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Lord Monkswell: In speaking in support of the concept of review, perhaps I may suggest another argument for it. If there is no mechanism for review, the chances are that the applicant will be tempted to go to the law. The applicant will presumably get legal aid because he or she will almost by definition tend to be at the poorer end of society and will probably go for judicial review. I am sure it is not the Government's intention that there should be an explosion of legally aided judicial review cases to do with housing. There are probably enough difficulties with housing without introducing that element. It would be useful to have a review mechanism that would prevent the use by applicants of the courts.

Lord Swinfen: I support the principle behind the two amendments. Whether they are the best way of achieving this purpose I am not sure. This is another case where housing authorities can act in an arbitrary manner, as they can, as we were discussing yesterday, with the removal of an introductory tenancy from an individual whom they did not think was behaving properly. I feel that the Minister should look at this point seriously before we reach the next stage of the Bill.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I have listened with care and with a certain amount of sympathy to the contributions of the two noble Baronesses and the two noble Lords on this issue. The argument that they have put forward is that we should establish a formal procedure for requesting a review of a decision to refuse to put someone's name on a register or to remove it.

When similar propositions were made in another place they were to go further and establish a right of appeal to a county court against decisions about access to the register. It was very much with that in mind that my right honourable friend the Minister for Housing said that he could not accept the Opposition's amendments. I believe that the allocation of housing necessarily requires the exercise of discretion and that it would be unrealistic to give every applicant the unfettered right to test that in the county court. However, the noble Baroness has rather cleverly limited her proposal to a right to an internal review. I am grateful to her for that and for bringing out this very real problem.

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There are a number of alternative avenues already in existence. For example, a person may go to their local councillor in respect of the decision-making process and not the decision itself. It is often that the process reveals a mistake; for example, perhaps all the facts have not been made available. When dealing with housing cases I often found that not all the facts had been properly addressed and accounted for in the points system that my authority ran. The matter can be taken to the local government ombudsman if the person feels even more aggrieved. The ombudsman handles a large number of housing allocation cases and generally does so very speedily and at little cost to either party. I suppose at the end, if the person feels really aggrieved and knows about these things, as the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, pointed out, he can go for judicial review. Despite there being those avenues which people undoubtedly pursue at present and which they will continue to be able to use, I would like to consider further the points raised by the noble Baroness and others.

In its present form Amendment No. 263J is unsatisfactory since it restricts the scope of the regulation-making power to matters concerned with the review. As drafted Clause 146(6) envisages the regulations extending to matters such as notification of removal of a name from the register. I believe we want that. I yield to temptation in saying that in this case the noble Baroness is quite keen to give me regulation-making powers. I understand the principle. One is happy for the Government to make regulation-making powers when one agrees with what they may do; one is not so happy if one is suspicious of what the Government may do and does not want them to have such powers.

Amendment No. 263K seeks to place on the face of the Bill the requirement to notify the applicant of a decision not to place him on the register or to remove his name from it. I doubt whether there is much between us on the need for a formal procedure for notifying unsuccessful applicants, but I believe that such provisions are better dealt with in regulations rather than by primary legislation. We may, for example, want to consider giving applicants a statutory period in which to reply before their names can be removed. We shall be discussing these matters of detail with the local authority associations.

I hope that the noble Baroness and others who have spoken will feel that I have responded in a positive way to their anxieties. I shall be reflecting on the further points she made. We shall consider bringing forward alternative proposals at a later stage of the Bill. With those reassuring remarks, certainly about the first amendment, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: I am grateful for that response. I would prefer something that is important to be in regulations rather than not to appear at all. I was hoping to tempt the Minister to do something. Perhaps I may pick up a theme which has been running through the debates. If the Government do not feel that they can bring forward an amendment to appear on the face of the Bill referring to

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a review, perhaps the Minister will give some indication before Report stage as to how the matter might be dealt with in regulations. That would be helpful.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am happy to give the noble Baroness that assurance.

Baroness Hamwee: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 263K not moved.]

Clause 146 agreed to.

Clause 147 [Information about housing register]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 263L:

Page 91, leave out line 6 and insert ("person without the prior consent of the applicant.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment deals with the divulgence of information on a register to people who have no real business to know it. Clause 147(2) restricts the information by saying that it,

    "shall not be divulged to any other member of the public".
I am proposing that it shall not be divulged without the applicant's own consent. Information held on a register would otherwise be available to people who are not members of the public; for example, local authority employees, councillors and organisations which have access to the information but which are not involved in the applicant's case. Information is likely to be sensitive and should be treated as confidential unless there are good reasons to treat it otherwise. Its disclosure, through someone discovering it or inadvertently referring to it, might even put the applicant at risk. For example, an applicant may have fled a violent partner. Her safety--possibly his, but more usually hers--could be jeopardised if her whereabouts became known. I know of a number of cases where violent partners have pursued a person who has left in what seems to rational people to be an extreme fashion. It is not just a question of threats; sometimes extreme violence is suffered.

Another example is that an applicant's housing need may be based on HIV status. People who suffer HIV are subject to widespread discrimination. I do not believe that it is right for that information to be available, for instance, to members of a local authority. In another place the Government indicated that they were willing to reflect on this point. I do not believe that they have yet shared their reflections with others. I ask what they intend to do to safeguard confidentiality. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The amendment would allow information about an entry on the housing register to be disclosed to another person if the applicant had given his prior consent. By contrast, the clause prohibits disclosure to any other member of the public. There are two concerns which the noble Baroness has brought to our attention; first, that the wording of Clause 147 allows too wide a right of access to the information held on the register, and secondly, and conversely, that it narrows the matter down too much and

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prevents, for instance, members of the applicant's family legitimately acting on the applicant's behalf. I know that the matter was discussed in the other place and that assurances were given then by my right honourable friend Mr. David Curry and in a letter to the honourable Member for Greenwich, and probably to other Members. If the noble Baroness has seen that correspondence, she is clearly not reassured by it. I hope to give her some of the reassurance that she seeks this afternoon.

I agree with the noble Baroness that applicants for social housing should be entitled to privacy. That is what the clause is about. That is why Clause 147 is cast in terms that would entitle only a person on the register to see his or her entry on it, and to be informed in general terms about the state of the register--to enable him to assess where he stands, in relation to others on the register, as regards priority for the allocation of housing. The question of how long someone might have to wait is a legitimate concern which people on the housing waiting list rightly raise.

There is deliberate intent behind the use of the words

    "other member of the public".
We all agree that it is right that information on the housing register should not be disclosed to any old Tom, Dick or Harry, but it may be important that information should be disclosed to official bodies with a proper interest in it. These could include a social services department which is making a community care assessment, for example, or a voluntary body considering whether to refer an applicant to a housing department or a registered social landlord with whom the authority has a nomination arrangement or participates in a common housing register. I do not think that in those circumstances the applicant's consent should be needed to allow such bodies to look at the register.

The noble Baroness asked me a difficult question to which I do not know the answer, so I shall check. I believe that the noble Baroness appreciates that it is right that such bodies, as bodies, will be able to ask to see an individual's application on the register. However, she asked what would happen if a member of one of those bodies sought to do that as an individual. I think that that would make the person,

    "any other member of the public".
I am pretty certain that that is the case, but the moment the noble Baroness raised the point I recognised that it was a good and legitimate question. I am sure that I am right in saying that if that person is wearing a "corporate hat", if I may put it like that, he or she comes within the provisions of the Bill. However, if that person seeks to see the register out of nosiness or whatever, I do not think that he or she would have the protection of a corporate hat and would therefore be considered to be

    "any other member of the public",
and would not have access to the register. If I am wrong about that--

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