|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Hancock: Like many who have already spoken, I think that the extra time available to both Ministers and the House has enabled the Bill to appear in much better shape than it did originally. This must be one of the few occasions when time has been used to good purpose and has fundamentally improved a Billso much so that there is now little for most Members to be able to criticise.
These three interesting new clauses have raised a number of basic points about the way we treat people in this country. The rough sleepers unit may have done a good job, but I am not altogether convinced that it has done the whole job, and I am far from sure that the job is complete to the extent that we can now say the unit should be wound up.
In an intervention, I mentioned a head count in my constituency. That has left a very bad taste in the mouths of many who have advocated the provision of proper facilities for homeless people. The suggestion that a head count of only one person sleeping rough was an accurate reflection of the situation in a city like Portsmouth was ludicrous and a manifest misrepresentation of the true position. As I said, those conducting the survey were unwilling to enter at least two buildings, simply because of their unsafe nature. The same must apply in many inner-city areas.
Cities like Portsmouth will soon have no facilities for night shelters for genuine rough sleepers. That is being heavily criticised by Churches and by many of the charitable organisations that have worked for years to observe the rights of, and provide facilities for, young people whoas other Members have saidhave been let down by local authorities, and not only those in which they now find themselves. I shall say something about members of the armed forces later, but there are a number of vulnerable people who will never be picked up in surveys and will continue to be a cause of concern to those who genuinely care about the issue.
I am not entirely sure that local authorities will rush to accept the responsibility proposed in new clause 1. I think there should be at least an arm's-length arrangement directing resources and priorities both to and from Government, and I think it would be lost if the RSU were wound up.
As for new clause 2, I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) on his robust defence of his position. There are three prisons in his constituency, and no one should minimise the problems that that involves. Families do move near to prisons like those and like the one in my constituency, which cater predominantly for long-stay prisonersvery long-stay prisoners, in some instancesto make visiting easier. The Isle of Wight is notoriously unpopular with families because of the logistics of travelling to and from the island
The hon. Gentleman said that we should not allow prisoners the flexibility to identify the Isle of Wight as a good place in which to live. He suggested, however, that the housing needs of a fruit picker who went to the Isle of Wight on a seasonal basis and then decided one year to stay would be readily recognised. He failed to deal with the many other criteria that would have to be met. The prisoner would probably have fallen into the category of those in the place in question and needing support.
As the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) suggested in a forceful and well- thought-out contribution, this is not just about homelessness and providing a safe shelter. It is about the raft of resource support that, in some instances, will be needed over a protracted period to give people a real opportunity to return to the community and be useful citizens.
Mr. Andrew Turner: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me at least some support on the question of prisoners. As has been pointed out, a female could well come to the constituency, work as a fruit picker for six months, become pregnant during that time and later present herself as vulnerable because she was pregnantand later still, perhaps, because she had a young child. I do not deny her vulnerability, but I deny the responsibility.
Mr. Hancock: We could nitpick, but I think the hon. Gentleman failed to observe the fundamental flaw in the new clause allowing the Isle of Wight ultimately to decide to whom to give housing priority. It is no different for my local authority, but I believe that prisons present a particular issue.
There is a prison in my constituency. I do not believe that, in the 30-odd years for which I have represented Portsmouth in one way or another, too many prisoners have decided to come out of Kingston and settle in Portsmouth. It is not that type of prison; it is a lifers' prison. Many prisoners have decided to go back to wherever they lived before their conviction. Indeed, I cannot think of a single instance in which a prisoner has left Kingston and then sought housing from the local authority.
I have a problem with new clause 2. A constituent of mine was living in a Portsmouth city council property on an estate in another local authority area. He fire-bombed the property and was arrested and put into prison in Winchester. He was convicted after six months on remand and sent to prison from Winchester, yet his family links are in Portsmouth. One wonders where, under new clause 2, he would seek to be rehoused. My constituent has returned to Portsmouth to live with his mother, with whom he has the only stable relationship that he has had in his life. His return poses problems because of the crime for which he was sent to prison, and his neighbours are naturally concerned. However, the situation will hopefully be resolved soon. New clause 2 would cause problems in such cases.
