The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, when the result of the recent election for the office of Lord Speaker was announced, I indicated that there would be an opportunity to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, our very first Lord Speaker, for the service she has given the House. That opportunity presents itself today.
The familiar sight of the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, in the unfamiliar setting of the Woolsack reminds us that this is a significant day for the House; we have witnessed the first succession in what is by the standards of this House a fledgling office. Taking up the office five years ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, ushered in a new era. It is a mark of the respect and confidence that the House placed in her personally that over that period the role of Lord Speaker has become an established element of the way in which the House regulates and governs itself. That alone is a remarkable legacy that will secure her place in the history of this House and of Parliament.
Some noble Lords may recall that on the occasion of her inauguration five years ago, the task facing the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was likened to that faced by Julie Andrews, on the one hand, and the Archbishop of Canterbury on the other. We were warned that she would require the skills of a nanny and a singing nun, and forbearance on a par with that shown by the most reverend Primate, in order to preside over a self-regulating institution such as ours, vested with wide visibility but patchy authority. However, the House could hardly have known that even that rare mix of qualities would prove insufficient, for the term of office of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was to coincide with a period of difficulty for this House, for Parliament and for British politics.
We have witnessed the removal of the appellate jurisdiction of this House, allegations of paid advocacy that prompted the House to revive its powers of suspension, and a press campaign that exposed serious abuses of the financial support available to Members of both Houses. As Lord Speaker, Chairman of the House Committee, and a member of the Procedure Committee of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was in the eye of the storm on each occasion. She displayed tremendous energy, resolve and patience in helping to steer the House through these episodes. She leaves behind a more resilient and transparent institution, equipped with a new code of conduct for Members, an independent Commissioner for Standards, and a simpler and more transparent system of financial support for Members.
Although less visible to the majority of your Lordships, we can also take pride in the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, represented the House as our Speaker. She established herself as an energetic and persuasive ambassador for this Chamber. She was the driving force behind the creation of the House's outreach programme and she herself led by example, engaging in an extensive programme of parliamentary diplomacy in order to build relationships with other parliaments and second chambers, particularly those in the Commonwealth. Many of us particularly admire the poise and elegance with which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, represented the House on ceremonial and state occasions, most memorably during the recent visits of Pope Benedict and President Obama.
I close by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, as our new Lord Speaker. She has been chosen by the whole House and can count on the support and confidence of noble Lords on all sides as she resumes her service to the House in a new capacity. Her predecessor has set an exacting standard for what the House can expect from a Lord Speaker. We remain
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for what he has said about the outgoing Speaker and I know that the whole House will concur with all that he has said. He has rightly emphasised her work in establishing the new post, in carrying out her work both in the Chamber and on the important committees of this House, her work on governance and transparency, and on external engagement. In all those areas, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has carried out her role and responsibilities with energy, conscientiousness and dignity in a way that commanded great respect and affection both here and in the wider world. I understand, however, that occasionally there was amusing confusion with foreign counterparts because the Lord Speaker was clearly neither a Lord nor someone able to speak in her own Chamber.
Perhaps I may touch on three points in particular. The first refers to the considerable difficulty that this House and, indeed, Parliament as a whole have faced over matters of conduct. I believe that this House took the right steps to deal with these matters but in doing so the Lord Speaker had an important but difficult role. She had at once to be apart and above these issues, and, at exactly the same time in terms of her own concerns for the reputation of this House, to be fully involved in helping to resolve them. She struck entirely the right balance in doing so, at once working closely with all parts of the House and its processes, and at the same time maintaining an important detachment from the political parties and other groupings and individuals. I pay tribute to her care and carefulness in doing so.
Secondly, she has been a vital catalyst in helping to improve the way your Lordships' House does its work. The House now has before it an important set of proposals for reform of its working practices. The fact that it does so can be traced directly and specifically back to initiatives taken by the Lord Speaker. If this House updates, improves and reforms its working practices, as I hope it will, it will be a testament to the outgoing Lord Speaker that it has done so.
The third area which I would mention is young people. The outreach programme which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, or Helene as she always will be and always has been for many of us on all sides of this House, has successfully established has already been mentioned. It has been of real benefit to this House and to Parliament. I also believe that it has been of genuine benefit to thousands of young people and it has been appreciated up and down this country.
This is not a party political occasion. This is an occasion which is informed by politics-it is, after all, what we do-but it is not governed by them. I hope, however, that we might on this side of the House be given a few seconds of indulgence because we are particularly proud and pleased to be able to pay tribute to the first Lord Speaker. She was a trailblazer in this post of great constitutional significance but, of course, she was also a trailblazer in the other place as
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At the same time, we know that she came from our Benches and from a long record of service to our party. We are proud and pleased that she has been such a credit to the whole House and, in doing so, a credit to our party too. We know that in returning to the House she now has to sit on the Cross Benches and we know that she will carry out her role there with the same impartiality and care that she has shown as Lord Speaker. We hope, however, that from time to time-just as with some of her Cross-Bench colleagues-we will be able to persuade her of some of the arguments which we will be making.
We welcome the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, as the new Lord Speaker, especially on this her first day on the Woolsack. She has a hard act to follow. I hope that the new Lord Speaker will see fit to follow the example of her predecessor in writing annually to all Members of your Lordships' House. Her letters have been models of clarity and information, and I believe that they have been widely welcomed on all sides of the House. Her scrupulousness has been applied to keeping her own thoughts and views out of these letters, but in her final letter, she does say that it has been a privilege and an honour to serve this House. The real position is the reverse. It has been a privilege and an honour for this House to have the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, serve this House as its first Lord Speaker. We thank her for all that she has done.
Lord McNally: My Lords, it is my pleasure to pay tribute from these Benches to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has already referred to the fact that it was me, from the Benches below the Gangway when she was appointed as Lord Speaker, who referred to her as a cross between the Singing Nun and Mary Poppins. She got hold of me immediately afterwards and with some indignation pointed out that she could not sing and that she was certainly no nun. So I shall take this opportunity to withdraw that comparison. However, I refer noble Lords to the Wikipedia entry on Mary Poppins as portrayed by Julie Andrews. There it says that Mary Poppins is:
I echo the tributes paid by the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition, particularly when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, spoke of her behind-the-scenes skills in managing the House through very difficult times. She has trod with delicacy in establishing the authority of the Lord Speaker inside this Chamber while being sensitive and aware of the way the House wishes to safeguard its self-regulation. As has been mentioned, she pioneered the outreach programme to promote better understanding of our work among young people and the voluntary sector, and she initiated a meeting of the Youth Parliament in this House when the other place hesitated and refused to do so. It has
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As for the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, it is never easy to step down from high office and go to the Back Benches. But my prediction is that she will mellow just as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, has mellowed. In fact, it is my prediction that she will mellow exactly as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, has mellowed. We wish her well on the Cross Benches.
Lord Laming: My Lords, I am so very pleased that my first formal task as Convenor on behalf of the Cross-Bench group is to contribute to the richly deserved tributes being made to our former Lord Speaker. This is a special pleasure for me, not least because I first met the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, when as far back as 1974 she was elected to be my local Member of Parliament. Her election attracted a great deal of attention, first, because she was a woman, and secondly, because she was so young. Such factors were considered to be remarkable, and that of itself is very noteworthy. But for me, then a chief officer in the local authority, from the outset she demonstrated in abundance a much more significant, third feature. That was her evident energy, drive and unyielding commitment, especially to the well-being of the least fortunate and least able of her constituents.
Later, the noble Baroness was to experience the reality of many a political career, which is that of a marked political swing in an area. Once again, it was demonstrated that being a hard-working and enthusiastic representative of the people does not guarantee re-election.
However, when in 1979 the noble Baroness lost her seat in the other place she did not seek a new life in rich pastures. Instead, she decided to build on her earlier career in Camden social services and with the National Council for One Parent Families. This time, she also tackled with vigour a range of very challenging posts in the National Health Service and with local and national charities. So when in 1996 she was appointed to your Lordships' House, she had accumulated a wealth of experience both in the public services and the voluntary sector. It was, therefore, hardly surprising that very soon she was appointed a Minister in three different departments of government. But, of course, her work in government that many of us remember best was the time she spent in the Department of Health.
As has been noted, in 2006 the noble Baroness became the first Lord Speaker in your Lordships' House. As has been said so ably, there can be no doubting that, during the past five years, she has fulfilled her responsibilities with great distinction. All of us have had the benefit of her vast experience and personal qualities.
More than that, the noble Baroness has been a great ambassador and a splendid advocate for this House, both nationally and internationally. To highlight just one example, many of us have had the pleasure of contributing to the Peers in Schools programme. No matter how generous the concluding vote of thanks, I suspect that, on leaving a school, most of us have hoped just that the students have gained as much as us from the visit. The Lord Speaker's lectures and the involvement of young people have added greatly to the standing of this House.
Looking back over the past five years, each of us will have our own special memories of the work of the former Lord Speaker. For my part, I hold dear the occasion when, on behalf of both Houses of Parliament, she thanked President Obama with such warmth, grace and evident sincerity. It was a moving conclusion to a memorable event.
We all look forward to the time when we welcome back the noble Baroness to these Benches. Then, the whole House will once again benefit from her vast experience and great ability. What is for sure is that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has our warmest thanks for all she has done for us during her time as Lord Speaker.
I feel sure that our former Lord Speaker would approve of me adding a brief word of welcome to her successor. It goes without saying that we in the Cross-Bench group take particular pleasure in the election of the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza. She must be the first Cross-Bencher to hold this post either in its previous or in its current form. We are delighted. It gives us huge pleasure in her achievement and we wish her great success. However, perhaps I may take the opportunity to reassure the House that trying to step into the footsteps of the noble Baroness once is challenge enough-I have no ambition to try to do it a second time.
