Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, does this permit the local authority to take into account, under the points system, the time in need spent by that family?

Earl Ferrers: Yes, my Lords, I believe that that is so.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank the Minister because that would at least allow the local authority to take the background into account. I understand the Minister's argument. What is profoundly wrong is that he is going to be continually

17 Jul 1996 : Column 923

expanding his argument. A local authority has, for example, a stock of 100 properties. The Minister will increasingly find that a greater proportion of that stock is used by the local authority for temporary housing precisely because it cannot move families on into permanent housing. It will actually subvert much of what the Government intend, simply because it will silt up and people will have to wait longer. However, we have probably gone as far as we can at this stage. The issue only arose at Report stage and this is the first opportunity we have had since then to pursue the matter. It is of vital importance. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 176 [Whether it is reasonable to continue to occupy accommodation]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 62:


Page 108, line 41, leave out ("as a member of his family").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 62 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 84 and 86. These amendments are due to the watchful eye of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, at Report stage; I am very grateful to him.

The House may recall that we tabled a number of amendments at Report stage which were designed to strengthen provisions relating to domestic violence, the "two in three year" rule and out-of-area placements. In so doing, we excluded people who are not members of the applicant's family--for example, carers--from consideration when assessing whether the accommodation is available to an applicant.

That was not our intention. I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for bringing the matter to my attention. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we are very happy to support this amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 181 [Guidance by the Secretary of State]:

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 63:


Page 111, line 21, at end insert--
("( ) No such guidance shall be issued unless a draft of it has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 63 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 66, 67, 71 and 73, which I shall not be moving. The amendments were put down before I received a copy of a letter, for which I am most grateful, which was sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, by my noble friend the Minister. In part of that letter I believe that he considered the proposals made in my Amendments Nos. 66 onwards.

I make one point in relation to those amendments. My noble friend said that in cases where a person's mental state is obviously impaired, the local housing authority is likely to be in touch with social service departments or voluntary bodies as a matter of course. It is not definite, but it is likely. What worries me is that local housing authority managers will not have experience of mentally ill people and will not know when their mental

17 Jul 1996 : Column 924

state is impaired. That impairment will not necessarily be obvious, although they may be people who are mentally ill from time to time.

At Report stage, I suggested that as we now have care in the community, with a good deal of information available about these people, it might have been helpful if the Bill had said that such information would be referred to. However, I shall not pursue the matter further. My noble friend has obviously given me an answer, even though it is an inadequate one.

I seek through Amendment No. 63 an opportunity for Parliament to see the guidance notes, in whatever form they take, before or immediately after they are issued. In the case of the Mental Health Act 1983 a code of practice has to be laid before Parliament. The code was very much delayed for a number of reasons which need not bother your Lordships. When it was issued, we were able to discover that it did not accurately reflect what was in the Act and it had to be amended. It took something like three years for it to be amended. The important point was that coming before this House and another place meant that such matters could be dealt with.

Amendment No. 63 simply says: please may we see the guidance notes. It may well be that as a result of what has been said in the House at various stages, and not just by myself, the department will pick up what has been said and include those matters in the guidance notes. That would be absolutely splendid. However, if they are not included, we must have an opportunity to arrange that they are. The simplest course would be for my amendment to be accepted because that would then automatically be the case. I hope that my noble friend may be able to give me some encouragement, if only to say that we shall have an opportunity to comment on the guidance notes, even if the terms of my amendment are not acceptable. With great hope, I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we support the amendment. We believe that it is very useful. It is important that local authorities, housing associations and advice providers like Shelter as well as the specialist groups, the disability groups, the Schizophrenia Association, Age Concern and other such organisations are given an adequate and ample opportunity to comment. For example, I understand that the consultation period for the new Scottish Office homelessness code of practice was six months. That may be a little long. Nonetheless, it is so important that I hope very much that the Minister will take on board the proposal of his noble friend.

Lord Thurlow: My Lords, as one of those who was involved in the discussion on the draft code of practice under the Mental Health Act 1983, I should like to endorse very strongly the points that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, made. It is essential that Parliament has an opportunity to see the code of practice in draft. I am sure that it will be the intention of those presenting it that the code of guidance should cover the eventualities and circumstances we have in mind.

However, from our experience of the 1983 Act, we also know that that does not always occur. The problems of ambiguity in drafting cannot always be spotted. In

17 Jul 1996 : Column 925

that instance, the terms of the original code of practice positively misled members of the medical profession who were not conversant with the small print. I strongly endorse the noble Lord's request that, whether or not the provision is written into an amendment, we have an assurance that Parliament will have the opportunity to see and discuss the draft code of guidance.

8.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mottistone confused me a little. In moving Amendment No. 63, he said that he will not move Amendments Nos. 66, 67 and so on, and then proceeded to talk to them. Perhaps I may take his cue and refer to those amendments first before coming back to Amendment No. 63 which he moved.

His anxiety relates to the mental state of individuals. That is a difficult matter. In cases where a person's mental state is obviously impaired, the local housing authority is likely to be in touch with social service departments or with voluntary bodies as a matter of course. In cases where the impairment is not so evident, or may be in doubt, it would be unreasonable to require the housing authority to make an assessment of that nature in every case by itself. Quite obviously this is a matter that should be dealt with jointly with the social services department. After all, housing managers will not know much about the mentally ill, as my noble friend said. But the guidance will cover how to proceed; and that is important.

My noble friend's amendment provides that,


    "No such guidance shall be issued unless a draft of it has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament".
My noble friend said, as did the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, that it would be nice if Parliament could see the draft. If I may say so, it would not be appropriate that the code of guidance should be subject to parliamentary approval. Guidance is not, and indeed never has been, a substitute for legislation. Legislation says exactly what the duties are, in this case the duties imposed on authorities. Guidance can only explain what the law is, and how it is to be applied.

Legislation states what the duties are. It is for the guidance to explain how those duties can be worked in practice. We have before us new legislation on homelessness and allocations. The guidance will amplify that. We have a number of commitments to include in our revised guidance a wide range of issues which have been raised by your Lordships and another place. We shall ensure that those commitments are fulfilled.

My noble friend said that if the guidance picked up what noble Lords have said, that would be splendid. It would be inappropriate for me to guarantee that everything my noble friend has suggested, and, indeed, has been suggested by other noble Lords, will necessarily automatically find a place in the guidance. What will happen is that everything your Lordships have said will be taken into account in the formulation of the guidance.

17 Jul 1996 : Column 926

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said that six months was too long a period as regards one set of guidance which was sent out. It is difficult to get the right ratio. At one moment everyone says, "We must have the guidance correct; it must be inspected and looked at". At other moments people say, "We want the guidance out immediately". Because we have a new Bill, clearly we have to ensure--it is a major undertaking--that the guidance to local authorities is right, is as good and succinct as possible, and contains the advice given to us. However, I am bound to say that if Parliament were to have to scrutinise, possibly amend, and pass all guidance, there would be no parliamentary time left. I do not think that that is the right role for Parliament. Parliament has altered the duties, and the legislation will state what those duties are. The guidance can only explain what the law is and how it is to be applied. I hope that that will content my noble friend.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page