Draft Homelessness (Priority Need For Accommodation)(England) Order 2002

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Mr. McNulty: That is an entirely fair point—but, not unusually perhaps, it is the wrong point to make. If I had just announced the spending allocation formula for the next 10 years, the hon. Gentleman would have a case, but I am referring only to 2002-03. Clearly, any subsequent allocation of funds thereafter must be informed by what happens in the transitional year. The tap will not be turned on as soon as the money is allocated. The LGA agrees that the only proper approach is to be informed by the prevailing situation and to respond to any changing patterns that emerge. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, therefore, but in the context of the transitional year it is not an appropriate one.

The guidance will make it clear that authorities should not have general policies that predetermine that any particular circumstances will lead to intentional homelessness, and that each case must be considered in the light of particular circumstances. The guidance for England will preclude the sort of case that the hon. Member for Bath said had taken place in Wales. I would not challenge what he says, but I do not know whether such situations often prevail. In the

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forthcoming guidance for England it would not be appropriate to say that someone who has been dishonourably discharged equals someone who has made themselves intentionally homeless, so people in that situation will receive no help. Each case must be regarded in the light of its particular circumstances.

The question of confidentiality and violence is important. On another point, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) that the phrase ''mentally handicapped'' is redundant, and I hope that others will also agree. Other language can and should be used.

I touched on the point that the hon. Member for Torbay made about the distribution. If he needs any more information, we can have a chat on the subject, as I will be spending a day and a half in Torbay next week.

Mr. Foster: I shall make two quick points. The Minister said that he hoped that our comments about the draft guidance would be taken into account. I take it they will now be considered in the light of discussions, and that it will not be necessary to repeat them in a formal response.

As the Minister knows, I suggested that the co-operation between housing departments and social services could be strengthened by the guidance. There should not just be a liaison between the departments, but an expectation from the Secretary of State that they will work closely together in many areas.

Mr. McNulty: If that can happen, I shall make sure that it does. Given that the final guidance has yet to be published, and that it will become statutory straight away—but only after consultation—I believe that I can assure the hon. Gentleman that his comments and those of other hon. Members on the guidance will be treated as the first comments of the consultation period. As someone who was a councillor for 11 years, I take full cognisance of what he says. My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has an old adage about a Berlin wall between health authorities and social services. The more we can do with a broad modernising local government agenda to break down barriers in local councils, the better, not least in matters that overlap as much as housing and social services.

Mr. Pickles rose—

Mr. McNulty: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, and then I shall finish.

Mr. Pickles: The Minister is doing very well; he can go on as long as he likes. I have some questions that I would like to ask, on the understanding that no one will blame the Minister if his answers are wrong. When, roughly, does he expect the guidelines to be produced? How long does he expect the consultation to be, bearing in mind the fact that we are entering the summer—although having said that, I am looking out of the window, and it is chucking it down—when many councils will not meet?

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Mr. McNulty: I can certainly say with a degree of confidence that the guidance will be published before the recess. Given its nature—the fact that it will have statutory force—there will be a substantive consultation period. I say substantive, but I have nothing that says three months, six months, a year or anything else. If I am given any greater clarity on that, I will write to everyone, but the period will be at least substantive—substantive, that is, using my definition of the word and no one else's, so if there is to be a row it should be with me and no one else.

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I commend the order to the Committee. As the hon. Member for Bath said—it is rare that I use Liberal Democrat exhortations—the sooner it is introduced, the better.

Question put and agreed to.cf2ŬResolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002.

        Committee rose at twenty-nine minutes to Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Roe, Mrs. Marion (Chairman)
Bacon, Mr.
Bailey, Mr.
Brazier, Mr.
Crausby, Mr.
Dhanda, Mr.
Foster, Mr. Don
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
McNulty, Mr.
Marris, Rob
Pickles, Mr.
Ryan, Joan
Sanders, Mr.

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