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, bishops are used to bringing up the rear in formal processions. Today, I find myself bringing up the rear of a procession of worthy tributes to the work and character of the outgoing Lord Speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. In consequence, I shall seek to avoid, as far as is seemly, hesitation, repetition or deviation.
It is with great pleasure and humility that I add my appreciation on behalf of these Benches to that expressed by others for the Lord Speaker as she retires from this role in your Lordships' House. On these Benches, we have been extremely grateful for all that she has so graciously and ably offered to the life of your Lordships' House. Those charged with responsibility for convening the Lords spiritual have in particular been grateful for the Lord Speaker's warmth, help and support. The present Convenor, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, is deeply apologetic that he cannot be here today.
Our outgoing Lord Speaker has been an excellent ambassador for your Lordships' House. In her work promoting overseas all that is good about your Lordships' House, she has delivered with great imagination and diligence. Travel seems an increasingly wearisome business, yet the Lord Speaker showed herself willing to go wherever and whenever she could to promote your
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At all times, the Lord Speaker has attempted to inform and communicate with your Lordships on matters of concern and interest. In this, the Lord Speaker has again achieved a high standard. Her hosting of a series of seminars, including recently one on the interaction between religion and politics, is but one example of her willingness to engage with issues of significance by using her office to create a thoughtful and impressive space for the airing of pressing current issues. As has been said, she will be the proverbial hard act to follow. With your Lordships, we on these Benches look forward to welcoming and working with the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, in her newly elected role.
To conclude, on behalf of these Benches I am more than happy to add our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the former Lord Speaker, for her efforts on our behalf since she was elected in 2006. We wish her well and hope that, free from the responsibilities that she has so willingly and ably borne, she will enjoy her retirement from this particular role and, who knows, have a little extra time on her hands for family and friends-of whom she has many, not least in your Lordships' House. We look forward to the noble Baroness's continued contributions from the Benches of your Lordships' House, from which I am certain that we will undoubtedly continue to benefit.
Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, as the longest-serving Deputy Speaker, may I say, on behalf of all Deputy Speakers, that we would like to be associated with the tributes paid to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, from all sides of the House? It was a great pleasure working with her and we look forward to working with the new Lord Speaker.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I have had the honour and privilege of working as one of the noble Baroness's deputies for five years. During that time, she was genuinely concerned about her deputies. She worried about whether we got home on time or had had something to eat if the House sat late. Never since I was a teenager has somebody worried about that on my behalf. I am most thankful to her and look forward to working with the new Lord Speaker.
The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza): My Lords, I am extremely happy that my first task in the Chamber today is to add to the tributes already paid to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. The noble Baroness has, as we have already heard, fashioned a role over the last five years into which I can now step with great gratitude. No one should underestimate what hard work it has taken to build such a successful programme, one that I would now like to continue-and even, perhaps in some areas, expand. It is clear from today's tributes how much we owe the former Lord Speaker and how much she is now welcomed as a Back-Bencher and, particularly, as a Cross-Bencher.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, the Government fund national HIV health promotion programmes for men who have sex with men and for African communities, the groups most affected by HIV in the UK. This is in addition to harm minimisation programmes for injecting drug users, NHS HIV prevention programmes and open-access testing and treatment services. The White Paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People, sets out the Government's strategy for reform of public health in England. This includes sexual health and HIV.
Lord Fowler: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but does he really think that we are getting the message over on the dangers of HIV? Is it not a fact that the number of people accessing care for HIV has trebled in the past 10 years, that we now have almost 100,000 people with HIV in the United Kingdom and that the cost of treatment and care has now risen to almost £1 billion a year? Given that this is an entirely preventable disease, does not my noble friend agree that we have devoted disgracefully little to HIV prevention programmes over the past decade and that our efforts here should now be urgently increased?
Earl Howe: My Lords, may I begin by paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Fowler in his continuing interest in HIV and AIDS, here and internationally? He has done a huge amount to raise the issue's profile in Parliament and more widely. I agree with much of the thrust of what he said; there is no doubt that over the past 10 or 12 years great progress has been made in a number of areas, but we are still concerned about the increasing incidence of HIV among men who have sex with men and sub-Saharan African communities, which are the groups most affected and vulnerable to HIV in the UK. That is why our prevention campaigns have been targeted primarily at those communities. There is much more work to do. The sexual health framework report that we are publishing later this year will have a separate section on HIV, and I hope that in that document my noble friend will be reassured that our efforts in this area will not let up.
Lord May of Oxford: Would the Minister agree that while HIV is of special importance it is also a fact that all other sexually transmitted infections are showing similar marked patterns of increase? Should not the Department of Health be showing more concern about this than it currently seems to?
Earl Howe: The noble Lord is right to draw attention to the rising incidence of other sexually transmitted diseases. I draw the House's attention in particular to
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Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister appreciates how important it is to have early testing. What efforts will the Government make to ensure that GPs and other primary care professionals routinely offer HIV testing to all new patients, particularly in high prevalence areas? More than that, is any action being taken to give the new GPs and other new professionals the confidence, skills and ability to be able to offer that test?
Earl Howe: The noble Baroness with her experience makes a central point here. We absolutely agree that increasing the offer and uptake of HIV testing in a variety of healthcare settings is important to reduce undiagnosed HIV. We welcome the BHIVA professional guidelines in this area, which have been extremely helpful. The sooner a person with HIV is diagnosed, the sooner they can benefit from treatment and also make any behavioural changes to prevent transmission. It is those behavioural changes that count most strongly.
The department funded pilots to support the implementation of recommendations from the BHIVA, and those were extremely successful. In the coming days, we will consider carefully the report that is due to be published by the Health Protection Agency to see how we can take forward its findings in this area.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, as a member of the House of Lords committee that produced the report, I pay tribute to our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for his excellent work. Is the Minister aware that one-quarter of the people with HIV do not know that they have it? That is extremely dangerous; late diagnosis costs a lot and many of those people die early. Will he do more to promote prevention?
Earl Howe: The noble Baroness is correct that about one-quarter of those with HIV are unaware of it, which is why testing in a variety of healthcare settings is vital and a targeted preventative approach to the two communities that I mentioned has to continue.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, following on from the previous speaker, perhaps my question is appropriate. The Minister knows my interest in this subject but would not the legitimisation of brothels be a great help, with regular health checks therein?
Earl Howe: My noble friend makes a serious point. This is not a subject on which I or, as far as I know, the Government have a fixed view, but I will ensure that her question is fed into our deliberations on the sexual health framework document.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, as a member of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, I ask the Minister if he agrees that the contribution made by the voluntary sector to the effort both to
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Earl Howe: My Lords, I readily join the noble Baroness in paying tribute to those voluntary organisations, not least the Terrence Higgins Trust, which over the past 10 years has done a great job in leading the department's national programme of work-we believe that that has contributed in a major way to the increased uptake of testing in clinics-while for African communities the African Health Policy Network has managed the department's national programme, working with community-based groups in a very positive way. Those two groups in particular are being funded this year. No decisions have been made about next year because a tendering process will apply, but this work needs to continue in some form.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, the noble Lord has, of course, previously suggested that there should be a formal relationship between pension age and life expectancy. We have consulted on a mechanism to ensure that revisions in life expectancy are reflected in the state pension age. The summary of responses was published on 27 July and we will publish our proposals in due course.
Lord Sheldon: My Lords, the pension age will be equal for men and women in only seven to eight years' time, and it will rise from 66 to 68 in 2044. That is very slow. Longevity is rising so rapidly that an assessment has been made that more than 11 million people can expect to live to be more than 100 years old. Should not the pension age be affected by the rapid rise in longevity?
Lord Freud: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to pinpoint what is happening to longevity. There needs to be a response to that because we cannot afford to pay for the large number of people who spend upwards of 40 per cent of their adult lives in retirement with a state pension. The process that we are undergoing is to look at how best to move the pension age with either a review or some automatic process, and we will be coming out with our proposals for that in due course.
Lord German: My Lords, a woman born this year will have a one in three chance of living to the age of 100, whereas a woman born in 1931 would have had only a one in 20 chance. Given the acceleration of the change in life expectancy and the results of the consultation that the Government have just concluded, is it not right that there should be an accelerating change in the connection between the state age of retirement and life expectancy, which is growing all the time? We cannot expect this to be something that is predicted for 20 or 30 years hence. It has to be predicted on a much more regular basis.
Lord Freud: My Lords, clearly that is the issue: life expectancy is growing rapidly. It is hard to set the figures many decades in advance. The responses to the consultation show that most people think that a period of around 10 years seems appropriate, although other countries have used shorter periods. It is right that we should look at a number of factors when we move the retirement age. These include not just longevity but healthy life expectancy and regional and other variations.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, it is clearly reasonable that the pension age for men and women should rise alongside longevity. However, it is clearly unreasonable that up to half a million women have recently learnt that they will have to wait up to two years longer than they expected for their state retirement pension. The noble Lord will know that many sectors of the House were deeply unhappy about this. The Pensions Bill is now in the other place. Will he tell the House whether the Government are shifting their position on this so that it is fair to all women and not so deeply unfair to so many women?
Lord Freud: My Lords, as the noble Baroness pointed out, we debated this in some depth when we looked at the Bill. Those concerns, expressed around the House, were taken very seriously. The Secretary of State responded at Second Reading in another place by saying that we needed,
Lord Flight: My Lords, I urge the Government to accelerate to a retirement age of 70, not just on grounds of longevity and fitness but on fundamental economic grounds. It is entirely natural, if you have an ageing population and wish to keep economic growth up, that the workforce should remain the same through people working longer. Finally, the highest growth in new jobs now is among people over 65, so this is a reality in the workplace.
