Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Russell never ceases to fascinate me. His researches go a long

8 Jul 1996 : Column 148

way. To think that he found out that the Northern Irish civil servants could have three children but they must not be married seems to me quite extraordinary. I cannot think how he found that out. I can only assume it was what he found out when his tutor told him to go down to the Bodleian Library.

Earl Russell: My Lords, it so happens that my best man was the son of a Northern Irish civil servant.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, that casts quite a lot of doubt somewhere, but I am not quite sure where. Perhaps we had better address ourselves to the amendment.

Under Clause 194 there is a specific duty of co-operation between local authorities and social service authorities. The Children Act of 1989 already incorporates the provisions sought by the amendment, specifically in respect of young people. Section 27 allows a social services authority to call on the assistance of a housing authority in discharging a duty to a young person. The housing authority is also under a duty to comply in such circumstances.

Community care is dealt with under the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, to which the amendment refers. Section 46 of that Act includes a specific requirement that local housing authorities are to be consulted in the drawing up of plans for community care services. It is for these reasons that we feel that the points which the noble Baroness seeks to cover are already covered. We do not regard the provisions which are sought by the amendment to be necessary. They are in statute already. That is why I hope the noble Baroness will realise, despite her indicating dissent, no doubt as a result of a discussion with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that I cannot advise the House to accept the amendment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am disappointed with the Minister's reply. I wonder whether he has checked the wording of the Children Act or the community care Act of 1990. I invite him, in all seriousness, to do so before Third Reading. My understanding is that currently all that social service authorities can do is to request co-operation. That request can be ignored. Social services have no come-back. They request co-operation under the Children Act; they invite co-operation under the National Health Service and Community Care Act. And that request can be ignored.

That is my reading of the situation. If I am wrong I am very happy to be corrected by the Minister. The Northavon case I quoted to the Minister upheld the housing authority's right to ignore the request. The amendment says that where a request is made the housing authority shall co-operate. It does not mean that it has to agree. But it may not ignore. It must consider and shall co-operate.

Obviously, at this time of night I shall be seeking permission to withdraw the amendment, but I ask the Minister to assure himself that the wording in the Children Act and the community care Act does what he believes it to do. I do not believe it does. If I am wrong I am genuinely happy to be corrected and have my fears

8 Jul 1996 : Column 149

laid to rest. Certainly, court cases suggest that my fears are well founded and that social services do not have the leverage that the noble Earl and I would like. If the Minister wishes to intervene I would welcome his doing so.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, if I may have the leave of the House, the noble Baroness makes a perfectly reasonable request. She asks me to look at what she has said and to check over the two Acts; I shall certainly do so.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister. I seek permission to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 196 [Regulations and orders]:

[Amendment No. 99 not moved.]

Schedule 15 [Homelessness: consequential amendments]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 100:


Page 180, leave out lines 21 to 28.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 84. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 198 [Minor definitions: Part VII]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 101:


Page 118, line 41, at end insert--
("(3) References in this Part to the district of a local housing authority--
(a) have the same meaning in relation to an authority in England or Wales as in the Housing Act 1985, and
(b) in relation to an authority in Scotland, mean the area of the local authority concerned.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 102 and 103.

Amendment No. 101 seeks to add a further definition to Clause 198 to ensure that references in these provisions to the district of a local housing authority retain the same meaning in England and Wales as in the Housing Act 1985. This amendment will also ensure that in relation to an authority in Scotland references to the district of a local housing authority would mean the area of the local authority concerned.

