Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Tuesday 8th May 2018

(6 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 View all Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 8 May 2018 - (8 May 2018)
Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have relied on the good offices of the Minister, who is in government, to undertake the duties of consultation with the devolved Administrations, which was due to take place, I believe, on 19 April, and we await the distribution of a note on the outcome of those meetings, which was requested but which I have not had sight of as yet.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is dated 8 May. It was sent over the bank holiday weekend.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is an opportune time for materials to be sent, as we found out during the urgent questions this morning. I am sorry I have not seen the note. I am grateful that the Minister has provided it, but it is incredibly unfortunate it was not provided sooner, because the information might well have informed the debate. [Interruption.] The Minister may well wish to provide it to me right now, but I am in the middle of my speech and it would be difficult for me to speak and read at the same time—as good as I am at multi-tasking!

Amendment 1 adds a requirement for a secure tenancy to be offered when domestic abuse victims apply for rehousing in a local authority area different from the one in which they previously had their secure tenancy. In Committee, the Minister said that the amendment was ineffective because the requirement was already provided for in the Bill, but there remains some unease about the current wording. The amendment would provide peace of mind, as prescribed by the Government back in 2016. We must not forget that the sector has been waiting for two years, having been assured by the Government that the requirement would be covered by the Housing and Planning Act 2016. The purpose of the amendment is simply to ensure that we do not end up in the same position again if it turns out that the Bill does not guarantee domestic abuse victims secure tenancies if they end up crossing local authority boundaries.

--- Later in debate ---
The Minister has said that the amendment would result in private sector landlords having to operate two different systems, but the Bill as it stands could create two different sets of rights for domestic abuse victims, depending on how their local authority decided to meet its housing needs. I am sure that everyone will agree that it cannot be right that a domestic abuse victim who ends up in Wakefield is afforded fewer rights under this Bill than one who ends up in Leeds. We must guarantee that the rights of domestic abuse victims do not vary across the country.
Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before responding to the specific amendments, I would like to say a few words about a number of the issues that arose in Committee. Also, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) did not get that original letter; I will pass it over to her in a second.

The issue of doctors charging fees for letters of evidence of domestic abuse was first raised in the other place and was raised again on Second Reading and in Committee in the House. In my response, I said that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, had written to the Department of Health and Social Care to raise peers’ concerns about this issue, and following our discussions I can now inform hon. Members that the Department has agreed to include in the remit for the negotiation on changes to the GP contract for 2019-20 stopping GPs charging victims of domestic abuse for the provision of letters or notes of evidence of abuse. This is a negotiation process, so the Department cannot guarantee that the General Practitioners Committee will agree to waive the fee for these services; however, I am sure Members will agree that this is a positive step forward.

I am also aware that concerns have been raised in this House and the other place about a lack of consistency in training for local authority staff to support victims of domestic abuse. I spoke at length in Committee about the new homelessness code of guidance and the emphasis it places on local authorities ensuring that local specialist training on domestic abuse is made available to frontline staff and managers. I also spoke about the funding the Department has provided to the National Homelessness Advice Service and the National Practitioner Support Service over recent years to ensure that such training is put in place. I do not want to repeat myself, but I am very pleased that I can update hon. Members about a new initiative that the Department is funding: the London training academy is being delivered by Southwark Council and will provide training for frontline housing options staff and apprentices; people can apply to go there from any council.

As part of the training, Solace Women’s Aid is providing domestic abuse champions training to 440 housing staff, and that is the figure across London alone. The focus of the training will be on ensuring housing teams understand the impact of domestic abuse, are clear about their roles in supporting victims and survivors, and are able to refer them to the specialist support they need. Again, I am sure hon. Members will agree that this is a very positive development, and that it demonstrates our commitment to ensure that local authority staff are properly equipped to support victims of domestic abuse and to respond appropriately and sensitively to their needs. I am sure, too, that hon. Members will agree that this is really good news and that the London training academy will provide a model, working with Solace, for frontline staff for how such difficult and sensitive cases should be handled. We would like to see that model filter through to all local authorities.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Women’s refuge places across my constituency, and those other places where women go in the first place, are still very difficult to find. Does the Minister accept that if funding is not provided throughout the whole supported housing sector, the Bill will be doomed to fail?

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sadly, I think the hon. Lady has misunderstood what the Bill is about. Funding for refuges and other supported housing will be dealt with by 2020 in a different vehicle.