New clause 3 entirely misses the point of what we are trying to achieve, and it would hinder the working of the Bill, which hon. Members feel goes some way towards addressing homelessness issues. It would cause more problems than Conservative Members hope it would resolve. It would create so many difficulties for those who will make judgments in these cases that in the end very little would happen.
All three new clauses would cause homelessness, or rough sleeping, to increase. They would put too many obstacles in the way of resolving cases, and I hope that Conservative Members realise that the part of the Bill that they are trying to amend has substantially changed for the better. People who are sleeping rough need three things: they need support, they need somewhere to live and they need to be got off the street. All three can, or at least should, be achieved pretty quickly if the Bill is passed. The new clauses would hinder that process.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: Before I entered the House, I worked with the homeless for three years, doing my utmost to run an appeal to finance the creation of a hostel for homeless women in London. Although I do not think that I need to declare that as an interest, it has certainly given me some experience of the subject and a general interest in it. I was very grateful then for the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Mr. Hendry), who at that time represented High Peak. In his speech, he displayed a great deal of knowledge about homelessness and showed how complicated the subject is.
My hon. Friend spoke about the rough sleepers initiative, as it was in those days, which I believe was set up in 1993 or 1994. The RSI was useful and provided a great deal of money for the project on which I was working. However, I agree with my Front-Bench colleagues that the time has come to consider whether the money spent on the rough sleepers unit could be better used. I want to touch on issues that have been mentioned already, without detaining the House too long.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) talked about two issues that particularly interest me. The first is the need to understand why people become homeless or, more particularly, why they might sleep on the streets, and the second is duplication. We have considered those matters in some detail, but they deserve further scrutiny.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) spoke about the reasons for homelessness and correctly pointed out that the solution is not simply a matter of finding someone a house; in fact, that can add to the problem. We are familiar with the reasons for homelessness. Two of the most significant are family breakdown and violence in the home. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden pointed out that young people may become homeless because they are not treated properly at home or in a local authority home. That is a tremendous problem, and homeless young people often lie about their age to get into hostels because some hostels will not take people below a certain age.
As well as everybody in the House understanding why people become homeless, it is essential that homeless people understand the reasons for their situation and what they have to do to change it. However, people have to
Of course, people who have escaped from a terrible family background, from violence or sexual abuse will find it a relief no longer to be in that situation. It frightens them to think about getting another home, where they will be faced with bills and huge responsibilities, and where they might end up in a situation as bad as the one from which they escaped. However, that does not mean that they prefer to sleep on the streets; it means that the challenges that they face are too much for them, and that can be misinterpreted as a desire to remain on the streets. Those people need help.
To provide that help, fully to resettle people and to continue to work with them once they have been resettled, takes a great deal of money and expertise. When I was working with the homeless, both those things were missing. We needed more resources to try to get people into hostels and then to get them into their own home. Above all, we needed more understanding of the problem and the expertise to deal with it. I want more resources to be devoted to finding people with that expertise who can help people move from the streets into temporary accommodation and then into their own place. Even then, they will still need help if the resettlement is to be a success and they are not to become homeless again.
I endorse the point about duplication made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold. When I was working with the homeless, there was duplication, but there were also gaps in provision. There was duplication in that there were many agencies involved in homelessness, including the Housing Corporation, local authorities, housing associations, the RSI and charities. Although they overlapped, however, huge gaps were evident in an understanding of the issue and in the will to help the homeless. If the Bill can fill in those gaps and avoid duplication, we will have achieved a great deal.
I worked in London for three years before I was elected in 1997, and when I went to Tewkesbury people gently reminded me that there was homelessness in Gloucestershire. It then struck me that the RSU, and the earlier initiative, had created a two-tier system. I readily acknowledge that the initiative was quite successful in London, but in other areas of the country it was not in place, or it was not successful, and it fell to the local authorities to do something about homelessness.
I shall not speak to new clauses 2 and 3 as they have already been dealt with competently and eloquently by my hon. Friends. They are not saying that people with the problems that have been described should not be helped or housed, but that there are many people who have not been caught up in problems with alcohol, crime and drugs,