Housing and Regeneration Bill
Armed forces: homelessness and allocation of housing
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Grant Shapps: I support the clause. I think that every hon. Member has had somebody come into their surgery who has returned from one of the worlds conflict areas having fought bravely for this country and that person is surprised to find themselves at the bottom of the housing ladder. In many cases, they are worse off than somebody who has been permanently within the area. Two different problems occur.
First, when somebody is in the armed forces they are probably not much thinking about the need to gather and gain points within a local authority to rise up the housing need scale. Secondly, often the nature of going away and fighting in the armed forces means that you come back and your life is not as it was when you left. In particular, the area that you call home is ill defined to the extent that there is not a home authority for that member of the armed forces. There is a case that I can think of in my constituency and, speaking to hon. Members, I know that cases are found elsewhere. It becomes unclear which authority they should be applying to and I have come across instances where no authority is initially prepared even to add that individual to its list of people in housing need. That is unsatisfactory for a group of people who have risked their lives on behalf of this country, as is the secondary point that even when they are recognised by an authority because there is a link to the area, they find themselves at the bottom of the list and starting from scratch. The amendment addresses that issue. In areas with significant housing needin the south and elsewherepoints need to accumulate, sometimes to over 100 points, in a local authority area, before there is any chance of being housed at all. It is not a coincidence that the people that I have met working in homelessness and rough sleeping have so often had experience in the armed forces before becoming homeless. I think that one in five people who sleep in the streets, for example, have been in the armed forces.
Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Has the hon. Gentleman read the social exclusion unit report regarding rough sleeping produced by the Government some years ago? It is clear that the issues around armed forces personnel finding themselves on the street are myriad, and include mental health, losing the camaraderie and the institutionalisation of being in the armed forces. Does he accept that those, and not the issues that thankfully are being rectified by the clausewhich I wholeheartedly supportare the predominant issues?
Grant Shapps: I am grateful for hon. Ladys intervention. She is right that the issues that contribute towards homelessness, including among former members of the armed forces, are incredibly complex. Any attempt to pretend that there is one silver bulletan individual thing that one can door one single cause is hugely misguided. Of course, one factor is the amount of social housing provision. It remains a fact that in every year of the past 10 years less social housing has been built than in every year of the previous 18. That means that the amount of housing available for people coming back from conflicts has diminished. It affects people across the picture, particularly those returning from conflict.
Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has a habit of throwing in statistics as soundbites. Does he accept that on social housing, the rot set in with the decline in council house building? There is a very useful table in the Unison briefing, showing that, in 1979, some 75,000 council houses were being built. Now, belatedly perhaps, the Government are addressing the issue, so will he give them some credit, rather than just point scoring?
Grant Shapps: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue, because I know that the Government Front-Benchers, and now it turns out the Back-Benchers, do not like to hear the facts, which are that far fewer social houses have been built.
Grant Shapps: May I answer the first point before giving way again? It is a fact. It is hard to escape it and it may be inconvenient, but if the hon. Gentleman says that more social housing should have been built, he may be right. This Government have had not 10 but almost 11 years during which they could have built that housing.
The Chairman: Order. Before we go any further down that road, this is not a Second Reading debate, fun though it might be; it is a debate about armed forces housing. That is what the clause is about, so it would be a good idea if we stuck to it.
The overall supply of social housing has a big impact on our returning armed forces, and perhaps at another time we can continue the debate about how best to supply it. All parts of the House, however, will agree that when people have served this nation, they should have a right to reconnect with society. The local authority must not only accept them on to its list, but go a little further than the clause by acknowledging that their need is greater than merely to be accepted by an area, and that they need points to have a realistic chance of getting into a property without having to join the back of the queue.
Mr. Raynsford: Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the clause is about ensuring that access to council
Grant Shapps: I am grateful for the intervention, but I shall leave it to others who were around at the time to discuss previous Acts. I am very pleased, however, to see the provision in the Bill. The big difference is that, in the past decade, our armed forces have been sent to war far more than in any recent period. Those wars have continued for a long time, and service has been distant from this country, so the issue has been brought into much sharper focus. I certainly support the clause, but I urge the Minister to go further and not only create a connection with the local authority, but prioritise the housing needs of those returning from armed conflict.
Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I, too, welcome the provisions in the clause and the way in which it alters the provisions of the 1996 Act. Like the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield, I understand that, under current housing legislation, it is often difficult for members of the armed forces who are nearing the end of service or returning to the UK to show that they have a local connection with the district council area where they have been serving, living or are returning to. Since becoming a Member, I have had a small number of such cases in my constituency casework. The problem means that they become a low priority for council housing because they have relatively low point allocations. If they go on through the homeless register instead of the council allocation and if they are accepted as being homeless, they are often removed to another local authority area where they have a previous connection rather than being considered for homeless accommodation in the district in which they have applied for housing.
Will the Minister confirm my reading of the clausethat it will ensure that armed services personnel will be considered to have a local connection with an area in which they are stationed or living, in order to equalise their status with the local civilian population? If so, it will enable them realistically to be considered for council housing in their local areas as they move from military life back to civilian life. I would welcome that.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): I, too, welcome the clause, but does it extend to the families of military personnel? The explanatory notes say that the effect of the clause is that
a person in the armed forces will now be able to establish a local connection with a district...in the same way as a civilian.
However, a common scenario is when a family is in married quarters and the couples relationship breaks down or the one who is on active service, usually the husband, leaves the armed services, leaving the family in those quarters. At that point, the MOD says, quite reasonably, that it needs the married quarters and
Mr. Wright: I am pleased that both sides of the Committee agree that the clause is important. I welcome the words of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield on the clause and am more than happy to help him draft a press release to the effect, Shapps praises Government on Housing and Regeneration Bill. Perhaps we can do that some time this evening. Somehow, though, I suspect that will not be the case.
Regardless of which areas we represent, we all know from our constituency work that former services personnel have had a battle to obtain social housing, because they are not treated as having a local connection with the areas in which they have been serving. Let me put on record that it is absolutely unacceptable that they should be put at a complete disadvantage because of their service to the country. On the contrary, we must provide our servicemen and women with the best possible support as they move back to civilian life. I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish regarding his concerns. His reading of the Bill is exactly my understanding of it. I hope that provides some reassurance.
That is why the clause will amend the Housing Act 1996 to enable service personnel to establish a local connection with the district in which they are serving or have served for the purposes of allocating social housing under part 6 of the Act and providing homelessness assistance under part 7. Broadly speaking, a person has a local connection with a district if he is or was normally resident there by choice. Additionally, someone may have a local connection with a district because he or she is employed there, has family associations there or because of special circumstances.
Whether someone has a local connection with a district can be relevant when they seek social housing, because the 1996 Act allows local authorities to take local connections into account when deciding who gets priority for social housing. Local connections are also relevant in respect of homelessness, because people who are accepted as being unintentionally homeless and in priority need who do not have a local connection with the district in which they have applied for help may be referred to another authority in which they do have a local connection.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich eloquently pointed out, and I would like to put it on record as well, under the current legislation, service personnel and their families are specifically excluded and are treated as not having established a local connection with a district because of employment or residence while serving in the forces. I think that the whole Committee will agree that that is simply unacceptable. Clause 270 will remove the provisions that prevent service personnel from establishing a local connection in those circumstances. That will mean that residence and employment of serving members of the armed forces will be taken into account in the same way that it is for civilians who live and work in a district.
The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire mentioned a specific point about families and particularly wives trying to establish a local connection when a marriage breaks up and a wife and family are left living in married quarters. I reassure him that his reading of that situation is correct. However, the question of whether a wife will establish a local connection because of residence in these or any other circumstances will depend on the usual factors that apply to everyone: namely, whether she was normally resident there and whether it was a residence of her own choice.
Sir George Young: I am slightly worried about the term residence of her own choice. By definition, this is not a residence of her own choice, but a condition of her husbands employment. Will the Minister assure me that that will not debar her from access to local authority housing?
