which there is no dispute is the number of people on the housing waiting list in Nottingham, which is 12,000. They are desperate for a family home or for family accommodation, whereas 6,000 households have spare bedrooms.

Graham Jones: Will the Minister give way?

Steve Webb: No. There is an issue about fairness between social and private tenants and between those who face overcrowding and are desperate for a home and those who have spare rooms, and about fairness for those on the waiting list.

The hon. Member for Nottingham South raised a number of specific issues to which I want to respond. She asked whether people who will find themselves in the private sector will be able to rent if they are on

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housing benefit. The number of people in the private sector on local housing allowance recently passed the million mark, so more than a million people in the private sector are getting housing benefit. The suggestion that landlords will not rent to people on housing benefit is therefore demonstrably false.

Lilian Greenwood: I would be interested to hear whether the Minister ever speaks to anybody in Nottingham, because the experience of social tenants who are finding it difficult to move into the private sector was provided to me by the local homelessness charity, Framework, which has a pretty good idea of what is happening in our city.

Steve Webb: All I can say to the hon. Lady is that there are more than 1 million people on housing benefit in the private rented sector. There is not a little island called Nottingham where those people do not exist. Across the United Kingdom, private sector landlords are renting to people on housing benefit.

The hon. Lady mentioned Nottingham City Homes. I welcome some of the measures that it is taking to assist people who are affected by this measure. For example, it has produced a lodger guide so that any tenant who wishes to take in a lodger has information about how to do so. That will not be the answer for everyone, but it will be the answer for some. It will mean that there is better use of the scarce resource that is the empty or unused bedroom in social housing.

The hon. Lady mentioned HomeSwapper, a mutual exchange website that Nottingham City Homes is encouraging people to refer to. That is very welcome because it tries to make better use of the valuable social housing that we have. Nottingham City Homes ran what I think it called a speed-dating event to help match people who want to move to smaller properties with those who want to move to larger homes. It is true that this measure saves money, but it also leads us to make better use of the very underutilised resource of our social housing stock. As these initiatives demonstrate, there are some people living in overcrowded accommodation, whose voice was silent in the hon. Lady’s speech, and some people who are living in accommodation with spare rooms.

There is an issue with what one might loosely call “hard cases”. Those include people for whom a spare bedroom is not spare, but is very important. The hon. Lady dismissed in a very new Labour sort of way the £700,000 that is being given to Nottingham next year in discretionary housing payments, as if it is a drop in the ocean or a trivial sum of money. That money is being given to local authorities so that they can assist people on a case-by-case basis who approach them and say that there is a particular reason why the measure would be unfair or adverse in their case.

Chris Leslie: Will the Minister give way?

Steve Webb: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I try to respond to the hon. Lady.

It is said that the money will help only a relatively small proportion of people. That is entirely true because it is for exceptional cases. The basic principle is that if

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people have spare bedrooms, they should either put somebody in them or pay for them, perhaps by earning more if they are able to.

It is important to say that the price we are asking for a spare bedroom is just under £2 a day in Nottingham. That is what we are asking private renters on a low income to contribute anyway.

Graham Jones: Will the Minister give way?

Steve Webb: No.

We are asking private renters in Nottingham and elsewhere to pay just under £2 a day for a spare room. Obviously, if somebody is on benefit, that it not easy. However, for those who want to retain their spare room, that is the contribution that we are asking. Many people on a low income who are renting in the private sector pay that money.

There were scare stories about mass evictions and homelessness before the limits came in for the private rented sector, but those things have not happened. Just the sort of alarmist language that the hon. Lady used about mass evictions and the rest of it was used before the caps came in for the private rented sector. In some cases, people have traded down. In other cases, people have made a contribution towards retaining the spare room.

The hon. Lady mentioned the Department for Communities and Local Government and ring-fenced funding for under-occupation. She will know that the strategy of the DCLG has been to let local authorities decide their own priorities and not to have ring-fenced funding.

The hon. Lady mentioned the combination of this measure and other measures. She mentioned the reduction in support for council tax benefit. Nottingham city council has taken the decision to charge some of its working-age benefit recipients a contribution to the council tax. Not all local authorities have done that.

Lilian Greenwood: It did not have any choice.

Steve Webb: Well, other local authorities have avoided doing that. It is noticeable that many Labour-led local authorities have decided to pass the cost on to their tenants. For example, my local authority of South Gloucestershire has not passed on the cut to tenants, so they will receive full council tax benefit. Nottingham city council, however, has decided to expect its low-income tenants to make a contribution. The hon. Lady said that Governments have to make choices, but so do local authorities. Nottingham council has decided to charge low-income working age households a contribution towards their council tax. That was its decision.

Looking forward to the changes we have made, foster families were mentioned and the Government have been clear throughout that we want to protect such families. Our original strategy was to put the £5 million that we think it will cost to protect those families into local government budgets through discretionary payments, but, partly because of the alarmist scaremongering about foster families, we decided it was far better to avoid any anxiety on that point and simply to entitle foster families to an extra bedroom at the same cost. We have not had to find extra money for that measure

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because it was there already. We always said that we would protect those families, and we will. However, we will do so directly because when we relied on discretionary payments, Opposition Members claimed that we were not going to support foster families, which caused concern among those families. Giving foster families a right to a room seemed a more direct way of providing that support. Likewise, we have made it clear, as the Prime Minister did—

Chris Leslie: Will the Minister give way?

Steve Webb: No. I only have a couple of minutes left. I have made my point clear. As the Prime Minister made clear from the Dispatch Box a couple of weeks ago, families with disabled children who cannot share a room will have the right to an extra room if they approach their local authority and make their case. Provided that case is accepted, they will have a right to a room. There are a number of elements where we have either given a right to a room, and the hon. Gentleman for, I think, Shipley—

Chris Leslie: No.

Steve Webb: No. I apologise. I am sorry, I cannot remember the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but he

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cited a case where a carer had to come in and use a spare bedroom. To be clear, the rules allow for a non-resident carer who has to stay overnight to have a room. Obviously, I do not know the full details of that individual case, but a spare bedroom is allowed for a non-resident carer.

Chris Leslie: I am afraid that the carer rules do not capture that particular case, but I wanted to ask the Minister a particular question about the bedroom tax—sorry, the spare room subsidy. I know the name is important, much like the community charge which some people did not want to call the poll tax. Can the Minister provide a figure for the number of households affected by the bedroom tax that include a disabled person?

Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman glossed over his constituent’s case, but to be clear for the record, a spare bedroom is allowed for a non-resident overnight carer and it is important that he does not alarm people about the issue. In our impact assessment we published the number of disabled people affected by the change, and, as he knows perfectly well, around one in three—broadly speaking—of those affected by the measure is receiving the disability living allowance. Time is running out, but simply to say—

12.23 am

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).