Amendments Nos. 102 to 107, which are also grouped together, are technical amendments. I commend the amendments to your Lordships. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 199 [Index of defined expressions: Part VII]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 102 to 107:

Page 119, line 6, at end insert--


("associated (in relation to a person)section (Meaning of associated person)")

Page 119, line 6, at end insert--


("assured tenancy and assured shorthold tenancysection 211")

8 Jul 1996 : Column 150

Page 119, line 6, at end insert--


("district (of local housing authority)section 198(3)")

Page 119, leave out lines 13 and 14 and insert--


("local housing authority--
-in England and Walessection 211
-in Scotlandsection 198(2)(a)")

Page 119, line 8, at end insert--


("housing functions under this Part (in sections 191 to (Discharge of functions: arrangements with registered social landlord))section (Discharge of functions: introductory)(2)")

Page 119, line 21, at end insert--


("registered social landlordsection 211")

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Flather moved Amendment No. 108:


Before Clause 200, insert the following new clause--

Emergency communication system

(".--(1) A local housing authority may provide, inside or outside its area, facilities whereby occupiers of dwelling houses or other residential accommodation may, by agreement, be connected to an emergency communication system.
(2) A local housing authority may make facilities provided by it under subsection (1) above available for use by such persons as the authority thinks fit either without charge or on payment of such charges as the authority thinks fit.
(3) The powers conferred by this section are without prejudice to other enactments.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment concerns the provision of alarm systems to people living in council areas. I moved the amendment at Committee stage. It seeks to regularise a position which exists at the present moment.

Councils up and down the country provide such alarm systems not only to their own tenants but to housing association tenants as well as home owners. There is considerable doubt as to whether they can charge for that service from those who are not council tenants. The doubts have been expressed by the Audit Commission, which has not yet mounted a challenge. But the auditors are warning the councils to be careful in case such a challenge is mounted in the future.

When I brought forward this amendment on the previous occasion, my noble friend Lord Lucas assured me that there would be a consultation process which would start shortly. He has since very kindly written to me, putting forward one or two points about which he was concerned in the amendment which I brought forward earlier. They were points about whether the alarm systems should be restricted to the vulnerable and the elderly, whether they should be provided in the area of the council by that particular council and whether there could perhaps be more flexibility about their provision.

The amendment before your Lordships seeks to include those points. Since then, the agency has also consulted the other councils, local authority associations, the AMA, the ACC and indeed the social services. They have also taken into account the fact that alarm systems can be provided to anyone living in any particular council area by any council at all. There are

8 Jul 1996 : Column 151

quite a lot of partnership schemes taking place at the moment where one particular council specialises in the provision of the systems while the others take advantage of the provision. It would be detrimental to local authorities if such partnership schemes could not go ahead. In my council of Windsor and Maidenhead, the systems are provided by Wrekin and it works far better because it can be much more cost effective. We would not wish in any way to confuse the issue on that.

There is very little more that I can usefully add to what I said on the last occasion, except to emphasise that this is a totally benign amendment. It seeks to regularise an existing position. It enforces nothing; no one is forced to have such an alarm system. It gives local authorities the opportunity and ability to provide such a system. I beg to move.

Midnight

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I supported this amendment at Committee stage and put my name to it on this occasion. As my noble friend said, Amendment No. 108 is purely an enabling amendment. It states that,


    "A local housing authority may provide";
it is not compulsory; it is only permissive. Subsection (2) provides that,


    "A local housing authority may make facilities provided by it under subsection (1) above available for use by such persons as the authority thinks fit".

After Committee stage my noble friend was kind enough to send me a copy of his letter to my noble friend Lady Flather. I understand that the provision of community alarm systems is not simply a housing issue. However, as he wrote, local housing authorities can provide alarm systems for their tenants. Social services authorities, whether or not they be housing authorities as well, may provide the systems to certain defined vulnerable groups.

The provision exists in bits. It is like the curate's egg: some is good and some is not so good. I suggest to my noble friend that he takes this opportunity to accept the amendment and, if he needs to, he can amend it on Third Reading to cover the aspects with which he is not entirely happy. Alternatively, he may give an undertaking that he will bring forward his own amendment on Third Reading. As I said in Committee, it seems daft not to take the amendment on board at this stage. When are we next going to have a Bill in which this provision can be included? I do not see another one coming up for a very long time. I should grasp the opportunity now and run with it. I strongly support the amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page