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The Bill's provisions are positive and generally acceptable, and I believe that the Government have introduced the Bill with the best of intentions. When meeting housing needs, it is definitely a step forward to increase the number of categories of those who have priority. It would be difficult for anyone to try to defend excluding from those categories someone who is suffering from domestic violence, and I very much support the inclusion of such people in the priority categories.
I have some concerns about the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner). I feel strongly that it is very difficult to defend allocating a house to a prisoner when, as in the previous examples, that house might be appropriate for a young family, perhaps living with parents, who have been waiting on the housing register. Although the Minister seemed to say that such concerns are, in a word, nonsense, many housing officers across the country are extremely nervous about how they can defend such a situation if the Bill is enacted.
The concern is particularly pertinent in London, where more than 75 per cent. of current vacancies are being allocated to those who are in one of the housing needs categories. Some people believe that, with the extension of the categories that the Bill is proposing, that figure could well increase to 100 per cent. and even beyond. How will local authorities deal with a situation in which they have more homeless people to house than they have houses to allocate?
New clause 3 is particularly pertinent to me as I represent Skegness, which as many hon. Members know is a holiday resort where many peopleparticularly those from the east midlands who have spent holidays therewish to live eventually. Coming from the east midlands myself, I can understand that desire. However, as there is a definitive perception that the people of Skegness are being overridden by outsiders coming into the area, I fully support new clause 3, which establishes a 12-month residency as a very important element in dealing with housing needs. Those who live in Skegness or in other parts of the United Kingdom are not getting the housing that they need without such a qualification, and that situation is a terrible indictment of the current arrangements. I therefore support new clause 3, to change one small part of the Bill that I do not agree with.
What are the Minister's views on transferring responsibility for 16 and 17-year-olds who become homeless? As my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden said, one of the major deficiencies of our care system is that our public services do not pick up those who leave the system at 16. However, the Bill seems merely to propose transferring the problem, as a matter of compulsion, from local authority social services departments to local authority housing departments. I should think, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said, that we have to allow each local authority to exercise discretion in this very sensitive area. There is absolutely no doubt that many of those 16 and 17-year-olds would
I am concerned also that the Bill does not seem to distinguish between the able-bodied, the disabled and those who have mental health problems when people are thrown out of their home by their parents or by others with whom they are living. There seems to be a clear distinction between those two or three groups of people. Will housing authorities deal with all those groups in the same manner, or will they make special allocations to the disabled and those with mental health problems?
Mr. Hancock: I question the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for new clause 3. Perhaps he will consider the case of a young person who leaves Skegness to join the Royal Navy but leaves it after five years because it is not suitable for him. Although his last known address was one of Her Majesty's ships or a shore base in the Greater Portsmouth area, his home had been in Skegness. To whom should he look for housing, rather than sleeping rough somewhere?
Mr. Simmonds: As my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold said, the local authority should have discretion to address specific issues as they arise, such as the issue that the hon. Gentleman has just raised.
Mr. Hancock: The hon. Gentleman says that the local authority is responsible, but who determines the responsible local authority? Does the young person in my example have the right to choose between the Portsmouth, Plymouth or Skegness local authority? Who decides?
Mr. Andrew Turner: Does my hon. Friend accept that the local authority that must make the decision is the one to which the applicant applies? The notional applicant about whom the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) has spoken is only 23. Unless he is most unfortunate, it is not likely that his family has disappeared entirely from the scene in Skegness.
Ms Keeble: Our consideration of the Bill is similar to "Groundhog Day", as many of the issues have been debated already, both in earlier debates on this Bill and in our debates on the Bill's earlier incarnation. I therefore do not plan to revisit all the detailed regulations and issues about which I spoke earlier.
I think that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) will find that many of the issues that he raised, such as the right of temporary workers to accommodation, were addressed in my earlier speech and in current regulations; he will find the answers to his questions if he reads the regulations carefully. I also think that he will have realised from the comments that have been directed to him by various hon. Members that most of the issues that he raised about those groups were spurious.
The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) said that rough sleepers come in all shapes and sizes. One of the unit's skills has been to gain a better understanding of who is likely to be at risk of ending up on the streets, which previously was not considered consistently.
The hon. Members for Wealden (Mr. Hendry) and for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) said that we have had similar schemes before, but we have not. We have not had such rigorous studies of those who sleep on our streets or live in a street culture. That will go a long way towards dealing with the problems of rough sleeping and homelessness.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) was right to say that new clauses 2 and 3 would aggravate the situation for some of those affected. We are consulting on the future role of the rough sleepers unit and its work. I do not wish to preclude anything in that consultation by commenting on her points about London.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: We have had a long debate on the future of the rough sleepers unit, but the Minister has been unable to say anything about the Government's thinking on what might happen at the end of the consultation period. Will the unit linger on? Will the Mayor take responsibility, or will local authorities do so? The Minister has failed to give us any idea.
Ms Keeble: The hon. Gentleman keeps asking the same question. We are consulting and looking at the options. It is more sensible to find a solution that works rather than one that is time limited. We need an understanding of the valuable work of the unit in getting people off the streets and into accommodation. We must also continue to make sure that the problem does not arise in the first place. We
It has been recognised that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight has three prisons in his constituency and that he is concerned with particular issues. It would be quite wrong, however, to have a strategy for homelessness based on the experience of one constituency. He also referred to sex offenders. He will find that the arrangements for housing them, and the work with ex-sex offenders, are well catered for in regulations.