Mr. Wright: I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for not making myself clear. Wives will be able to establish a local connection under the clause. I hope that that provides the reassurance that he needs.
Mr. Love: I thank my hon. Friend for taking up the point that is agreed across the Chamber of the importance of providing ex-service personnel with accommodation. He has given reassurance in relation to the district where they have been based, but that district is often not where they would wish to remain because bases are outside urban areas or because they want to return to the town in which they were born. They can often find themselves in those difficulties and will not be able to establish a local connection, even though they might have lived there for a considerable period. Will the Minister reassure the House that the concerns for personnel who do not want to remain in their district will be taken into account?
Mr. Wright: I hope that I can provide that reassurance. In the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman outlined, a local connection would remain. If a wife wanted to move back to where she was brought up, she would have a local connection there already. I am pleased that the whole House supports the clause. I think that clauses 269 to 272 are, in their different ways, extremely important parts of the Bill and of housing policy. It is important that we ensure that servicemen and women are put on an equal footing when applying for housing.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 270 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 271 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Protected mobile home sites to include sites for gypsies and travellers
The Chairman: The clause was originally linked with new clause 15 in the expectation that a member of the Committee might sign the new clause, but none has.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Grant Shapps: As I understand it, the clause will rectify a problem caused by a case that the Government lost in the European Court.
Mr. Slaughter: I would be interested to know what the hon. Gentleman means by a problem in this context.
Grant Shapps: The Government lost the case and the law therefore needs to be amended. Because I think the hon. Gentlemans intervention indicates one of the difficulties of discussing this issue, I want first of all to put on record that in my constituency there are three Gypsy and Traveller sites. One is called Barbaravilleset up by the late Barbara Cartlandand has been there for 45 years. In the last couple of years, I have spent considerable time defending the rights of those citizens against a plant that was going to be built next door by Thames Water for £5 million that would have seriously degraded the quality of life of those Gypsies who live on the Barbaraville estate.
I consider constituents of mineregardless of where they live in my constituency and in what housingto be absolutely equal under the law and had no hesitation in coming forward to defend their rights. However, I am concerned that what this clause will do is effectively set up a specific rule for a particular group of people.
Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are defined as a minority ethnic group under the Race Relations Act 1976. What this clause does is to provide specific legislation with reference to that particular ethnic group. I know that the Minister has probably included the clause with some hesitation as a result of the court case.
Mr. Slaughter: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving wayand I will speak in a moment myselfbut may I urge on him some caution in what he says? I am finding the words he is using somewhat offensive, and that an hon. Member has to go out of his way to say that all his constituents are treated equally does not to my mind imply that that is the case, but rather implies a presumption of the opposite. I think he is getting a little into dog-whistle politics and that he ought to think quite carefully before thisI hope quite uncontroversialclause stands part.
Grant Shapps: I am grateful for the hon. Members intervention but rather confused by it. I understood from his original intervention that he was immediately expressing some concerns because I was querying this particular clause, so I wanted to put on record in a way that was beyond any doubt or concern whatsoever, that I think that the rights of every citizen in this country must be protected. Now I ask him to take my assurance at face value, because that is exactly how it is meant.
I do, however, believe that when we start to legislate to provide particular benefits to one particular defined ethnic group, we are in danger of creating other imbalances. This is a perfectly reasonable point to make in what I hope is a very controlled, rational and calm way: I think that for legislation to pick out individual groups based on ethnicity is a dangerous approach to take to this House creating legislation. The accusation that this is somehow dog-whistle politics, I actually find very surprisingnot least because I cannot imagine who the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush thinks I am trying to talk to in this.
I am merely trying to ensure that the legislation we pass is appropriate and of a high standardand in this particular case I am concerned that there is a clause that seeks to provide a particular approach to one particular group based on ethnicity. I think that is the wrong approach for Parliament to take and I ask the hon. Member to consider again his comments.
Mr. Wright: The hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way. Can he clarify to the Committee what additional benefits we are providing in clause 272?
