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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The Minister answered one of two questions that I would have asked. He confirmed that, as currently drafted were the Government not to accept the amendments, the Bill provides that the decision of the local authority to evict on the basis of an introductory tenancy was subject to judicial review. That was good.
May I put another question. If someone with mental or physical health problems made himself or herself the object of an eviction order, would he or she be regarded as having made himself or herself intentionally homeless? Where someone was vulnerable and in priority need, some of our concerns would be overcome if there were a continuing duty on the local authority to continue to have a duty to rehouse under the Act. In other words, I refer to the case of the schizophrenic where the noise level was intolerable. In a 1950s or 1960s flat, the sound levels between the second and third floors can be intolerable for the people underneath, perhaps with children trying to sleep. Possession is sought. In that situation would that person be regarded as having made himself or herself intentionally homeless; or could we hope that the local authority would continue to have a duty under the Bill to provide perhaps more appropriate accommodation?
Baroness Hamwee: It is something that we need to know very quickly. If it is not possible to have the answer later in the debate tonight, perhaps we may have it in time for us to take it into account when we debate these matters later in the Committee stage.
On another point, it is suggested that it is inappropriate to place too much reliance on judicial review. As I understand it, judicial review is a review of the process, not of the reasons for a decision being made. Without amendments, or without a local authority
Earl Russell: I listened with very great interest to the Minister's reply. I am in entire sympathy with the ideas he wants to put into guidance. I have no argument with his intentions. However, he is leading local authorities into temptation. Housing stock is scarce in many local authority areas. Many people want it. So the temptation to get rid of a tenant may, on occasion, be acute for a great variety of reasons. The Minister is creating a temptation and then telling people not to succumb to it. He is telling them not to eat the apple. I think that is beyond his powers.
Baroness Fisher of Rednal: I came in late to the debate, but I believe the problem arises from a health authority being able to re-house people that it wants out of the hospitals but without the back-up to go with that. In other words, the local authority is carrying the can for another area of government. The authorities have no back-up. People suffering from all kinds of mental problems should not be penalised for that. The local authority should be able to say to the hospital authorities: "Will you please come in with your workers to see whether, through resettlement, we can keep them in housing, instead of putting them through this gamut which might mean eviction?". Better co-ordination is preferable to a strict requirement that they be got rid of, which is detrimental to them and to all the people they have disturbed.
Lord Swinfen: Before my noble friend responds to the points made, can he tell me what is the cost of judicial review? He mentioned it on a number of occasions in relation to different amendments. Would the introductory tenant be likely to receive legal aid to obtain a judicial review? What would be the cost of introducing reasonableness into the Bill as against the cost to tenants and local authorities of having to apply for judicial review?
Lord Lucas: To deal with the latter point first, the cost would be that the system of introductory tenancies would thereby become ineffective. The key remedy that the provision gives to landlords is the ability to get rid of a tenant quickly without having to go through lengthy court procedures.
As to the cost of judicial review, I shall chance saying that this is a matter for which legal aid could clearly be obtained. If not, it is not likely to be a very effective defence available to local authority tenants. The High Court, on judicial review, has the power to quash a decision if there are procedural errors in the decision-making process. It can also do so if the decision is one which no reasonable council would make. That is the level of test at which we are looking.
I do not believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, missed anything by coming late to the debate. Perhaps she was watching England's fourth goal. Clearly, we all share the same concerns. I have listened and will read with great care what has been said this evening. We want to achieve the same result, which is to make sure
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am sorry to delay the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, again. It would help enormously if the Minister were able to come back, perhaps at Report stage, with an amendment to the Bill in relation to certain defined categories of vulnerable people--particularly those with mental health problems, learning difficulties and the like--to the effect that if the local authority, whether under an introductory tenancy or a secure tenancy, seeks possession of that property by virtue of alleged anti-social behaviour, nonetheless the person in question should not be judged to have made himself intentionally homeless and therefore the local authority should continue to have a duty to house. That would meet some of our worries. Otherwise, we leave local authorities very vulnerable to unpleasant pressures.
Baroness Hamwee: Let me prolong the discussion for just one short moment. I understand that for secure tenants, the practice of the courts in the case of intolerable nuisance by people who are mentally ill is to make an order for possession on condition that an offer of suitable alternative accommodation is made. I wonder whether the Minister could give an assurance--possibly not at this moment--that there is nothing in the Bill that would restrict the court in imposing a similar condition in the situation that we have been discussing.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Like the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, I too came late to the debate. I am not sure about the last statement with regard to suitable alternative accommodation. Some cases are extremely difficult. From my own housing experience, I recall a tenant who constantly set fire to the wastepaper bin and therefore the flat. It was terrifying for everyone who lived within reach of that flat. What suitable alternative accommodation is available for such a person? Such problems can be extremely difficult.
Let me respond to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher. I am chairman of a hospital trust where there are a great many psychiatric and mental health cases. We provide care in the community--continuing care. Now there is a new register, which is also a continuing register. One of the difficulties is that accommodation suitable for people suffering from mental illness is limited, particularly if one wants to put them not into secure housing or individual housing but into a place within a building where they are supported by other people. The minute that the building is filled and there is nowhere to move people on to the next stage, the whole system becomes gummed up. So it is not a very easy situation.
Lord Swinfen: I thank everyone who has taken part in this short debate. Possibly I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that this situation has been put the wrong way round and that suitable accommodation should be given in the first place. I have a series of amendments that we will be dealing with at a later stage of the Bill, and I hope that when we come to them, even if the noble Baroness does not support the actual amendments because she does not like the wording, she will support the idea behind them.
Guidance is all very well, but I feel that the court should be able to use the test of reasonableness in the Bill on this occasion with introductory tenancies. I quite agree that judicial review is possible. It sometimes takes time to get to court and it costs a great deal of money. It would be much better if reasonableness were there in the first place, and the court could deal with the matter at a much lower cost then than having to go on to judicial review, which is going to come out of the tax and ratepayers' as well as the tenants', pockets.
I am not very happy with the response of my noble friend Lord Lucas on that point. I will, however, read the debate with care. At this stage of the evening I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I may well come back to it at a later stage.