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Madam Speaker: Order. Did the hon. Gentleman say that the Secretary of State had misled the House?No Minister or Back Bencher misleads the House. Will he withdraw that remark, so that we may proceed with the debate?

Mr. Dobson: I withdraw the remark, Madam Speaker, but it would appear that what the Secretary of State said is at variance with the Bill.

Madam Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that, at some stage, the Secretary of State will allow him to intervene. Am I to understand that the Secretary of State is allowing the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) to intervene?

Mr. Gummer: Yes.

Mrs. Maddock: Will the Secretary of State explain his thinking on regulations? Like me, many hon. Members object to Ministers having the power to put measures into practice through regulations. We saw what happened in the case of the Child Support Agency. I do not expect an overnight change, but should not the Bill at least show the criteria that the Secretary of State will use?

Why is the consultation paper going out when we are about to discuss the Bill in Committee? We will not have responses on some of the matters that we are supposed to discuss in Committee.

Mr. Gummer: I am concerned that everything should be properly discussed. If the hon. Lady wants better and further particulars on anything, I should be pleased to provide them. That is why I published before Second Reading the proposed criteria in the form of guidance, which we are discussing with local authorities. There is therefore no difference between us on wishing to obtain as much information as possible.

May I say to the hon. Member for Holborn andSt. Pancras that I enjoy having a rough and tough discussion, but I do not wish to mislead the House. Let

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me therefore go through precisely what I was asked. If a local authority has a homeless family, with no roof over its head and in real difficulty, it can move it into any accommodation available. There is no question of children having to change schools, because it will be perfectly possible for the local authority to find the right accommodation and move the family into it permanently in the shortest possible time.

Mr. Dobson: I do not suggest for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to mislead the House, but what he has just said appears to be at variance with clause 161, which says:

for homeless people--

    (a) accommodation in a hostel . . . or

    (b) accommodation leased to the authority"--

again, that would be temporary accommodation--

Mr. Gummer: The fact is that we are talking about a particular example of someone who is in desperate need. The hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras tried to suggest that people in desperate need of housing would not receive permanent accommodation, but would be stuck in temporary accommodation.

I say quite clearly that, as soon as that need is discovered, the local authority will provide permanent accommodation if it is available. That is precisely what is occurring. The hon. Gentleman does not understand the situation, and he has not read the legislation properly. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for North-West Durham(Ms Armstrong) may laugh, but the Labour party has no policy with which to respond. Although the hon. Lady is new to the Opposition Front Bench, she must know that the issue is clear: accommodation will be available immediately for people with no roof over their heads, if they are suitable applicants for permanent accommodation and they reach the top of the waiting list in that sense. They will receive accommodation because their need is greater than that of someone else.

The House now sees what Labour's policy would mean: if a family was on top of the waiting list but it was less needy than another family on that list, it would be housed before the family in greater need.We now see what Labour Members believe in: if people are in the correct category, they will receive housing, and people in need will not receive housing.

We believe that families in need should be moved into permanent accommodation as rapidly as possible. That is surely the right way to go. The Labour party is wrong, because it wants to allocate housing according to category and not according to people's needs. It does not care about people's needs; it simply wants people to be in the correct category. The Labour party is not prepared to provide even temporary accommodation to those who are in immediate need, because it wants to stick to categories. That is why the Labour party is wrong.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gummer: I must proceed, but I shall return to my hon. Friend in a moment.

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The hon. Member for North-West Durham has got it wrong; she wants to stick to categories--no doubt that is another example of the "stakeholder" concept. The Bill allows us to house people according to their need, which must be the right way to go.

I now turn to the question whether council tenants should have the same landlord, regardless of whether that is what they want. We believe that the Bill should allow council tenants to choose new landlords who can unlock the capital that is tied up in council houses and inject private investment, along with public money, in order to improve housing. The new landlords, such as local housing companies, will be not-for-profit bodies regulated by the Housing Corporation. They will be backed by an estates renewal challenge fund worth some £314 million over the next three years. That money will be used to improve many bad estates, if the council tenants choose to have a new landlord. They will make that choice; it will not be imposed upon them.

I want to know whether the Labour party will support that measure. It seems a very good way of unlocking capital, which would otherwise not be available, in order to improve those estates.

Mr. Pike: Does that not contradict what the Secretary of State said a few moments ago, as it does not necessarily mean that those houses most in need of improvement will receive the money for that work?

Mr. Gummer: That has nothing to do with the allocations. I am talking about bad, rundown council estates which will be able to raise their standards of housing. Is the hon. Member saying that we should not raise the standards of the worst council estates--which are so bad largely because they have been controlled by Labour authorities which have allowed them to run down, year in, year out, for party political purposes in many cases? There is also the question of extending the measure.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer: No: I shall continue my remarks so that the hon. Gentleman may listen and learn about the additional opportunities that the Bill will provide for the public.

The Bill provides a further opportunity to offer people a real choice between renting and ownership. It will give purchase grants to those who live in housing association accommodation, so that they will have the right to buy.It will be a valuable extension of opportunity and people's right to own.

I shall be looking very carefully to see whether the Opposition are in favour of extending the right to buy in that way, or whether they refuse it. That will tell us whether they really believe in the right to buy, or whether they merely accept it as convenient for electoral purposes. So far, they have voted against every extension of the right to buy. They do not want people to own; they want them to be governed by the tenancy clauses of local authority housing.

The only area in which we consider it better for people not to have the right to buy is the small village, where alternative accommodation is difficult to find. People

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have often given the land and been granted special planning permission. As we want land to be offered,we feel that that is the right course of action.

Mrs. Maddock: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Gummer: No, I have already given way to the hon. Lady.

Some freeholders use their powers in a wholly unacceptable way and abuse their responsibilities. Many Members have material that shows that to be categorical.

I have here a document that I shall certainly place in the Library of the House. It was produced by a management company seeking to frighten leaseholders out of their rights. That is wholly unacceptable, and I do not believe that we should allow it to continue. That is why I have found room in the Bill to address such behaviour, although it meant displacing a matter that my hon. Friend the Minister of State and I look forward to bringing before the House.

Mr. David Ashby (North-West Leicestershire): Has my right hon. Friend considered also the scam used by freeholders who charge long leaseholders exorbitant insurance premiums and take the commission on those insurances? Will he accept any changes to the Bill to prevent that being taken into account when the value of the freehold is assessed?

Mr. Gummer: It is important that we look carefully at any suggestions on that complicated matter. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the arrangements in the Bill will cover the issue he raises, but if he thinks that we can do better, I am certainly prepared to listen to him.

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