New clause 1 calls for a review into the potential for co-operation between local authorities in England and local authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to include consideration of the scope to extend the provisions of the Bill to apply across the UK. I entirely understand that there will be situations in which someone wishes to escape from one part of the UK to another to get away from an abusive relationship, perhaps to put a safe distance between themselves and their abusive partner, or to move back to where their family and support networks are. I sympathise with the broad intention behind this proposal to increase co-operation between England and the devolved Administrations, and I appreciate that there will be strong support for it. This issue was raised in Committee and also during the passage of the Bill through the Lords. However, I do not believe that this Bill is the appropriate vehicle to achieve that co-operation.

Nor would it be appropriate or necessary to seek to examine the possibility of extending the Bill to make changes to the legislation covering social tenancies in the devolved nations. I do not need to remind hon. Members that housing is a devolved matter. That means that it is for local authorities—or the Housing Executive in the case of Northern Ireland—and social landlords in each part of the UK to decide whether to allow access to social housing and what type of tenancy to grant, in accordance with the law that operates in that country.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It sounds as though the Minister has set her face against amendment 1. Would she consider issuing guidance to local authorities on this issue?

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That will certainly be part of the package, yes. I will read out the letter as well, because that is the killer punch.

It is likely that most victims who flee from one part of the UK to another to escape domestic abuse and who are in need of housing would apply to a local authority for assistance on the basis that they were homeless. Homelessness legislation will provide a safety net for victims fleeing domestic abuse, even when they flee across national borders, but Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own homelessness legislation. That means that there may be differences of approach in accordance with the requirements of each devolved area. For example, local authorities in Wales, as in England, may discharge their duty to rehouse using the private rented sector.

The purpose of the Bill is to remove an impediment that might prevent someone who suffers domestic abuse from leaving their abusive situation in England when the provisions under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 come into force. The Act applies only to England. A victim of abuse in another part of the UK will not face the same impediment to fleeing their situation for fear of losing their lifetime tenancy. For example, if someone in Scotland were to flee to another council district within Scotland, the second local authority would grant them a lifetime tenancy if and when they were rehoused.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When I asked the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) whether there was a way of overriding the devolved Administrations, she did not seem to understand the question properly, so I am glad that the Minister is explaining that that cannot be done. It is interesting that the Opposition’s amendment 3 expressly states that it applies only to England; whoever drafted their amendments probably did understand the point that the Minister is making.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Parliamentary drafting is not an easy task, which is why people with greyer hair than mine do the job and I do not. I thank my right hon. Friend for making the situation quite clear.

The commencement of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 does not change the situation. I do not believe that it would be appropriate to include a duty in the Bill—which applies in England only—to consider the potential for amending legislation in other parts of the UK. Parliament has already decided that this area of law should be devolved, so it does not seem right to have an amendment that appears to assume that the Secretary of State has some responsibility for it in relation to the devolved Administrations. Clearly, victims of domestic abuse seeking to move from one part of the UK to another is a common issue in which all parts of the UK have an interest. However, owing to the differences in housing legislation across England and the devolved Administrations, a UK-wide provision in a Bill that is based on an Act that applies to England only is not the correct approach—I am getting to the nub of things now.

During the passage of the Bill in the other place, my hon. Friend the Minister gave a commitment to raise with colleagues in the devolved Administrations the concerns that have been expressed. I can confirm that Lord Bourne met his counterparts in the devolved Administrations on 19 April, and I am pleased to inform Members that he has since written to me to let me know that the devolved Administrations were supportive of the Bill. They have committed to reviewing the impact of the Bill once it comes into force and to let us know about any issues or concerns for victims of domestic abuse should they arise. The letter states:

“I am pleased to be able to inform you that the devolved administrations were supportive of the Bill and could find nothing in it to concern them. This is because they took the view that the Bill had no impact on the ability of social landlords to continue to grant tenancies in their own countries, and they will review the impact of the Bill, together with officials.”

I think that that says it all.

On a more technical note, new clause 1 would not work as currently drafted, because social housing is provided not through local authorities in Northern Ireland but through the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. For that and all the other reasons I have given, I do not consider the new clause to be appropriate or necessary, and I ask that it be withdrawn.

