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Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.45 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.37 to 8.45 p.m.]

Housing Bill

House again in Committee

Clause 113 [Proceedings for possession]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 255D:

Page 73, line 36, at end insert ("and subject to subsection (2) below, sections 83, 84 and 85 of the Housing Act 1985 shall apply to such proceedings as if the word "introductory" were substituted for the word "secure" ").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 255E and 258. I thought for a moment that I might achieve acceptance of these amendments extremely quickly but perhaps I have too much of a sense of fair play.

Although the amendments may appear to be quite long and rather complicated, their purpose is relatively straightforward; it is, that tenants shall not lose their tenancies without recourse to the courts except in cases of neighbour nuisance.

In its current form, the scheme of introductory tenancies gives local authorities extremely wide powers to terminate the tenancy and to evict the tenant during the first year of the introductory period. There are no restrictions on the local authority's discretion and the involvement of the court is purely procedural. For example, it would be open to a local authority to terminate a tenancy for minor breaches of the tenancy agreement: failure to maintain a garden, small amounts of rent arrears and other matters which might not even constitute breaches of the tenancy agreement at all. The tenant has no recourse to the courts other than by an application for judicial review. That is a matter which has been touched on more than once in our discussions today. I am sure that the Government do not wish to

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encourage even greater use of that remedy, if one can even call it a remedy as it is merely a review of procedure rather than a review of the outcome.

I suggest that the scheme of introductory tenancies is wider than the consultation process proposed. The Government's paper consulting on anti-social behaviour expressed concern about the major drain on resources and time caused by tackling neighbour-nuisance cases and was concerned to identify the minority whose lifestyle and behaviour is incompatible with the quiet enjoyment of neighbours.

The scheme which is now proposed is far broader than is necessary to address those concerns. Under the new scheme, in, for example, a rent arrears case, there would be no inquiry by the court as to whether the alleged arrears exist or why they had arisen. It is the experience of housing practitioners that often it is only when a matter comes before a court that the tenant's situation becomes clear. There may be a breakdown in the relationship with the housing officer. There may be language difficulties giving rise to a misunderstanding. A relatively high proportion of those in local authority accommodation are vulnerable for one reason or another and may face special difficulties. Dealing with local authority bureaucracy is a challenge to them.

The amendment seeks to provide that in the first year of the tenancy, the local authority may seek a possession order on the same basis as for a secure tenancy. I have referred to cases of neighbour nuisance which perhaps stand on a different footing from other reasons for eviction, in that the interests of other people are very directly at stake. I accept, at any rate for the purposes of this amendment, that it is important for the local authority to be able to act swiftly against tenants as soon as they start to cause problems for other people. With this amendment and in those limited circumstances, I am therefore suggesting that it is perhaps easier to justify bypassing the court procedure, although from the way in which I put the matter the Committee will understand that I am not even wholly enthusiastic about that one exception. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I accept that anti-social behaviour on council estates can be a major problem and is probably a growing nuisance. But I am not sure that introductory tenancies are the right way forward. From my experience of 25 or 26 years as a ward councillor, in only a few cases that I recall did anti-social behaviour manifest itself within the first year of a tenancy. I found, from my own experience, that it tended to be associated with established families where there was a marital breakdown, where there was shouting, screaming and fighting and disturbed children, or possibly where you had a lone parent and as the children grew into their teens they became out of control or started inviting in other youngsters from outside the estate. In all such cases anti-social behaviour was from well-established tenants and had nothing to do with first-year tenants.

Secondly, those who exhibit anti-social or inappropriate behaviour in the first year tended, from my experience, to be people with some form of mental

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illness or mental health problem. That does not mean that one should not protect adjacent residents against someone whose home, for example, has become a fire risk because he insists on keeping every newspaper, which he has piled high, or against someone who perhaps has learning difficulties is keeping open house for every child on the estate and children from outside the estate. The right approach is to assess the tenant and bring in support, and a move may very well be necessary to a more sheltered environment.

Similarly, it worries me that one could appear to license streets ganging up on an ethnic minority family living in a white street, especially if tenants have recently exercised their right to buy and are trying to go in for up-grading the estate, which they wrongly believe means getting certain other families out of the estate in order to keep up the property values.

I do not think that introductory tenancies address the problem of anti-social behaviour; nor are they particularly relevant, either one way or the other. The right way forward is in the amendments which we will be discussing later today that will grant local authorities mandatory possession where the courts agree that there has been serious anti-social behaviour. From my experience, this is much more likely to occur in an established tenancy than in the first year of a tenancy.