Lord Freud: Yes, my Lords, it will be extremely expensive if we do nothing. In the past five years we have already seen real expenditure on pensions go up by £20 billion to £81 billion a year. If we do nothing, the projections are that age-related spending will go up to more than 5.5 per cent by the middle of the century. We must do something about it. That is why
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Baroness Drake: My Lords, the level, manner and timing of any increase in the state pension age will be controversial, as instanced by the recent debate on women's state pension age. I hope the Minister will agree that it is important to build a consensus on how to respond to increasing life expectancy, both between political parties and between government and the people. In particular, we must avoid undermining confidence in pension saving, particularly in younger generations, where the problem is so deep. Are the Government considering setting up an independent body to monitor and analyse matters related to increasing life expectancy, including socioeconomic differences in morbidity and mortality? Its published findings could inform government and parliamentary decision-making. Anecdotal, sentimental and emotional debate is not the way to resolve this issue.
Lord Freud: My Lords, this is a long-term issue and one needs to address it on a long-term basis. When the Chancellor introduced this topic, he said that he would like to see it addressed on a cross-party basis. That remains the position.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, the Resolution Foundation report finds that the share of national income going to the bottom half of workers in the form of wages has shrunk over the past 30 years. While this has been a long-term trend in most advanced economies, the Government are committed to the UK having a better educated and more flexible workforce within a more balanced economy and to ensuring fairness, with all individuals rewarded for entering and progressing in work.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and for drawing attention to that key finding. However, the other key finding of the report is that the main reason for the falling proportion of national income going to those on low and middling wages is rising wage inequality, particularly at the top. Will the Minister please advise your Lordships'
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Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former member of the advisory board of the Resolution Foundation, whose work I very much admire. The report talks about wages before the effects of tax and benefits. Indeed, the noble Baroness is right that about two-thirds of the effect which it identifies results from growing wage inequality. However, it is interesting that the report's tables point out that, at one extreme, the wage inequality results in those within financial services on the 90th percentile of earnings earning 6.2 times the amount earned by somebody on the 10th percentile, whereas in manufacturing the differential is only 3.3 times and has hardly changed over the past decade. Therefore, we need to see a much better balanced economy; balanced growth is what we want to see. In the previous decade, manufacturing's contribution to the economy halved and that of financial services increased very significantly. The starting point has to be a more balanced growth in the economy.
Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the findings of the report is that the increase in taxes, particularly national insurance contributions, among lower income wage earners was a contributory factor to the growing inequality? Does he therefore agree that the decision taken by the Government on the national insurance contribution threshold and the decision to increase the income tax threshold will go some way towards addressing the problem which the report mentions? Does he agree that the Government should proceed quickly to increase the income tax threshold in particular as quickly as possible?
Lord Sassoon: Indeed, I agree with the points that my noble friend makes. The Government are working on other initiatives to help address this problem, such as driving through the entire package of tax and welfare reforms, introducing the universal credit from 2013-14 and making it pay to work. It is a terrible state of affairs that everything earned by a lone parent who works part time for 10 hours a week is immediately taken off that person through changes to their tax and benefit. Therefore, the introduction of the universal credit and driving through our reforms to tax and welfare are critical to making inroads into this problem.
Lord Lea of Crondall: Does the Minister recall that Mr David Cameron, during the election campaign, expressed regret about growing inequality in this country? Of course, that inequality has now accelerated. Does he not agree that the time has come for remuneration committees, which are mutual admiration societies that have been going higher and higher above the upper quartile, should be subject to a reformed company law structure, with supervisory boards and multi-stakeholders to make sure that these people cannot just go on paying themselves a fortune without any regard to the principle of greater equality?
Lord Sassoon: Just to be completely clear, inequality increased under the previous Government. The latest data show inequality coefficients to be flat, but it is too
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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House will have appreciated the Minister's customary lucid answers to these questions, but the country will be more interested in the obvious question. How is it that after the banking failure of three years ago banking practices in terms of remuneration are being restored to their customary outrageous level?
Lord Sassoon: Unlike the mess that the previous Government left behind in banking-we really do not need a lecture on this-the Merlin agreement put in place by this Government is making sure not only that credit is delivered by the banks to our hard-pressed industry but that bankers' remuneration was less in 2010 than it was the year before and is less than it would have been without that agreement in place. This Government are therefore very much on the case with bankers' remuneration, as with so many other aspects of this very difficult inequality challenge.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, every department must have a Minister on duty in the United Kingdom for the entire Recess, including weekends. It is the responsibility of the Secretary of State to ensure that sensible and comprehensive arrangements are put in place.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his reply, although I must say that I was hoping for a bit more and I am disappointed by that response. Does he not accept that when problems occurred during the Recess the Government were caught flat-footed, off guard and not on top of their game? Is it not time that they apologised for that?
Lord Strathclyde: I simply do not recognise the characterisation that the noble Lord has given to the last few weeks of the Recess, particularly given that the House was recalled and that the Prime Minister
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Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, since this country is involved in armed conflict, will the coalition Government ensure that consequential decisions and responses to developing threats and initiatives are taken jointly by named members of the Cabinet in that sphere?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am not entirely sure of the point that my noble friend is trying to make, but the Cabinet makes decisions collectively. Of course, individual Ministers make decisions that tie the entire Cabinet and, if there were any difficulty or issue, a Cabinet Minister could no doubt bring it back to the attention of the Prime Minister.
Lord Strathclyde: The Prime Minister is always in charge, of course, but when he is abroad the Deputy Prime Minister, if he is in the United Kingdom, holds all the regular, routine meetings in and around No. 10. When he, too, is on holiday, another senior Minister, usually the Foreign Secretary, chairs all those regular meetings.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, my noble friend has clearly enjoyed his Recess. No doubt he will be inviting the House to read the former Chancellor of the Exchequer's book, which has just been published.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, summer months are often torrid times. I seem to recall that, at some point during the recent Recess, we were told by senior figures in the Government not to worry because everybody had BlackBerrys or iPhones. BlackBerrys and iPhones are great pieces of kit, but does the noble Lord agree that in difficult times the physical presence of senior members of the Government is absolutely necessary to reassure not just parliamentarians but the citizens of this country that the machinery of government is working and properly able to respond?
Lord Strathclyde: Yes, my Lords, but I am sure that the whole country was enormously reassured when the Prime Minister returned from holiday, took full control of the unfolding situation and, indeed, recalled Parliament.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, perhaps the Leader of the House will permit me to take a step to one side in my supplementary question. Is it the Government's policy to encourage European Commissioners that there should always be a European Commissioner on duty in the month of August, or at least someone deputising for him? In my experience some years ago, there was a
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Clauses 132 to 146, Schedule 14, Clauses 147 to 154, Schedule 15, Clauses 155 to 165, Schedule 16, Clause 166, Schedule 17, Clauses 167 to 170, Schedule 18, Clauses 171 to 182, Schedules 19 and 20, Clauses 183 to 185, Schedule 21, Clauses 186 to 209, Schedule 22, Clauses 210 to 212, Schedule 23, Clauses 213 to 217, Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 11, Schedule 2, Clause 12, Schedule 3, Clauses 13 to 15, Schedule 4, Clauses 16 to 60, Schedules 5 and 6, Clauses 61 to 67, Schedule 7, Clauses 68 to 97, Schedule 8, Clauses 98 to 104, Schedules 9 to 11, Clauses 105 to 109, Schedule 12, Clauses 110 to 116, Schedule 13, Clauses 117 to 131, Clauses 218 and 219, Schedule 24, Clauses 220 to 223, Schedule 25, Clauses 224 to 227.
(1) All measures required of local housing authorities in relation to social housing and homelessness as a result of this Part shall be undertaken in consistency with the housing strategy required by subsection (3) and with requirements under section 87 of the Local Government Act 2003 and section 13 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, and regulations and guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
(a) trends in housing supply and demand in the owner occupied, private rented and social housing sectors;
(b) trends in housing prices and rents;
(c) new developments, new build and conversions;
(d) empty properties;
(e) second homes; and
(f) broad demographic and employment trends in their areas.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I recognise the Minister's confusion and nevertheless thank her for agreeing to deal with Report as we have. The reason that she was confused was that we clearly did not have a satisfactory end to Committee, and the last couple of parts of the Bill were not sensibly debated in this House. I am therefore very grateful-as, I think, are my colleagues on the Front Bench-that we are first debating on Report those parts which were then rather sparsely dealt with. I thank her and, having seen the Chief Whip just walk into the Chamber, I hope that equivalent flexibility is shown from the Government Front Bench on other issues.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I think that I had better assist the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, recognised, the flexibility given was in granting extra time at Report. However, for the guidance of the House, we follow Report stage rules, and I would not wish there to be any confusion on that matter.
In moving Amendment 1, I declare an interest as chair of a recently formed campaign group, Housing Voice. Amendment 1 is very similar to an amendment which was debated in Committee and it sets the provisions on social housing under the Bill in a wider context. This reconfigured amendment takes account of the response given by the Minister to that amendment. Like everyone else, I want to get on to the amendments that deal with the detailed issues which were not debated or replied to in Committee, so I shall not go over all the arguments again.
Simply, there are three reasons why we need an overarching commitment to the role of local authorities within housing as a whole. First, under localism, and as a result of other things, including the abolition of regional housing targets, local authorities have now become the major driver for achieving housing policy across the country. This follows more than two decades when the housing responsibilities of local authorities under both Governments have been somewhat reduced and their direct control as landlords has substantially reduced. This Bill and its consequences will put local authorities and a lot of the strategy relating to housing back on to local authority shoulders.
Secondly, I think we all recognise that housing is in crisis in terms of its provision, availability and affordability, and I shall just repeat one statistic. Household formation in this country is now running at twice the rate of the provision of new housing. Thirdly, that crisis affects all forms of tenure-owner occupation, the private rented sector and social housing-as well as mortgage markets. Therefore, it needs to be tackled holistically and there is a key role for local authorities in that. That should be put clearly at the beginning of this section on housing and the strategic responsibilities spelled out up front.
