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Mr. Mark Field: I support my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown). This amendment represents a belt and braces approach. Perhaps I would understand if the Minister read the whole Bill out to me, but I still do not understand and appreciate her statement that the Lords amendment, which deletes two words, improves matters. I cannot see how that can be the case. However, I appreciate entirely that there is a thought in the Minister's mind that there may be a correct process to

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follow, particularly in London, where many people speak English not even as a second but as a third or fourth language.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extraordinary that the Lords accepted precisely the amendment that we are now being asked to reverse?

Mr. Field: That was going to be my second point. It concerns me not least because the Conservative spokesmen in the Lords have local government experience in London, where there are clear and understandable concerns that people who do not speak English as a first language need to have such a statement read to them as a belt and braces approach to make sure that they understand it. Such people must understand the implications for their housing situation of declining an offer. I am perplexed about how the Minister can come to the view that by removing two words the rights of the most vulnerable in our society—who are homeless—will be safeguarded. I also share the constitutional concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold. If the Lords discussed and proposed the amendment that we are suggesting in lieu, why was the deletion made in amendment No. 2 accepted?

Ms Keeble: There has been a lot of discussion about not very much, and hon. Members will need to read and understand the Hansard record of the debate. I shall not deal in turn with each of the hon. Members who has spoken because they all said similar things, and they all agreed with what I said previously, which is that people should understand their position, what it means for them to get an offer and, more importantly, what will happen when they accept or refuse the offer.

It was originally proposed that people should read and understand the statement. Lords amendment No. 2 simply requires them to understand the statement, and the means by which they come to understand it should be left to the judgment of local authorities. Both the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said that the Government should come up with strategies to ensure that people understand the statement and they helpfully suggested some, including the use of an appropriate language. The hon. Member for Cotswold also said, with menace, that the statement should be explained to people very nicely until they understand it. Both hon. Members made it clear that they understand completely what it means to take people through the terms of a document so that they understand it.

The amendment in lieu, tabled by Conservative Members, would mean that the statement must be read by the person concerned or read to him, and understood. The Government believe that that would restrict the strategies that could be adopted to ensure that people understand the statement.

Mr. Mark Field: Does the hon. Lady appreciate that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 contains similar safeguards, which ensure that any statement made by a defendant is not only understood by him but read out to him before he signs it?

Ms Keeble: We are discussing how to ensure that someone understands what is meant by a housing offer.

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As several Conservative Members and the hon. Member for Bath have said, these are complex issues that people need to discuss in detail. That is why we proposed that there should be a burden on the local authority to ensure that people understand the housing offer and the consequences of their decision to accept or reject it. It should be left to the local authority to make arrangements as to the methods by which people acquire that understanding, whether it be by reading the statement themselves, having it read to them in English or, if different, their mother tongue or having it explained to them gently step by step as the hon. Member for Cotswold recommended.

Although some Conservative Members keep saying that they have been in the House only a short time, they show every sign of understanding that it is a big issue to take a person through the process of receiving a housing offer and making a decision. That is why we tabled the amendment in the other place. It arose from debate in the other place, and had not been raised earlier in this place. It is an improvement because it will not restrict housing officers to one or other means of making sure that people understand the process; it will place on local authorities the burden of ensuring that understanding.

Chris Grayling: Will the Minister give way?

Ms Keeble: Yes, but we have gone over the issue a few times and I have set out clearly the available choices.

6 pm

Chris Grayling: Does the Minister realise that her approach places the burden of responsibility for explanation entirely on the shoulders of the housing officer without requiring applicants to take responsibility for themselves? Amendment (a) would provide an appropriate balance of responsibility between the two.

Ms Keeble: The burden of responsibility lies with the people concerned because they have to decide what to do about an offer. Their choice has to be informed, however, and on that basis it is important that people understand the process, what is happening and the consequences. That is why the Lords amendment No. 2 has been couched in terms that place a duty on local authorities to ensure that people understand. My winding-up note merely repeats that.

