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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: There was always a degree of potential for what one might call "rocky relationships" between the department, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the housing associations. However, I believe that that may not have been entirely justified. But, more recently, a central application tenancy list was operated by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. At that stage, I was a board member of a housing association. I was concerned about the possible loss of what one might call "human relationships" and "human touch" in this delicate matter. I believe it is fair to say that those fears, too, were unjustified, although we must be careful now that the unit is biggerconsisting of three instead of two organisations.
I hope that we can be assured that the human touch will not be in any way impaired by what is bound to be a more complicated mechanism as a result of the order. The new arrangements might make for greater efficiency, but I hope that they do not lead to the loss of the customer relationship.
Part II of the order concerns the conduct of tenantsa somewhat thorny issue which brings back many unhappy memories. Such problems were usually dealt with by computer. I am not certain that that is the preferable method because, here again, the hands-on technique is most likely to identify problems long before they appear on the horizon, and that is very important. Once identified, I believe that, at all costs, we should impress upon all concerned the importance of avoiding what I would call "printed paper bombardments". Those are usually far more damaging to relationshipsnot only to those of the individual tenants concerned but to those far wider.
Lord Eames: I add my voice to those of my colleagues who have paid tribute not only to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive but to the many voluntary housing associations across the Province which have done marvellous work, particularly over the past few years. I also pay a very warm tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for the sensitivity that he has always exhibited in dealing with the problems of Northern Ireland. That has impressed at least one Peer on the Benches on which I sit.
I want to make two brief points. I believe that the order is one of those unique pieces of business dealt with by the House which has great importance in areas other than those mentioned specifically. The issues in
I want to ask two simple questions. First, can the Minister tell us, even at this primary stage, what the Government feel is the best road forward to implement the provisions that touch on anti-social behaviour? I have in mind, in particular, the problems that come to my desk time and time again from my clergythat is, the whole question of people being forced out of their homes by paramilitary organisations or sinister forces. Such people feel at a loss either to obtain help from the police, as referred to by the noble Baroness, or, in this context, to obtain government and government agency help.
Secondly, I welcome the provisions as regards travellers. That has been a particular problem, especially in my diocese in the border area where a considerable social problem has been promoted by the movement of travellers in large numbers.
Finally, perhaps I may suggest to Her Majesty's Government that this is a wonderful opportunity to pay tribute to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and to the army of civil servants who have briefed us and provided help over the years, both here and in Northern Ireland. It is also an opportunity to say that, if this matter is to be dealt with here in the absence of devolution in Northern Ireland, we must exercise the utmost sensitivity in overlapping these provisions with some of the other social needs to which I have referred. I greatly welcome the order.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am obliged to Members of the Committee for their contributions. This debate has been a model demonstration of how to deal with legislation. I agree with Members of the Committee who have said that this is second best to the Assembly considering such matters, but on this occasion it has been quite a good second best.
The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, asked about article 13. I know the answer to thisthat is why I am dealing with it straight away. I am pleased that social advance and social mores have persuaded the noble Baroness that her recent stance on single-sex adoption was misplaced. I understood that to be the burden of her question.
Baroness O'Cathain: I thank the noble and learned Lord but he is not going to get away with that! This matter has nothing to do with adoption; it solely involves cohabiting couples and their right to stay in a house if one of them dies.
That partly leads me to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, about domestic violence, which is dealt with in article 23. He asked about the position of children generally and more specifically in one-parent families. Fortunately, the position of children generally is now protected. New Ground 2A states that, if domestic violence is proved, sanctions can follow if,
Going back to article 3, "a member of the family of that partner" would include a child. That is very important. It would not be appropriate to evict a single parent who had been found guilty of violence to a child because the child would be left homeless and parentless. The child's rights are amply protected in that context.
I turn to a general point. Historically, we have always overlooked the menace of anti-social behaviour. I do not put it too highly by suggesting that, in some cases, anti-social behaviour, although not itself criminal, is more wounding to domestic peace, harmony and happiness in one's home than some activities that are criminal. We have been derelict as a Parliament in dealing with that. It is a great opportunity to have this matter instituted in legislation pertaining to Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about emergency grants and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, referred to those who are driven from their homes by intimidation. There are two dangers in this regard. The first is that of not caring for the person's needs sufficiently; the grief of a person who is hounded from his home I find unimaginable. The second danger involves the perfectly valid concern of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, who asked whether it was possible to abuse the scheme and what safeguards there must be.
Article 138 deals with both those points. Emergency grants will be provided and the scheme will have to be drawn up by the Housing Executive. On its behalf, I am grateful for all the tributes rightly offered to the executive. The scheme will set out the circumstances, conditions and conditions for repayment under which a grant may be paid. That will all have to be approved by the Department for Social Development.
In answer to the noble and right reverend Lord, the Housing Executive will monitor the scheme very closely, first, to see that those who are in genuine need receive assistance, and, secondlya point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoranto ensure that the scheme is not abused by those who pretend to have been driven from their homes when that is not the case.
I turn to a number of further questions. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, said that we should look across all departments. I take that point; it is well made. This Order in Council refers only to housing, but I accept that point and the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, about the human touch. In my own experience, it is useful to test public services in
But my own experience is that, even if the request cannot be met fully, a smile from the counter is just as important by way of therapy for people who are feeling downhearted. I believe that immediately after 1945 a famous Minister in the Ministry of Labour, as it was called in those days, used to put on his cap, muffler and old coat and go to the labour exchange to see how he was dealt with. That would be a useful task for some of us to carry out, although, of course, I shall not apply it to religious organisations.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, asked about young people. Persons with priority need will be provided with accommodation. That includes those under the age of 21 who may be in danger, families with children or disabled persons.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blood, made an important point about anti-social behaviour, and general questions were raised concerning the lack of a definition. We have left that to the courts. They are well used to dealing with concepts such as nuisance, harassment and so forth. There is a danger of over-prescription because social conditions change, and we would rather give the courts the flexibility which they are well used to deploying.
Concern about evidence was also raised. If a person has been subject to harassment or anti-social behaviour, he will probably be afraid to give evidence. The provision in this order allows other persons, such as Housing Executive officials, to give evidence about the nuisance or annoyance. That is a very important step forward. In that way, secondary evidence, as it were, can be given both of behaviour and of consequence.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, the department will issue guidance to social landlords to ensure that all provisions are operated reasonably. The point about university students is very well made. I declare my interest as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Wales. It has always struck me that those who are students for a short period of time are among the least protected tenants and are inadequately protected in terms of health and safety.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, also raised the question of the funding of grants. The main grants will be aimed at remedying unfitness and they will be means-tested. Therefore, people on particularly low earnings will benefit significantly from those grants. Where a property requires improvement but is not unfit, owner-occupiers on low incomes will be able to apply for help from the home repair assistance grant. That is means-tested, but the elderly and disabled may well be exempt from that test.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith, asked about housing association sales. There is a common waiting list for Housing Executive and housing association properties, and prospective tenants may be housed in accommodation provided by either. We wish to ensure that any schemes that follow reflect a need to retain the levels of specially adapted homes available in the social rented sector. I believe that the noble Lord's wider point is very well foundedthat is, one does not want, simply in the rush for sales, to leave a gap in the market which cannot be filled.
I believe that I have dealt with all the points raised by Members of the Committee. I shall review the transcript carefully. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, in particular, asked a number of very detailed questions. If I have not dealt with them, I undertake to write to the noble Lord. Of course, I shall copy the letters, as I always do, to all Members of the Committee who have shown an interest in these matters. I am very grateful. I believe, and hope, that we have done our work well on this occasion.
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