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Mr. Speaker: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am bound by the rules of the House. What happens outside the House is not a matter for me. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that no one has sought to make a statement or approached me about making a statement.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have given you notice of this matter. You will have seen the many reports in the press this weekend and today that the Prime Minister is to attend a summit in America with President Bush to plan a new military onslaught on Iraq. Given the growing unease in Britain and the uncritical support that our Prime Minister seems to be giving to President Bush's military adventure, surely the British people have the right to know if the Prime Minister is about to commit us to yet another war. May I ask you, therefore, whether the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will come to the House and make a statement about the reports that we have been reading?

Mr. Speaker: I can inform the hon. Lady that neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Secretary has approached me on this matter.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Thursday 14 February, the last day on which the House was sitting before the recess, the Leader of the House said in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth):

That afternoon, as it became clear that this story was unravelling, and following the Lobby briefing from No. 10 to the press, the Press Association carried stories that the position had materially changed from that of which the Leader of the House had advised the House at business questions. I raised the matter as a point of order with the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, asking whether she knew whether the Leader of the House was coming to the House to correct the record, so it cannot come as a surprise to the right hon. Gentleman that I am raising this point of order.

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"Erskine May" says, on page 63, that

I am not suggesting that the Leader of the House has advertently misled Parliament, but plainly he has inadvertently misled Parliament, having been drawn into this tangled mess by the nonsense between No. 10 and the shambles in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Plainly he has to come to the House to correct the record of Thursday 14 February. Has he given you any indication that he will do so, and if not, why not?

Mr. Speaker: I am not responsible for the words of a Minister. However, the hon. Gentleman has put the matter on the record and I am sure that the Leader of the House will take note of his comments.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that it is well known in the House that the Secretary of State for Transport behaves like a total cad towards his officials? Are you also aware that he has traduced the reputation of his permanent secretary, Sir Richard Mottram, who was permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence when I was a Minister and is a man of the highest integrity and probity? Are you further aware, as I am sure you are, that outside the House it is generally held that the right hon. Gentleman is a stranger to the truth? In the light of those circumstances—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is using another term for liar and he must withdraw that remark.

Mr. Soames: If that is your wish, Mr. Speaker, of course I withdraw it.

May I conclude by endorsing the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for North–West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney), who asked why you are not able to insist that someone who has dragged his Department into utter chaos and public contempt is called before the high court of Parliament to give account of himself.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the rules of the House. I do not have that power.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance on what mechanisms are available to hon. Members when there is clear evidence of confusion and questionable statements being made by a senior Member of the House? What can we do to seek the presence of that Member to address those issues?

Mr. Speaker: There are many mechanisms but, as I have said before, a question raised during points of order is not the time for me to give such advice. However, I am willing to give advice in a more private situation.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Rather than seeking advice, I seek your guidance. Would you look kindly on a request by an hon. Member who has an Adjournment

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debate, however brief, scheduled for this week for its title to be changed so that the House can reflect on the actions of the Secretary of State for Transport? That would allow the Chamber to call the right hon. Gentleman to account for his shameless actions of the past week.

Mr. Speaker: On Adjournment debates, I am guided by certain rules. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to an Adjournment debate in his name, he can apply to my office for guidance.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Regardless of what you can insist on, will you confirm that in any circumstances in which a Minister faces serious questions about his conduct and the general situation in his Department, you would expect such a Minister to give an account of himself to the House at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Speaker: That is a matter for the Minister.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has the Minister for the Cabinet Office indicated that he wants to make a statement in the House on the unprecedented situation of a senior serving civil servant giving a press conference this very day to explain away the disastrous mishmash that has resulted from shenanigans in the Transport Department?

Mr. Speaker: I have had no such approach.

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Orders of the Day

Homelessness Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Clause 5

Provision of accommodation for persons not in priority need who are not homeless intentionally

Lords amendment: No. 1.

4.29 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Ms Sally Keeble): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 9 to 11.

Ms Keeble: The amendments were tabled in response to concerns raised during the Bill's consideration in another place and in this House on Second Reading and Report. The concerns centred on the fact that not all local housing authorities deliver a good service when discharging their duties to provide assistance and advice to homeless applicants who have been found not to have priority need for accommodation or to be intentionally homeless or threatened with homelessness.

The Government believe that it is extremely important that local housing authorities provide a good service and ensure that they meet their statutory obligations under homelessness legislation. I am mindful, however, that much of the concern expressed stemmed from the perception that some authorities are not doing what they are already required to do by statute.

The Bill strengthens the duties to provide advice and assistance, but the amendments will take that further. They will require an assessment of the applicant's housing need before any advice and assistance is provided, with a clear inference that the assessment must be taken into account in the advice and assistance proffered.

The amendments will also require that the advice and assistance given include information about the type of accommodation that would be appropriate for applicants. That in turn must include information about the likely availability of accommodation in the local authority area, where applicants should go and to whom they should apply in order best to locate it. I must emphasise that those requirements will not be exhaustive and will not mean that advice and assistance is confined to such matters. Examples of other issues on which applicants may need advice and assistance will of course be covered in guidance.

Amendment No. 1 is minor and consequential to amendments Nos. 11 and 12, which insert new subsections (6), (7) and (8) in section 195 of the Housing Act 1996. One effect will be to displace what would have been new subsection 195(6), as inserted by clause 5(2), and to renumber it as new subsection 195(8).

The Government feel strongly that there must be increased emphasis on the provision of good quality, properly tailored and timely advice for those experiencing

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or facing homelessness. Those issues were raised, among others, by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). The amendments will help to focus local housing authority minds on what must be done. Clearly, placing statutory duties on local authorities may not always be sufficient to ensure that good quality and consistent results are delivered on the ground, so we shall reinforce our message through clear statutory guidance. I commend the amendments to the House.

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