Grant Shapps: I spent a Friday evening with residents in one part of my constituency, Bell Bar, who were concerned that a report was recently published which identifies a piece of land near them as a possible location for a Gypsy and Travellers site. The reason that the allocation is requiredas the Minister will knowis that the Government have told the regional structure of government to find additional sites and tell local authorities where to provide them. The residents concerns are many, but my specific concern is that we have three Traveller-Gypsy sites in my constituency, all of which operate extremely well. There is no obvious requirement for more, given that the number of temporary Traveller encampments has fallen in recent years, yet provision is required for an additional 17 pitches. I hope that that helps to define the concern.
Mr. Wright: I apologise for taking up the Committees time, but this is an important point and I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has addressed it. What additional benefits are we providing to a particular group of people in the clause, at the expense of other parts of the population? I suggest that we are not.
Grant Shapps: The Minister will note that I did not table an amendment to the clause, but I thought it right to highlight concerns in the debate. The concern is that providing a protected site effectively provides a benefit to one section of the community that does not exist for others, in this case the ability to obtain land for a
Andrew George: I was intrigued by the hon. Gentlemans comment that the clause will provide benefits for one particular ethnic group. I agree with the Ministers intervention. I do not believe that the provision or protection of sites to those within the travelling community group who may not otherwise have anywhere to reside is any additional benefit above and beyond that provided to the housed population. It merely provides something to ensure that they have some measure of protection in our society, which is not unreasonable. I shall not stray into mentioning dog whistles and so on, but it is important that we take a balanced approach.
Not having anticipated the contribution of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield, my purpose in rising was to seek the Ministers advice on the purpose of the clause. Notwithstanding your advice on new clause 15, Mr. Gale, which was not signed by other members of the Committee and therefore will not be debated, I ask the Minister whether there is provision, or an intention to amend the clause, to address concerns in parts of the country where there are substantial mobile home sites. I am sure that the Minister understands that those sites are seen by some as a lifestyle choice, based on the ambience and lifestyle of the mobile home park. Because of the shortage of housing provided by social housing providers, registered social landlords and others, mobile home parks have become an alternative; for some, it is the only route to meet their housing needs.
I appreciate that, over the past 10 or 11 years, the Government have addressed the issue, in so far as they have consulted that sector and the residents living in mobile home parks and have brought forward regulations to provide them with a modicum of protection from some mobile home park owners. However, in my experience of mobile home parks in my constituency, the attitudes of the park owners are in some cases rather draconian, and they are certainly not transparent in the way in which they divvy up the energy bills and charges for those who come in and out of the park sites. For those and other reasons, concern has been expressed about the management of those parks.
For those who fall off the radar screen for the provision of social housing and who live in mobile home parks because they have no alternativethey do not do so out of choiceI seek the Ministers advice. Do the Government ultimately intend to bring in regulations on mobile home parks to put them under the regulator Oftenant? As drafted, the Bill does not allow for that.
The Bill allows the Secretary of State to make provisions to extend its scope in regulation. I therefore ask the Minister whether, if the purpose of the Bill is to provide protection in society with regard to the quality
Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): The provision has been a long time coming, and the Opposition are right to say that it was prompted by a decision of the European Court of Human Rights. The Minister will doubtless correct me if I am wrong, but the Government have willingly introduced the proposal. I am pleased that they have done so, and I hope that the Minister is, too.
It is a significant measure, because it applies security of tenure to people living on local authority Gypsy and Traveller sites, who do not currently have that protection. That creates an intolerable situation, as people can be evicted from the site with 28 days notice, as if they were unprotected tenants. That is notwithstanding all the other problems often associated with the level of accommodation provided on such sites. For example, there are usually long-term residents on a site near my constituency. They may be in caravans or mobile homes, many of which are permanent dwellings in which whole families have grown up. That is the comparison with other forms of social housing, and I shall turn in a moment to the point raised by the hon. Member for St. Ives.
