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Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Of course, he is not the only one who has made other speeches. The Minister may remember a number of debates on amendments moved by his noble friend Lady O'Cathain which were concerned with the pressures on airlines of trying to judge immigration status. That case was very well made out and it was extremely persuasive. I was happy to support it. Some small part of that case has now been heard and I am glad that it has. But I do not believe that local authorities are any more competent to judge immigration status than are the airlines--indeed, they are possibly slightly less able because airlines inevitably have some knowledge of traffic from country to country whereas local authorities, by their very definition, very often do not.

So if one of these cases has prevailed and the other has not, I do not believe that it is because of the superior intellectual merits of the one which has prevailed. In saying that I do not in any way wish to denigrate the case which has been made on behalf of British Airways, with which I agree.

As for my own amendment, the Minister reminded me very vividly of an exchange which took place in another place in, I believe, 1956, between Mr. Aneurin Bevan and the right honourable Alan Lennox-Boyd. Aneurin Bevan asked when it would be appropriate to give Cyprus independence. The Minister said, "At the appropriate moment". He was asked, "What is the appropriate moment?" and the Minister replied, "The appropriate moment is the appropriate moment". The Minister has told me that "assistance under this Bill" is assistance under this Bill. I shall read what he said carefully to see whether I can find anything else in it. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 173 [Inquiry into cases of homelessness or threatened homelessness]:

[Amendment No. 41 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 42:


Page 105, line 14, at end insert--
(" ( ) If the authority are satisfied that other suitable accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant and have a duty under section 185 they shall at the same time notify him of the address of the dwelling-house which they are satisfied is available for his occupation.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, government Amendment No. 71 is grouped with my amendment, Amendment No. 42. My amendment, which is very specific, is the vehicle for asking precisely how the Government expect that a local housing authority will exercise its duty and, in particular, how we can expect accommodation to be suitable for an applicant if no specific address is in mind. That links to government Amendment No. 71 and allows me to ask what is meant by subsection (3) which states:


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I believe that "accommodation" is used there in the general sense.

My amendment deals with specific accommodation, and suggests that an applicant should be directed to a specific property which is both suitable and available. Without having the address of the property, the applicant would not be able to challenge a decision involving advice and assistance under Clause 185. It would not be possible to challenge the fact that the accommodation may be unsuitable without particular accommodation being in issue.

Perhaps I may give one example. A private landlord may own a block of flats which may generally be available to people on benefits. However, to take the sort of example which the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has rightly been using, an applicant may be directed to that block in which a ground floor flat may be "appropriate"--with apologies to Aneurin Bevan and Mr. Lennox-Boyd--but the particular flat on offer may be on a higher floor and may not be accessible to someone with mobility problems. If the authority merely has to indicate that "accommodation" (in a general sense) is available, accommodation may not really be "available"--in the normal understanding of that word--to that applicant because the accommodation on offer may be unsuitable for him and he may then be unable to secure any accommodation. My amendment is designed to link a property to an applicant and vice versa. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity to thank my noble friend for tabling Amendment No. 71 which I suspect is in response to an amendment that I moved in Committee. Amendment No. 71 goes nearly all the way to meeting what I wanted. Indeed, it is so close that I do not think that it makes a great deal of difference but, as I said earlier, as a result of the tabling of Amendment No. 71, I shall not be moving Amendment No. 73, which was designed purely to make certain that the Government came up to scratch.

8.45 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for tabling an amendment to ensure that the Government come up to scratch. I cannot see why on earth he thought that it was necessary to do such a thing--the Government always come up to scratch.

I was fascinated by the anecdote given by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about Aneurin Bevan and Lennox-Boyd. The noble Earl said that Lennox-Boyd said that Cyprus would be given independence "at the appropriate moment" and, when asked what the "appropriate moment" was, said, "The appropriate moment means the appropriate moment". I remember one of his colleagues giving a different answer when asked when Cyprus would be given independence. He said "Never". That was Mr. Henry Hopkinson who later became Lord Colyton and, for that minor indiscretion, he found himself in the Foreign Office for not too long. That is why Ministers sometimes choose their words

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very carefully. I shall endeavour to choose my words with equal care this evening so that I shall not suffer the same fate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has moved her amendment, Amendment No. 42. My amendment is Amendment No. 71 and I hope that the noble Baroness will not think it totally discourteous of me if I explain my amendment first because, when I have done so, I think that the noble Baroness will see how her amendment does or does not fit in.

Concerns were expressed by a number of noble Lords during Committee stage that the provisions in Clause 185 did not offer sufficient protection. Some noble Lords, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, felt that the provisions might allow a let-out for less scrupulous authorities. In response to the noble Baroness, my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish said that it was our intention to put forward amendments for consideration on Report which would clarify the level of advice and assistance which was expected of local authorities. Since Committee stage, officials have been discussing with Shelter and the local authority associations possible measures to clarify the nature of the duty. Amendment No. 71 delivers the result. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would be delighted, just as my noble friend Lord Swinfen has said that he is.

Amendment No. 71 makes it clear that an authority must be satisfied that the advice and assistance it has provided is sufficient to enable the applicant to secure accommodation. This amendment strengthens the provisions in Clause 185, while ensuring that the applicant takes some responsibility for arranging his own accommodation.

Clause 185 is an important provision: it is a halfway stage between the full homelessness duty and the purely advisory role. In order for this provision to work, it is important for the applicant to play his part in finding a solution. By encouraging people to take some responsibility for finding their own housing, Amendment No. 71 preserves the role of the individual. At the same time, it will give people the confidence that they will be given proper support in their endeavours.

The provisions in Clause 185 provide a practical way in which applicants can help themselves without having to place themselves entirely at the mercy of the local authority. Amendment No. 71 strengthens those provisions. That is the position with regard to my amendment. Amendment No. 42, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would require a much increased involvement of the local authority in securing the alternative accommodation for the applicant. By requiring an authority to give the applicant the address of the property which it is satisfied is available, the amendment could come close to placing a duty on the authority actually to do the whole job of securing the accommodation for the applicant.

There will be a number of ways in which an authority can provide the necessary advice and assistance for the applicant. In some cases this may involve identifying a particular property which it knows to be available, but in others the authority may establish links with a

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landlord who has a range of property, or with a letting agent. It may refer the applicant to that landlord (or agent) and leave them to sort out which of the properties in the landlord's portfolio the applicant is to take. Were the amendment to apply, that sort of process would not be possible.

The noble Baroness asked whether accommodation (in the general sense) has merely to be available. The answer is no; the accommodation must reflect the applicant's personal characteristics. That is explained in subsection (4)(a) which is introduced by our Amendment No. 71. The noble Baroness asked how an applicant can challenge whether alternative accommodation is suitable and available if the local authority does not specify the actual address. It is understood in the phrase "alternative accommodation" that there is a duty under Clause 185 which is not discharged if suitable accommodation is not actually secured, unless the applicant has failed to take reasonable steps to secure it himself.

I think it is necessary to ensure that the applicant does take reasonable steps to ensure these things. He ought to have advice and help from the local authority but he cannot be removed entirely from the responsibility of doing it. It would be wrong if he were, because it would or could place quite intolerable burdens on the local authority.

I would end by saying that Amendment No. 71, which is in my name, prevents the authorities from taking an unreasonably short-term view of what constitutes suitable alternative accommodation, but at the same time it places some responsibility on the applicant to take up the opportunities which are provided to him. I think that a provision like that is preferable to an open-ended duty of the kind proposed by the noble Baroness. That is why, in a spirit of total modesty, I suggest that my amendment might be better than that of the noble Baroness.


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