In reply to me in Committee, the Minister referred to other legislation where a strategic responsibility was already imposed on local authorities. As a result of her remarks, I have looked at those pieces of legislation and cross-referred to them in this new amendment. They are either rather specific or rather general. The Minister also referred to guidance in this area. Of course, the guidance is in the process of being changed to become somewhat more general, so the existing statutory references and the guidance are rather too vague. It is therefore in the context of localism and of the effective devolution of strategic responsibility to local authorities that we need a strategic responsibility in this House, rather than further ghettoising social housing, as there is a slight tendency to do in the Bill. The Bill would make significant changes to the way in which social housing operates without cross-reference to the effect of the changes on other forms of tenure, or indeed vice versa.
We will come to debate the provisions, on which there will be strongly differing views, but my central point is that almost none of them can be confined to social housing. They will have effects on the private rented market. That is referred to in part in the homelessness provisions but nowhere else. They will also have effects on the demand for affordable mortgages, on planning, on development, on homelessness and on how local authorities deal with empty properties. The consequences of some of the provisions will be that social housing is seen as a residual housing responsibility rather than part of this whole. Whatever one thinks of those policies and the parallel policies dealing with the benefit side in the Welfare Reform Bill that we will debate next week, one cannot deny that the present housing crisis means that the pressures on social housing by restrictions on access to tenancies, or by raising rents, will cause further pressures on the private rented sector and the mortgage market. Nor can one deny that the effects of
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This Bill will make radical changes to social housing. It removes security of tenure for future tenants, abolishes most rights of inheritance and abolishes the financial framework under the HRA. It makes the availability of social housing effectively means-tested and the Welfare Reform Bill caps housing benefit. One can query whether that is consistent with the Government's overall strategy to move people from benefit to work, but nevertheless it will have those effects. There are also changes, which we will debate shortly, to the obligation of local authorities on homelessness. It will therefore push working families into the private rented or affordable mortgage market and may well drive the working poor in many parts of the country out of social housing and to change their location from the inner cities, putting pressure on areas where perhaps it is not currently so great. Except in relation to homelessness, there is no cross reference to those pressures.
Pressures are likely to increase and we will see a spiral increase in demand. A low rate of new build is continuing and the level of rents and access to mortgages and deposits on mortgages are all still going up. The latest reports suggest no let-up in that tendency. We need a clause of this nature in the housing provisions of a Localism Bill. We also need local authorities to co-operate with each other, which will be discussed in the planning provisions of this Bill. Whatever we decide on the provision for social housing, and assuming that the rest of the Bill more or less stands-especially if it stands as it is-we need social housing measures now clearly devolved to local government level to be placed within this wider context. We therefore need a clause such as this.
The existing provisions are not adequate. I appreciate that the Government may not like the wording of this proposed new clause, so if they want to take it away and come up with a better version in time for Third Reading, I am not proud and would be very happy if they were to give that commitment. Such a provision is absolutely needed. I beg to move.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Whitty put forward a similar amendment in Committee on the last day before the Summer Recess. The Opposition did then, and do now, give this amendment our full support and hope that there will be a positive response from the Government today.
There is a crisis in housing across all sectors. We have huge numbers of people on the waiting lists for social housing. The private rented sector cannot meet the demand as the cost of renting in this sector is often out of the reach of many people. You have only to look in the windows of your local estate agents, nearly all of which have a section devoted to private renting, to see what rents are being demanded per month. I grew up in social housing and was lucky enough to buy my first property in my twenties, but the picture is very different now, with people often having to wait until their thirties or forties to get on the property ladder, as they save up the money required for the deposit needed to get on the first rung.
In her response to the debate in Committee the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that the amendment was unnecessary as local housing authorities were already under statutory obligations. She quoted both Section 13 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and Section 87 of the Local Government Act 2003. That is fine as far as it goes, and noble Lords will see that my noble friend Lord Whitty draws on those two provisions in proposed subsection (1) of his amendment in relation to social housing and homelessness. It goes on to require all housing authorities to draw up an analysis of housing supply and demand across all forms of tenure in their areas and neighbouring areas as far as is relevant. They must look at housing trends across all sectors, take stock of house prices and rents, understand what has been built and provided locally, and know the number and type of empty properties: for example, is this an area where there are a number of second homes, and what are the demographic and employment trends in the area? All this must be brought together to enable an authority to plan, make informed decisions and act to build communities and to enable areas to grow and prosper.
This is a sensible proposal and I hope that the Government have reflected on it over the summer. If they are not prepared to accept the amendment, that is regrettable, and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House in detail why not. If my noble friend is not satisfied, he may wish to test the opinion of the House.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, I was not intending to speak in this debate. In my few words I will try to be helpful. It is slightly extraordinary that we are prone to talking about the need for joined-up government, yet we debate for hours housing need and broad demographic trends and never mention the dreaded word "immigration". There has been study after study of population trends. Every one comes to the same conclusion; if immigration continues at about the current level, there will be a massive explosion in our population. As long ago as 2007, the ONS pointed out that up to 70 per cent of housing need is driven by immigration. Therefore, it is completely frivolous to talk about housing need without putting it in the context of many factors, of which clearly immigration is one.
It has been argued forcefully that if we could have a neutral position with precisely the same number of people leaving the country as coming into it, all the housing projections would be shown to be entirely unhelpful, because they suggest that housing need would evaporate just like that. That is the conclusion of almost every study that has been made. I am not saying that nil immigration is a possibility, but we ought now and again in our debates about housing need to mention how immigration and housing policies are closely interrelated. One cannot talk about one without talking about the other, yet most people are terribly fearful of talking about immigration. It is almost a forbidden subject. It is time we related the two subjects to make sense of them.
Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords, will the noble Lord read again what the amendment of my noble friend Lord Whitty calls for? I, too, had not
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Therefore, there is no need for us to specialise in any particular area in the way in which the noble Lord suggested, because the amendment demands that all of that should be looked at-what is needed and what the supply will be, taking into account further areas that the authorities need to look at before covering that.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I had not intended to intervene, either. I do not want to go too far down the same line as my noble friend Lord Waddington. Obviously, immigration-the number of people coming in as against the number going out-has some effect on the housing market. It must do. However, a lot of other trends, including the growth in the number of single-parent families and the huge increase in the number of people living on into old age as single people, are generating an additional demand for housing. That should be set against the current background where, even with low interest rates, the low availability of mortgages and the drop in housebuilding are creating something that we need to take seriously-namely, a diminution in home ownership in this country. As a Conservative who strongly supported the right to buy, with all the effects that that had, I am alarmed that we now have a situation in which our housing policy appears to be leading to a steady diminution in home ownership. There are strategic issues here that need looking at.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I am, of course, an immigrant, although I immigrated a long time ago. I remember being quite unsurprised to learn when I arrived in this country that there was no way in which an immigrant could get social housing. As the years have gone by, that position has changed dramatically. My major concern is the people who have waited on a housing list for 10, 15, 20 or 25 years without a hope in the world of ever getting anything. They see others-very often asylum seekers or others who have newly arrived in this country and are in need-jumping the queue. I cannot understand why if you arrive in this country needing housing-and are very grateful to be here, because this has always been a very hospitable country-you would be unprepared to go to an area of the country where there is vacant housing that is not being used. Many of these immigrants are quite capable of doing up properties themselves. I cannot understand why that is not a process. I am told by a local authority that I spoke to recently about this type of case that it has no flexibility in the matter. As I understand it, under the Homelessness Act it cannot say that people are entitled to be considered for housing because they have waited 25 years. It is not allowed to take any such matters into consideration. This is where the Bill will improve people's rights and make the process for getting social housing fairer.
The other thing that is desperately important is for councils to empty out social housing that is occupied not by those to whom it was given but by the sub-tenants to whom those tenants let it illegally. A huge amount of housing could be made available if that was looked into more thoroughly.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I shall contribute briefly to this debate, although I, too, had not intended to do so. From my perspective, immigrants are welcome and underpin our economy. I say that because our wealth as a country has been dependent over many generations on those who come to live here.
Perhaps I may take us back to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. In Committee I said that I had some sympathy with calls for a housing strategy. However, I am less certain that the timescale which the amendment describes-a 10-year rolling housing strategy-is sufficient because, as my noble friend Lord Newton pointed out, things change quickly. We are well aware that we have a growing rented sector; that in some parts of the country rents are rising well above the rate of inflation; that mortgage repossessions are rising, and that household formation is running at twice the rate of our new house-building programme. As we all acknowledge, the Government's plans for 170,000 homes at affordable rents will not be sufficient to bridge that gap, which is why the growth in owner occupation matters so much. However, people have to be able to get a mortgage. At present, with signs of rising unemployment and rising homelessness, there is a very real danger that more people will go into the private rented sector and that there will be a reduction in the quality of that housing stock.
There is a case for local councils here. Surely good local councils will have some awareness of what is lacking in their area, what the market needs, what private house builders will want to build and what the social housing needs of their area are going to be. They are going to have to be aware of that, otherwise I do not think that another part of the Localism Bill-the part relating to neighbourhood planning-will work. Neighbourhood planning requires some kind of evidence base to enable decisions to be made by neighbourhoods and, more broadly within the authority as a whole, about what the plans for that area should be. Housing and the use of land are central to that.
I hope that there is a way forward and that my noble friend will be able to reassure us. You do not actually need a 10-year housing strategy. You do need an acute, local awareness of housing demand and trends and an ability to be much more fleet of foot in meeting those trends than we have seen over the past two decades.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, we are now coming to the vital questions of homelessness and overcrowding, but this amendment is a little different. It is a general amendment dealing with housing strategy. It does not deal only with the problems of homelessness and getting on the housing ladder: it deals with the whole structure in a local area of what is happening in the housing domain.
