Homes Bill

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Mr. Love: I have been very patient.

Mr. Waterson: The hon. Gentleman has indeed been very patient.

Mr. Love: I went to the trouble of checking the figures in my local authority. Between 1981 and 1997, 9,000 properties were lost to the social sector. During that period only 5,000 new properties were built. At present, Enfield has 2,400 people in temporary accommodation and over 1,000 in bed and breakfast accommodation. If the hon. Gentleman is going to extend the right to buy to other parts of the social sector and if we are not to have a massive increase in homelessness, does that not require the building of more accommodation in the socially rented sector?

Mr. Don Foster: On a point of order, Mr. Stevenson. I wonder whether you can give me some advice. When I introduced this string of amendments, I said that I hoped that it would be convenient for the Committee if I stuck very narrowly to the issues raised in the new clauses. Furthermore, I thought that I was being particularly generous by not going through the amendments one by one and in detail. I hoped that we could get on to the principle and hear what the Minister had to say.

Quite understandably, Mr. Stevenson, you have allowed the hon. Member for Eastbourne to have a much wider debate than I had expected. When we reach clause stand part, will you rule that we have already had a sufficiently wide debate? If so, may I raise now some of the points that I wished to make under a clause stand part debate?

11 am

The Chairman: That is a very important point. In his opening remarks, the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to make his position clear and he was brief. I have allowed a wide-ranging debate on the amendments and have twice called for Members to return to the purpose of the amendments. I intended not to allow a clause stand part debate, but if the hon. Gentleman sought to catch my eye again, I would certainly allow him to speak.

Mr. Raynsford: On a point of order, Mr. Stevenson. I entirely accept your ruling, but may I seek your guidance on a matter of factual inaccuracy? The hon. Member for Eastbourne has given the Committee figures that I have every reason to believe are incorrect and on which I have challenged him. I have the official figures and I believe that the Committee should have the benefit of hearing them and not being misled. Would it be acceptable to cover that issue before we return to the main priorities of the debate?

The Chairman: Like any member of the Committee, the Minister will have an opportunity to return to that point and to make points clear to the Committee.

Mr. Waterson: Before I return to the clause, I shall deal with the intervention by the hon. Member for Edmonton, of which I have not lost sight, and the two points of order. It may assist you to know, Mr. Stevenson, that we envisage a clause stand part debate, not least because it appears on the selection list. If I have spoken more widely than you anticipated, I apologise, but I did so partly as a result of relentless provocation from other members of the Committee.

The Chairman: Order. I hesitate to interrupt again, but we need to clear up this matter. I referred to my intention not to call a stand part debate on clause 16. However, there will have to be a debate on new clause 17, so there will be an opportunity for hon. Members to speak. We cannot have it both ways by having one wide-ranging debate and then another. I am sure that hon. Members appreciate that point.

Mr. Waterson: Exactly, Mr. Stevenson. I shall deal with the intervention and wind up my remarks on the narrower point as quickly as I can.

The issue raised by the Minister's point of order is not new; it arose on Second Reading. My figures were taken from those published by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. If the Minister is saying that those figures are misleading, I entirely agree that that is a serious matter. Let us be clear about what he is saying.

To finish that point and partly in answer to the intervention by the hon. Member for Edmonton, we know that the problem in London is particularly bad, because it has the highest homelessness figures for 20 years: 48,000 households are in temporary accommodation, including 6,000 in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The hon. Gentleman talked about properties lost to the social sector, which shows the mindset that is really behind the problem. I hope that we can discuss in more detail the excellent article by Mr. Morris of the William Sutton Trust, who says that, overall, the social rented sector is declining. That factor must lie behind every point that we discuss under part II. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman wishes to remove the right to buy from council tenants, because that is the inevitable logic of what he says. Perhaps we can return to those issues in the stand part debate.

We find it strange that the Government seek to leave it to local government on its own to conduct homelessness reviews and to draw up homelessness strategies. Although under clause 17(1)(c) councils are asked to consider the work of other organisations, only in clause 18(8) are they asked to work jointly with them. Even then they are asked only to consult such bodies ``as they consider appropriate''. We hear a lot from the Government about strategic partnerships. In reality however, and this touches on the points made by the hon. Member for Bath, more and more councils will not be housing providers at all. They will not have a single unit of council housing. Under the provision, they will still produce the strategy and it is nonsense that they may not have to involve other partners.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the best practice that is going on in Labour authorities such as mine? We set up Bolton Community Homes Ltd more than five years ago and it works in close partnership with the local authority, which still manages a considerable number of its own houses, and leading RSLs who are operating in the town. There is a joint waiting list and collaboration on strategy and all housing-plus initiatives. Some Labour authorities have already adopted the best practice that the hon. Gentleman recommends to the Committee.

Mr. Waterson: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Clearly, the best authorities will be doing that anyway. This is really an attempt to ensure that it happens across the board. The best authorities will not need to be told by the Committee or anyone else.

Mr. Don Foster: The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, acknowledge that not all authorities follow best practice. Indeed, where a transfer took place before the Housing Act 1996, it is perfectly possible for the relationship between the local authority and the registered social landlord to have changed significantly so that they no longer have to follow the allocations procedure of the local authority. Some authorities do not now have that close working relationship.

Mr. Waterson: The hon. Gentleman is correct. He and I are on the same wavelength. We simply wish to see the practice applied across the board and it is difficult to see how the Minister could not see the force of putting this in the Bill.

We want to amend the Bill to ensure that all organisations that have any role to play in a local authority's housing sector are full partners in the drafting of the homelessness strategy. The Local Government Association allocations and homelessness task group, no less, published a document not long ago called ``No Place Like Home''. It says:

    There are many examples of existing good practice in closer joint working and co-ordination between agencies. However, effective implementation remains patchy on the ground.''

It continues:

    The development of local protocols involving statutory and voluntary agencies should be further encouraged.

Without going into the sort of detail appropriate to a stand part debate, organisations like the LGA, on a cross-party basis, and Shelter support the amendments.

We are keen to point out that the rather diverse list of strategic partners should have a role. Local authorities should give similar thought to that matter, which is the thrust of amendment No. 98. We are keen to ensure that users, as well as providers and enablers, have a say in their local homelessness strategy. To that end, we support amendment No. 69, which refers, among other things, to tenants' groups. Our amendment No. 95 would ensure that all local people have a say.

The points have been well made by the hon. Member for Bath. We take the same view as the Liberal Democrats, but actually go further. It would be encouraging to all the organisations and bodies that we list if they were written into the Bill. It is plain common sense.

Mr. Curry: Is it in order to make some remarks now on the relationship between social services and housing providers, Mr. Stevenson? If there is not to be a stand part debate, I am not sure when I will find an opportunity to do so.

The Chairman: I hope that I made it clear that the wide-ranging debate on the amendments will obviate the need for a clause stand part debate. It is my intention to deal with new clause 17 separately, which will give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to comment on social services.

Mr. Curry: Thank you, Mr. Stevenson.

This is what I would call an ``Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all'' set of amendments. There is always a temptation to try to write into the Bill a long list of interested parties, but when one notes the interchangeability of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat amendments, one clearly detects the diligent scribblings of Shelter, the National Housing Federation, RICS and other interested parties. I do not want to be derogatory, but I have a feeling that a hymn sheet has been provided and people are singing from it.

Mr. Don Foster: The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct in identifying those organisations, but he will be pleased to note that I did not use a single word from the hymn sheet. Should he test me, however, I may revert to the hymn sheet for an answer.

 
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