I had hoped that the proposal would be uncontroversial. I stand to be corrected, but I thought that it had all-party support. I am member of the all-party Gypsy and Traveller law reform group. That group, ably advised by the Traveller Law Reform Project, has campaigned strongly on the provision and welcomes its inclusionI think that my hon. Friend the Minister is meeting the group tomorrow morning. If the clause is accepted, as I hope that it will be this afternoon, I am sure that he will be congratulated. It is therefore with some concern that I have seen the official Opposition raising unsustainable objections to it.
Grant Shapps: I am concerned that the hon. Gentleman is concerned that I am raising concerns, which is the entire point of the Committee. The idea is to analyse each line of the Bill. We did not table amendments, but none the less we want some clarification. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that even though the Government have included the clause, it was done as a result of a European case, which the Government fought in court?
Mr. Slaughter: I have gone over that ground and said that that may well have been the prompt. However, I have also said that I think the provision long overdue. The Minister can speak for himself, but I see it as something that the Government are bringing forward positively rather than, as the hon. Gentleman has put it, a problem. I do not think it a problem for the Government, although it may be a problem for the Opposition. There is still a considerable amount of discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers in this country, of a type which would be unheard of in relation to other ethnic groups.
The Minister has explained that the clause simply puts people who are for the main part in established century. However, that is a matter for them, and they must stand by itit may go down well in Welwyn Hatfield, but it does not go down very well in Shepherds Bush.
It may be more appropriate to raise another matter of continuing concern on clause 67. If we have not reached that clause by this afternoon, which does not look likely now, we can perhaps raise with the Minister on Thursday the question whether local authority and RSL Gypsy and Traveller sites should be considered as social housing and come within the ambit of other parts of the Bill. There is a strong case for that, but this is probably not the time to discuss it.
Mr. Wright: When the hon. Member for St. Ives discussed new clause 15, which was not moved, you were incredibly generous, Mr. Gale, so I hope that you will allow me a moment or two to clarify the position. I am intrigued by the new clause, which has a lot of merit, and I am keen to help. I am also keen that the reforms that we made to the park home sector a year or two ago need to bed down, as I mentioned to the all-party group. In terms of licensing and a fit and proper person there is merit in what the new clause suggests.
I am not minded, given the current wording, to accept anything along those lines on Report, but I am keen to look into the matter to ensure that park home owners feel reassured and that licensing in some form is something that we can consider. I am not willing to accept the precise definition in new clause 15, but I am keen to look at the matter and to work with the industry and other stakeholders to move forward. I hope that reassures the hon. Members for St. Ives and for North Devon (Nick Harvey).
Clause 272 has been mentioned several times. It is important to reaffirm that it gives greater security of tenure for Gypsies and Travellers living on local authority sites. It narrows the disparity between Gypsies and Travellers and the mainstream population, which has been a source of genuine grievance and community tension for quite some time. I am pleased to be able to try to reduce that community tension as much as possible.
The current situation has also been mentioned, and I want to put it on record. At present, a local authority seeking to gain possession of a pitch on its site is not required to do more than provide 28 days notice of termination of the residents licence, when it can seek a possession order from the court. The site resident cannot put up any defence against a claim for such an order. If the court is satisfied that the notice was properly served, it has no discretion and must grant the possession order, although, since the Housing Act 2004, it can suspend such an order for up to 12 months. On private Gypsy and Traveller sites and park home sites, the court can assess both sides of the case, and it may deny a possession order, if such an order is deemed unfair.
There is a disparity and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush is a member of the all-party group on Gypsy and Traveller law reform, which does an awful lot of good work in this area. I understand that the chair of the group is my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan).
Mr. Slaughter: Yes. I mentioned that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North chairs the group, and indeed she brought forward the private Members Bill that received a favourable response from the Government and led to this clause.
Mr. Wright: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North has played an important role in moving this debate forward. She has described the current situationI think that I am quoting her correctlyas grossly unfair. My hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush and for Cardiff, North have worked hard to remove that disparity, which is what clause 272 aims to do.