I see a lot of merit in this amendment for ensuring that in one way or another we can guarantee that this sort of information is available at the local level. No doubt the Minister will comment on that point because that is the issue underlying this amendment. Is this information seriously available at a local level? For myself, issues such as employment trends, not in the country as a whole but in a region or local area, are quite different. These issues are important for the planning and future analysis of how we can have the houses that we need for the population in individual areas.
Similarly, there is the question of empty properties. We now have town centres with hundreds of empty shops which could easily be converted into housing. Will they be converted into housing? We do not know, but that should be featured in the knowledge available to the local authority. I am not pressing for the exact words, but I am sympathetic to this idea and I hope that the Minister will comment on that in his reply.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Whitty and will make a couple of observations-one in relation to something that was touched on in the amendment and another that is implicit. In the first case I refer to subsection (2) in the amendment, where my noble friend suggests:
In many cases that is a fundamental point which was made more difficult by the abolition of the regional spatial strategies. We know of authorities that are currently having considerable difficulties. In earlier debates I cited the case of Stevenage, which was looking to increase its housing stock. It cannot do so within the narrow confines of the borough, and it is not finding a warm welcome from the adjoining borough of North Hertfordshire. There are other cases of that kind.
In looking at housing needs, as has previously been indicated, it is sometimes necessary to look beyond the confines of an individual housing authority and to make proper provision for at least a sub-regional area. That is an important part of the amendment. I would be grateful for some assurance from the Minister that, even if she is not prepared to accept the amendment as it stands-and I hazard a guess that she might not be-the Government will look at how these cross-boundary issues of determining housing need can be adequately addressed.
One change in the housing situation in many towns and cities with universities and colleges is the high demand for student accommodation. Some of that is met by purpose building-by the university or private institutions-but a lot of it is met by the occupation by students of what in normal circumstances would be family housing.
As with immigrants, there is certainly a strong case to be made for the contribution made by students, and higher and further education, within the local economy. However, they absorb a considerable amount of housing
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Finally, the issue of the number of vacant properties has already been touched on this afternoon. This was referred to this morning in a meeting convened by the Minister, with her right honourable friend the Minister for Housing. Mr Shapps rightly pointed out that waiting lists have grown to something like 1.2 million. He also said that there were a million empty properties in the country-correcting me, appropriately; I thought it was somewhat less than that-which would virtually take care of the waiting list.
Of course there are good reasons why some properties will remain vacant for some time-while they change hands, for example-but there is a real issue over bringing into use the empty properties that could help deal with the housing problem. I regret that the Government's policies on empty dwelling management orders, for example, make it more difficult, not less, for local authorities to address the issue of properties that have been left vacant for some time. They now have to be vacant for two years or more and include an element of environmental degradation before a council can take action. Again, dealing with empty properties is referred to in the housing strategy, but it would be welcome if the Minister would indicate whether there are proposals currently in the Government's mind to facilitate the use of empty accommodation and to speed up the process of dealing with empty properties.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I got us off to a really good start, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has taken that on as well. This is a general amendment on a very serious and specific subject, and I recognise all that has been said across the House and the analysis of the housing situation. In all fairness, I should point out that this is not just a short-term problem. This has been a long-term problem over the years, and both the previous Government and this Government have been trying very hard to address at least some of the issues that have been raised.
There are all sorts of reasons behind a lack of housing and none of us would disagree that the present situation is pretty difficult. It is pretty difficult in the private market. It is very difficult, as has already been said, for young people to get on to the housing ladder; it is very difficult for them to afford mortgages. There is a big problem for that age group and for people starting off on their housing lives.
As has already been said, and was admitted by the Minister this morning, there are empty properties that need to be brought back into use. There is a lot of
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Local authorities are already required to plan effectively for the housing needs of their population under Section 13 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, which of course was brought in by the Government of noble Lords opposite. They are also required to discharge their housing functions in accordance with the strategic priorities as detailed in their housing strategies. We dealt also with housing strategies at the previous stage.
While I understand that the noble Lord is trying to make sure that local authorities understand the way in which their housing markets operate, what their limited stock may be used for and how they will plan for the future, in fact those requirements are already there. I am also certain that the Homes and Communities Agency, which works with local partners, has to demonstrate that it understands the local housing market, including supply, the private rental sector, social housing and homelessness. There are requirements all round for this information to be available. One aspect of this Bill is that it includes enormous areas-we could, for example, spend a long time discussing empty properties, student accommodation and other areas-but this is not a Bill precisely for the big housing provisions; it has some quite specific areas to deal with.
I do not think that I can add anything more. We do not require these amendments. I certainly agree with my noble friend Lord Shipley that a 10-year housing strategy would not be helpful. My experience of housing strategies for a period is that they are usually completely useless and out of date before they get started. Even though the noble Lord says that this would be a rolling programme, to try to envisage 10 years forward would not be at all helpful. The matters detailed in the amendment are all requirements already. All local authorities should know their requirements, even if they cannot meet them, and should be making plans to ensure that they know what those requirements are. In working with the private sector as well as the social sector, they should be able to see whether or where they can make progress.
It is an escapable fact that the housing market is in a very difficult situation, as is the country's economy. As I have said, the previous Government had as
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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving the amendment her careful consideration, and I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, my noble friends Lord Beecham, Lord Kennedy and Lady Wall, and to some extent the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for speaking in support of it. The Minister has reiterated her previous position that this amendment is not necessary and I think I interpret that as her saying that not only are there objections to the wording of this particular proposed new clause in terms of a 10-year rolling strategy and other things but that she could envisage no strategic clause that would be helpful to the position. If that is the case, I have to part company with her.
The noble Baroness was right to say in opening that there is a long-term trend and that it will certainly take a long-term programme to reverse it. However, things have got significantly worse in the past few years with the decline in new build as well as in the mortgage market. As the noble Lord, Lord Newton, said, for the past 30 or more years we have assumed that the housing situation was going to be improved, at least in the long term, by the increase in home ownership. That has seen a very sharp reversal. We see from a report published only last week by the National Housing Federation that home ownership has already fallen from over 70 per cent to 63 per cent, and it envisages that it will shortly be below 60 per cent. That is an entirely new situation confronting the Government, developers and local authorities, so there is a sharper situation than the one envisaged by the provisions of the earlier legislation.
I also think that this Bill as a whole places more responsibility on local authorities than was the case when those pieces of legislation were brought forward. Personally, I am in favour of putting more responsibility on local authorities in this regard, and in that sense I depart from some of the measures taken by the previous Government and the one before that. However, in the situation that we face, local authorities are both legislatively and in reality going to have to take more responsibility, and therefore they need a strategic framework.
Furthermore, the key point which the noble Baroness missed is that the third line of the amendment makes it clear that we cannot consider the social housing strategy set out in subsequent clauses of this Bill, which we shall come to debate, unless it is set against an overall strategy. That, in a sense, is the main reason for putting this in at this point in the Bill, otherwise we move straight to social housing, with all the problems of waiting lists, which we know councils face, and all the problems that have been identified in relation to the provision and allocation of social housing without referring to a wider framework. That would be wrong.
There are legitimate questions about whether a 10-year strategy is the right one. We need some sense of perspective for planning and development purposes, but we must also recognise that we have to adapt to changing circumstances. A rolling programme allows
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I moved these amendments on the last day before the Summer Recess and we are back to them again on the first day after the Recess. These are two very important amendments and, as I told the House on 20 July, the Opposition have considerable concerns about this section of the Bill as presently drafted. The Bill enables local authorities to decide what class of person qualifies for
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I have tabled these amendments because at present it is not clear that tenants have any protection and, as it stands, the effect of the Bill may be to block up the system. As people progress through life, if they have children and then grow up and move on, often they want, and are prepared, to downsize the accommodation they are living in. This would mean that they can live in a property that is more suitable to their present circumstances. That is good for them and good for the local community at the same time, as it frees up much-needed accommodation with a large number of bedrooms and other amenities, which can then be used to help people in housing need. But no one will even consider downsizing in that way if the consequence could be that they lose their secure tenant status. Of what possible benefit would it be to them? If you are in your late 50s and it is just the two of you and you have downsized, all of a sudden you could be on a flexible tenancy for, one hopes, five years, because the council has followed the guidance and not tried to give you a shorter tenancy. Why would anyone want to do that? There is no incentive to do that; it would just cause risk and worry to you, as you start to think about retirement and taking things a bit easier.
One of the most worrying aspects here is the law of unintended consequences. You may be trying to solve a problem and make matters worse. It is also worrying that, taken with the proposal to cut housing benefit for people who are under-occupying, this could be seen as a two-pronged attack on some of the most vulnerable people in social housing and in social need. We on these Benches oppose that strongly.
In the other place, Mr Andrew Stunell, the Liberal Democrat Member for Hazel Grove and a ministerial colleague of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, at the Department for Communities and Local Government, recognised that these proposals would cause concern. He spoke about what any sensible landlord would do, but the problem is that people sometimes do stupid things and social landlords and local housing authorities are no exception to that rule. Also, I do not think it is a sensible way to legislate-with our fingers crossed, saying, "Don't worry, it will never happen". If we go on like that, we will very quickly be able to point to new examples of exactly that happening. If the Government have no intention of seeing secure tenants offered flexible tenancies when they move, they should accept my amendments, because to do otherwise gives a clear signal that they are either not thinking the problem through or in fact that is exactly what they really intend. I beg to move.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, when I stood up last time I was remiss in not welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to his full-time position on the Front Bench. He is very welcome indeed and I hope that he is going to enjoy it. He may not enjoy the start of it, though; I fully understand what he is saying on this amendment but I also think that a bit of flexibility within the provisions is required.
We do not think that it is necessary to legislate to prevent local authorities from ever disqualifying transferring tenants. There may be exceptional circumstances where, for example, tenants have not paid their rent or there is some problem associated with the transfer, but by and large, under practically all circumstances, we would expect transferring tenants to be transferred without trouble. The noble Lord mentioned downsizing to a smaller flat, moving from a bigger flat to a smaller one or moving because of work from one place to another. We would expect all those to go without any difficulty at all and without the local authority having to make any exceptions.