Amendment 1 aims to ensure that the requirement to grant a lifetime tenancy—should a new tenancy be offered—would still apply where the victim of domestic abuse applies to another local authority district to be re-housed. I sympathise entirely with the motivation behind the amendment, and I well understand that victims of domestic abuse may wish or indeed need to put a considerable distance between themselves and their abuser. The Bill is intended to protect all lifetime tenants who are victims of domestic abuse, not only those who need to move from their current home to escape abuse, but those who have already fled from their home. I entirely agree that it is vital that the Bill protects victims who have applied for housing assistance in another local authority district. That is partly why we amended the Bill in the other place to extend it to apply to those who, having fled their homes, may have lost their tenancy or their security of tenure.

We recognise that that may be particularly problematic for those who seek assistance in another local authority area, and I assure the shadow Minister that the Bill has been drafted with that issue in mind. Where the Bill refers to “a local housing authority”, it means that it applies to any and to every local authority in England, just as in the same way it applies to any tenant who has a lifetime local-authority or housing-association tenancy of a dwelling house anywhere in England and who needs to move from that house to escape domestic abuse. That is standard in legislative drafting practice, so local authorities should have no difficulty in understanding what it means. Any amendment to spell that out in the Bill would therefore be unnecessary and redundant.

Toby Perkins Portrait Toby Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the reassurance that the Minister has just given us, but the fact is that different local authorities understand the current legislation and their responsibilities to people fleeing domestic violence in different ways, so what possible harm would it do to include amendment 1 so that there would be no cause for any misunderstanding in future?

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is trying to entice me down a road that I will not go down. This is parliamentary legislative drafting, and there should be no reason whatsoever for local authorities to misunderstand the situation, which will obviously also be made clear in guidance. However, I thank him for giving me the opportunity to say it again. We will be issuing guidance to assist local authorities to implement the fixed-term tenancy provisions in the Housing and Planning Act 2016. To manage concerns, we can certainly look to ensure that it explains the provisions in this Bill as well, including making it absolutely clear that it applies where the victim is seeking to be re-housed in a different local authority district from the one in which her existing tenancy is situated.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is being generous in giving way. Under the 2016 Act, housing associations can choose whether to offer a flexible tenancy. What advice will the Government give to housing associations that will not have the same obligation to give a lifetime tenancy if a tenancy moves to another housing association property?

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is a slightly different clause, which I will come to in a moment. With that in mind, and taking into account the fact that amendment 1 is unnecessary for the reasons I have given, I therefore ask for it not to be pressed.

On amendment 2, I appreciate the concern of hon. Members to prevent further stress and anxiety. Survivors of domestic abuse have already suffered experiences that most of us here can only imagine. However, I do not think the amendment is necessary. The number of households likely to be granted a tenancy under this Bill that would lead them to under-occupy a property, and as a result become subject to removal of the spare room subsidy, is likely to be very small indeed.

Allocating a property that is too big for a tenant’s needs would not be in the interests of the tenant or the landlord. The tenant, if eligible for housing benefit, would see their eligible rent reduced, which would not be in the tenant’s or the landlord’s interest. It would also not be the best use of scarce social housing.

Ruth George Portrait Ruth George
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister recognise that children who have been through situations of domestic abuse are often severely traumatised and need new secure housing to be able to find their own way again? That might lead them to have problems sleeping at night, and it may therefore be more helpful for the family’s recovery if the younger children have separate bedrooms, not as prescribed in the under-occupancy legislation.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady brings up an interesting fact that was not discussed in Committee. I will address the discretionary powers that local authorities have, which might help her with an answer.

Allocating a property that is too big is not necessarily in the tenant’s interest or the landlord’s interest, and it certainly is not the best use of scarce social housing. Our 2012 allocations guidance clearly recognises that local authorities, when framing the rules that determine the size of property to allocate to different households and in different circumstances, will want to take account of removal of the spare room subsidy.

Where the victim wishes to remain in her own property after the perpetrator has left or been removed, we expect that in most cases it would not result in an under-occupation charge—domestic abuse normally occurs between partners who share a bedroom, so removing the perpetrator would not normally result in under-occupation. Furthermore, if there is any risk it could lead to a victim becoming subject to the under-occupation charge, it will be open to the authority to offer a new tenancy in another, smaller property, or to offer a similar one and take into account the next matter.

In the small number of cases in which, for whatever reason, a local authority grants a tenancy under the Bill in a property that has more bedrooms than the tenant needs, it is open to the tenant to apply for a discretionary housing payment to cover any rental shortfall. Some £900 million of funding for discretionary housing payments has been provided to local authorities since 2011 to support vulnerable claimants, including victims of domestic abuse.

