Bim Afolami: 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: 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.
Bim Afolami: I am aware that many others wish to speak, so I will be brief. Those who are still left in the Public Gallery have seen today the best of Parliament. This is the complete opposite of yah-boo politics. There has been cross-party discussion about a Bill that generally appears to have cross-party support. We should welcome that and welcome the exchange of ideas and views. That does not always happen in this Chamber, but it has happened today.
As my hon. Friend Sir Robert Syms said, this is a short Bill. It is clear and to the point, and it deals with a specific problem. When Jess Phillips reads Hansard tomorrow morning, she will see many references to her speech, but let me add one more. The disagreement from Conservative Members with certain points she made was not on the substance of the issue, but on the appropriateness of those points in relation to the Bill. However, I am sure that she, the Minister and others will continue to work on this issue, and I think that Members across all parties appreciate her expertise in this area.
One point in particular is worth making. Labour Members have spoken about the spare room subsidy, which is not really the subject of the Bill, but I want to make the point that it is critical to get more social housing built. For the Bill to be effective, we really need as much social housing as possible to be built. If they take a look at the record, as I have, they will see that roughly 2,900 local authority homes a year were built from 1997 to 2010, while under this Government—about half of that time—over 10,000 local authority homes a year were built from 2010 to 2017. Labour Members must look at their own record on social housing, and realise that a lot of the problems we now face are partly down to the fact that they did not build enough homes when they were in office. I know that the Minister and the Government are working on that.
I finish by agreeing with the Minister and other Conservative Members that I do not believe the new clause and amendments are appropriate in this context, and I shall vote against them for that reason.