As I say, though, there might just be exceptions. The only one that I will give the noble Lord at the moment is that there might be rent arrears that need to be paid off before the tenants move. Flexibility for the local authority in those circumstances would be removed by this amendment. We are producing secondary legislation that will outline when local authorities can and cannot prevent people transferring. If there were any evidence that local authorities were disqualifying transferring tenants inappropriately, that would be covered by that secondary legislation, which will not be on hand immediately but is coming.
Baroness Hanham: The local authority has flexibility at present so it would be able to prevent the transfer. The wording will mean that it is fully understood that the transferring tenants will perhaps not be able to transfer under those circumstances.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I will seek advice about that as it was not in my notes. I will tell the noble Lord about that as soon as that information appears, whether on this amendment or another one.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I thank the Minister, and I am grateful for her kind remarks at the start of this debate. Hopefully, we will get a response on the guidance later on. Her remarks have given me some comfort and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, in moving Amendment 4 I shall speak also to Amendments 7, 17 and 18. I first thank my noble friend the Minister for the helpful letter that she sent to me during the Recess in response to several of the amendments that I had tabled in Committee. Several of the issues that arise from that will be considered further on Report. In this group of amendments, I should like to press a little further on some of the key issues.
The effect of Amendment 4 is to extend the period during which the homelessness duties will recur if a local authority discharges its duties by means of a private rented sector offer. I am keen to extend it from two to five years. Secondly, it would provide for a household that has been accepted as homeless to receive reasonable preference on the authority's allocation scheme during that period of five years because of its need for stable accommodation to break the cycle of insecure accommodation. Two years is simply too short and will increase the insecurity of those who have been accepted as homeless.
The Bill currently sets out that the homelessness duty can recur only once following the loss of accommodation during the recurrence period. Therefore, if the applicant was subsequently evicted from the accommodation provided on the reapplication, the duty would not recur for a second time. The applicant would have to make a fresh homelessness application. I find this restriction difficult to justify and see no good reason why the homelessness duty should not recur on each reapplication. Crucially, it would provide a key incentive for local authorities to ensure that their original allocation was as suitable as possible.
The main homelessness duty is owed to people who are considered to have a priority need. These include households made up of a pregnant woman; dependent children; applicants aged 16 or 17; applicants aged between 18 and 20 who have been in care; applicants who are vulnerable as a result of having been in care, old age, mental illness, handicap or physical disability; and those who have perhaps been a member of the Armed Forces, served a custodial sentence or fled violence or threats of violence. These are examples of groups who are most in need of secure, affordable homes and whose welfare would be most at risk from a series of short-term lettings and repeat homelessness. That is why two years is simply not sufficient and five years would be much better.
People who leave an institutional setting such as care, hospital, the Armed Forces or prison often struggle to live independently and deal with all the practicalities involved in establishing a home, particularly if they lack support. Knowing that they may be forced to move again quite soon can be particularly unsettling and may throw up practical and financial problems. Combined with the recent and forthcoming restrictions
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There is a link between homelessness and reasonable preference for social housing. The Housing Act 1996 limited the duty to accommodate homeless applicants to two years. Part 6 of that Act established that permanent accommodation can be obtained only through the allocation scheme, not through the homelessness duty, although homeless people should have reasonable preference in allocation. The Homelessness Act 2002 restored the duty to accommodate indefinitely, if necessary via the provision of temporary accommodation, until a settled home is secured. However, the 2002 Act also introduced the qualifying offer, whereby the homelessness duty can be discharged into the private rented sector with the applicant's consent.
The danger here is that the Government may undermine the homelessness legislation by removing the need for consent to discharge the duty into an insecure private letting. I fully understand the need for local councils to use private sector accommodation but that private setting needs to be secure as opposed to insecure. Children and vulnerable adults in particular need the security of a permanent home in order successfully to address issues around family relationships, education, schools, employment, mental and physical health, reoffending and drug and alcohol dependency. The only sustainable way to meet housing need in expensive market areas is by increasing the supply of secure and genuinely affordable rented housing. Allowing housing authorities simply to discharge their homeless duty into the private rented sector regardless of local pressures could simply encourage a race to the bottom whereby homeless people are routinely discharged into the private sector, even in areas where social housing is in plentiful supply.
Amendments 7 and 17 relate broadly to the same point. However, Amendment 18 would prevent the duty recurring just once. The Bill allows households who have been placed in the private rented sector and who have become homeless again within two years still to be owed the main homelessness duty regardless of their priority need status. However, it allows this to happen only once. Amendment 18 would remove this provision. A single recurrence of duty does not offer sufficient protection. A homeless person's first accommodation may be unsuitable and lead to repeated homelessness. If people become homeless again because a tenancy breaks down, they should continue to be owed a duty of accommodation as often as it is needed. Reassessing the household each time to determine their priority needs status could be stressful for the household and, indeed, burdensome for the council.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look again at the aim of Amendments 4, 7, 17 and 18. I do not think it is too much to ask that those who have been owed such a duty at any time within the previous five years, as opposed to two years, should be assisted
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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, might wish to speak. I would rather hear from him first. However, I listened with interest to the noble Lord who moved the amendment. I noticed that one of the categories to which he referred comprised those who had fled violence, which comes back to the asylum seekers we discussed earlier. People who have waited years and years for housing feel great resentment in that regard. Their local authority may have placed them in private sector housing. That was certainly the situation in a case of which I know. The people in that case have found the situation in the private sector impossible as the landlady is not prepared to reduce the rent to the housing benefit rate and has already had an eviction order confirmed by the court. The tenants have been told that they must stay in the accommodation and be made homeless as otherwise the council will have no obligation to them at all, and that if they leave the accommodation they will be regarded as being voluntarily homeless. They have gone everywhere to try to find alternative accommodation. I am talking about central London, which has particular problems in this regard. For some reason we all automatically come to central London because it has a great charm. Whether that is because someone else from your country came here previously and you would like to be in a little group with everyone else, I do not know. I was never in "Kangaroo Valley" in Earls Court, but that was a well known fact even there.
However, it concerns me that people who have for years been deserving cases are not getting any opportunity or help. The people who I am talking about are now being offered an opportunity, after 16 years in other accommodation-they are well over 50-of a possible place in a hostel, although they have not been promised that. They are elderly people-well, they are in their 50s, but the husband is not well and has a heart condition.
Why should that happen to people who see accommodation offered to an asylum seeker, who is in a category of being very grateful to this country? It was said by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, when he moved the amendment, that there are areas where social housing is in plentiful supply. When, years ago, I was on Westminster Council and had responsibility for housing, we decided to offer people the right to live in Liverpool where a lot of accommodation was available. They could be offered that rather than bed and breakfast in London, which was all that we could offer here. They were all offered buses and were supposedly taken off to Liverpool. Only 50 per cent of them ever arrived. The other 50 per cent were never seen again, never made any further application to the council, and I have no idea what happened to them. But why was what proved to be an attractive offer for 50 per cent totally unattractive to the other 50 per cent?
We therefore have to be careful when considering anything regarding homelessness that we do not overlook the people who have become homeless after perhaps years of having somewhere to live, or the people who would qualify if we passed the Government's proposals in the Bill, of which I am a strong supporter. They would make it possible for councils to attach value to various things that they think are important locally, such as the connection with an area over time. I am worried by this sort of amendment. I am not directly opposed to it because I have every sympathy with homeless people, but we have to look wider and think about the full implications.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, my experience of the housing of asylum seekers in the city of Newcastle certainly does not lead me to the view that they have been given wonderful accommodation for which there was a great deal of demand by those in housing need locally. On the contrary, NASS, the national body charged with responsibility for housing asylum seekers, seemed-if I may put it this way-rather less than careful in its choice of the landlords it engaged and the standards of accommodation that the asylum seekers were given. That reinforces the views of some of us that, while we join the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in recognising that there is a perfectly reasonable place for the private rented sector in helping to rehouse homeless people, it is imperative that the standards of that housing be adequately assessed and continually monitored.
I therefore strongly support the amendments-in particular the provision about the length of time for which the obligation to rehouse would remain. However, the reference of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, to Westminster's generous offer to ship people up to Liverpool raises a question. It actually raises several questions, but the one for this afternoon's purposes is whether it would be possible for an authority to discharge its duty under the Bill as it currently stands by offering accommodation outside the area of the authority in which the homeless person currently resides. I may be wrong, but I assume that that would be the case. One hears of authorities in London that are already faced with the possibility of tenants no longer being able to afford accommodation, given the impending changes, and are seeking to acquire or make arrangements for accommodation along the south coast and elsewhere-something that has happened in the past.
Can the Minister give an assurance that it would be at least the initial responsibility of the local authority to try to accommodate people within its boundaries unless the protected tenant or homeless person chooses otherwise? It would be unfortunate if the legislation were, no doubt unwittingly, to encourage the export of homeless people to other authorities, as that may well carry with it other local authority responsibilities-social care and the like-which will be a charge on those authorities, let alone the fact that the people involved may not want to move, at any rate, not for a considerable distance. As I read it-I am open to correction-although authorities are required to advise initially on what might be available locally within their area, if that does not work, they can allocate accommodation outside it. Presumably, if that is refused by the homeless
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, briefly, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. This is a welcome group of amendments that are intended to give homeless households additional protection to that proposed under the Bill.
As I said before, we have a housing crisis. Homelessness is one of the many symptoms of that. We need to ensure that appropriate procedures are in place to protect people who find themselves in distressed or difficult situations. In some cases, two years may be more than adequate, but there will be cases where that is not appropriate, and we should look at how we can make further provision for those situations. Of course, it is very likely that homeless households that need to make use of the provision will include some of the most vulnerable individuals with whom local authorities have to deal. If the Minister is not minded to accept the amendment, perhaps she can reassure us that the matter will be kept under review following implementation of the initiatives on homelessness in the Bill.