Ruth George Portrait Ruth George
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the Minister aware that many local authorities put a limit on the amount of time for which discretionary housing payments can be made? Sometimes it is 18 weeks, and sometimes it is as low as 12 weeks, depending on the authority’s budget. Discretionary housing payments would therefore not help families in this situation.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Indeed. Funding for the years 2018 to 2021 was set out in the summer Budget 2015. Next year, 2018-19, there will be £153 million in the discretionary fund for England and Wales, albeit this is an England- only Bill.

The removal of the spare room subsidy was introduced to ensure that tenants in the social and private-rented sectors are treated on the same basis, to encourage mobility, to strengthen work incentives and to make better use of available social housing. The Government’s policy is not to deal with personal circumstances unrelated to the size of a property by the inclusion of general exemptions to the rules, but rather to take account of a person’s individual circumstances separately, through the process of the discretionary housing payment.

In 2016, the Supreme Court upheld this policy and dismissed a challenge to the removal of the spare room subsidy brought by a victim of domestic abuse on the grounds that it amounted to unlawful sex discrimination. That case involved a victim who was being provided with protection under a sanctuary scheme. The rules on the removal of the spare room subsidy already include an exception for victims of domestic abuse in refuges. We are not minded to provide for any further exceptions.

When local authorities grant tenancies to victims of domestic abuse, they have a choice: they can either ensure that they offer a property that meets the tenant’s needs or they can consider providing a discretionary housing payment. For the reasons I have given, I believe that the amendment is unnecessary and therefore ask that it is not pressed to a vote.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the Minister confirm that in areas where rental accommodation is extremely expensive, there is help for those who need discretionary payments in order to make the weekly rental payments? Is this something she is able to do?

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is specifically referring to Northern Ireland or anywhere else—

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In Northern Ireland, we have a discretionary payment that sometimes enables provision to be made where rents are higher. Is the system similar on the UK mainland?

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again, I stress that this Bill is England-only, but there are such opportunities. There is a local housing rate and then there are discretionary housing payments that can be made above that.

I come to amendment 3, the final amendment. I fully understand the motivation behind this amendment, which would extend the Bill to housing association landlords—this was the point made by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), I believe. However, as I said in Committee, we have some fundamental concerns about this amendment. First and foremost, local authorities and housing associations are very different entities. Housing associations are private, not-for-profit organisations which make a significant contribution to affordable housing supply. I am sure Members will agree that we all want to see more affordable homes built. It is therefore vital that housing associations remain in the private sector, so that they can borrow funding free of public sector spending guidelines, to build the affordable housing we so greatly need. For that reason, we must avoid imposing any unnecessary control that might risk reversing—

Toby Perkins Portrait Toby Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am listening carefully to what the Minister is saying. It very much stands at odds with the Conservative party policy announced in the run-up to the general election, when it was going to impose right to buy on housing associations. How is it that the Conservative party is so happy to remove thousands of houses from the social rental sector when it comes to right to buy, but when it comes to legislation to protect domestic violence victims, suddenly the Conservatives feel that the private sector should not be touched?

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clearly, what the hon. Gentleman is discussing is outside the scope of this Bill, but we are talking about a voluntary pilot that is starting in the west midlands and we will see where that takes us.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On election manifestos, does the Minister not agree that this Bill is fulfilling a Conservative manifesto promise and that that should be welcomed by Members on both sides of the House?

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that very helpful intervention, with which I can only agree.

As I was saying, for this reason we must avoid imposing any unnecessary control that might risk reversing the Office for National Statistics classification of housing associations as private sector organisations. Housing associations grant assured tenancies under the Housing Act 1988, including assured lifetime tenancies, and will continue to have the flexibility to grant lifetime tenancies as they see fit.

This amendment would bring housing associations back into the public sector regime, which they have not properly been part of since 1989, by requiring housing associations to grant secure tenancies under the Housing Act 1985. That goes beyond the very limited circumstances in which they are still obliged to give a secure tenancy—this is limited to those tenants who already have one predating 1989 and want to move, so this is known and in the books of the commercial housing association. Assured and secure tenancies have different rights. For example, secure tenants have a statutory right to improve their property, and be compensated for those improvements, in certain circumstances. To require housing associations to grant secure tenancies for this group of tenants would mean housing association landlords having to operate two different systems, which would be an unnecessary burden over and above the very limited circumstances in which they still manage pre-1989 tenancies, and would introduce unnecessary additional costs and liabilities. As I have already said, that could risk the re-classification of housing associations.

