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Lord Glentoran: I thank the noble and learned Lord for his explanation and repeat my thanks to Northern Ireland officials for the considerable time that they spent in briefing yesterday evening. I must also declare an interest: I am a non-executive director of the National House Building Council and spent 27 years working for Redland in Northern Ireland, supplying the building industry. I have been involved in house building in Northern Ireland for a long time. Recently, I was fortunate enough to have a meeting with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I know that it is anxious that the Billnow an ordershould become law as soon as possible.
It is an excellent order. A great deal of attention is paid to the social aspects of housing, in particular the problem of those who cause nuisance and annoyance. It gives the Housing Executive and landlords the powers better to manage that problem. The Housing Executive was unable to manage the matter satisfactorily, and it fell into the hands of the UDA and others. That situation was clearly unsatisfactory, and this move is very positive.
This is the first time in Northern Ireland legislation that we have attempted to pay serious attention to the position of the travelling community. Over the years, travellers have been a nuisance and will probably continue to be. However, if they are given proper facilities and opportunities and looked after properly, as the order allows the housing authorities to do, it would be a great plus.
It is also a great plus that the issue of multiple occupation has been considered. We know that there is serious overcrowding in some of the student houses in the university areas. There are health and safety problems and fire risks, so the order is a good move.
By and large, I am positive about the order. However, I want to raise a warning flag in one area. Chapter VI amends the current legislation on homelessness and requires the Housing Executive to provide a scheme for the payment of grants to tenants who are forced to leave their home as a consequence of violence or intimidation. I mentioned that when I was being briefed by officials last night. We had a
Lord Smith of Clifton: We, too, welcome the order. I should like to put on record the exemplary way in which the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has operated in very difficult times over the years. It is truly one of the great success stories in Northern Ireland, and I should like that to be stressed.
I have a little difficulty with one pointthe sell-off of housing association accommodation. Northern Ireland house prices have been rocketing at least as much as those in other parts of the UK. I am worried about provision for low-cost housing in Northern Ireland, as I am about low-cost housing in Great Britain. The other day, the Deputy Prime Minister called for a halt to the sale of council houses because the Government's policy is to try to make further provision for low-cost housing for priority public workers. I just hope that we are not, as it were, ships passing in the day, whereby we are selling off a lot of low-cost housing without providing enough of it. House prices in Northern Ireland have, as I said, been rocketing for 10 years or more.
The Ulster Unionist Party particularly welcomes the provisions for tackling anti-social behaviour. We fully recognise the misery and disruption that anti-social behaviour such as harassment, intimidation, vandalism, noise, litter andparticularly in Northern Irelandgraffiti and drugs can cause to individuals. It can also destroy communities and lead to areas of abandoned housing. The establishment of an introductory tenancy regimea probationary tenancy for a period of one yearwas something for which my colleagues in the Assembly pushed long and hard. I am therefore especially pleased to see that provision in the order.
We are keen to ensure that landlords have the means to deal swiftly and effectively with nuisance tenants. The exercise of sanctions is clearly a necessary component in the deterrence of anti-social behaviour and we are very much in favour of legislation to help deal with the problem. We particularly welcome the extension of the grounds that constitute nuisance or annoyance to neighbours to include domestic violence. My Assembly colleagues worked also to gain that provision. It covers married couples, or those living together as husband and wife. However, can the
We support changes to the current legislation to enable the Housing Executive, a registered housing association or certain private sector landlords to take court action against tenantsand otherswhose anti-social behaviour affects their property. We do, however, wish to see these powers to grant injunctions extended to include non-residential premises such as shops or community centres serving the locality. We would also welcome a further extension and tightening of the definition of anti-social behaviour. It should include harassment, alarm or distress to persons not of the same household, and also unreasonable interference with people's rights to use and enjoy their home and surrounding community.
With regard to Part III, on grants, we support discretionary grants targeted towards those who most need assistance. However, can the Minister tell us on what basis grants will be made? Who decides on where need is greatest? We are also concerned that there are insufficient finances available for a mandatory grant scheme. I ask the Minister to give us an indication as to the funds available for this scheme and how it will work in practice.
The Ulster Unionist Party recognises that homelessness is a very serious social and economic problem that must be given priority by the Department for Social Development. We regard the prevention of homelessness as the key principle in developing strategies to deal with this issue. However, we also recognise that the plight of the currently homeless should not be overlooked. In this context, I pay tribute to the work of the Housing Executive and to the commitment of the many voluntary and charitable organisations throughout Northern Ireland in the effort to tackle the complex problems associated with homelessness.
We welcome the distinction made between those who are homeless intentionally and those who are homeless unintentionally. We have campaigned to ensure that a person is designated as intentionally homeless if he or she has deliberately done or failed to do anything that led to the loss of accommodation that was thought reasonable for them to occupy. Can the Minister tell us what special attention will be given to the prevention of homelessness among patients leaving custody and young people leaving care? Will there also be a provision for young peopleaged 16 or 17to be entitled to assistance from the Housing Executive?
We support the development of a clear and cohesive strategy on homelessness to provide a stable and supportive living environment for those who find themselves in the plight of homelessness. I trust that as a result of this order we will see an integrated, interdepartmental and interagency approach. However, can the Minister tell us whether there will be a common code of practice for the Housing Executive and all other organisations dealing with homelessness?
It might seem strange to the noble and learned Lord that I am taking up the cause of those who are cohabiting, in view of our previous arguments. But what would happen if people had been cohabiting? Perhaps I am reading the provision incorrectly, but it seems rather harsh. I dare say that the answer could be a joint tenancy, but many people do not want to get involved in joint tenancies. If they do not want to get involved in marriage, they might not want to get involved in joint tenancies, but then somebody could be left without a roof over their head.
I echo what the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran, Lord Smith and Lord Rogan, have said. The Housing Executive has done a fantastic job at a most difficult time, particularly in the area where I live. I welcome the order, which I think is really good. The idea of introductory tenancies, as set out in Chapter II, is rather novelif people do not fit the criteria after a year they will be moved on. I look forward to that happening.
The provisions regarding travellers in Chapter II are a positive step. Travellers in Northern Ireland have been treated rather badly because it has been a question of how each district council viewed their position. So it is good that there is an overall approach to the problem of travellers.
I have a couple of brief comments about Chapter IV. It refers to anti-social behaviour, and several of my fellow Peers have spoken about that this morning. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, asked how to define anti-social behaviour. I wonder how enforceable that is. At present, one cannot even get the police to come in to deal with crime in certain housing estates in Northern Ireland. I wonder how far it would be possible to force the police or anyone else to move in to force people out for anti-social behaviour. This is a huge problem in the sprawling estates of Northern Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has already said, some of those estates have been taken over by the paramilitaries.
I also want to draw attention to Chapter IV of the order, which deals with people who are forced to leave their homes and the fact that grants would be available. The Housing Executive has done wonderfully well in that respect. I live in an area where, two years ago, 300 families were forced to leave their homes within a number of weeks. The local officer dealt well with that. My concerns are: who will say who receives the grants; where does one apply for them; and what is the overall level of the grant? I worry that the situation could be manipulated by people who view it simply as an opportunity to obtain more money.
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