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Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps I may speak to Amendments Nos. 264BA and 264CA which remove the condition that the violence must be from a person residing in a dwelling. The two amendments stand in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who has referred to the unhappy position of someone fleeing from domestic violence. I too have known that a violent husband--it is often the husband--will continue to pursue his wife despite the separation. There have been some horrendous experiences in, for instance, women's refuges where a husband, unable to accept the fact of separation, has appeared and threatened violence and has been violent. That situation should be accepted in the drafting of the provision.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We fully accept the important role of the homelessness legislation in providing assistance for those fleeing domestic violence. When this Bill was considered in another place my then honourable friend, now my right honourable friend, the Minister for Housing accepted the proposition made by the honourable Member for Greenwich that perhaps the present provisions do not cater adequately for all circumstances as they relate only to violence within the home. He agreed to consider what more might be done to safeguard the interest of those women who are under threat of violence from a former partner no longer living there. Subsequently he wrote to the honourable Member for Greenwich confirming that we would be bringing forward amendments at a later stage to extend the domestic violence provisions so that a person would be regarded as homeless if he, or more usually she, were under threat of violence from a partner or former partner whether or not he was living at the same address.

I regret that owing to the changed timetable for the consideration of this part of the Bill we have not yet been able to table those amendments, but it remains our intention to do so. I imagine that means that we shall do so on Report. I hope that that explanation goes a long way to addressing the problems. However, it does not go the whole way in addressing the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She would like the provision to extend to any violence, whoever the perpetrator. I must say that I have some difficulty going that step further. If a person experiences violence or abuse outside the home there are many more remedies open to them, and to the authorities, to help deal with the problem than are available to someone experiencing domestic violence. Threatening behaviour and assault are already punishable offences under criminal law; if people are caught in the net they will be arrested. It would not be unreasonable to ask someone experiencing violence outside the home to pursue available legal remedies in the first instance.

The court will be able to attach a power of arrest to injunctions obtained by social landlords where there has been violence or threats of violence. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will accept my assurance that we shall address the central part of her concerns.

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The amendment proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, would have a different effect. The noble Earl is asking that the perpetrator of violence should be capable of being regarded as homeless and entitled to assistance under the legislation.

I cannot accept that. There are remedies in law for excluding a violent partner from the family home. In the absence of those, it would be open to the victim, or potential victim of violence, to flee the home, seeking assistance under the homelessness legislation initially and subsequently seeking to gain sole access to the property through the courts.

To give someone the right to be accommodated under this legislation if, of his own initiative, he offers violence would be a licence, if not an incitement, to commit acts of violence. That is not sensible and I do not believe it is what the noble Earl or the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, are seeking.

There may be circumstances in which someone suffers a real mental breakdown and needs to be removed from his home for both his own safety and that of others. In those circumstances, there may be a case for assisting him to find other accommodation. If he left the property voluntarily but in the interests of the safety of others, it may be that the local authority would take the view that he was not intentionally homeless and would therefore be willing to offer him assistance under the homelessness legislation.

I hope that the noble Earl will understand why I cannot feel able to accept the amendments, but I assure the Committee that I shall return to the issue of domestic violence on Report.

Earl Russell: On behalf of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, as well as on my own behalf, I thank the Minister for the reply to my noble friend which I was very glad to hear.

However, the second part of my noble friend's amendment raises wider problems than those which we discussed. Those problems interact with those raised on the social protection amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, which was discussed last night. The Minister is quite right that there are all sorts of other ways in order to protect people. But as we discovered last night, they do not always work. There is a case for a fall-back which is worth further thought.

On the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, which I moved, it is rather misleading to describe being forcibly excluded from one's home as an incitement to perform the act which led to it. The exclusion is a severe punishment but a right one. The Minister knows that; I need not repeat it. But once that is done, the person who has been excluded still exists. Being accommodated under the homelessness legislation is not so attractive that it is likely to be an incitement to anyone.

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Since many women remain compassionate towards the men who have done these things, often unwisely compassionate, if there was some sort of place where those men could go rather than sleep on the streets, women might be more ready to employ the powers given to them under Section 4 of the Family Law Bill than they would otherwise be. Therefore, the system might work a good deal more effectively and humanely if that power were included in it. but I certainly shall not press the point this evening and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 264BA to 264D not moved.]

Clause 158 agreed to.

Clause 159 [Duty of local housing authority to provide advisory services]:

The Chairman of Committees: In calling this amendment, I must point out that if Amendment No. 264E is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 265.

[Amendment No. 264E not moved.]

10.30 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees: Amendment No. 265 not moved.

Lord Swinfen : I would actually like to move Amendment No. 265 if I may, but I shall do it as briefly as possible.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 265:

Page 94, line 28, at end insert ("taking into account the particular needs of people with physical, mental and sensory disabilities").

The noble Lord said: The amendment is designed to ensure that the needs of disabled people are taken into account by local authorities when they secure that advice and information about homelessness are available to every person in their district.

Disabled people, including those with physical, mental or sensory disabilities, have a range of particular needs when seeking housing information and advice. The premises of agencies giving advice and the format in which advice is available must be accessible to disabled people. This not only means, for example, that office accommodation is wheelchair accessible but also that information is available in accessible formats for visually impaired people.

Many advice organisations, statutory and voluntary, are aware of these needs and cater for them in their provision. However, the inclusion of this amendment will make apparent the particular needs of disabled people and ensure that local authorities guarantee that all advice agencies make suitable arrangements. Housing advice is particularly important for disabled people because of the need for suitable housing related to their particular disability. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees: I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. He was sitting there most patiently, as always.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: This amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Swinfen seeks to

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require local housing authorities, in providing advisory services on homelessness, to take into account the particular needs of people with physical, mental and sensory disabilities.

The new provisions requiring authorities to secure that advice is available are not intended to be unduly prescriptive. It will be for each authority to determine how best to fulfil this duty, and how best to take account of the special needs of any particular group of people. That includes the particular group my noble friend is concerned about. The Government would not wish to see further prescription on the face of the Bill, but, rather, intend to issue guidance on the provision of advisory services. This will enable a fuller explanation to be given to authorities of the particular needs of the various groups, and to direct authorities towards best practice for dealing with those needs effectively. I am sure that guidance is the more appropriate and flexible vehicle for tackling such issues. I hope that with that assurance and explanation of how we propose to deal with this issue my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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