Mr. Don Foster: Perhaps I can help the Minister with her winding-up speech. Will she give a categorical assurance that the burden of responsibility will be on the local authority housing department to ensure that applicants fully understand what is put before them? Will she also assure us that guidance will be provided to each local authority on a range of strategies that they are expected to use in different circumstances to ensure that that happens, including reading the document to applicants, translating it to their mother tongue, having an independent expert explain it to them or, as the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said, taking them through it step by step?

Ms Keeble: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of Lords amendment No. 2 is to place a duty on the local authority housing officer to ensure that applicants understand what is happening. I also assure him

25 Feb 2002 : Column 479

that guidance will be introduced. However, I cannot give a date for that or be specific about the range options that it will include because that would be restrictive.

We have had a good discussion on the different methods available to ensure that someone understands the process. It is in everyone's interest, including that of the local authority, to ensure that applicants understand what they are doing and the consequences of their decisions. As all hon. Members know, if someone does not understand what is happening, they complain or appeal.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: We have had a—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman had spoken. He cannot speak again.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: On a point of clarification, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order either to oppose the amendments or to agree to them?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am advised that the hon. Gentleman has spoken to this group of amendments so he does not have the right to speak again. The debate has come to its conclusion.

Question put, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 292, Noes 97.

Division No. 168
[6.4 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald
(Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Baker, Norman
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Barrett, John
Barron, Kevin
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bennett, Andrew
Benton, Joe
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Borrow, David
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brake, Tom
Breed, Colin
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnett, John
Burstow, Paul
Cable, Dr Vincent
Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Caplin, Ivor
Carmichael, Alistair
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Coaker, Vernon
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)
Cooper, Yvette
Corston, Jean
Cotter, Brian
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Dalyell, Tam
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, Rt Hon John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Drown, Ms Julia
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Farrelly, Paul
Field, Rt Hon Frank (Birkenhead)
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Francis, Dr Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grogan, John
Hain, Rt Hon Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hanson, David
Harris, Dr Evan (Oxford W)
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Harvey, Nick
Healey, John
Heath, David
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hermon, Lady
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith
Hodge, Margaret
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Hoyle, Lindsay
Humble, Mrs Joan
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles
(Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kirkwood, Archy
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lammy, David
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Llwyd, Elfyn
Love, Andrew
Luke, Iain
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, Tony
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
Mahmood, Khalid
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall–Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Miliband, David
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Mole, Chris
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Morley, Elliot
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Edward
Olner, Bill
Organ, Diana
Owen, Albert
Pearson, Ian
Perham, Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter
Plaskitt, James
Pond, Chris
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, Dr John
Purchase, Ken
Purnell, James
Quin, Rt Hon Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Rapson, Syd
Rendel, David
Robertson, John
(Glasgow Anniesland)
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Joan
Sanders, Adrian
Sarwar, Mohammad
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simon, Siôn
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Helen
Squire, Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Rt Hon Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watson, Tom
Watts, David
Webb, Steve
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Wills, Michael
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Woodward, Shaun
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek
Younger–Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Nick Ainger and
Mr. Phil Woolas.


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Bacon, Richard
Barker, Gregory
Baron, John
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Brady, Graham
Burnside, David
Burt, Alistair
Cameron, David
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clifton–Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Conway, Derek
Curry, Rt Hon David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Duncan, Peter (Galloway)
Duncan Smith, Rt Hon Iain
Fabricant, Michael
Field, Mark (Cities of London)
Flight, Howard
Flook, Adrian
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Heathcoat–Amory, Rt Hon David
Hendry, Charles
Hoban, Mark
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jenkin, Bernard
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell–Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Moss, Malcolm
Murrison, Dr Andrew
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Prisk, Mark
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Ruffley, David
Sayeed, Jonathan
Selous, Andrew
Soames, Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Syms, Robert
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Tyrie, Andrew
Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, David
Wilshire, David
Yeo, Tim
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Julian Brazier and
Mr. Desmond Swayne.

Question accordingly agreed to.

25 Feb 2002 : Column 482

Lords amendment agreed to.

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