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Mr. Speaker: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am bound by the rules of the House. What happens outside the House is not a matter for me. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that no one has sought to make a statement or approached me about making a statement.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have given you notice of this matter. You will have seen the many reports in the press this weekend and today that the Prime Minister is to attend a summit in America with President Bush to plan a new military onslaught on Iraq. Given the growing unease in Britain and the uncritical support that our Prime Minister seems to be giving to President Bush's military adventure, surely the British people have the right to know if the Prime Minister is about to commit us to yet another war. May I ask you, therefore, whether the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will come to the House and make a statement about the reports that we have been reading?
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Thursday 14 February, the last day on which the House was sitting before the recess, the Leader of the House said in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth):
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that it is well known in the House that the Secretary of State for Transport behaves like a total cad towards his officials? Are you also aware that he has traduced the reputation of his permanent secretary, Sir Richard Mottram, who was permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence when I was a Minister and is a man of the highest integrity and probity? Are you further aware, as I am sure you are, that outside the House it is generally held that the right hon. Gentleman is a stranger to the truth? In the light of those circumstances
May I conclude by endorsing the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for NorthWest Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney), who asked why you are not able to insist that someone who has dragged his Department into utter chaos and public contempt is called before the high court of Parliament to give account of himself.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance on what mechanisms are available to hon. Members when there is clear evidence of confusion and questionable statements being made by a senior Member of the House? What can we do to seek the presence of that Member to address those issues?
Mr. Speaker: There are many mechanisms but, as I have said before, a question raised during points of order is not the time for me to give such advice. However, I am willing to give advice in a more private situation.
Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Rather than seeking advice, I seek your guidance. Would you look kindly on a request by an hon. Member who has an Adjournment
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Regardless of what you can insist on, will you confirm that in any circumstances in which a Minister faces serious questions about his conduct and the general situation in his Department, you would expect such a Minister to give an account of himself to the House at the earliest opportunity?
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has the Minister for the Cabinet Office indicated that he wants to make a statement in the House on the unprecedented situation of a senior serving civil servant giving a press conference this very day to explain away the disastrous mishmash that has resulted from shenanigans in the Transport Department?
Lords amendment: No. 1.
Ms Keeble: The amendments were tabled in response to concerns raised during the Bill's consideration in another place and in this House on Second Reading and Report. The concerns centred on the fact that not all local housing authorities deliver a good service when discharging their duties to provide assistance and advice to homeless applicants who have been found not to have priority need for accommodation or to be intentionally homeless or threatened with homelessness.
The Government believe that it is extremely important that local housing authorities provide a good service and ensure that they meet their statutory obligations under homelessness legislation. I am mindful, however, that much of the concern expressed stemmed from the perception that some authorities are not doing what they are already required to do by statute.
The Bill strengthens the duties to provide advice and assistance, but the amendments will take that further. They will require an assessment of the applicant's housing need before any advice and assistance is provided, with a clear inference that the assessment must be taken into account in the advice and assistance proffered.
The amendments will also require that the advice and assistance given include information about the type of accommodation that would be appropriate for applicants. That in turn must include information about the likely availability of accommodation in the local authority area, where applicants should go and to whom they should apply in order best to locate it. I must emphasise that those requirements will not be exhaustive and will not mean that advice and assistance is confined to such matters. Examples of other issues on which applicants may need advice and assistance will of course be covered in guidance.
Amendment No. 1 is minor and consequential to amendments Nos. 11 and 12, which insert new subsections (6), (7) and (8) in section 195 of the Housing Act 1996. One effect will be to displace what would have been new subsection 195(6), as inserted by clause 5(2), and to renumber it as new subsection 195(8).