It has been mentioned before, but the new right is part of the Governments response to the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Connors v. UK in 2004. I do not see that as a problem, as the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield has suggested, but it is worth setting out the scenario. The court found that the disparity between local authority Gypsy and Traveller tenants and tenants of private sites contravened article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which is the right to private, home and family life. The Governments immediate response was to give the court the power to suspend a possession order in section 211 of the Housing Act 2004, but following consultation and the work of my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush and for Cardiff, North, we considered that it would be right to go further than that. By removing the exclusion of Gypsies and Travellers living on local authority sites in the Mobile Homes Act 1983, clause 272 will ensure that the due process afforded to other members of society in similar housing is given to Gypsies and Travellers. They, too, will have the opportunity to set out their case.
I am intrigued by the manner in which the debate on clause stand part developed with regard to this area, because I stress the point that clause 272 is basically providing due process that is provided to other members of society. It is not providing anything specialit is just raising the game and removing that disparity. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush that that is not particularly controversial. It is just trying to remove some sort of disparity. The court will need to take a view on the following matters: first, whether a site resident has breached the terms of their agreement by, for example, engaging in antisocial behaviour; secondly, whether they have been given a reasonable opportunity to remedy that breach and have failed to do so; and finally, whether granting a possession order is reasonable.
I have already mentioned the manner in which this debate has developed, and I really want to stress that the clause will not give residents of local authority Gypsy and Traveller sites any special rightsit will
An important piece of work has been carried out by the independent task group on site provision and enforcement, which was chaired by Sir Brian Briscoe, the former chief executive of the Local Government Association. The group noted the importance of changing the law in this way. The final report from this group was published last month, and it stated:
The current situation is unacceptable. We would expect local authorities too to welcome the clarification of the expectations upon them as landlords that legislative change would bring.
The Bill will decrease the number of legal actions in the courts by creating a clear and structured framework for local authorities to adhere to in the eviction process, which will prevent them from opening themselves up to allegations of unfair eviction and therefore reduce the expense of fighting such cases.
The clause will not change the law governing private Gypsy and Traveller sites, or other sites already covered by the Mobile Homes Act 1983, such as park home sites. It is not particularly controversial, although some of the letters that I receive, mostly from Opposition Members who pass on letters from the public, tend to support the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush that that is the last bastion of established racism, which should not be accepted in a modern, tolerant society. There should be a political consensus that every group has rights and responsibilities, and it is offensive to single out groups and particular characteristics.
Grant Shapps: I hope the Minister will accept that it is absolutely right to debate a clause such as this. He has gone a long way in satisfying some of our concerns, for which I am grateful. The Government must have had concerns about the measure, because the case of Connors v. the UK came to court in 2004. I hope, too, that the Minister respects our right to raise the issue and to have a sensible discussion about it. I am grateful for the clarification that he has given, and I ask him to acknowledge that it is perfectly right to discuss these things.
Mr. Wright: I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me that there is a need for political consensus on the issue. Racism and bigotry should not be tolerated in any form. My sense is that in general the public are wise to it and think it offensive to refer to people in racist terms. However, there is a narrow element who seem to consider that Gypsies and Travellers are exempt from such considerations. We need a consensus in the House to ensure that that sort of thing is not tolerated and to stamp down on it.
With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, as I have not received a letter on the subject from him,
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 272 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Love: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. You look rather surprised, but I crave your indulgence. I may have a point of information, not a point of order, but it is important to the Committee. As I was returning to the Room, I noticed with some concern that people in the Public Gallery cannot not hear the debate properlyit is partly because of the lay-out of the Room and partly because there is no amplification. Failing an alternative, will you ask hon. Members to speak a little louder when they contribute to the debate?
The Chairman: Order. A Members projection is for the individual Member; it is a sad fact of life that not every Member of the House has had professional theatrical training.
The Chairman: Order. I accept that the acoustics in this Room are frightful, but they always have been and probably always will be. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that we have taken note of those concerns. The Doorkeeper has indicated that anybody in the Public Gallery who is particularly hard of hearing might be able to sit in the Press Gallery, which is slightly closer to mumbling Members. I hope that that resolves matters; let us now get back to the business of the Committee.
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