Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dubs: I listened to what the Minister said. I am bound to say that parts of his response seemed to be more in support of the amendments than against them, although his conclusion clearly came out against them.

The Minister said he thought that in some of the circumstances similar to the examples I quoted an individual was unlikely to be penalised. He then said that he thought that the court or the local authority would take such circumstances into account. That was the purpose of the amendment, which adds the words:

It is precisely in order to allow the local authority and the court to take the matter into account and have a sensible statutory basis for doing so that I tabled the amendment. By adding those words one would be achieving precisely what the Minister said he hoped would happen.

My aim is exactly the same as the Minister's. I thought that by putting those words on the face of the Bill in relation to a specific offence I was making the position clearer. I am disappointed that the Minister did not accept that. Will he consider putting the aim, which he and I share, into guidance to local authorities? That might be helpful and might achieve the point of my amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I cannot consider it as regards giving guidance to the court if the local authority took the matter to court. However, in the spirit of helpfulness, I am prepared to look at the point which the noble Lord makes. The problem is that when the words appear on the face of the Bill they appear to water down the offence in some way. However, I shall certainly consider what the noble Lord said and take advice.

Lord Dubs: I am grateful to the Minister for his helpful response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 264ZJ not moved.]

Clause 152 agreed to.

9.15 p.m.

Clause 153 [Regulations]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 264ZK:

Page 93, line 10, at end insert--
("( ) No Regulations shall be made under this Part in any case where the Secretary of State is satisfied that discrimination contrary to the Race Relations Act 1976 will result.").

The noble Lord said: The issue of discrimination is likely to arise as a result of defining qualifying persons on the basis of immigration status. We discussed earlier

19 Jun 1996 : Column 402

the question of asylum seekers and immigration status. The fear is that, by making local authorities apply fairly rigid tests as regards entitlement to appear on the register and entitlement to be helped in respect of these provisions, discrimination may creep into the process. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to satisfy himself that the proposed regulations did not put local authorities in breach of their statutory duties to provide services without discrimination on the grounds of race.

The Government propose to prescribe categories of persons from abroad who are to be excluded by local authorities from appearing on waiting lists and therefore excluded from being allocated social housing. There is concern that that might lead to some discrimination against black and ethnic minority applicants for housing, even those who in all senses are entitled to appear on the register and be considered for such housing.

The difficulty is that defining the status of a person under immigration law is an extremely complicated business. I doubt whether any Member of the Committee would be totally confident as regards deciding whether an individual in particular circumstances was eligible. The difficulty is that as a result sometimes the regulations lead to mistakes. My concern is that in order to avoid mistakes local authorities might in some instances act in a discriminatory manner.

The difficulty is that there are seven sets of regulation-making powers in this part of the Bill. That is part of the complexity I am addressing. I shall not go through them all but they include, for example, information that is to be held on the housing register; who are and who are not qualifying persons; the cases where provisions about allocations do not apply; and the procedures to be followed in allocations. Those are all complicated matters and when linked to immigration status the potential for wrong decision-making is fairly clear. The fear is that local authorities may indeed discriminate, as I have said. I feel that by adding this provision there would be a greater safeguard and the Secretary of State would have to be assured that the effect of any regulations which he makes would not result in such discrimination. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has explained his intention in relation to this amendment. I should start by making it perfectly clear that the Government would not wish to promote any legislation, whether it be primary or secondary, which would result in racial or sexual discrimination on the part of local authorities.

For their part, local authorities are under a general duty, under Section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976, to promote racial equality and we encourage them to do so.

The Commission for Racial Equality has published a useful Code of Practice in Rented Housing, to which I would expect authorities to have regard. Authorities' housing activities could also fall within the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Were an authority to adopt an allocations policy that was manifestly in breach of its obligations under the relevant

19 Jun 1996 : Column 403

non-discrimination legislation it would be open to challenge in the courts. Of course we might consider acting against that by regulation.

The noble Lord raised his concerns about entitlement to social housing which is based on immigration status. He was concerned that that may lead to racial discrimination. I remind the noble Lord that the parallel screening procedures for identifying ineligible applicants in the current homelessness code of guidance were drawn up in consultation with the Commission for Racial Equality. We have not heard any evidence that current screening procedures for persons from abroad have led to any discrimination. The guidance which we expect to publish in relation to Part VI would follow the same model as that already in existence which has been drawn up, as I mentioned earlier, in consultation with the Commission for Racial Equality. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Dubs: I thank the Minister for his reply. I am not totally convinced by it but perhaps we had better see how the legislation works in practice. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 153 agreed to.

Clauses 154 agreed to.

Schedule 13 agreed to.

Clause 155 agreed to.

Clause 156 [Homelessness and threatened homelessness]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 264ZL:

Page 93, line 31, leave out ("or elsewhere").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to remove a condition, which I understand is novel in our housing legislation, that somebody is not homeless if he has accommodation anywhere in the world.

At present, the stipulation is that an individual must not have accommodation in Britain. But that has now been extended in this legislation to anywhere in the world. I believe that that imposes an almost unrealistic burden on a local authority in terms of finding out whether that applies.

I believe that that provision is too wide. It is liable to have discriminatory implications. In practice it will be very difficult to implement. When I represented a constituency in another place, I remember that the local authority there had questioned somebody's entitlement to housing because it was argued that he had made himself intentionally homeless in Pakistan. That was before this legislation but it caused all sorts of difficulties. As far as I remember, in the end the local authority dropped that particular requirement. However, it was a little difficult for someone, as it were, to establish the circumstances under which he had lived in Pakistan; the circumstances under which he had or did not have the relevant accommodation any more; and whether or not he had left it on the basis of making himself intentionally or unintentionally homeless. It was

19 Jun 1996 : Column 404

a complicated matter. I cannot believe that the Government would wish local authorities to have to put applicants through that sort of a test.

What I think would be useful is if the Government could give an assurance that homeless persons officers, when investigating the homelessness status of asylum seekers, will not be required to carry out investigations as to whether it would be reasonable for them to have continued to occupy certain accommodation. That, in a nutshell, is the desirable outcome in all this. If the asylum seeker is then given full refugee status, the Home Office, having done that, will have accepted that the person had a well founded fear of persecution in his own country. Therefore it could hardly be construed that that person had made himself intentionally homeless. The matter would depend on the outcome of such an application. But even if that were not the case, and the person was given exceptional leave to remain, it would still be difficult for a local authority official to determine the basis on which the individual had fled his country to find safety elsewhere. This proposal puts us in a difficult situation. I believe that the amendment, if accepted, would restore the present position. I believe that would be sensible. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page