Some local authorities want this power and others do not. I would reluctantly acquiesce to a voluntary scheme, which of course this one is. We need stronger safeguards than currently exist against abuse. The next series of amendments may deal with some of the safeguards against abuse that we need to see in place. But before any scheme is adopted there must be consultation with tenants.

I do not believe that introductory tenancies are a relevant solution to the problem of anti-social behaviour. It seems to me that they could license inappropriate behaviour by the local authority or, more possibly, result in pressure being exerted on the local authority from other tenants. We need convincing that not only are introductory tenancies relevant, but that there are proper and adequate safeguards to ensure that there is no victimisation.

Lord Lucas: I share many of the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. I hope I shall be able to convince her, in not too long a speech, that we have taken the right measures to introduce the appropriate safeguards.

The purpose of introductory tenancies is to get trouble-making tenants out quickly. To that extent the amendments, particularly Amendment No. 255D proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would effectively drive a coach and horses through the new regime by putting introductory tenancies on exactly the same footing as secure tenancies when it comes to eviction. Only a minority of cases will ever come to court because the vast majority of new tenants will, like most secure tenants, keep the peace and their tenancies too will become secure after a year. But where eviction is thought necessary--and such action should never be undertaken lightly by an authority--it is important that it takes place quickly and with the minimum of fuss.

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Introductory tenancies are designed to send a clear message to those who engage in persistent anti-social behaviour that such behaviour will not be tolerated and that tenants will lose their homes as a result.

We know that Manchester City Council, with 13,000 new tenants a year, and Gateshead, in particular, are looking forward to bringing in these provisions as soon as they are able to. They clearly think that their problems will be addressed by these provisions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, this is a discretionary and voluntary scheme. For those, like her own council, which are lucky enough not to suffer from these problems, it would not be necessary; and it would be an expensive scheme to introduce if it was not needed.

Towns like Manchester and Gateshead would not introduce this scheme; indeed, there would be little point in introducing it if they were saddled with the same eviction procedures as they have to go through now with their secure tenants. Those are authorities that have put anti-social behaviour at the top of their housing agenda and want to embrace introductory tenancies. We must not shackle their ability to get rid of the hooligan element which has contributed to the spiral of despair in some estates.

A secure tenancy is a lifetime tenancy and introductory tenants can only earn that right by behaving themselves during the trial period. That is the message authorities like Manchester wish to hammer home to some of their tenants.

It may give comfort to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to know that those authorities which bring in an introductory tenancy regime must have in place fair and rigorous procedures. The Department of the Environment will be issuing guidance to local authorities and housing action trusts on the matter.

Landlords--that is, local authorities and housing action trusts--are already aware that tenants can challenge their decision to evict by applying for judicial review in the High Court, and so they cannot evict a tenant on a whim or for a reason totally unconnected with the occupation of the dwelling. Before making a decision to evict they should undertake investigations to ensure that the action they propose to take is reasonable. For example, they would want to be sure that the complainants are reliable people. They would also assess the seriousness of the complaint to ensure that the annoyance is such that it would annoy a reasonable neighbour and not just one who is unreasonably sensitive.

Vulnerable tenants are an issue with which landlords are fully familiar and particular attention to their needs is essential to ensure that no injustice occurs. We will return to the matter on a later amendment. To achieve that aim the landlord should liaise with the welfare services. I believe that all of these are matters with which landlords are already familiar and our guidance on the subject will be crystal clear.

Turning briefly to Amendments Nos. 255E and 258, we feel those would be too prescriptive and would tie the hands of local authorities unnecessarily. The Government want local authorities to have a free hand in deciding what sort of behaviour could lead to an

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introductory tenancy being brought to an end. There might be frequent breaches of a tenancy agreement or rent arrears. It must be right that authorities can act to get rid of a tenant in such circumstances. But neither of these would fall within the scope of Ground 2. In fact, they are covered by Ground 1 of the 1985 Act. I hope that what I have said will be enough to persuade the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

9 p.m.

Earl Russell: I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was not in the Chamber before dinner. I listened with great interest to his opposition to the attempt to bring in prescriptive powers on the grounds that they were not necessary because the power of judicial review existed. However, the noble Lord will not know that I was arguing before dinner that the absence of statutory restraint tended to multiply the number of judicial reviews. If the noble Lord were setting out to illustrate my argument, he could not have done it better.

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