Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Marriage Ceremony (Prescribed Words) Bill

Read a third time.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. I shall not delay your Lordships' House for longer than two minutes. I wish to take the opportunity to thank the honourable Member for

8 Jul 1996 : Column 12

Canterbury for looking after the Bill in another place. I also thank those Members of the House who have shown an interest in the Bill.

Your Lordships will remember that I find myself in the strange position of looking after a piece of legislation which will have no effect upon the Church of England but which will be warmly welcomed by Roman Catholic and Free Churches in this country. When in force, it will allow for alternative forms of the prescribed words that are used in marriage ceremonies. As a result of recent liturgical revision, the present form of words as required by law for the oaths and declarations do not sit happily within celebrations of holy matrimony within the churches affected. That is those other than the Church of England, the Jewish community or the Society of Friends.

It should be borne in mind that in addition, although the primary purpose of the Bill is to permit alternative words in a marriage service solemnised in a church, it will also enable the new alternative words to be used in a marriage in a register office and certain other forms of civil ceremony, including marriages in approved premises under the Marriage Act 1994.

In introducing the Second Reading, I said that it was very much a tidying up operation. Having debated some of the problems that marriages face in today's society during the Committee stage of the Bill and having, I trust, reassured the noble Lords who contributed to that debate that the Churches share in the concerns that were expressed, I now hope that the House will give its final approval to the Bill. In doing so, we will have tidied up something which is on the one hand minor but in the context of a ceremony as important as marriage an irritating anachronism. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(The Lord Bishop of Southwark.)

On Question, Bill passed.

Energy Conservation Bill

Report received.

Housing Bill

3.10 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 151 [Allocation of housing accommodation]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 97, line 4, at beginning insert--
("Subject to section (Allocations to homeless persons),").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the main push of today's debate is on Parts VI and VII of the Housing Bill, whose purpose is to ensure that families are housed in permanent council housing only from the waiting list. Homeless families, in other words, may not queue jump but, like everyone else, must wait their turn on the list. While they wait, the local authority has a duty, lasting two years, to find them temporary housing either in

8 Jul 1996 : Column 13

private rented stock or in the local authority's own temporary stock such as hard-to-let housing. The Government hope that by the end of those two years the vast majority of homeless families will have gained enough points to reach the head of the queue and be rehoused. The Government have accepted that if they have not reached the head of the queue local authorities can continue to help them if they wish, but not, so far, in their own temporary housing.

The problem is that many local authorities no longer have enough council housing left in which to house most people off the waiting list within two years, let alone house homeless families. It will probably be possible in the north of England, but in London and the South, and in rural districts, there is a limited supply of social housing to rent. For those families that are hard to house because they have special needs--they may be a large family or have a disabled member--the wait is likely to be much longer than the two years.

What, then, would a homeless family in temporary accommodation for two years do in the meanwhile? If a family is on the waiting list but not homeless, that family can continue to wait. They may be in insecure housing sharing with family or friends, husband, wife and child all in an eight-foot bedroom; they may be in a shabby but expensive rented flat where housing benefit does not cover the rent; they may live in a house that is in a state of poor repair; given their physical health, they may be ill-suited to the house they are in (for instance they cannot climb stairs and the only bathroom is upstairs); they may have only two bedrooms and be somewhat overcrowded with the mother and daughters in one bedroom and the father and sons in another. But however inadequate, unsatisfactory and undesirable all those housing circumstances are, at least the family have a roof over their heads. Such families make up the majority of those on the waiting list. They can usually hold on with their fingernails--just--until the points system or the waiting list itself takes them to the head of the list and they are rehoused into adequate, decent and affordable permanent housing.

But if people are homeless they cannot wait. They cannot hold out. Family relations may have broken down; the landlord may have evicted them because housing benefit does not cover the rent and they cannot make up the shortfall; the house may be so damp that the children are in and out of hospital with asthma; or the strain of overcrowding may have led to domestic violence and the family has broken up. Homeless families are not different from those on the waiting list, except in so far as their need was more severe in the first place and their ability to hold on and wait is that much less.

As the Department of the Environment so rightly said not very long ago, in 1989:

    "in many local authorities, those who are homeless are simply people on the waiting list with nowhere to wait".
They are people on the waiting list with nowhere to wait. That is not my phrase but that of the Department of the Environment; it is the Government's phrase.

This amendment respects that view of the Department of the Environment and also respects the assumption that has informed this Government Bill that, within two

8 Jul 1996 : Column 14

years, the vast majority of homeless families who have been put on the waiting list will indeed be housed. The amendment says that when a local authority receives an application from a homeless family it must consider whether, as with other candidates on the waiting list, that family may be expected to be rehoused within the two years of the local authority's temporary duty towards them and, if the needs of that family are so acute relative to those of other applicants, whether it is reasonable to give them additional points, additional priority, to ensure that they are housed within two years.

In other words, if what the Government believe is right, as I hope it is, this amendment should not be necessary. But for the tiny minority of homeless families on the waiting list, either in areas where there is a limited or very short supply of social rented housing, as in the inner cities, in the South and in rural districts, or for those families who have difficulty in finding housing because they have special needs--for instance, large families, families with a disabled member--this amendment is their safeguard. Local authorities would not be required to give homeless families additional preference. However, this amendment would mean that, when examining a family's needs relative to those of other people, an authority must consider whether it should ensure that they are housed within the two years or by some other specified time.

If the Government are right, and the majority of homeless families will be housed within two years, the amendment need apply only to a very small minority of families: those who live where social housing is in very short supply or where they have special and particular needs. But it does ensure that the needs of those families are not lost sight of and that the local authority may have the discretion to ensure that they are housed within two years. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment and to Amendment No. 74. My noble friend Lord Russell has just handed me a newspaper cutting. Although noble Lords are accustomed to saying that one cannot believe all one reads in the newspapers, this short report perhaps says more than I could about the situation to which the noble Baroness referred. It is a report from December 1995 concerning an order against the London Borough of Lambeth, which was told,

    "to pay £6,000 compensation to a homeless family with seven children who were moved 34 times before the council finally found them a permanent home after a wait of more than five years.

    Between June 1989 and September 1994, the family lived in bed-and-breakfast accommodation at 34 hotels in eight London boroughs ... Save for short periods, the children received no formal education during that period".
The local government ombudsman, referring to the loss of education, said that he viewed the position of the children as they moved around London "very seriously". The ombudsman said,

    "It cannot be any surprise that problems arose when so many children were crammed into bed-and-breakfast accommodation".
The borough was ordered to set aside several thousand pounds to pay for remedial education for those children.

8 Jul 1996 : Column 15

As I said, one sometimes takes with a pinch of salt what one reads in the newspapers. I hope that a situation such as this is worth reporting for its scarcity value. However, this is an extreme example of the very difficult situation to which the noble Baroness referred. It is the reason I join the noble Baroness in asking your Lordships to question very seriously the change in the method of dealing with permanent accommodation proposed by the Government in the Bill.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page