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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, this amendment is identical to one tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, at Report stage. It seeks to impose a duty of co-operation between housing authorities and social services authorities. I agreed to look closely at the wording of the legislation to ensure that it properly addressed the need for co-operation. I am entirely satisfied that it does, and I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on 15th July to explain our position in detail.

Section 27 of the Children Act provides that a local housing authority,


Section 46 of the National Health Service and Community Care 1990 Act includes a specific requirement that local housing authorities shall be consulted in the drawing up of plans for community care services. Further, Section 47(3) provides that, where the local authority considers that there may be a need for the provision of services falling within the functions of a local housing authority, it shall notify that authority and invite it to assist.

The provisions in both Acts are complemented by the provisions in this Bill. The duties imposed on local authorities by the Bill give teeth to the "request" and "invitation" provisions in the other legislation.

I agree that the noble Baroness was concerned about passing the parcel between departments. Obviously that is bad and should not be encouraged. But here we are talking about co-operation and effective co-operation depends on shared objectives; it is not something which can be achieved solely through legislation. With that explanation, and in view of the fact that I have written to her on this matter, I hope the noble Baroness will now agree to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am not satisfied. The Minister has failed to address the issue presented by the Northavon case and he did not refer to it in his reply. As I am sure he knows, in the Northavon case--Northavon District Council ex parte Smith,

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1994--the House of Lords held that Northavon District Council was entitled to refuse a request from Avon County Council for assistance in housing a family with young children on the basis that Northavon had already decided the parents were intentionally homeless. In other words, the local authority social services department asked for help because there were young children involved. Northavon refused to give help and the House of Lords upheld the right of a district council to refuse.

Nothing that the Minister has said tonight overturns that fact. The Northavon case in 1994 followed the Children Act 1989 and the Community Care Act 1990 which, it was said, would prevent such situations occurring. Yet they have occurred. The Minister failed to deal with that point. Does he want to comment on the Northavon case?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Baroness asks if I want to comment on the Northavon case. The answer is not particularly, but I will if it helps her. The noble Baroness is concerned about the effect of the case. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Templeman, remarked on the case that the law is not the best way to achieve co-operation. We have tried to ensure that there are certain duties imposed upon housing authorities and other services and that they should co-operate with each other. I have tried to explain that.

In all the circumstances I have given, there is an obligation to co-operate, and, when help is requested, to comply with that request. Housing authorities are to be consulted in the drawing up of plans for community care services. I can go no further than that.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank the Minister. So that family with young children remains homeless unless the social services can acquire accommodation of their own independent of the housing authority. That is a situation the Minister would seek to avoid. What the Minister has said is that the law has laid down a requirement that the district councils shall co-operate and, where they refuse to do so, there is no penalty. That is what the Minister has said. It is a walking away from parliamentary responsibility by this House tonight. It is quite unacceptable. I see that the Minister is getting restless and it is late.

Earl Ferrers: I am getting hungry.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: That is the Minister's responsibility, not mine. We are here considering legislation under which extremely vulnerable people will not be protected in the way that the Minister 10 minutes ago assured us that they would be. He says that there is a duty to co-operate but he cannot make it stick.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Baroness is trying my patience. She keeps putting words into my mouth. I have explained to her what the situation is; I have explained to her how those people will be affected; and I have explained to her how this Bill will take account of those cases. What the noble Baroness cannot expect

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is social services to demand something of housing authorities. There has to be co-operation, and that is what is expected.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank the Minister. That means that when co-operation is withheld there is no way to ensure that it happens. That is what the Minister has conceded. That was the Northavon case, and that family remains homeless as a result. Families in a similar situation will remain homeless as a result because the Minister has not taken powers to make the obligation stick.

We have the Minister's words on the record and I have no doubt that we will address this problem again in future in other legislation. In the meantime, I fear, other families may continue to be at risk. I hope not, but they may because we have not remedied the situation tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 217 [Index of defined expressions: Part VII]:

9.45 p.m.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 93:


Page 129, line 15, column 2, leave out ("(and see section 199(4) and (7))").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 94:


Before Clause 218, insert the following new clause--

Negative equity

(".--(1) The power of the court under section 91 of the Law of Property Act 1925 ("the 1925 Act") to direct a sale of mortgaged property, on such terms as it thinks fit, shall, in respect of a dwelling house or part of a dwelling house occupied by a mortgagor in possession, include power to direct a sale free of the mortgage by the mortgagor, notwithstanding that the sum secured by the mortgage exceeds the sale price, and so to direct on terms that the mortgagor shall be entitled to deduct from the gross proceeds of sale his reasonable costs and expenses of effecting the sale before accounting to the mortgagee for the net proceeds.
(2) Where an application is made to a court by a mortgagee or any other interested person under section 91 of the 1925 Act for a direction that a mortgaged property to which subsection (1) applies be sold, the court may if it thinks fit suspend the making of the direction for a reasonable period to allow time for redemption or for the payment of any mortgage money or for sale by the mortgagor.
(3) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any other enactment, a County Court shall have jurisdiction under section 91 of the 1925 Act to determine an issue arising under this section whatever the amount owing in respect of the mortgage charge.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment deals with a situation that is possibly more widespread than that which the noble Baroness has been dealing with. However, it is equally serious. I am glad that she pressed her point on our previous amendment as it is a concern which I share. Amendment No. 94 returns to the issue of negative equity. I have tabled it in response to a letter which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, wrote to my noble friend Lord Russell, and copied to other noble Lords. He explained that his department had been in contact with the Council of Mortgage Lenders and the Association of British Insurers about avoiding unnecessary court cases by ensuring that lenders and insurers did not unreasonably prevent borrowers in

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arrears and with negative equity from selling their homes on a voluntary basis. He attached a note--agreed by the council and the association--which sets out the general practice, although he stressed that each case was to be considered separately in the light of individual circumstances.

I have tabled this amendment tonight in order to ask the noble Lord how a note setting out current practice takes the matter any further. Your Lordships may feel that is a rhetorical question. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord whether it takes the matter any further. Can he tell your Lordships why the parties have not been able to go further and agree a code of practice in this area? Can he explain the status of the note? I appreciate that this is not a matter which is directly under his remit, but it is one in which his department has quite rightly taken an interest. Will the Council of Mortgage Lenders promote the measure with its members and include it in its code of practice on mortgage lending, which I believe is currently in draft--accepting, of course, that neither the statement nor the proposed code will be enforceable?

Can the noble Lord assure your Lordships that the Government will monitor the problem with a view to establishing a code of practice if the note does not have the effect--which I, for one, hope it will have--of allowing flexibility as a matter of common sense? The statement still seems to allow ample opportunity for a restrictive approach as regards allowing borrowers to sell their properties themselves. That is dependent on lenders and insurers being positive and helpful about the issue. I ask those questions in response to the letter which has been circulated to noble Lords. I beg to move.


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