Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I shall be brief as the Bill has been discussed very thoroughly at previous stages. I want to remind Members about the need for it, however. An Audit Commission report published only this week found that 98,000 social tenancies are deemed to be improper and illegal sub-lettings. Those properties could house people who are properly on waiting lists and who deserve social housing. The Audit Commission estimates this problem costs the public purse about three times more than housing benefit fraud. Given that there are 2 million people on housing waiting lists, it should be clear to all Members that it is important that we legislate.
I am delighted that there is a political consensus in favour of the Bill. It originated from a speech by the former Housing Minister, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), who has been very helpful to me and has introduced me to the current shadow Housing Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). I pay tribute to him and his Opposition colleagues for the help they have given me. I am also delighted that the Bill has been supported by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) and others.
The Bill creates offences that will stop people perpetrating social housing fraud and that will allow those who deserve to occupy such housing to do so. It will therefore also dramatically shorten our housing waiting lists. I thank everyone who has supported the Bill, and I hope we can introduce its provisions into law as swiftly as possible.
In view of the short time available, I intend to keep my remarks brief. Let me start by congratulating the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) on introducing this Bill, because it is an appropriate step to take, given the scale of the problem he outlined. When so many people in desperate need of housing are on the waiting list, it is clearly completely wrong for a number of rogue tenants to abuse the system to make money and deny people in genuine need an affordable home. If we can agree the Bill today and it ultimately reaches the statute book, it will enable additional powers to be brought to bear to deal with this real problem.
It is important also to take into account the fact that the vast majority—probably 99% or more—of social housing tenants are decent, law-abiding, good people who would never think of sub-letting. I know that the hon. Gentleman was not implying, in any way, shape of form, that they would. Those people can be given a bad name by the actions of a tiny minority, and it is important for us to acknowledge that only a small minority of individuals are indulging in this activity. It is worth saying that although the Bill is a useful tool, as we are having to wrestle with a massive housing crisis, it will go only part of the way in dealing with the housing need in this country, and I know that the hon. Gentleman will agree with that.
It is essential that we use the Bill as just one of the tools at our disposal. I know that the Government are looking, for example, at ways to free up empty homes and bring them back into use. Derby has several thousand empty homes, some of which have been empty for more than five years—200 or so have been empty for more than 10 years. So it is important that we encourage local authorities to take the appropriate steps to deal with that as part of an overall menu of options to address the housing crisis befalling us. As part of the overall picture in ensuring that people can get the homes they need, which is what the Bill is designed to do by assisting people on the waiting lists, the Government also need to look at how we can build more affordable homes to deal with the difficulties that people are encountering. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on that, too.
I do not want to say a great deal more, because I know that the Minister wishes to say a few words. I suspect that the hon. Member for Watford may have a few concluding remarks to make, and other Members may wish to add their thoughts in the few moments remaining. Once again, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing the Bill, and I congratulate colleagues who have supported him in his endeavours. I encourage the Government to give the Bill their full support, as I believe they are doing—we will hear from the Minister in a moment on that. I hope that, with a fair wind, the Bill will get on to the statute book and assist local authorities in dealing with a real problem, which I hope we can stamp out once and for all.
The mission of this Government is to support the aspirations of hard-working people. The aspiration to have a home of one’s own is one that all people share, so affordable homes are one of the most precious assets we have. I therefore hope, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you will not take as a sign of a lack of enthusiasm for this measure, which the Government are supporting, the fact that I will keep my comments very brief. I shall simply commend my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) on introducing this Bill, commend the Opposition on supporting it and recommend that all hon. Members do the same.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.