I add that if the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, were minded to test the opinion of the House, he would find support on these Benches. I also make the point that the Government Chief Whip reminded the House earlier that we have additional time, but otherwise this is a normal Report. If the opinion of the House is not tested at this point, we are running out of options.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank all those who have contributed to the debate. We recognise that the homelessness duty is one of the major responsibilities of local authorities. However, I resist the amendment to extend the duty to five years, on the basis that often two years is sufficient. People who face homelessness need suitable accommodation, but that is often supportable within the private rented sector. As has already been said, the homelessness duty involves reasonable preference for people on the priority list who need housing. They need suitable accommodation, but not always social housing. The amendment would be unfair to other households on the waiting list that need social housing, which would have to wait longer to have their housing needs met.
One purpose behind the Bill is to allow local authorities much more flexibility in the use of the accommodation they have and in how they can fulfil their obligation to house people-not only homeless people, but those who are on their waiting list. Sometimes, two years is quite sufficient to let people who have been homeless start to find their way forward.
A number of points have been made on that matter and I should like to start with the one raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, on asylum seekers-a point also picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. For asylum seekers in this country who are homeless, the homelessness provisions require that accommodation should be in their area if reasonably practical. Only after that requirement has been tested can they be placed out of the borough but, again, there is the certainty that several factors have to be taken into
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I understand the noble Lord's desire to see that timeframe extended, but we do not think that that would be in the interests of local authorities, those who are homeless and those who are waiting for accommodation. We are satisfied that local authorities' obligations to those who are homeless can be fulfilled satisfactorily within two years, with the expectation that if at the end of two years they still require housing they will again either be treated as though they are unintentionally homeless or be given advice and help in finding accommodation.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for her response, although from my perspective it is a little disappointing. I think the evidence over the next two to five years will demonstrate that a five-year period would be wise. However, I am still hopeful that the Minister will think further about this matter. Perhaps discussions can take place over the next few weeks between Report and Third Reading that will cause the Government to look further at whether the timeframe can be extended to five years. In the hope that that may yet prove possible, I am prepared to await an outcome that we might secure at Third Reading, and I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I was hoping that the Government would have indicated that they were going to accept this amendment or perhaps even sign up to it before this afternoon's debate. The amendment seeks to amend the Housing Act 1996. It would insert an additional clause, adding a new Section 184A. The new clause would put a duty on local authorities to offer advice and assistance to applicants for the purpose of preventing homelessness, and it would give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations in
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I am sure we all agree that homelessness must be eradicated. The Government, local authorities and the voluntary sector need to work together to develop strategies and initiatives to ensure that all citizens can sleep in a bed in their own home. Only with a multi-agency approach can we develop solutions to this grave social problem that destroys people's lives and their prospects for the future.
People become homeless for a whole variety of reasons, including mental illness, social exclusion, family breakdown and repossession-to name but a few. What is clear is that if you are homeless you are a vulnerable person no matter what your circumstances have been in the past, and as a society we need to be in a position to provide help and support.
I am not sure whether any noble Lords have ever been homeless. I certainly have not, but it is fair to say that if you find yourself in that position you will not be in the best frame of mind. You will most likely be distressed and worried and not thinking too straight or clearly. It is a shocking truth today that in one of the richest countries in the world there are still people living on our streets. You can find rough sleepers close to here. I do not mean the protesters in Parliament Square. One need only walk down Victoria Street on the way to Victoria Station, or past Charing Cross Station and Coutts Bank to where rough sleepers gather in the evening for soup and bread. One of the most tragic scenes is of young people with their lives in front of them living on the streets. They are easy prey for a whole variety of people who would do them harm.
My amendment is a small step in the right direction, which I hope the Government will take. Amendments 12, 13 and 14, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, are worthy of support and would ensure that people are given improved notification of advice and assistance that they receive. The amendments would build protections for vulnerable people, ensuring that they understand their rights and are not missing out on the support that they are entitled to. I am sure noble Lords will be aware of the report of the Local Government Ombudsman, Homelessness: How Councils Can Ensure Justice for Homeless People, which is strongly critical of the way in which many councils prevent or delay homeless applications. I beg to move.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. Amendment 12 would require local housing authorities to provide written notification of housing and homelessness advice and assistance given under housing option schemes and to undertake other measures for the prevention of homelessness. Central to many councils' current approach to homelessness and its prevention is the concept of housing options. Under this model, people who approach the council for assistance are required to have a formal interview in which advice on housing options is offered. This is a prerequisite not only for those seeking homelessness assistance but for those seeking to join the housing register or to apply for social housing
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The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, drew attention to the recent report by the Local Government Ombudsman, and I should like to say a little more about that as it is highly material to this part of the Bill. That report highlights instances of council gate-keeping, where local authorities delay or prevent homelessness applications for no good reason. It notes how many people are prevented from making a homelessness application even when they are clearly in a priority need category. It warns that councils could be guilty of maladministration, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, pointed out. It also states that some councils fail to do enough to prevent people becoming homeless, fail to look into whether a person needs help and fail to recognise an application for help with interim accommodation when someone is legally entitled to it. The ombudsman's report specifically calls on councils not to use homelessness prevention activity to block people from making applications, illustrates why this amendment is necessary to ensure minimum standards for housing option services, and, crucially, recommends that councils explain any decisions in writing.
"We see too many cases where individuals have suffered injustice at a particularly precarious moment in their lives when they most needed help. Often extremely vulnerable, they can find themselves sleeping rough or on people's sofas, struggling to find the foothold that would allow them to change their circumstances. When councils fail to give them a helping hand at that key moment, it can affect that individual for years".
In many instances, people are not being permitted to make a homelessness application. In other cases, they may accept the offer of a private sector tenancy, believing this to be made under one of the statutory homelessness duties, only to find that the authority does not regard itself as having taken a homelessness application at all. The amendment would ensure that people who seek homelessness advice are fully aware of whether they have made a homelessness application, and are given a letter clarifying the advice that they have received.
The amendment was spoken to briefly in Committee by my noble friend Lady Doocey. The Minister responded by saying that the amendment would place requirements on local authorities to provide advice and assistance that were too bureaucratic and that she would resist it for that reason. However, I hope that she will be prepared to look at this again, because the findings of the Local Government Ombudsman-we shall have further debates about the role of the ombudsman when considering later amendments-clearly show that there are significant problems with the service that some local authorities provide, and that there is a need for minimum standards for housing option services to ensure that they adhere to existing homelessness legislation. There must be a guarantee that people will not be turned away without meaningful support, or prevented from making a homelessness application when they are entitled to do so.
The amendment would not encourage bureaucracy, since many good local authorities already provide this
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I turn to Amendments 13, 14, 15 and 16. Amendments 13 and 14 relate to the notification of homelessness advice for non-priority-need homeless people. They link to Amendment 12 and would ensure that people who are homeless but are not in priority need and therefore entitled to a duty of advice and assistance are given improved notification of the support that they receive. Experience shows that single homeless people who approach their local authority for help are often given inadequate advice and assistance and can be left with no choice but to stay in overcrowded conditions or with friends or family, to squat or to sleep rough. One-third of single homeless people applying to their local authority did not even get to see a housing adviser, according to a report by Crisis earlier this year. Others may be given unhelpful advice, wrongly signposted, sent to hostels that are full or given written material that is not entirely helpful. Amendment 14 would also require local authorities actively to consider using their existing discretionary power to accommodate non-priority- need homeless households. If they chose not to exercise this power, they would have to give a reason for the decision in the notification of homelessness advice.
Finally, Amendments 15 and 16 relate to the emergency duty to accommodate. The aim of the amendments is to ensure that non priority-need homeless people are entitled to emergency accommodation. At present, if a household is deemed to be in priority need but intentionally homeless, in addition to providing advice and assistance the authority has a duty to provide suitable accommodation for a period that will give the householders a reasonable chance of finding accommodation for themselves. The amendment would extend that duty to cover homeless people who are deemed not to be in priority need.
This is a complex set of amendments relating to the rights of people who are homeless and the duties of local authorities to provide advice and support for them. However, given the overall context of newspaper reports over the summer stating that there will be a rise in the number of homeless people, we should take the matter seriously. There is going to be a rise in homelessness in the next few years. It seems to me that in order to explain to local authorities what they are required to do and to give voice through your Lordships' House to the views expressed by the Local Government Ombudsman, the Government need to move a little more in the direction of supporting the aims of Amendments 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to give us some further confidence that this matter will be looked at again.
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: I shall intervene very briefly. The Minister may remember that I had responsibility for homelessness, way back, from 1997 to 2001. It seems a long time ago. I had responsibility for reducing the number of rough sleepers, and we managed to reduce it by more than two-thirds in less than two years. We were only able to do that with the co-operation of local authorities. I know that this Government came to power with an intention to develop and extend the commitment to keeping people off the streets. The problem is that, because of all sorts of circumstances, that has not happened.
For example, in Newcastle, I chair a major homeless organisation, which has worked very well with the council that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, led until fairly recently and that my noble friend Lord Beecham led some time before that. In the winter of 2009-10, we successfully, together, made sure that there were no rough sleepers in Newcastle. That was a remarkable achievement. I am very sorry to tell the House that every night last winter there were between 12 and 18 rough sleepers. That was because there was no alternative accommodation. There was no room in hostels, and no room in other accommodation to which people could be moved from hostels, so this is, once again, becoming a crisis. The House will recognise, I suspect, that the availability of social housing in the north-east is still better than it is in many other parts of the country, certainly better than in central London, but if we are suffering those problems in the north-east, there are going to be even greater pressures in the rest of the country. What I very quickly learnt, and it has stayed with me ever since, is that a good local authority, working effectively with the voluntary agencies involved, can help prevent homelessness. As the Government have recognised in a range of areas, early intervention and prevention are far more cost effective to the public purse and, in relation to the people we are talking about, far more effective in their lives. If there are children, early intervention certainly becomes even more critical in their lives and prospects.
