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Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates
Housing and Regeneration

Housing and Regeneration Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Joe Benton, †Mr. Roger Gale
Blackman, Liz (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household)
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab)
Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab)
Burt, Alistair (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con)
George, Andrew (St. Ives) (LD)
Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
Hurd, Mr. Nick (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)
Love, Mr. Andrew (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
Moran, Margaret (Luton, South) (Lab)
Öpik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
Raynsford, Mr. Nick (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
Shapps, Grant (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con)
Slaughter, Mr. Andy (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab)
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab)
Syms, Mr. Robert (Poole) (Con)
Wright, Mr. Iain (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)
Young, Sir George (North-West Hampshire) (Con)
Hannah Weston, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 22 January 2008


[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Housing and Regeneration Bill

H&R 11 Local Government Association and Chartered Institute of Housing
10.30 am

Clause 260

Family intervention tenancies: general
Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 103, in clause 260, page 105, line 14, at end insert ‘, and
(c) under a specific Family Intervention Project or other similar scheme approved by the HCA.
(3A) The HCA may by order designate projects or schemes which it shall approve for the purposes of subsection (3)(c).’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 104, in clause 260, page 106, line 32, at end insert ‘, and
(c) under a specific Family Intervention Project or other similar scheme approved by the HCA.
(3A) The HCA may by order designate projects or schemes which it shall approve for the purposes of subsection (3)(c).’.
Andrew George: Good morning, Mr. Gale. It is a pleasure to introduce amendments Nos. 103 and 104, which aim to restrict the use of family intervention tenancies to circumstances in which a recognised family intervention project approved by the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers provides behaviour support services. Without the amendments, the general reference to behaviour support services in subsection (3)(b) may enable landlords to use such highly insecure tenancies to claim that they are providing intensive support services, when the nature and quality of those services are not subject to scrutiny. Two separate but identical amendments are necessary because the clause contains separate provisions for secure council tenancies and assured housing association or private tenancies.
I hope that the Minister accepts that the purpose behind the amendments is to ensure that action is taken in a proper and measured way. Given the pressure on time, I will not elaborate unnecessarily and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): Good morning to you, Mr. Gale, and to the rest of the Committee. May I say what a pleasure it is to see you back in the Chair.
We now come to amendment No. 103. To be honest, I did not think that we would get this far, but we have. For the reasons suggested by the hon. Member for St. Ives, I shall take the two amendments together. As he said, they are identical and apply to two separate provisions in the clause.
The amendments would have significant implications for the delivery of the family intervention programme. Although the Department for Children, Schools and Families and its partners have developed close working relationships with projects that receive Government funding, that relationship does not involve formal designation or accreditation. We would therefore need to consider in some detail how any formal accreditation would work and to assess the burdens that it would place on projects. We would not wish to impose rigid criteria on projects if that served to shackle their innovation or restrict their flexibility in tailoring individual services to the specific needs of individual families. For example, it is unclear whether the amendments propose that projects should be subject to performance management or inspection as a condition of any designation.
I am aware that there are concerns about the possible misuse of family intervention tenancies, but I strongly believe that such concerns are unfounded, and I have a FIT in my constituency. Family intervention projects continue to prove how successful they are at tackling the root causes of antisocial behaviour. Over time, similar approaches may come into existence to provide equally effective behavioural support to antisocial families, but such approaches may not necessarily be classed as family intervention projects or receive direct Government funding, and we do not want them to be unable to include family intervention tenancies. To that end, we have specified in the Bill that family intervention tenancies can be used only in the context of behaviour support services, by which we mean that they must address antisocial behaviour. That sets the necessary parameters for the use of such tenancies without creating undue restrictions.
In moving the amendment, the hon. Gentleman said—I think that I am quoting him correctly, but he can always intervene if I have got this wrong—that these insecure tenancies cause a burden in terms of any landlord. That is a crucial point, which I want to address on the record. It is very important to note that family intervention tenancies can be used only by social landlords, such as local authorities and registered social landlords, because FITs will be applicable only to those tenants who have a secure or an assured tenancy. As we are aware and as we will debate when we consider part 2 of the Bill, both types of landlord are subject to regulation. Because of that crucial point, I do not think that we need to consider the new layer of regulation that the amendments would impose. I hope, therefore, that my explanation has allayed the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has about the misuse of family intervention tenancies.
Andrew George: I am grateful. I was seeking for my language to apply to a wider range of landlords in circumstances where the FIT measure might be applied. It is reassuring that the Minister is saying that it would be used only in very narrow circumstances. However, I hope that the Minister appreciates that there are organisations outside this House that are concerned that FITs could be used to tip the balance against the interests of families who, in many circumstances, the state is trying to help.
