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Dr. Lynne Jones: While I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the welcome provisions in the Bill, is he not concerned that owner-occupiers and the tenants of private landlords living in sold council houses are increasingly causing problems on some of our estates? Would not the Bill be improved if such people were included, and should not the local authority take action to deal with the behaviour of such a category of person?

Mr. Thomason: Owner-occupation is a totally different question. Turning people out of the house that they own on the basis that they are perpetrating a nuisance must be a different area of law. It is a tortious liability and must be treated in the courts as such, rather than as a contractual breach of obligation between landlord and tenant, which can properly be dealt with in a housing Bill. The hon. Lady is widening the Bill outside the scope of its long title. Technically, that issue is not before us today, and it could not be dealt with in the manner that she suggested.

Increasingly, on many council estates and former council estates and in many housing association areas, one part or sometimes the whole estate gains a bad reputation for tenants who are frequently a nuisance. They drive out the better tenants. Sometimes, credit is not advanced because of the address, and yet the majority of the estates' tenants are respectable, reasonable and proper people who are afforded difficulties because of a few neighbours, who gradually concentrate in an area as the better tenants move

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elsewhere. The Bill will give us an opportunity to avoid that sink estate or bad road labelling, which so often affects parts of our towns and cities.

We also ought to welcome the introduction of a probationary tenancy, which will give people an opportunity to take on, responsibly, the obligation of tenancy with their local authority or social housing association landlord. Tenants will understand that a tenancy contains obligations and is not given for them to despoil, but contains rights and responsibilities and must be treated as such.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish(Mr. Bennett) asked what would happen to the people who were removed from accommodation because of the grounds of possession given in part V. Clearly, if such people fall within the appropriate needs groups, they must be given alternative temporary accommodation. It will probably be very different from the property that they occupied. Some Opposition Members suggest that they will be treated in the same way as homeless people, a matter with which parts VI and VII deal. The housing stock is inevitably finite, whether one takes the view of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish that 1,700,000 houses or social units should be built in the next 10 years or accepts a figure of perhaps a quarter of that, which might be regarded as the other end of the spectrum.

Mr. Bennett: I talked about 1.7 million extra homes, not social housing units. I accept that the figure for social housing units should be between 60,000 and 100,000 per year, which is nothing like the figure that the hon. Gentleman gave.

Mr. Thomason: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification of his position, but it makes no difference to my point. Whatever one accepts as being the parameters of the argument about the need for the development of social housing, whether it be 40,000 or 100,000 units a year, the fact is that the stock is finite. There will always be considerable demand on it and no Government will ever be able to ensure the construction of enough units to meet all the demand.

Mr. Sykes: I greatly enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). Does my hon. Friend agree with the hon. Gentleman's concluding remarks that the Labour party Front-Bench spokesmen have no policy on the subject?

Mr. Thomason: That was clear from the inabilityof the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras(Mr. Dobson), who is no longer in his place, to answer any of the key interventions from Conservative Members. It is clear that the Labour party mouths arguments and criticisms against policies but rarely advances constructive comments. Finding a policy in the modern Labour party is like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack: there is a lot of straw, but few constructive points to help us to know where it stands.

As the housing stock is finite, it is essential that it should be put to its best use. That is the aim of the Bill, in conjunction with the guidelines on assisting local authorities in allocating accommodation issued last Thursday. I had the deepest suspicion, when I heardhis remarks, that the hon. Member for Holborn andSt. Pancras had not read those guidelines.

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I remind the House of the arguments that were circulating at the time of the introduction of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977. I was involved in local government then and I remember the deep resentment that was felt about Parliament telling local government how it should go about its business in allocating housing accommodation.

We were very angry. We thought, "We know the needs of our areas and the criteria that should apply to those who approach us for housing. We will allocate our housing stock according to the needs, as we perceive them, of our communities. We do not expect people from Westminster, by legislation or order, to tell us how we are to allocate our accommodation. If homeless people arrive in our area and we consider that they have appropriate claims on our resources, we will allocate accommodation as we think it best to do so." Local authorities everywhere devised skilful and carefully thought-out allocation policies.

Mrs. Maddock: Does the hon. Gentleman favour the Minister telling local authorities how they should allocate their properties to homeless families? That will be the result of the Bill. Is he aware that today, whatever happened in 1977, nearly every local authority in the country does not support what the Government propose in the Bill?

Mr. Thomason: We are constantly told that almost all local authorities are under the control of the Labour or Liberal parties. It is interesting that hon. Members who led the criticism of the changes in 1977 and their successors today are suddenly changing their position and opposing the terms of the Bill. It is amazing that they have altered their position from that which they occupied, perfectly correctly, 18 years ago. I remind the hon. Lady that the draft guidance on allocation lays out the skeleton of direction to local government about the way in which accommodation should be allocated. The great advantage of the new regime is that it will allow local authorities, taking those points, to allocate housing according to the needs of the people who apply to them. Clearly, more flexibility is being introduced into allocation policies than has been possible under the 1977 Act.

Mr. Betts: Under the Bill, local authorities will not be able to give permanent and secure accommodation to homeless families. They will be able to give accommodation for no more than two out of three years before a family has to move on. That requirement on local authorities is exactly opposite to what the hon. Gentleman said about local authorities having freedom to operate. Will he confirm that when he had a responsible position in the Association of District Councils, on no occasion when he served on delegations to Housing Ministers did he argue for changes of the sort contained in the Bill?

Mr. Thomason: Although I was not on the council of the ADC in 1977, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I made representations in the early 1980s, when I was on the council of the association, for changes that I thought would be appropriate. I spoke to Ministers about that and these proposals substantially reflect that.

It is clear that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) has not properly read the allocation document. I accept that it is a consultation document and not yet set in concrete, but it gives the very flexibility to

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which I have been referring. Homeless families who, under the current definition, are entitled to be housed, could still be housed by a local authority if it considered that the family met the other criteria set out in the paper. As I understand the Bill, there is no automatic referral. No doubt, my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to confirm that.

Successive Opposition speakers are making a great mistake. The Bill does not state that a homeless person must automatically go into temporary accommodation.It says that the local authority must try to ensure that that happens, but it can still allocate that family into permanent accommodation if it wishes to, considers it appropriate and has the stock available. Let me draw hon. Members' attention to paragraph 32 of the draft guidance, which says that where continuity of schooling or care is important

The document itself proposes that, in those circumstances, accommodation should be made available.

Mr. Sykes: Will my hon. Friend ignore the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), who foisted the world student games on the ratepayers of Sheffield and whose authority has one of the worst records in the country on empty council houses?

Mr. Thomason: I am obliged for that helpful intervention.

I have heard cries from Opposition Members that the young and the old do not receive appropriately favourable attention from housing authorities when they have particular problems that should be acknowledged. The allocation policy gives a list of potential items which should be considered in rehousing, which will apply to the young and the old as well as to families. We have that flexibility. I repeat that point because it seems to have escaped many Opposition Members who do not want to take note of it. We have the flexibility to deal with those problems where the local authority considers it appropriate to do so. The council will decide whether family X, which is homeless, should be accommodated or whether someone else should be accommodated using its inevitably limited resources.

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