Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 10, leave out ("Grants are available from local housing authorities") and insert ("Local housing authorities may make grants").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment seeks to amend the first line of the first clause of the first part of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said in our earlier discussion, there is a general statement at the start of each part. My amendment seeks to replace the words,

which seem to me to be something of a purpose statement, if not a complete purpose clause. The phrase is descriptive but I am not convinced of its accuracy. It is not accurate because, as I said in the previous discussion, we all accept that funding for grants is, sadly, inadequate. Moreover, it does not describe the provisions which follow in this clause, because it does not reflect the discretion vested in local authorities, as we discussed. It reads as though the position is mandatory.

Therefore, the amendment will replace those words and the subsection will read,

    "Local housing authorities may make grants in accordance with this Chapter towards the cost of works",
which are then listed. We seek to provide for that local flexibility which throughout the Committee stage of the Bill the Government said they endorsed. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I must admit at the outset that the amendment has caused us a great deal of

18 Apr 1996 : Column 805

confusion and speculation. We did not realise at all what it was for and certainly the speech of the noble Baroness came as a complete surprise to me. We think that we are likely to be of the opinion that the amendment is inappropriate and confusing. But, having heard the noble Baroness's lucid explanation, we should like to have time to think about the amendment before Third Reading. I shall write to her.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am sorry not to have heard a speech in response to what I might have said. That might have given me more material for Third Reading. It would be ungracious to refuse the noble Lord's offer. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 16, after ("building,") insert--
("( ) the provision of facilities on a mandatory basis for disabled persons where properties are unfit,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel and myself. The House has already discussed this afternoon the Government's reluctance to move away from discretionary grants and toward mandatory grants. The purpose of the amendment is to confirm that there is one group of persons--disabled persons--for whom the need to live in decent, fit accommodation is so important that there cannot sensibly be an element of discretion. Local authorities should have a mandatory basis for making such grants.

Many disabled people are elderly but by no means all of them. Disabled people suffer far greater disadvantage than the rest of the population. It seems entirely proper that a local authority should make grants available in order that those people may live in fit accommodation. Of course, nobody should live in accommodation which is not adequate and proper. But the burden of living in substandard accommodation is that much greater for disabled persons.

There are the effects of dampness, for example. If a house is unfit, it may well be damp, with clear and obvious detriment to the health of those living within such property. An unfit building may be cold. It may not be properly insulated and perhaps does not have an adequate heating system. Again, that represents a danger to the health of the persons living there. If those persons are disabled and have less mobility, or are elderly and disabled, then the effect on them of cold is so much the worse. It is clear, and there is a lot of evidence to show, that when people who are disabled live in unfit accommodation, it has an effect on their mental as well as their physical health.

Many of the people who would benefit from the amendment may also be receiving support from the local authority in terms of social services or community care. If the aim of government policy is to enable people to live in their own homes for as long as possible before they move into residential care, it clearly makes sense to ensure that those homes are properly fit. The day when an elderly or disabled person has to move into

18 Apr 1996 : Column 806

residential care will then be that much longer delayed. In fact, financial savings will be made through that process.

We have already heard of the large number of people that would be potentially affected by the amendment. In an earlier amendment many noble Lords referred to the statistics. It is worrying that perhaps one home in six in Britain requires urgent repairs costing over £1,000 to bring it into a fit state. We know that many of those homes are occupied by elderly or younger disabled persons.

There is therefore a clear argument for saying that the needs of the group of people about which I am talking are so great and their well-being so critically affected by living in substandard accommodation that it is right and proper that there should be a mandatory basis for grants to ensure that their homes are in a fit condition. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Finsberg: My Lords, on the face of it this is a difficult amendment to oppose and everybody must have immense sympathy for the disabled people concerned. But we must analyse what we are being asked to do.

It appears to me that we are having a virtual re-run of the arguments on Amendment No. 1. If one looks at the amendment, many of the factors are applicable also to ordinary elderly people rather than just elderly disabled people. And is not a single mother with children living under those conditions equally likely to suffer? I do not believe it to be equitable to put forward one category and ignore everybody else. We must say either that all grants should be mandatory--for the reasons given by my noble friend the Minister that is not on--or we must say that they are all discretionary.

In the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, he said that many disabled people may well be receiving benefits from the local authority. In that case, I should have thought that the local authority would use its discretion. Though one has the greatest sympathy for the argument, the case is not made out for singling out one category of people.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, in rising to support my noble friend Lord Dubs in his amendment, I must admit that I sympathise with the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg. However, my understanding of the Bill is that it is the Government's policy--it comes up later in the Bill--that disabled persons should receive mandatory grants for their needs. The discretionary element of the new regime will only apply to those grants that are not for disabled people.

One of the difficulties is the lack of clarity on the face of the Bill. Amendment No. 3 seeks to ensure that, right up front, within the first clause of the Bill, we provide some clarity about the mandatory nature of grants for disabled people. I had a degree of sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and her Amendment No. 2. I did not speak on it because I thought the Government would accept it--they appeared to understand the sense of it. Judging from what the Minister said, and given the explanation by the noble

18 Apr 1996 : Column 807

Baroness, the Government are considering how to react to what is a sensible suggestion. I hope therefore that they will react even more positively to the amendment moved by my noble friend which effectively seeks to clarify, on the face of the Bill, what I believe is already government policy and what we are concerned with in determining this first part of the Bill.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy for the sentiments behind Amendment No. 3. As my noble friend Lord Finsberg said, I do not believe that anybody on this side of the House would quarrel with those sentiments. However, Clause 24 of the Bill provides for what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, seeks.

Clause 24 spells out facilities for disabled people in some detail and those are the ones that must be granted. If there are others about which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is very keen, then perhaps an amendment should be made to Clause 24 rather than this overarching form of amendment at this early stage of this part of the Bill. If my reading of the Bill is correct--and I may easily be wrong--I hope that my noble friend will resist the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I support the amendment. As I read it, it is quite narrow, but important. Not only does it limit the mandatory grants to disabled persons, but also it only applies to a case where the property in question is "unfit".

I believe the amendment is important. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to the ill-health which frequently--not invariably, but frequently--accompanies disability. Clause 24, to which the noble Viscount referred, lists many improvements and alterations which will become part of the mandatory regime. But that clause does not extend to making a house fit so that it does not fall within the definition of a house that is unfit for occupation, which is the terminology used in the provision.

I take the noble Viscount's point that perhaps the right place for the amendment is in Clause 24. But it is a sad indictment of our society if we cannot see our way to make provision so that accommodation is not unfit (and not being unfit does not necessarily mean very fit) as well as providing for the specific alterations. I support the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page