Mr. Wright: That last point is crucial. The state is trying to help those families. An awful lot of resources are devoted to targeted and focused help for antisocial families. FITs are voluntary and we may come on to that issue in the clause stand part debate. I recognise the sentiment in which the hon. Gentleman moved the amendment. However, the key point is that we have defined it narrowly to avoid the risk that he has identified. We are trying to balance that with the need for flexibility and innovation to ensure that the resources used and the approaches taken to address the needs of antisocial families are as targeted as possible. I hope that that reassures him.
Andrew George: I wish to probe the Minister further. This is a short debate, but I simply want reassurance from him in respect of circumstances that I am sure he can envisage—certainly I can in my constituency—in which neighbours have created the circumstances in which a family have become subject to a FIT. In such circumstances it is the others who have been victimising them and who should be the focus of these actions. The family could be the victims rather than the perpetrators.
Mr. Wright: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I recognise the example that he raises from my own constituency case load. However, I must point out that FIPs and FITs are entirely voluntary. Families are accepted into these support programmes only after an extraordinarily rigorous process of evaluation to ensure that they are likely to benefit from it, to weed out that sort of victimisation—for want of a better term—and to tailor support to the family’s needs. That is in everybody’s interests. As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, and as I tried to make clear earlier on, that takes considerable time and resources.
Projects are established to ensure that long-term changes in behaviour are made and that families do not give up at the first hurdle. We do not want to facilitate fast-track evictions for so-called problem families. Any eviction from a project would be seen as a failure by the agencies concerned. The latest evidence suggests that very few families are dropping out of support programmes. We must bear in mind the voluntary nature of these measures and that families want to engage in this sort of support programme to get help in addressing their behavioural issues. The FIT is devised as a temporary tenancy to help that long-term stability. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
Andrew George: I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification and for the reassurance on the circumstances in which FITs and FIPs will be applied. Having received those reassurances on the parameters within which they operate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Chairman: Just before we proceed, I have been looking, as no doubt hon. Members have been looking, at the schedule before us for consideration and completion by Thursday 31 January. I think that we need to concentrate a few minds.
I am willing, subject to the staffing of the Committee, to sit, if necessary, this evening and I am also willing to sit next Tuesday evening. I say that now because the usual channels may want to consider this proposal fairly carefully. As Members of the House, we have a duty to the staff of the House to give them adequate notice if we intend to sit longer than the allocated hours. We do not need to change the programme resolution to do that, because we would simply extend the afternoon sitting. That would entail a break, say, from 7 o’clock until 8 o’clock, because I do not think it is reasonable to expect people staffing a Committee, either civil servants or indeed the Chairman, to sit for more than three hours without some type of a break, for fairly obvious reasons. However, we could sit from 8 o’clock until 10 o’clock and we could sit from 8 o’clock until 10 o’clock next Tuesday. You might like to consider that as a Committee.
I would be grateful if the usual channels could let me know by the end of the morning, so that I can let the staff know if you are thinking of sitting later this evening; next Tuesday is a bit of a moveable feast. I am giving that advance notice now, simply because hon. Members, should they take that decision, might wish to look at their own diaries.
Mr. Wright: I beg to move Government amendment No. 115, in clause 260, page 105, line 37, leave out ‘Such regulations’ and insert—
‘A notice under sub-paragraph (5) must contain advice to the new tenant as to how the new tenant may be able to obtain assistance in relation to the notice.
( ) The appropriate national authority may by regulations made by statutory instrument make provision about the type of advice to be provided in such notices.
( ) Regulations under this paragraph’.
The Chairman: With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 116.
Mr. Wright: Thank you, Mr. Gale. I thank you for that ruling as well, which I think is most wise. I also thank you for the consideration of the House staff. I would suggest, Mr. Gale, that you could possibly take on a role as a trade union shop steward; I think that you would perhaps be very good at that.
The Chairman: Order. What makes you think that I have not been one, Mr. Wright?
Mr. Wright: I will move swiftly on, Mr. Gale.
I want to stress—I have done this on a number of occasions this morning, but I think that it is crucial—that families sign up to FITs on a voluntary basis. Therefore, it is important, if not vital, that, where they do so, it is as a result of an informed decision to accept both the support programme on offer and the insecure tenancy offered in relation to that support.
Although we have every confidence that landlords and projects will ensure that families are made fully aware of the decision that they are being asked to make and its potential consequences, to make it incumbent on landlords to advise families to seek independent advice about the content of the notice with which they have been issued will further assist families in working through their decision.
These amendments therefore provide for the Secretary of State to make regulations specifying the type of advice that must be provided in the notice. I hope that hon. Members will accept them.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 116, in clause 260, page 107, line 9, leave out ‘Such regulations’ and insert—
‘A notice under sub-paragraph (5) must contain advice to the new tenant as to how the new tenant may be able to obtain assistance in relation to the notice.
( ) The appropriate national authority may by regulations made by statutory instrument make provision about the type of advice to be provided in such notices.
( ) Regulations under this paragraph’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Clause 260, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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Prepared 23 January 2008