Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Hylton: I should like to support the amendment. It is probably well known that at any one time there are some 50,000 to 60,000 children in care in England and Wales. What happens to those children when they come out of care leaves a great deal to be desired. There is no doubt that many of them later end up in criminal institutions and prisons because of the lack of suitable housing and employment.

In that context I am glad to say that the French system of foyers is beginning to be copied and adapted to the needs of this country. They are institutions where there is not only accommodation, but also opportunities for job training, learning skills and even directly for

19 Jun 1996 : Column 323

acquiring employment. The amendment is well thought out and will operate so that there is better co-ordination between institutions, local authorities and other organisations.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Amendment No. 263ZAK seeks to provide that local authorities are able to offer permanent accommodation outside the allocation scheme and its priorities as part of a strategy to free up temporary accommodation for single homeless people. The noble Baroness used the phrase "silt up", which is rather inelegant but descriptive of the problem.

This matter was raised in another place when the honourable Member for Christchurch stressed the need to ensure that single people who were provided with temporary supported accommodation such as direct access hostels are able to move into permanent housing. If move-on accommodation was not provided, the temporary accommodation would quickly silt up. The Minister for Housing has already indicated his willingness to consider an exemption for that purpose; indeed, we had already proposed an exemption of that sort in a consultation paper in January this year. There are regulation-making powers in Clause 143 to enable us to make further exemptions to the provisions in Part VI of the Bill. I sense that the real question is why this provision should be provided for in regulations rather than on the face of the Bill.

The reason for using regulations is that there is a lot of detailed technical work to be done specifying and setting out the precise circumstances where the provisions of Part VI should not apply. We will need to be careful about the details, such as the reason for the exceptions, the extent of them, and the ability of the housing authority to control entry into its own stock. That is really best done in regulations, which would also allow flexibility to adapt the provisions as circumstances change and new special cases arise. We are fully alive to the important work done by the voluntary sector in providing accommodation for homeless young single people. Indeed, we support that heavily through the rough sleepers initiative and our Section 73 grants programme. We are also well aware of the need to support this provision and prevent the silting up by providing move-on accommodation.

I am not unsympathetic to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said and what they seek to achieve, provided it is kept within reasonable limits. But we believe that the problem is better tackled through regulations rather than in primary legislation. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, will be able to withdraw her amendment. We shall be reflecting further on the whole issue in the light of what has been said and also in the light of the consultation exercise I mentioned earlier.

Baroness Hamwee: Before the noble Baroness decides what to do with the amendment, perhaps I can intervene. The Minister says that he is sympathetic to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord and perhaps a

19 Jun 1996 : Column 324

little less sympathetic to my point. I shall restrain myself from repeating it whenever we come to the question of regulations.

This is not a Bill which came as a surprise to anybody; it was not drafted in a hurry. If certain exceptions are included on the face of the Bill and if the Government have the sympathy for others that they express--I do not mean to suggest that the Minister does not have that sympathy--then further progress to the detail of those regulations would have been welcome and appropriate. The Bill has gone through another place. It has been a matter of widespread discussion from the stage of the White Paper onwards in the housing sector.

While I understand the point made by the Minister, I want to register, at any rate once today, a protest that we will have to wait for regulations when clearly those regulations were anticipated by the Government.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Before deciding what to do with the amendment I want to press the Minister on precisely the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. If the Minister turns to Clause 148, he will see that the Government specify in great detail on the face of the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, those people to whom reasonable preference should be given. There are six categories of people set out.

Clearly, the Minister can have no objection to precision on the face of the Bill as such because the Government's Bill carries that precision in Clause 148. We are saying that "reasonable preference" should also be given to groups of people who are single, vulnerable and living in hostels. Can the Minister say what is wrong with the amendment? Why should it not be on the face of the Bill? I can see why it may be convenient to come back later and include the provision in regulations; I can see why the Government may regard it as a bit of a macho test not to take suggestions from the Opposition Benches. But there is no difference of issue between us. We all believe that it is desirable that local authorities make available an appropriate portion of their permanent stock to such hostels. The Minister's only argument for it not being on the face of the Bill is that it is better in regulations. Yet other areas, which are technically more detailed, appear on the face of the Bill. So why not this?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I tried to explain the position. The subsection to which the noble Baroness draws attention, Clause 148(2), outlines the six principal priorities which we are advancing in the legislation. I see the argument of the noble Baroness. It could be pursued for the rest of the afternoon in respect of various categories and items which we believe are better treated by regulation rather than being included on the face of the Bill.

I hoped to indicate our willingness to bring forward the regulations. We are out to consultation. There will be a lot of detail in the regulations; we want to be sure that there is not a neat side door for people to get on to the list if it is not tightly drawn. Equally, as I am sure the Committee will appreciate, the categories can change as

19 Jun 1996 : Column 325

different events happen over decades. It seems to us more important that we have the flexibility of regulation for something which may require a little tweaking and a little changing as time goes on. Primary legislation is not always so easy to get and therefore what goes into primary legislation ought not to require changing for some time to come.