The amendment is also completely unnecessary: housing associations will continue to have the freedom, which they have now, to offer lifetime tenancies wherever they consider it appropriate. When schedule 7 to the Housing and Planning Act 2016 comes into force, local authorities will generally be required to offer fixed-term tenancies, and will be able to grant lifetime tenancies only in the limited circumstances specified in legislation or regulations. That is why the Bill is so important. The purpose of housing associations is to provide and manage homes for people in housing need. The vast majority are charities, and their charitable objectives require them to put tenants at the heart of everything they do. We expect housing associations to take very seriously their responsibilities for people fleeing domestic violence and abuse.

In previous debates on the Bill, I have mentioned the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance, which was set up by two leading housing associations, Peabody and Gentoo, along with Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, a UK charity that brings communities together to end domestic abuse. The alliance’s stated mission is to improve the housing sector’s response to domestic abuse through the introduction and adoption of an established set of standards and an accreditation process.

I understand that the National Housing Federation, the body that represents housing associations, is actively taking forward work with its membership to tackle domestic abuse, and has recently set up a national domestic abuse group for its membership. The group was set up specifically to raise awareness among housing associations of the steps that they can take to minimise the impact of domestic abuse, as well as of how to spot the signs early and how best to support victims. My officials have been in touch with the NHF, and I am really pleased to say that it has expressed an interest in considering the tenancy issue as part of that work. That is a really positive development, and it adds to the information that I was able to give in Committee. With that in mind, and for the reasons that I have given, I invite Members to withdraw the new clause and amendments. I look forward to more debate.

--- Later in debate ---
Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), my fellow member of the Women and Equalities Committee. Of course she speaks with great power on these issues, given her experience. We also heard a great deal from the Minister to give us reassurance about how much work the Government have done to ensure that this Bill is the best that it can be and that it further supports victims of domestic violence—something that this Government have made a huge priority. I congratulate the Minister on all that she is doing to ensure that the situation improves ever further.

I will make some short comments about the amendments, because I think that the Bill generally has cross-party support. A lot of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley said was, frankly, about training among local authority employees, and whether we should be drafting legislation because of the imperfections in local authorities. It is always a balancing act, but we need to ensure that the legislation is as strong as it can be.

I am concerned that new clause 1 could have a clear unintended consequence of undermining the existing devolved powers by taking new powers in the way set out in the new clause. Parliament is clear, as was the Minister in the other place, that there was not and is not a need for primary legislation in this area regarding cross-border movements. In fact, we could unintentionally erode devolution by acting on new clause 1 in the way in which the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) has outlined. Ministers clarified that individuals will have the support that they need and that we do not need to legislate in this way. It is good to hear that these devolved matters are being discussed across the nations, and that there is nothing that concerns the devolved nations in this respect.

I turn to amendment 1. The Minister set out that there is already protection in the Bill for all lifetime tenants, including those who have fled their homes and lost security of tenure. The Bill is specifically drafted to protect individuals facing that situation. In my experience as a Minister, I remember feeling on a number of occasions, “Perhaps we need a belt-and-braces approach here. We really need to spell it out in the Bill.” And what always came through to me in those circumstance was the fact that, in trying to do the very best we can to be as clear as possible, we can actually create confusion by not following the usual protocols. I urge the hon. Member for Great Grimsby to consider that for a moment. As the Minister said, local authorities should have no problem understanding their duties. Indeed, adding to the Bill in the way that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby is suggesting could, because of the redundancy of her new clause, create the opposite of the clarity that she wants.

I have a brief point on amendment 2. As the Minister said, allocating a house that is too big would not be in the best interests of the victim, but specific circumstances might require flexibility. I remember looking particularly at the role of discretionary housing payments when I was a Minister. Such cases fall squarely into the list of examples of why we have these payments. One of the reasons for having such an immense amount of money in this fund—£150 million or so a year—is to be able to give local authorities the flexibility that they need to be able to deal with local circumstances as they see fit. I think that it is better to trust local authorities to get that right than to create specific exceptions that might run the risk of not being used in the way in which the primary legislation requires.

I understand the reason behind this set of amendments. I particularly understand why the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley has spoken with a great deal of passion. One question that I would really like the Minister to answer is: how do we work even harder to ensure that local authorities provide the same support for victims of domestic violence, whether they are in Basingstoke, Birmingham, Yardley or anywhere else?

