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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Robert Ainsworth): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 19--Whether it is reasonable to continue to occupy accommodation--

'( ).--(1) Section 177 (whether it is reasonable to continue to occupy accommodation) of the 1996 Act is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (1) there is inserted--
"(1A) It is not reasonable for a person to continue to occupy accommodation if it is probable that this will lead to violence on racial or other grounds against him, or against--
(a) a person who normally resides with him as a member of his family, or
(b) any other person who might reasonably be expected to reside with him.
For this purpose "violence on racial grounds" in relation to a person, means violence from another person by reason of a person's race, nationality or ethnic or national origins, or threats of violence from such a person which are likely to be carried out.".'.

Mr. Ainsworth: In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) moved an amendment aimed at strengthening the homelessness safety net in respect of people forced to leave their homes through no fault of their own because of racial harassment.

This is a matter of genuine concern and I undertook to review the current provisions in part VII of the 1996 Act and table an amendment to make it clear that a risk of violence towards someone, or threats of violence which were likely to be carried out, would be grounds for a decision that it would not be reasonable for that person to continue to live in their current home.

The current legislation provides in general terms that a person is to be treated as homeless if it would not be reasonable for them to continue to live in their present home. There is specific provision concerning people who would face a risk of domestic violence if they continued to live in their present accommodation. The latter provision, introduced by the 1996 Act, is important, since every support must be given to those who are vulnerable because of domestic violence. However, on reflection, it could perhaps be construed rather narrowly as implying that while it would not be reasonable for someone experiencing domestic violence to remain in their home, it might be reasonable for someone to do so where faced

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with a different kind of violence. Of course that would be nonsense, but the possibility of that construction is a weakness in the current provisions.

All forms of antisocial behaviour ruin people's lives. The Government are committed to tackling the unacceptable level of antisocial behaviour in our communities. Through crime and disorder partnerships we are working with local authorities and the police to achieve that, and encouraging best use of antisocial behaviour orders and injunctions. We are combining effective prevention with tough enforcement.

At the same time, we want to provide adequate protection for victims of antisocial behaviour, including racial harassment. As part of that, it is important to make it absolutely clear that it would not be reasonable for anyone to remain in their home if continued occupation would bring with it a real risk of any kind of violence, or a threat of actual violence. That must include not only domestic violence but all other forms of violence, including racially motivated violence. That is what new clause 16 does.

The clause will amend section 177 of the Housing Act 1996 to make it clear that it is not reasonable for someone to continue in their present accommodation if to do so would result in violence or a real threat of violence towards them. As with the current provisions concerning applicants at risk of domestic violence, the new broader provision will apply whether there is a risk of violence, or threat of actual violence, to the applicant himself or to a member of his household.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow moved an amendment that would have amended section 198 of the 1996 Act with the aim of ensuring that people who flee from harassment in one area and make a homelessness application in another are not referred back to the area where they would be at risk.

There are specific provisions in the 1996 Act that prevent such a referral taking place if the applicant, or a member of his household, would run the risk of domestic violence in the other area. Currently, there is no provision to prevent referral where there is a risk of some other form of violence in the other area. The new clause will make that necessary provision.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) tabled new clause 19, which has the same broad intention as new clause 16, although his proposal focuses rather more specifically on racially motivated violence. As I have said, the Government's proposals will embrace all forms of violence, and that must be the right approach. That includes racially motivated violence, which unfortunately is far too often the type of violence that hounds people out of their homes.

In light of the fact that we have tabled new clause 16, I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey will withdraw new clause 19.

Mr. Simon Hughes: All parties in the House and individuals will be grateful to the Government for responding positively to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) by bringing forward a new clause. That is welcome. The Minister was right to say that the general thrust of new clause 16 is in the same direction as new clause 19, which I tabled. I accept that the Government's new clause goes

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further than mine because it amends both sections 177 and 198 of the Housing Act 1996. Properly, in my view, the Government have added to the domestic violence provision, which gave protection before, the wider violence category, which is described in the new clause. I welcome that and I am grateful. The intention was exactly the same from my perspective, from that of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow and from that of the Government.

We are dealing with a huge and real issue. Far too many people are receiving threats in their own homes. These are most frequently threats of a racial character or are the result of a domestic dispute. Occasionally, there are other sorts of threat. There are occasional threats--happily, they are not made nearly as often as the others--of homophobic violence. Every year since I have been a Member of Parliament, people have come to me and said, "I cannot stay in my home. I am being persecuted on the ground of my race"--or of their sexuality or for some other reason. I am grateful to the Government for responding positively.

I am keen to ensure that the tenant, the normal resident, is covered. I have also included,

and, because it raises a specific issue,

I ask for that to be included, again from practical experience. On two recent occasions, the threat has been not to the tenant but to the tenant's partner. In one case, the tenant was safe while alone, but when the partner, who was of different race and had a home elsewhere, came to stay at weekends, the violence occurred. The other case is familiar to us all, and occurs when there is shared custody or responsibility for children. Occasionally, difficulties and threats arise because of a domestic breakdown in the past. People may feel that, if the child of the family stays with them, they will be under attack because the other partner has never accepted the child's right to stay with that parent or grandparent.

5 pm

I am happy not to press my new clause, but I am keen that, by end of the process of getting the legislation right, we should have covered the tenant, the normal resident and people who, perfectly properly, come to stay. Ministers will understand that it is fine and good to protect the tenants themselves, but if their sons, daughters, parents, partners, wives or husbands are under attack when they come to stay, then a tenant's right to stay and to be protected is no good. Tenants need protection for their household, which should be properly defined. I am therefore keen to make sure that the legislation covers the household in all circumstances in which there is a threat of violence, whether domestic or otherwise.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): In common with other speakers, I welcome the enlargement of the provisions in new clause 16. However, there is an issue that I would like to raise with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. Some of my constituents have suffered from domestic violence, racial harassment or harassment because of their sexual preferences. They feel strongly and deeply that they are being made to move from their

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home and from an area which they and their children know well and--certainly in cases of domestic violence--where the children are attending school and have made links with other children.

While welcoming the potential for a place of safety for people who suffer the worst excesses of mindless violence, I should like to raise with my hon. Friend the need to examine the possibility of ensuring that the victims of violence can be properly protected in homes in which they may have lived for a considerable period. There should be rather more joined-up action across what I acknowledge is a wide range of statutory responsibilities, to ensure that those who would do those people harm are precluded from doing so.

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