These amendments are around the responsibility of the local authority to work with other partners in their locality to do whatever they can to prevent homelessness. I do not pretend that this is easy. I know from my daily contact with the Cyrenians in the north-east and with other homeless organisations nationally that this is not easy, but unless that begins to be seen as a priority within the local authority, it will not happen in different localities. Whatever we say in this House, the Government need to find a way of reinforcing that to those local authorities that are identified in the ombudsman's report as not fulfilling that responsibility. I do not believe that you sort things through legislation: you sort them through good practice and commitment, but legislation should help.
I know that the Government will not have the opportunity to come back to this legislatively for some time because the pressures on the legislative timetable will be too great. I therefore ask the Minister to recognise what is happening in our society in terms of the increasing problem of homelessness and will find ways in this Bill to re-emphasise to local authorities their responsibilities to intervene quickly so that homelessness is prevented. It is possible. There are
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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am prompted to intervene by listening to what my noble friend Lord Shipley said about the Local Government Ombudsman's report and the reinforcement that we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong. I am ashamed to say that I have not read the report myself, but I note with concern what it says about councils doing everything that they can to prevent homelessness, which is what the noble Baroness said, and what my noble friend said about the councils that failed to do enough to prevent homelessness. That can be so important at the critical moment when a person becomes homeless and may suffer the effects of the rest of their lives.
I particularly wanted to say something on the subject in light of the fact that we are about to witness a case in which a council is deliberately making people homeless. I am talking about the case that your Lordships will be aware of where the local authority in Basildon is evicting 150 people from the Dale Farm Travellers' site. That will take place at some point in the week beginning 19 September, so these people will find themselves dumped on the road imminently. Their homes will be placed in storage and it will have a vast effect on the lives of the people who are presently resident there, particularly the vulnerable people such as pregnant women, the elderly and the disabled. One woman is on dialysis. Although the local authority has made quite considerable efforts to find out who are the vulnerable people on the site, we have no idea how they will be dealt with when they finally become homeless. Therefore, my noble friend's amendment on the prevention of homelessness is germane to this episode.
I would like to know what the local authority in Basildon will do when these people find themselves without a home, because their homes will be taken away and put in storage. They will be left on the roadside. How will we deal with a situation of that kind? Why can we not take national action to prevent this crisis? All it requires is for local authorities to discuss with the neighbours in the county of Essex how land can be provided for the small number of people who live on the 51 pitches that will be subject to eviction instead of scattering them all around the landscape. Culturally appropriate alternative accommodation has been identified, but it is far away in the distance. One site is in Suffolk where there may be 10 pitches and another is in Lancashire where there may be six.
The families on the Dale Farm site are interrelated and very cohesive, and will be deprived of the social support arising from the fact that they have all lived together on the same site for 10 years and are mutually supportive. They have a network of local support: for example, from the churches and from some councillors,
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In the Liberal Democrat manifesto, we entered a reservation against the abolition of regionalism. We said that as far as Gypsies and Travellers were concerned, we would retain the edifice of work that had been done through Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs assessments, public inquiries and the redistribution of obligations between local authorities, which would have had a huge effect, particularly in Essex, where although Basildon had provided more than its fair share of accommodation to Gypsies and Travellers, some neighbouring authorities had done nothing at all. In the regionalism agenda of the former Government, there was some redistribution between the local authorities which would have brought those others into doing their bit; they have been able to back off from providing anything at all under the free-for-all that Mr Pickles has imposed on the country and on the Gypsy and Traveller communities.
There is an example where not only has the local authority done nothing to prevent homelessness, it has actually deliberately caused it. Basildon is not entirely to blame in that the neighbours have done nothing, but I think that even at this late hour the Government should intervene, knock heads together and find alternative land so that 150 people are not dumped on the roadside.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for these amendments. I will resist the temptation, if I may, to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. It is a very specific case and not in the general terms of this amendment, which concerns homelessness, in particular people who become intentionally homeless.
As I have said previously, the amendments seek to put a bit more bureaucracy into the work that local authorities do and for which they have duties. Indeed, the Local Government Ombudsman, in the report that was referred to, acknowledged that the homeless legislation and duties within it are clear, although these are perhaps not always carried out in the way they should be.
Homelessness is a terrible thing and nobody would stand here and say that we should not try to deal with it in the most expeditious way possible. The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, who is very much involved in dealing with homelessness and who had a very good reputation, if I might say so, as a Minister, has laid out very clearly the difficulties inherent in reducing homelessness, though the fact is that it can be done. I think that, in London, the mayor has introduced a one-night-only policy whereby people are not able to be homeless for more than one night. They should be found, fed and given accommodation. That sort of flexibility and ability to move on one's feet is required as regards anything to do with the resolution of homelessness matters.
Once again, I will resist getting too dogmatic and bureaucratic about this. We know that there were 188,000 cases of prevention and relief in 2010-11. Many people who were helped and assisted with accommodation would not have been recognised as statutorily homeless. The Government working in partnership with local authorities rather than compelling them to do things makes that work better. Putting housing options and homelessness prevention work on a statutory footing would be overly burdensome and probably counterproductive because it would become a tick-box exercise, which we do not believe is the correct way to deal with individual cases.
As regards Amendments 5 and 15, it is important to reiterate what I have made clear previously. A person should not be found intentionally homeless if the only reason for their homelessness is that he or she cannot afford their accommodation because of a reduction in financial resources outside their control. Therefore, they will be helped under those circumstances.
We have also said that a local authority owes those who are intentionally homeless and in priority need a duty to secure that accommodation is available for a period that will help them to get back on their feet. Placing a duty on local authorities-
Baroness Whitaker: Will the noble Baroness say how the arrangements that she prefers apply to Gypsies and Travellers? I will not take one particular case but, nationally, 25,000 Gypsies and Travellers are homeless and they very much need advice and assistance on what legal sites can be made available to them. In the years she quoted when so many homeless people were found accommodation, no accommodation was made available for those 25,000. Basildon is only one example, albeit perhaps the worst at present. How can arrangements be made other than through these sensible amendments to accommodate 25,000 homeless people?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that there is already a requirement under legislation for local authorities to identify land that can be made available for Gypsies and Travellers in their local area, and in conjunction and agreement with local residents. There is already a recognition that Travellers are in a special position. However, a lot of Travellers are no longer travellers. Some of these people have put down permanent roots, although not always with approval. While they clearly need the help of the local authority and nothing should take that away, they do not always require accommodation.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I think that local authorities are being asked to identify sites at the moment. It may be that they are not all available at present but, as I have said previously in the House, the Government have recognised the requirement to ensure that Travellers have somewhere to put their caravans and tents in order to be helped.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am sorry to continue on this theme, but I wonder whether the noble Baroness realises that we are facing an absolute crisis because the Government have torn up the previous mechanisms which were designed to ensure that all local authorities made a contribution towards the accommodation of Gypsies and Travellers and have left them free to decide, of their own volition and without any guidance whatever, whether they will provide accommodation and, if so, at what level. The result is that most authorities have scrapped the plans set out in the previous Government's regionalism system and said that they are not going to provide any sites. That is the case in Essex, for example, where the neighbouring authorities to Basildon are not going to lift a finger to rescue the 150 people who are to be thrown on to the roadside.
Baroness Hanham: A lot lies behind the matter raised by the noble Lord. A lot has been said by the leader of the council and I think that there are expectations in Essex that this is a matter for Essex to resolve. However, it will be resolved against the background that they have been and should be asked to identify somewhere where the Travellers can be placed.
I am going to move on and say that placing a duty on local authorities to secure accommodation for a period for households that are intentionally homeless or not in priority need does make great demands on their limited resources, and this could have unintended consequences. Local authorities have a clear duty to provide advice and assistance to help those found to be intentionally homeless and, as under Amendments 13 and 14 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, all those who are unintentionally homeless and not in priority need will be assisted in any attempt to seek accommodation for themselves. The only difference between ourselves and the noble Lord is that his requirement is for all this to be put in writing and for there to be quite a lot of formula around how it is to be done. Local authorities already have discretionary powers to provide emergency accommodation to applicants who are not in priority need and not intentionally homeless, and they have a requirement to give assistance and advice. As I have already said, they are under a duty to provide advice and information to all people who approach them. People can make a homelessness application, and if they are homeless through no fault of their own and are eligible for priority need, local authorities must secure accommodation for them. The requirements are there and do not particularly need to be put into a more statutory framework.
Of course, anyone who is not satisfied and feels that they are not being properly helped has the right to go to the Local Government Ombudsman. The ombudsman's report has said that homelessness legislation is clear, so it is a question of how it is implemented.
Finally, it only remains for me to say that the Government are committed to tackling homelessness and rough sleeping. The Minister in the other place is well known for his efforts to deal with homelessness. Indeed, he said today that that was why he came into politics. The Government have maintained their homeless person's grant funding of £400 million over the next
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I will resist these amendments and I hope that, with what I have said about local authorities having a duty to ensure that people are helped and assisted if they are in danger of becoming homeless, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, including the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Avebury, my noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, and the Minister. My noble friend Lady Armstrong set out very clearly what needs to happen, the benefit of early intervention and the problems that she sees emerging on the streets of the north-east. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, made a very useful contribution, expanding on the points that I made about the report of the Local Government Ombudsman, which is so critical of the way that many councils operate in this field.
I disagree with the Minister that the measure is unnecessary and overbureaucratic. I also doubt that a homeless person's first priority would be to make a complaint to the ombudsman about their situation.
The amendment seeks to improve the provision of essential information for people in some of the most distressing circumstances in which they could ever find themselves. It is so important that I feel that I need to test the opinion of the House.
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