Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman acknowledged that there was an enormous difference between the number of possession orders sought and the number granted. The use of the word ``entitled'' is to make it quite clear to a local authority when operating these provisions that it cannot merely rest on the fact that it has sought or may seek a possession order in a particular case. To satisfy this test, it must show that it should be entitled to secure an order, which means that it must show that it has sufficient grounds to be confident that it will obtain an order. That is part of the process. We are trying to create a clear, precise definition that will avoid the problems that would otherwise arise if authorities were able to interpret this provision widely and indiscriminately. Without this amendment, someone evicted for atrocious antisocial behaviour could be put straight back into council housing. We do not want that practice to continue. I hope the hon. Member will accept that that is a necessary policy objective, and that we are pursuing the correct approach to achieve that balance.
Mr. Foster: I accept entirely that the policy objective is correct, but the debate about whether the amendment truly achieves it. There are two problems with what the Minister has just said. First, both of us acknowledge that local authorities did not expect to be granted all the 130,000 requests for possession orders, but they thought that they would try. However, surely the Minister does not believe that they did not expect to win the vast majority of them. In the vast majority of cases, the authority expected to win, but could not convince the court of its case. In cases in which authorities thought that they had sufficient evidence but did not secure the possession order, they could not demonstrate that they had a sufficient case. The Minister said that they would have to show that they had sufficient evidence for the entitlement. To whom would they have to show that?
Mr. Raynsford: I made the point previously and am reluctant to extend the debate too far, as we have many matters to cover this afternoon. I stressed that any local authority that took a decision would be open first to a review and secondly to a challenge in the courts. Therefore, any authority that applies will have to satisfy what is of necessity quite a rigorous test.
The hon. Gentleman deals with many such cases and will know that the seeking of a possession order is often a management tool used by local authorities to secure payment. It is used as a means to get people to pay their rent. If they pay their rent, there is no question of the authority being entitled to a possession order, so that could not conceivably apply.
Mr. Foster: The Minister makes the point that other legislation needs to be changed, so that we do not have to waste the courts' time as a cumbersome means of addressing the issuebut that is a separate point.
I am conscious of the time, so I want to make a rather unusual suggestion to the Minister, which may never have been made by an Opposition Member to the Government. The Minister has tabled amendment No. 106 with very little notice. There will be an opportunity to reconsider the issue in a few days' time on Report. Given that I will certainly withdraw amendment No. 77, I ask the Minister to consider whether to give more time for consideration of the issue. He might also be willing to withdraw amendment No. 106, albeit briefly, to give more time for deliberation. Whatever the Minister's response, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments made: No. 106, in page 17, line 43, at end insert
(2AB) This subsection applies to a person if the authority are satisfied (in the light of the circumstances at the time his case is considered) that he is unsuitable to be a tenant owing to unacceptable behaviour on his part or that of a member of his household.
(2AC) For this purpose ``unacceptable behaviour'' means behaviour which, if the person concerned were a secure tenant of the authority, would entitle the authority to a possession order under section 84 of the Housing Act 1985 on any ground mentioned in Part I of Schedule 2 to that Act (other than Ground 8).'.
No. 107, in page 17, line 34, at end insert
The Chairman: I call amendment No. 108. No, I am getting ahead of myself. I call Mr. Waterson to move amendment No. 97.
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I beg to move amendment No. 97, in page 17, line 40, at end insert
My whole life flashed before me for a moment, Mr. Stevenson. It would be a major hole in my life if I were unable to move this amendment, which I now do with inordinate pleasure and suitable humility.
The amendment represents another attempt to make the Bill recognise local variations in demand and supply, particularly in the supply of housing stock. The Local Government Association report to which I have referred says:
In other parts of the country, however, non-priority homeless people can be allocated quickly to accommodation although this accommodation may not be highly desirable and they may not view it, or treat it, as a permanent home.''
It may assist you, Mr. Stevenson, if I say that I do not intend to speak for long on this amendment, but I may roam slightly generally, which will obviate the need for a stand part debate. It would wrong not to have a canter through the Delft system before we conclude our deliberations.
The LGA concludes that
Having spoken to Councillor Mrs. Ann Murray, the lead cabinet member for housing in Eastbourne, I know that the council is also keen on the choice-based system. I do not know how far that has got formally, but it is lining up for one of the Government's pilot schemes. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that in his reply rather than in the stand part debate. I cannot help feeling that it is difficult to see how such a choice-based system, which is often referred to in shorthand as the Delft system, will deliver with any confidence in an area such as mine where there is such an enormous imbalance between demand and supply of housing stock. In a nutshell, the Delft system involves the advertising of housing vacancies almost as if they were private houses for rent in the private sector. It is a system that works well not only in Delft but no doubt in other local authorities in Hollandwhich are doubtless cheesed off that it is has been called after Delft rather than anywhere else.
Mr. Raynsford: Edam.
Mr. Waterson: Edam is of course known for its cheese. Delft has to be known for something; I seem to recall that it is for some sort of chinaware.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Yesit is blue.
Mr. Waterson: I am pleased to hear that, as well as the ducks, there is Delft pottery on the walls of my right hon. Friend's constituency home.
Closer to home, there is a section in the Government document about piloting choice-based systems. It would be interesting to hear the Minister's detailed thoughts on that. A form of pilot scheme is taking place in Harborough, supported by the centre for comparative housing research at De Montfort universitywhich obviously intends to persist in its name despite the bad press that Simon de Montfort has recently received because of his views on minorities. That scheme is based on the principles of the Delft model of social housing allocation. The emphasis of the Harborough scheme, which has been given the brand name of Harborough home search, is on providing customers with greater choice by advertising. It is hoped to develop the scheme by advertising vacancies on a websitewhich leads on to the enormously important but not particularly relevant issue of internet access. Customers return coupons for individual properties, and what are called simple and straightforward criteria are used in determining allocations.
One of the scheme's selling points is said to be a high level of transparencya theme that has washed through many of the debates on other amendments. In its summary of the scheme, the LGA report states:
To summarise my arguments, I wish to press the Minister on how far the schemes have gone and raise the conceptual problem of how the Delft system will operate in Eastbourne and other places where demand for housing is high and supply is low.
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