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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In that case, we will look to the Minister at Report stage for amendments which will put a duty on the local authority making available interim accommodation to ensure that it is suitable. "Suitable" should mean that it is both appropriate and affordable, following the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Further, it should be made clear that local authorities will not have discharged their duties to provide temporary housing under the homelessness procedures by finding a family interim accommodation and then saying that, because it is in that accommodation, the accommodation is appropriate and that discharges or relieves the local authority from all further duties.

The Minister gave us comfort in the thought that he would support the position. In that expectation, I am sure that we shall re-visit the issue at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 265BL not moved.]

Clause 167 agreed to.

Clause 168 [Priority need for accommodation]:

[Amendments Nos. 265BM to 265D not moved.]

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 265E:


Page 98, line 27, at end insert--
("( ) a person who is fleeing violence or harassment").

The noble Lord said: Clause 168 indicates the categories that have priority need for accommodation under the interim duty to accommodate. The purpose of this amendment is to add one other group; namely, those fleeing violence or harassment.

In the experience of local authorities some of the instances of threatened violence or harassment involve racial harassment: members of minority ethnic groups find themselves under serious pressure and are, as it were, coerced into leaving their homes. The point of the amendment is to ensure that a local authority would identify victims of that sort of coercion or racial harassment as having a priority need for accommodation.

It is a simple proposition. The facts are well known. Sadly, there are members of minority ethnic groups who are the subject of this type of pressure. Those who suffer in this way have a very unpleasant time and it is understandable that such families feel that they have to leave their homes. They then find themselves homeless. If a local authority is able to assess them as being in priority need of accommodation based on the point in this amendment, the local authority could act more quickly to provide them with interim accommodation. The case is a very simple one. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: This is an important amendment. The reason for spelling out these two categories is that

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they are both ones which local authorities from time to time ignore. Because such matters are extremely unpleasant, many of us do not like thinking about them, and do not like admitting that they exist. Therefore we tend to hide our heads in the sand and pretend that we do not have to do anything about them. A specific statutory requirement, certainly to my knowledge in the case of domestic violence and, I believe, in the racial case as well, is worth including.

Before we leave tonight's business, I wish to congratulate the Minister on the courtesy, good nature and patience that he has shown in handling business which has occasionally been quite contentious. I can say no more than that he is beginning to approach the standard set by his noble and learned clansman on the Woolsack.

Lord Hylton: It has been established that there is a considerable volume of racial violence and harassment which bears directly on housing and which tends to produce homelessness. Will the Minister tell the Committee what is being done to try to prevent that before it happens, or after the first symptoms have manifested themselves and before it has reached the point of producing homelessness? I think everybody, inside and outside Parliament, wants to avoid ethnic clearance in this country, even if it has not always been possible to avoid it in other countries.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: First, I thank the noble Earl for his kind remarks. I like to think that we all manage to conduct the sometimes very contentious legislation that I seem to take through this place in a civilised way. While arguments are undoubtedly deeply felt, I do not believe that we lose tempers as in the other place. That is only right and proper when considering such serious matters. Comparing me to my noble and learned clansman is indeed a high honour.

Turning to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I hope he does not mind if I do not follow him too far down that track. He has opened up a debate that is rather wide of the clause. It takes us into a great many other aspects of how social services work, how the police operate, and so on, in cases of domestic violence. If I had the solution to preventing domestic violence getting out of hand, I should be in quite high demand by my colleagues in Whitehall, and indeed by a lot of people outside. It is a difficult issue. We have already discussed it. I hope that we are accepting it and identifying it as one of the reasons why a lady in particular--that is usually how it operates, though not always--may require to leave the family home, because she feels herself to be so threatened by a violent husband.

I accept that we are going a little further than that and looking at harassment in a wider field outside the home. We discussed that. Without repeating what I said earlier, there are other aspects of the law which have to be brought into play when one considers other forms of harassment. I do not think we can necessarily look to housing legislation to solve those wider problems.

This amendment in particular would extend the definition of priority need to include any person who is fleeing violence or harassment. Some individuals may be

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vulnerable as a result of the psychological effects of violence, abuse or harassment, or for any other reason. Their need is recognised in the reference in Clause 168(1) to which I should draw the Committee's attention. Perhaps I should say before I do so that Clause 168 is unchanged from the 1985 Act. Paragraph (c) says:


    "a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason".
That other special reason is important. Those three words are recognition of the problems about which we are talking--persons who are vulnerable to violence or harassment. We will elaborate on this in the guidance we issue on the new legislation. But I suggest that an open-ended reference to fleeing violence or harassment would not make sense in all circumstances. It would not take account of individual circumstances, and could lead to some perverse results. For instance under such a provision, if it was on the face of the Bill in the way suggested, a hardened drug dealer who wanted to lie low because some of his associates were threatening violence against him could claim a right to housing assistance from the local housing authority on the grounds of fleeing violence or harassment. That may be very true but whether the Committee considers that such a claim should be considered under the provisions of this part of the legislation, I am not sure. Certainly, I do not think I would think it. Nor, I suspect, would most Members of the Committee.

I recognise the concern behind the amendment and share all the points that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and other noble Lords have made about violence, whether it occurs on the street or in the home. However, I do not think that the solution to the difficulties which some people experience outside the home lies in extending the coverage of this legislation. When someone experiences violence or abuse within the home, it is not reasonable or logical that they should be expected to remain there and try to use the remedies of the law to protect themselves. We all know that that would not work and that the person would continue to be the victim of violence. A person in such a situation is and will continue to be considered unintentionally homeless and vulnerable as they are no longer able to live in their home.

I hope that that makes the position absolutely clear. Outside the home violence is another matter that I have already discussed. It takes a multitude of forms from a wide range of causes, and I believe that we have to be very careful before we make too sweeping amendments to housing legislation which would cover far wider issues than I think are relevant to the question that we are discussing about rights under homelessness legislation.

With that assurance, I think not for the first time today on the question of domestic violence and homelessness legislation, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Earl Russell: The Minister's point about the drug dealer is well taken. It does not answer what I believe is a genuine need for a statutory provision. So before we reach

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the later stages of the Bill, I wonder whether the Minister could possibly think about whether some tighter form of words might be acceptable which performs its purpose.

Lord Dubs: I endorse the noble Earl's point. When I read Clause 168, it did not, frankly, occur to me (I read it earlier than this hour in the evening) that the words "other special reason" would refer to people fleeing from violence or harassment from their neighbours or other people in their locality. It did not seem to me that that was the most obvious interpretation. Now that the Minister has pointed it out, it makes sense.

I concede that if the amendment had been inserted not at the end, but at the end of subsection (c), my argument would have been that much better because it would have been preceded by the words,


    "a person who is vulnerable as a result of".

That would have met all the Minister's objection to including it. Where it is now, it does not have those words preceding it and therefore it has a slightly different meaning from the one it would have had if the person had been vulnerable. That being the case, and given that the Minister is going to issue guidance to local authorities to that effect, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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[Amendment No. 265F not moved.]

Clause 168 agreed to.

Clause 169 agreed to.

Clause 170 [Becoming homeless intentionally]:

[Amendment No. 265G not moved.]

Clause 170 agreed to.

Clause 171 agreed to.

House resumed.

Family Law Bill [H.L.]

Returned from the Commons agreed to with amendments and with a privilege amendment. The Commons amendments ordered to be printed.

Deer (Scotland) Bill [H.L.]

Reported from the Joint Committee with amendments and re-committed to a Committee of the Whole House; it was ordered that the Bill be printed as amended.

        House adjourned at one minute past midnight.


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