I think that the argument between regulation and primary legislation is one that we shall continue to have during the day. However, by and large, if one were to put everything onto the face of the Bill that was in secondary legislation, Bills would be extraordinarily long. I should have thought that the Committee might agree with me that the Bill is quite long enough as it is.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: So far as I can gather, the Minister's reply is to be summed up in the sentence, "It should be done by regulation because I say it should be done by regulation". I do not think we heard an argument at any point. The virtue of putting the provision on the face of the Bill, as the Minister has accepted in Clause 148, is that it sends a signal to local authorities as to what the legislation is intended to deliver. However, it is clear that, every time the Minister has something that he proposes to do by regulation, we shall engage in this argument. I hope that in the course of the day the Minister will come up with a better argument than, "I believe it should be done by regulation and therefore it will be done by regulation". He has not given us an argument of any substance.

I am perfectly willing to accept that where, for example, there is an implication that the finances, because they draw on public money, may change every six months, that is properly done by regulation; or, if it is exceedingly technical, it is properly done by regulation; or if consultation is needed, it should be done by regulation. None of those three arguments applies. This is a perfectly straightforward and simple amendment which says that local authorities may house people coming out of hostels on a quota system in the same way as they give reasonable preference to everyone else. The Minister has not given one argument, apart from the fact that he does not want to, why this should not be on the face of the Bill. I hope that the Committee is treated to more substantive objections to subsequent amendments than we have so far heard this afternoon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 263ZAL:


Page 89, line 27, at end insert--
("( ) They do not apply where--
(a) an applicant to whom a duty is owed under section 172 (duty to persons with priority need who are not homeless intentionally) is entitled to be given reasonable preference in the allocation of housing accommodation by virtue of section 148 (allocation in accordance with allocation scheme) below, and
(b) in the view of the local housing authority the applicant would be likely, if this subsection were not to apply, to be allocated accommodation within six months, or such other period as the Secretary of State may prescribe in regulations.").

19 Jun 1996 : Column 326

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to ensure that families who are near the top of the waiting list with points who become homeless should be eligible for rehousing. Most families who become homeless are already on council waiting lists. Seventy-five per cent. was the last figure I saw. They are in either private rented accommodation or they are sharing with family or friends. But, for a few of those families, the ability to wait in shared accommodation or in private rented accommodation breaks down when, perhaps, they have only a couple of months to go before they would be entitled to be permanently rehoused by the local authority. They may have waited two-and-a-half-years and if they could have held out for another three months they would have been housed in permanent housing. But for whatever reason--it may be the arrival of another baby which was the last straw to an overcrowded home--the arrangement has broken down and they become homeless. They have become homeless because they could not hold on for the last couple of months. Yet, under the Bill, such families, which are only a couple of months away from being rehoused in their own right, are required to be rehoused into temporary accommodation and then, three months later, would be rehoused back again into local authority permanent housing. The upheaval means that families with children might have two moves of school within as many months.

At Committee stage in another place the Minister agreed that that situation was nonsense. He agreed that local authorities should have the discretion to house someone who is near the top of the list rather than churn them through temporary accommodation for a couple of months. This discretion or flexibility for local authorities, which we think is sensible, was widely welcomed at Committee stage and outside the House. But the question then remains: how do local authorities deliver the discretion that the Minister has already conceded in Hansard? In the other place Ministers were pressed on how they could exercise that discretion at local level but they were not particularly forthcoming. We hope that the Minister will be more forthcoming today.

In any case, local authorities need some protection because they are apprehensive that, if they follow the Minister's advice and house someone near the top of the waiting list, as would be sensible and decent, but are not protected by wording on the face of the Bill, they will lay themselves open to judicial action from aggrieved people on the waiting list who see someone with fewer points than them going ahead of them in the queue. Local authorities may then be subject to judicial action for doing what Ministers have encouraged them to do but from whose consequences Ministers have not protected them by putting words on the face of the Bill. Hence we have brought forward the amendment.

It follows what the Minister suggested in the other place. It is, if one likes, a government-inspired amendment. I hope the Minister will agree. It makes it clear that local authorities have a legitimate flexibility to avoid pushing vulnerable families through the temporary accommodation system when they are close to being rehoused from the waiting list in their own

19 Jun 1996 : Column 327

right. It is a slightly back to front amendment by excluding from the single list an allocation into permanent accommodation of people who are on the waiting list or are entitled to appear on the waiting list because they fall into categories.

The Minister may tell us that there is a more preferable way of enshrining this discretion in the law. We would be entirely happy with that. We are not hung up on these words. But clearly the Government, having made this statement in the other place, now have a duty to protect local authorities, which do as Ministers suggest, from laying themselves open to judicial action because they are not protected on the face of the Bill.

This may well be more appropriately regarded as a probing amendment, but if the words are not acceptable, I hope the Minister will undertake to come back with a more appropriate amendment at Report stage to put words on the face of the Bill to carry out the undertaking and commitment given at Committee stage by his honourable friend the Minister in another place. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page