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope that my right hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that this summer, for the first time ever, the Government are undertaking an audit of all domestic abuse support services right the way across England. We have done a deep dive in Essex, just as a trial. In the county of Essex alone there are over 1,000 different ways of finding help for domestic violence. That is incredible. We need to find out where the domestic violence support services are across the whole country. This is the first time that the Government have ever done this.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for those comments. These interventions are driven by that inconsistency in provision of services and by Members of Parliament wanting to get the best for the people they represent. The Minister is entirely right. By knowing how we can better provide a more equal service across the country, I hope that we will provide reassurance to those who support these amendments.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That discretion at local level is so important. I have had one or two cases where the local authorities have not necessarily been on the front foot in the use of local discretionary housing payments. Perhaps the Minister could urge local authorities to understand their duties, particularly to families that have broken up and that are at risk of domestic violence, and to really understand the importance of delivering services using these payments.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend for mentioning that, because it gives me the opportunity to say that there is no limit to the length of time over which discretionary housing payment can be made; it could be one-off time-limited or it could be indefinite.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again in her inimitable style, the Minister has answered another of the points that was raised earlier. I recognise that there are potentially time limits attached, and she is right to put on the record that that is entirely outwith any rules or regulations coming from this place.

This Bill helps to improve the lives of victims of domestic violence. That is a priority for this Government and a priority for this Prime Minister. I really applaud the Government’s work in trying to make the lives of victims of domestic abuse better. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley is absolutely right that we should use every sinew in our body to make their lives better, and the Minister is doing a good job in that respect.

--- Later in debate ---
18:26

Division 149

Ayes: 246


Labour: 231
Liberal Democrat: 9
Independent: 4
Green Party: 1

Noes: 302


Conservative: 292
Democratic Unionist Party: 9
Independent: 1

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I remind the House that before Second Reading, as required by the Standing Order, the Speaker certified the entire Bill as relating exclusively to England and within legislative competence. The Bill has not been amended since then. Copies of the certificate are available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website.

Under Standing Order No. 83M, a consent motion is required for the Bill to proceed. Copies of the motion are now available. Does the Minister intend to move the consent motion?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait The Minister for Women and Equalities (Penny Mordaunt)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

indicated assent.

The House forthwith resolved itself into the Legislative Grand Committee (England) (Standing Order No. 83M).

[Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]

--- Later in debate ---
Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I will be very brief, because I believe the Bill has cross-party support. This short and targeted Bill is an important part of the Government’s wider aims of supporting victims of domestic abuse to leave their abusive situation, and ensuring that they and their families are provided with the stability and security they need and deserve. I am sure all Members agree that domestic abuse is a particularly horrible crime. Its effects are insidious and its impacts are wide-reaching. It has serious and lasting impacts on victims, their families and society as a whole.

The Bill will protect lifetime tenants who have to flee their home, whether they apply for rehousing by their own local authority or to any other local authority in England. It will also protect those who have lost their lifetime tenancy if they have fled their home, and it will protect those who want to return to their home after the perpetrator has left or been removed. It will ensure that in every case, where they are granted a new tenancy by the local authority, they will know that they are able to retain their lifetime tenancy in their new social home.

Lord Bourne was personally very committed to taking the Bill through the other place and I am proud to have been able to do so in this place. He was very grateful for the cross-party support he received from his noble colleagues and I would like to echo my thanks to hon. Members for their support. I know that we have had our differences regarding the detail, but I am sure we are all in agreement on the main aims of the Bill. We can all take credit for ensuring that this small but vital piece of proposed legislation is put on the statute book, but I would like, if I may, to pay particular tribute to Baroness Lister of Burtersett. She has been the mainspring behind the Bill and it is through her persistence during its passage in the other place that it is in such good shape.

I am heartened to know that the Bill has been widely welcomed by the organisations that support victims of domestic abuse, in particular Women’s Aid. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those who work so hard to support victims of domestic abuse everywhere, not just Women’s Aid but Refuge, IMKAAN and many more.

Before I finish I would also like to thank the members of the Bill team for their hard work and support in taking the Bill through: Frances Walker, Jane Worthington, Jane Everton, Lizzie Clifford, the parliamentary draftsman Anthony Brown, and finally, from my own team, Emma Andrews.