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Ms Glenda Jackson: The point I wanted to make is that in some areas an individual local authority cannot tackle the problem. In the case of certain acts of violence, there should be a strategy involving several authorities.

When one local authority tenant visits violence on another tenant of the same authority, although the difficulties that have been enunciated are very real, it is in some ways easier for the authority to deal with the problem. When the violence is perpetrated by a tenant of a contiguous authority, however--or even an authority further away than that--there should be a strategy that a group of authorities can define.

Mr. Ainsworth: What my hon. Friend says is inevitably true. Wherever possible, we are trying to encourage cross-border co-operation between authorities, as well as co-operation within them.

As we all know, this is a difficult issue. It is often not possible to prove violence or threats of violence, which means that victims go on suffering needlessly. We are introducing a provision enabling such people, in extremis, to be classed as homeless, and to move away from the threats or the actual violence that they face.

Ms Jackson rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that the Minister has probably finished.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 2

Co-operation between registered social landlords and local housing authorities

'.--( ) For section 170 of the 1996 Act (co-operation between registered social landlords and local housing authorities) there is substituted--

"Where a local housing authority so request, a registered social landlord shall co-operate in offering accommodation to people with priority under the authority's allocation scheme, if to do so is compatible with their constitution and does not unduly prejudice the discharge of any of their functions".'.--[Mr. Don Foster.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Don Foster: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 3--Co-operation between relevant housing authorities and bodies--

'( ).--(1) Section 213 (co-operation between relevant housing authorities and bodies) of the 1996 Act is amended as follows.
After subsection (1) there is inserted--
"( ) Where a local housing authority request a registered social landlord to assist them in the discharge of their functions under this part, the landlord to whom the request is made shall co-operate in rendering such assistance in the discharge of the functions to which the request relates, if to do so is compatible with their constitution and does not unduly prejudice the discharge of any of their functions."
(2) In subsection (2)(a) the words "a registered social landlord or housing action trust" shall cease to have effect.".'.

Amendment No. 57, in clause 16, page 10, line 27, at end insert--

'(8) In formulating its homelessness strategy, a local authority shall be required to show that its policies meet housing needs before meeting housing demands.'.

Amendment No. 18, in clause 17, page 10, line 30, after "homelessness", insert "including rough sleeping".

Amendment No. 19, in clause 18, page 11, line 45, after "organisations", insert--

'people living within the authority's area including those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.'.

Amendment No. 15, in page 11, line 46, at end insert--

'to include organisations recognised by the Secretary of State as specialists in representing people with physical and mental disabilities.'.

Mr. Foster: We are now dealing with the important issue of the strategies and reviews of homelessness for which local authorities are to be responsible. As I said on Second Reading and in Committee, Liberal Democrats are very supportive of the Government's proposals, although I am sorry that they were not prepared to accept the importance of uniting authorities housing and homelessness strategies.

In Committee, we made a great deal of progress in determining what should be the content of the reviews and strategies. The new clauses and amendments are intended to make further improvements. I shall not comment on the Conservative amendments, but I commend them--particularly amendment No. 15, which suggests that consultation during the development of strategies should include consultation with organisations representing people with mental and physical disabilities. We discussed that issue in Committee. Amendment No. 19 concerns another issue that we discussed then: the importance of involving homeless people in the development of strategies. I especially commend amendment No. 57, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), which suggests that the primacy of housing need should be stressed in all allocation strategies.

New clause 2 and new clause 3, which is intimately linked with it, raise an issue that was touched on during our Committee deliberations. However, because it was linked with many other issues, we perhaps did not have the opportunity to give it the attention that we might have liked.

The Committee became aware during its deliberations, as I am sure the House is aware, that the registered social landlord sector is playing an increasing role in the

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provision of affordable housing. As we discovered from information provided by various organisations, by 2004, because of continued progress by local authorities in selling their council houses to RSLs, the majority of affordable houses will be in the control of RSLs. Therefore, if a local authority's homelessness strategy is to be successful, it is important that there be an intimate relationship between the local authority and the RSLs in its area.

The existing legislation, the Housing Act 1996, requires co-operation between RSLs in a local authority's area and the local authority, but the problem is that, within that legislation, the nature of that relationship is largely based on the RSLs deciding what it shall be reasonable for them to do in respect of that co-operation.

Clearly, if an RSL is not prepared to co-operate in the provision of affordable housing for people in need in a local authority's area, there can be serious consequences. Some people will stay longer in temporary housing. It could mean that some people are in less satisfactory housing. It might even mean that some people are not housed at all. The test, however, is whether that co-operation is deemed by the RSL to be reasonable. It is clear that the RSL would decide whether the relationship was reasonable. Indeed, the Minister, in relation to advice and assistance given by a local authority, said:

Under the current legislation, co-operation between the two is expected, but it is for RSLs to decide whether the level of co-operation that they are providing is reasonable.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster: I happily give way to the hon. Gentleman, whose contributions we so enjoy.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that unsought compliment.

If a local authority changes its social housing priorities in the course of one financial year, either because of a change of administration or for any one of a number of possible reasons, how quickly will the hon. Gentleman expect a registered social landlord to respond in terms of the provision of accommodation?

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It raises a more complicated point than I suspect even he is aware of. A large number of local authorities have transferred their housing stock to RSLs. At the time of the transfer, it was assumed that the RSL would abide by the allocations and priority procedures of the local authority. Over time, however, as local authorities change, registered social landlords have not been required to change their procedures. Therefore, there is not even a requirement for RSLs to change their procedures, let alone to change them quickly.

I acknowledge entirely the concern that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) may have that registered social landlords will be required to make changes overnight. Consequently, if he carefully reads new clause 2, he will see that I have included various

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caveats to ensure that although registered social landlords will be required to co-operate more fully with the local authority, they do not have to do so if that is against their constitution or if they can demonstrate that it would in some way subvert their main purpose and key activity. I am grateful to him for making that point and allowing me to expand on it.

Some people may argue that registered social landlords will certainly want to co-operate. In a majority of cases, they do want to co-operate. Unfortunately, however, evidence from across the country has shown that some RSLs are not as co-operative as one might hope. In Committee, we heard of research done by Shelter that demonstrated that of the 61 large-scale and partial transfer authorities with which it was in discussions, 26 per cent. said that, after the stock transfer, it was less easy to house homeless households and people on the register. Interestingly--although I do not think that we should make too much of that relatively small sample--89 per cent. of the authorities surveyed said that they would favour greater statutory powers in the matter.

The purpose of the two new clauses is clear. They would strengthen the current statutory arrangements for registered social landlords to co-operate in offering accommodation under the authority's allocation scheme and assisting in the discharge of the authority's homelessness function. As registered social landlords are an increasingly important part of the affordable housing sector, that relationship is vital. That relationship needs to be strengthened, and the new clauses propose ways of doing just that.

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