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Glenda Jackson: I will, of course, abide by your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it breaks my heart because I have the figures at the tip of my tongue to show just what damage was inflicted on affordable house building, not least in London.
I most earnestly support the Government's clear commitment to making a sizeable part of housing socially affordable, and the amendments are therefore welcome, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to answer some of my questions on these amendments. The provision of advice is essential in preventing homelessness and in assisting those people, of whatever category, who face the fact that they are or will soon become homeless. A properly integrated advice service is necessary to all local authorities. We have many good examples in some London boroughs of how such an integrated service can work. It requires integration not only by local authority housing departments but by social services and health departments.
Given the categorisation that is increasingly used in order to try to identify the most vulnerable in terms of housing need, local authorities need to be able to incorporate those advice centres that deal specifically with one category of person, be it the single homeless, women or the elderly. In future, local authorities should not automatically refer someone seeking advice to one of those single category advice centres, because there must be some way to integrate the advice provided, especially as local knowledge is so important to the issue.
The central point that I wish to make is that we are asking local authorities to take on a greater and more complex burden than the one with which they currently attempt to cope. I hope that the Government will consider providing the additional resources for local authorities that will undoubtedly be needed, not least to train their front-line staff once the strategy has been introduced and the advice service has been finalised and defined. In that way, the staffwho, day in and day out, will meet desperate and distressed peoplewill be able to provide the quality of service that will be essential to the strategy.
Such advice and statutory changes may impact on people who face the possibility of homelessness or who are already homeless. The most obvious example for those of us who represent London constituencies is the changes that have been made to the housing benefit system. It is not unusual for someone giving advice to be unaware of
Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I agree with the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) that we are now putting great pressure on local authority housing departments. The Bill will place significant additional burdens on the housing departments of local councils, so extra resources, were they to be made available by the Government, would be most welcome. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that advice must be up to the minute, comprehensive and accurate; many housing departments will be required to improve significantly the range of training opportunities for their staff so that they can provide that advice.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way early in his speech. Is he aware that the Bill's money resolution provided £8 million, which has already been used up? The Association of London Government reckons that £20 million is required to implement the Bill, including the Lords amendments, in London alone? The cost for the entire country is therefore likely to be £40 million, which will largely be borne by local authorities up and down the land.
Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, as it is the next point that is logical for me to make. He will be well aware that the Government have accepted the new burdens principle: if additional burdens are placed on other bodies, the Government will make funds available to meet those requirements. There is growing concern in local government, not just in London but across the country, that the new burdens placed on it by the legislation, welcome as it is, will not be sufficiently met by the sums currently allocated in the money resolution, as the hon. Gentleman said.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that, but there is an area of disagreement between us. In his opening remarks, he said that had the homelessness provisions of the Homes Bill been dealt with separately, the measure would have gone through the House and another place very quickly indeed, and that there would have been no need for our subsequent lengthy debate. I fundamentally disagree; one of the great merits of that debate is that it enabled a large number of amendments to be tabled by parties on both sides of the House and considered by the Government.
The Government have considered many proposals and accepted some of them, sometimes reluctantly. As a result, the Bill has been significantly strengthened in a number of areas. The issue of the advice and guidance to homeless people was first raised in early discussions of the Bill; initially, proposals by Members on both sides of the House were rejected by the Government. I am delighted that at long last we are considering those proposals in the Lords amendments, because they strengthen the Bill significantly. As the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) pointed out, although many councils and their housing departments provide an
Like the hon. Member for Cotswold, I am concerned that providing advice and guidance to homeless people will be of minor assistance in tackling the problem, unless there is a significant increase in the availability of affordable housing for the many people who are either homeless or who have an unacceptable standard of housing.
Like many other Members, I am concerned about the availability of affordable housing. A small step that the Government sensibly took was the new deal for communities plan, which was designed to help to improve the quality of the housing stock. Unfortunately, although the Government made a commitment that £240 million would be available for the current financial year, the amount spent under the scheme, as a result of a range of difficulties that were apparently unforeseen by the Government, will probably be less than half the money allocated. There is a real problem, and the Government may fail to achieve their sensible target of bringing all housing up to a decent standard by 2010. I shall be grateful if the Minister comments on that issue.
The Minister will be well aware of some of the commitments that Lord Falconer made in another place. I know that the Government are keen on recycling. Part of the Minister's speech today is word for word the speech given by her noble Friend, although there is nothing wrong with that. She told us that the Government feel strongly that there must be increased emphasis on the provision of good quality, properly tailored and timely advice to those who are experiencing or facing homelessness. I suspect that she carries the entire House with her in that regard.
In another place, my noble Friend Lady Maddock asked Lord Falconer to give assurances that there would be clear indications of how local authorities' work in this area and their performance would be monitored. In response, Lord Falconer referred to plans to introduce a homelessness directorate within the Department. He said that part of the directorate's job would be to monitor the advice and guidance given by local authorities. When the Minister responds, I hope that she will say how that work is progressing.
The Minister in another place referred to existing inspection arrangements for local authorities as a second strand of monitoring. He referred specifically to the Government's plans for a national homelessness strategy and the relevance of that to the inspection of local councils' work. I shall be grateful if the Minister is able to give us any more up-to-date information about that work.
The amendments refer only to the advice and guidance that is to be given by local authorities. The House will be aware, however, that an increasing proportion of affordable housing is no longer in the hands of local
The Minister will be well aware that throughout our deliberations on the Bill I have stressed the importance of close co-operation between local authority housing departments and registered social landlords. What thought have the Government given to ensuring that registered social landlords will be helped and enabled to increase the quality of advice and support that they are able to offer, preferably in conjunction with local authority housing departments? I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on that and on whether advice and guidance will form part of the Housing Corporation's guidance to registered social landlords.
I know that the Minister believes that the link between registered social landlords and housing departments is an important one, for she has said so on several occasions. I hope that we can have her assurance that the issue of advice and guidance will form part of a close working relationship.
We listened with interest to the hon. Member for Cotswold. I suspect that some of us disagreed with some of his remarks. Perhaps some of us strongly disagreed with his remarks about people who come in from outside this country and take the homes of the people already here. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on whether those were wise remarks for him to make. He might also wish to reflect on the wisdom of his reference to the massaging of people sleeping rough. Many of those people need a great deal of help and support. Massaging may be a small part of their requirements, but they need far more.