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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
Homelessness Bill

Homelessness Bill

Standing Committee A

Tuesday 10 July 2001


[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Homelessness Bill

10.30 am

The Chairman: I welcome hon. Members to our first sitting. I have due regard for their well-being and comfort and it is in order for them to remove their jackets if they so wish. I cannot speak for my co-Chairman, Mr. Stevenson, as he will exercise his own judgment on such matters, but I ask hon. Members not to incur his wrath. I welcome new Members to the Committee and remind all hon. Members that all remarks should be addressed through me. I prefer to be addressed as Mr. Gale or Chairman and, as on the Floor of the House, the expression ``you'' is not used when speaking through the Chair.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Ms Sally Keeble): I beg to move,

    That, during proceedings on the Homelessness Bill, the Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and at half-past Four o'clock and on Thursdays at half-past Nine o'clock and at half-past Four o'clock.

I look forward to considering the Bill under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. The Committee consists of distinguished and well-informed hon. Members and I look forward to examining the Bill with them. A programme resolution has not been tabled, which reflects the widespread support that the Bill has attracted and our commitment to its timely passage through the House. Several members of the Committee raised a wide range of important points on Second Reading and we now have the opportunity to discuss the Bill in a more detailed and systematic way that will put its provisions clearly into context. We have allowed provisionally for four sittings and we hope that our deliberations will be completed this week. However, we are keen to ensure that the Bill is scrutinised thoroughly and, if necessary, we will sit next week or even beyond. I hope that that finds favour with members of the Committee.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): It is a pleasure to be in Committee again under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I welcome new Members to the Committee. I do not know if you are familiar with the film ``Groundhog Day'', Mr. Gale.

The Chairman: As it happens, I am.

Mr. Waterson: Splendid. Chairmen of Committees should have wide cultural interests and I expected no less of you, Mr. Gale. Members of the Committee who

have not seen the film will have no idea of what I am talking about, but speaking for myself and not, of course, for the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), I will try to make the proceedings as little like ``Groundhog Day'' as possible.

Members of the Committee, other than new Members, will see remarkable similarities between the Bill and what was part II of the Homes Bill. While the prospect of sitting next week is tantalising and attractive, I have every confidence that we shall conclude consideration of the Bill this week in accordance with the sittings motion. I cannot speak for the Liberal Democrats, but some of our points were covered in the Committee that considered the Homes Bill.

I wish to take this opportunity to welcome the new ministerial team to the Committee. The fates of their predecessors are many and varied. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has reverted to the Back Benches and is obviously enjoying himself far more there than he was when reading out his ministerial brief. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said, the hon. Gentleman is reverting to type. The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) has made the enormous leap from being the Minister with responsibility for housing to being the Minister for Local Government, and we wish him well.

It was only a few days ago that some of us thought that we would not have the pleasure of these proceedings because, inexplicably, the Bill was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. However, we are delighted that the Government have made a u-turn, and we are even more delighted that new Members of Parliament will be denied the pleasure of debating what was part I of the Homes Bill and seller's packs. It is sensible to have decoupled parts I and II of the Homes Bill. We are considering an amended version of part I. The Committee could have been spared its labours this week if the Government had taken our advice at the time—the provision would already be on the statute book.

I made it clear on Second Reading, as I do now, that, although we have some detailed questions to raise, we wish the Bill a fair wind and look forward to it being translated, albeit belatedly, onto the statute book as soon as is practicable.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): Like the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and the Minister, I am delighted to be serving once again under your firm but fair chairmanship, Mr. Gale. Just before our proceedings began I muttered that you appear to be a glutton for punishment to go through these debates again, but I can assure you that, like the hon. Member for Eastbourne, I will be doing everything I can to keep our deliberations relatively brief, while ensuring that we do justice to the detailed issues before us.

Although new Members may not, you, Mr. Gale, will be familiar with my predilection for seeking opportunities to send postcards home to Mrs. Foster.

During the passage of the Homes Bill, especially when we debated part II, there were many such opportunities, because the Government, in their infinite and great wisdom, saw merit in many of my amendments. As an assiduous reader of the legislation before us, Mr. Gale, you may be aware that, although I was successful in getting amendments through as a result of my wonderful contributions, some were not accepted by the Government. Mysteriously, some of those unsuccessful amendments have appeared in the redrafted Bill and so before we have even begun, I have seven postcards to write home to Mrs. Foster. I hope that before our brief deliberations are concluded there is the opportunity to write at least a couple more.

I was slightly taken aback by the hon. Member for Eastbourne's reference to the wonderful film, ``Groundhog Day''. You have already indicated, Mr. Gale, that you are familiar with the plot, but the comparison is not as clear as the hon. Member for Eastbourne suggests. He says that he is keen for our deliberations to be brief. Why, then, has he seen fit to table amendments that were tabled by Liberal Democrats in our last round of deliberations? The hon. Gentleman took no part in the debates on those amendments, so it is interesting that the Conservatives are picking up some of our proposals.

Some amendments tabled by Conservative Members are identical to those that they tabled during consideration of the Homes Bill but subsequently withdrew—not because they hoped that the issues would arise at a later stage, but because they were fully satisfied with the Minister's answers. Having said that they were satisfied, I am surprised that they have chosen to bring those amendments back.

Mr. Waterson: On the second point, it will have crossed the mind of the hon. Member for Bath that the prospect of us winning the vote on some of the amendments was remote, as it probably is now. Also, I make no criticism of the excellence of his draftsmanship, and I am sure that he will agree that all too often amendments helpfully appear from another source and it is a photo finish as to which hon. Member tables them first.

Mr. Don Foster: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's explanation. I referred to amendments that the Conservatives had said that they were satisfied not to press. To those who have nothing to do during our deliberations and wish to while away an idle moment, I recommend looking at former amendment No. 67.

We want to progress as quickly as possible. The sittings motion is sensible and will, I suspect, receive support from all members of the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

The Chairman: I remind hon. Members that copies of a financial resolution in connection with the Bill are available in the Room. I also remind hon. Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, my co-Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments, including any that are reached during an afternoon sitting.

Clause 1

Homelessness reviews and strategies

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 3, after `authority''', insert

    `and its strategic partners, to include registered social landlords and housing co-operatives, landlords of houses in multiple occupation registered with the authority under the Housing Act 1996, members of landlords' forums, and voluntary organisations and other relevant bodies (``strategic partners'')'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 16, at end insert—

    `(4A)The authority shall maintain a list of those organisations which are its strategic partners, which it may modify from time to time.'.

No. 3, in clause 3, page 2, line 29, after `authority', insert `and its strategic partners'.

Mr. Waterson: It may help if I say that I hope to pursue the same approach to debating amendments as I did in proceedings on the Homes Bill—to flag up the fact that we are keen to have a more discursive debate on amendments and either obviate the need for a stand part debate or considerably foreshorten such a debate. I hope that that will help.

The Chairman: For the benefit of the Committee, those who have worked with me before will know that generally I am perfectly happy to allow a stand part debate—that is, a broad-ranging debate—at either the beginning or the end of our consideration of a clause, on the clear understanding that we do not try to do both.

Mr. Waterson: I am grateful for that clarification. It may help if I say that I want to deal in some detail with the amendments, but with your indulgence, Mr. Gale, we should also like to make several points in a short stand part debate.


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