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Mr. Andrew Turner: I am not asking for the whole homelessness policy to be based on the experiences of the Isle of Wight. I am merely asking that the Government take account of those experiences to the same extent as they have taken account of the experiences of the constituency of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), for example. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) has pointed out, the policy appears to be based on metropolitan areas rather than rural and coastal areas.

Ms Keeble: I do not agree. The hon. Gentleman has extracted one category of people and talked about them, whereas the Bill and the regulations that will accompany it, which will be brought back to the House for further discussion, deal with a much wider range of people. I want to go through the priority list to show that the group about whom he has talked is one of a number.

Under the Bill, housing authorities have a duty to house unintentionally homeless people in priority need. Only certain specified groups have a priority need, so it is not a question of someone wanting to live in a particular area who does not have a place to live. Families that include dependent children or a pregnant woman, and people who are vulnerable because of old age, illness, disability or other special reason are included. If a main duty is owed, the authority must ensure that suitable accommodation is available for the applicant for at least two years.

The order, which has been discussed, extends protection to several new groups: 16 and 17-year-olds; 18 to 21-year-olds who were formerly in care; other vulnerable care leavers; those who are vulnerable as a result of institutionalisation, serving in the armed forces or being in custody; and those who are vulnerable as a result of fleeing harassment or domestic violence. That is a long list; it is not simply a question of ex-offenders.

The common strand of vulnerability—not whether someone has been in prison—is what local housing authorities need to consider when assessing whether someone is a priority need for accommodation. Not all ex-offenders will be vulnerable. The order will emphasise the importance of authorities assessing whether ex-offenders are vulnerable as a result of a period in prison.

Mr. Turner: Is it not evident that I have not tried to amend the whole of the list, but have concentrated on one or two specific groups on it, who—in one case at least—do not have long-standing connections with the constituency? Prisoners can be dealt with under the new clause by their place of origin, not their place of release.

Ms Keeble: I have dealt with the issues of the period of residence and of qualification. However, the hon.

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Gentleman needs to consider the fact that housing is a key factor in the successful reintegration of ex-offenders and reducing the rates of reoffending. Work is continuing across Departments to make sure that we get better resettlement outcomes for all ex-offenders. They are just one group. In addition, the priority is short-term accommodation and not the allocation of a permanent home. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that a single ex-offender who is vulnerable will not be looking for the same type of accommodation as a family. The hon. Gentleman's attempt to play off one category of homeless person against another is not only divisive, but completely unfounded.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister has been very generous in this long debate. She has given the House the interesting information that the various groups covered by the Bill will be determined according to their vulnerability. Ex-offenders could be particularly vulnerable. Will she say more about how that vulnerability will be determined, and by whom? Will it be determined by the prison authorities or the probation authorities? Will the local authority have a role? It seems critical that the local authority has a role—after all, it must provide the temporary accommodation.

Ms Keeble rose

Mr. Hancock: Will the Minister give way?

Ms Keeble: I will take the hon. Gentleman's intervention first, and then deal with both together.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The Minister must deal with one intervention at a time. The next one may not be on the same subject.

Ms Keeble: I apologise.

Decisions on allocation are made by local authorities. Guidance will be issued, in the light of which they will have to take their decisions.

Mr. Hancock: There are a number of issues concerning the long list that the Minister read out. Is there a time limit for local authorities to accept some of the groups? Will some of those she mentioned—ex-service men or persons coming out of care—be deemed to fall within such a time limit? Will guidance be issued to local authorities on the way in which they must choose, or not choose, to interpret the order?

Ms Keeble: The order will come back to the House and there will be guidance on how it is to be implemented. A number of those groups would not be looking for the same type of accommodation as others.

We have dealt with many of the detailed issues concerning who would qualify for housing under the new arrangements and how they would be dealt with. I regret some of the language that has been used in this debate. I recognise that the hon. Members for Wealden and for Tewkesbury have practical experience in the matter, and I pay tribute to them for that, but let me emphasise to the hon. Members for Isle of Wight and for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds) that women do not get

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pregnant just to get council properties. We need to move away from such language about women and about outsiders coming into a place looking for accommodation.

6.30 pm

Mr. Simmonds: Will the Minister give way?

Ms Keeble: No, I want to carry on.

The legislation provides a good balance of compassion for people who need housing, and pragmatic rules that a council can apply. The regulations take into account the need to provide housing for vulnerable people, as well as issues of sustainable housing and communities. Many of the proposals in the Bill will be supplemented by other Government programmes. I am thinking in particular of the supporting people programme, which will further strengthen the provision for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

I welcome the support given by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock). I urge the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton–Brown) to withdraw the motion. The new clauses are not helpful. They are divisive and could damage some of the very good work done in introducing the Bill.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: This has been a very useful debate. It has brought out the fact that the fall in the number of rough sleepers is one of the very few bright lights in the current homelessness scene. It has also become apparent that there is a willingness among both Government and Opposition Members to see the rough sleepers unit move on.

I was especially interested in what the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) said. She initially argued that the unit had done a good job—indeed, it has—and should be allowed to continue in its present role. She then suddenly realised that what she was saying was at odds with her party's policy and decided that perhaps it should go to the Mayor instead. In saying that, she implicitly acknowledged that the present policy is not perfect. She said that the main burden in London is shouldered by four boroughs. Surely, then, those four boroughs are the ones that really know what the problems are, and that exemplifies the fact that the ideal solution would be for local authorities to be given the responsibility.

Glenda Jackson: The hon. Gentleman has a very selective power of hearing and of retaining what he has heard. The point that I was trying to make was that at present in London—this could continue in the future—the main burden is being borne by four boroughs at the centre. I argue that the excellent work done by the rough sleepers unit should perhaps be handed on to the Mayor and the GLA because they are best placed to create a strategy that incorporates all the effective work that is being done in London. Outer-London boroughs, which are very happy to shunt their rough sleepers into the centre of the city, could no longer pretend that they do not have a rough sleeping problem.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: With respect, the hon. Lady is trying to dance on the head of a pin. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Mr. Hendry) said, it was our party's initiative that spawned the rough sleepers unit and

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began to reduce the problem, but it has become apparent to Members that it needs to be tackled further. There is a serious problem of drugs that needs to be tackled by all the partners involved, among which the local authority is one of the most proactive, especially with local drug action teams.

We need to deal with problems associated with mental health, again involving all the relevant agencies. There is a particular need for short-stay acute beds, for example—day hospital beds are in short supply—and we all agree that it is unacceptable for people with mental health problems simply to be swept out on to the streets to become rough sleepers.

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