Homes Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Waterson: Has my hon. Friend considered the reverse situation, especially with regard to some mental disabilities? There have been some disturbing cases in my constituency involving people with mental disabilities who did not take their medication or who were placed in flats in small blocks. They caused enormous distress and nuisance to the other residents in the block, many of whom were elderly. I urge my hon. Friend to remember that there is another side to the problem, especially when flats and houses are close together.

11.15 am

Mr. Loughton: That is absolutely right. It does not serve people with low-level mental disabilities or their neighbours if accommodation is offered without any sensitivity about its suitability, both for the disabled person and those who live nearby. Both sides are losers unless those factors are taken into account; putting people with mental problems in high-rise blocks, for example, is not a good idea.

The issue should be given greater prominence in the Bill as it involves a broad range of people. The amendments are not prescriptive; they want the authorities to have regard to the needs of people with disabilities. In view of the legislation on disability rights, it is appropriate that living accommodation, which is such an important part of the lives of disabled people, should be given greater prominence in a Bill that deals with that subject.

The amendments go further than the recommendations in ``No Place Like Home'', which we support, by stressing the need to involve specialist charities, which bring their expertise and experience to the sector's work. I commend the amendments to the Committee, especially amendment No. 90, which, as the hon. Member for Bath will agree, goes further than the Liberal Democrat amendment.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth: Once again, we sympathise with the amendment's aim, but differ from Opposition Members about how to achieve the desired outcome.

The Government have been consistent in putting people at the centre of our policies. We expect local authorities to seek the views of tenants and residents, including those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, to inform the homelessness reviews and to help in drawing-up the strategies. We expect local government to engage with people in the area, to work in partnership and to be customer focused.

It is not necessary, or desirable, to put every detail in the Bill, but we will ensure that the matters are addressed in the code of guidance. It will be important for the Secretary of State to offer clear guidance on best practice in respect of housing and persons with mental health needs. Local housing authorities should tackle those needs directly through their homelessness strategies. The Secretary of State will give guidance on best practice in respect of other vulnerable groups. It would not be appropriate to view one deserving group as more worthy or important than another. To include one group in the Bill would imply that its needs were necessarily more pressing. I share hon. Members' concerns about the welfare of those with mental health needs. We will ensure that they are carefully addressed in the code of guidance.

I shall deal with the need to include those affected by local authority strategies. The Government have been consistent in placing people at the centre of our policies. We expect local authorities to seek the views of tenants and residents—including those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness—to inform the homelessness reviews and to help to draw up the strategies. Again, it is not necessary to place every detail in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Bath asked whether we would make a commitment to spread examples of good practice. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is carrying out research into best practice in developing homelessness strategies, the results of which will be available later this year. I hope that that covers his concerns.

The hon. Member for—[Interruption.] I will get the constituency right one day. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham raised various issues. The Housing Act 1996 specifically includes as a priority need category homeless people who are vulnerable as a result of mental illness. Any homelessness strategy should include provision for that client group.

The supporting people strategy is the Government's new approach to providing housing with support for vulnerable people. The guidance recently issued on supporting people states that there needs to be an integral link between the homelessness strategy and the supporting people strategy in any area. The latter strategy will draw in links with the appropriate specialists to which the hon. Gentleman refers in amendment No. 90, so his point is covered.

Having given those assurances, I ask the hon. Member for Bath to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Don Foster: I am delighted that the Minister has assured us that those issues will be addressed. More important, in a sense, is the news that the DETR is carrying out research into best practice, which will be published and widely publicised.

I noted the new Under-Secretary's difficulty in coming to terms with the constituency of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. He said that he would get there one day. Unless things have changed and there is a different arrangement under the new Whip, we have but one day left for him to get it right, so I suggest that he practises hard over lunch.

I have another gentle point for the Minister. He referred to the Government's new supporting people strategy and the importance of an integral link between it and the homelessness strategy. The Minister for Housing and Planning has already told us that there will be a similar integral link with the council's housing policy. I suggest that we are in danger of over-burdening local authorities with the requirements to produce a wide range of different strategies.

The Under-Secretary will be aware that, during our deliberations some months ago on the Local Government Bill, we considered the requirement for local authorities to produce a community plan. The Government gradually but reluctantly agreed that, by making it a duty on local authorities to produce a plan, we were able to bring a large number of other plans within a single plan. Now that he has his new position, I hope that, with his hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, the Under-Secretary will be prepared to consider again whether there would not be great merit in finding a way to require local authorities to produce a single plan that integrates those various issues. I assure him that local authorities would warmly welcome that in preference to the scattergun approach involving a range of different plans.

However, that is a side issue to the main point, which was to ensure that very clear guidance will be given to local authorities telling them that the range of people that they must consult includes registered social landlords, tenants groups, local people including those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, persons with mental health needs and, as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham rightly adds, people with physical disabilities. We have had a clear assurance from the Minister that we are going to receive that, and with that assurance I intend to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Loughton: I appreciate the comments made by the hon. Member for Bath. We will not press our amendments, but I do have a couple of points to raise with the Minister. We are encouraged by his assurance that these matters will be addressed in a code of conduct and best practice, especially with regard to provision for disabilities, with which I am most concerned.

Mencap has produced some interesting literature on the problems and the resettlement needs of people with learning disabilities who remain in long-stay hospitals, in part arising from the absence of suitable accommodation for them on coming out of hospital. A lack of housing alternatives is forcing many adults with a learning disability to continue to live at home with elderly parents, which can result in considerable pressure. Like anyone else, such people are entitled to move away from family accommodation and to make their own way in life, but Mencap estimates that there is a shortage of at least 5,000 homes a year to give people in that position equal access to their own home. That is a serious problem.

It is not only a question of giving a certain group of people priority. The people affected are a large contingent of the population—far larger than any other special interest group that may want to be singled out. Therefore, I do not go along with argument A. Housing accommodation must to be tailored to people with physical disabilities in particular; otherwise there may be a surplus of housing accommodation that is no good because it is completely inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair. Special provision has to be made or accommodation will not be suitable for people with physical disabilities.

Amendment No. 90 is not designed to gain priority treatment for anyone. Its wording purely asks that disability organisations should be included as specialists who should be consulted. Therefore, even after an authority has consulted those organisations before adopting or modifying a homelessness strategy, it may decide that disability requirements are a lower priority within that area. The amendment should not be read as giving priority to people with disabilities; it merely would include in the framework a provision that such people and the specialist organisations that know such a lot about them should be consulted as part of a homelessness strategy. The Under-Secretary is wrong to suggest that the amendments would give priority in allocation to people with physical or mental disabilities. I appreciate the recognition that he has given to the fact that people who fall under those titles have special requirements. That was the reason for tabling the amendments. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary looks as if he wants to rise before I have finished; he may want to intervene rather than make a speech after me.

I am not giving undue priority to the problem; there remains a case for including disability organisations in the Bill, though we shall not press the amendment to a vote. Will the Under-Secretary give an assurance that he acknowledges the importance of the issue?

11.30 am

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 30 January 2001