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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Earl, so to speak, wishes jam on it. I believe I said that we have no plans to change our stance on the department's code in regard to refuges. However, I am happy to confirm as regards the two points he made that we have no plans to change and that the new guidance will encapsulate the old guidance.

Earl Russell: I am grateful to the Minister. I asked for jam on it and I got it--nothing ventured, nothing gained! I thank the Minister warmly and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 268ZAA not moved.]

Clause 176 agreed to.

Clause 177 [Referral of case to another local housing authority]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 268ZAAA:

Page 103, line 20, leave out ("domestic").

The noble Earl said: The Minister may be extremely surprised to hear that in an amendment concerned with violence I propose to leave out the word "domestic". The amendment arises from the issues which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, ventilated at an earlier stage of the Bill. I refer to anti-social tenants, unstable neighbourhoods and unsafe areas. The provision would extend the protection given to victims of domestic violence to those who have to leave an area for fear of violence from other residents or other people in the neighbourhood. That happens, and the phrase "being run out of town" is not unfamiliar.

I wonder whether the Minister can see some way, if not this way, of dealing with the problem. I suspect that he will say what I said to the noble Baroness earlier: that this is a genuine problem; I do not think that this is the solution. In that case, we all need to sit together to discuss the solution because none of us seems to have come up with one. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: I support the amendment. It is a problem. Many of us have met or heard of people who face the difficulty. I can think of one example from when I represented a south London constituency in another place. A woman fled from a fear of violence in her

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neighbourhood. She sought rehousing in the borough of Wandsworth. There was a serious danger that she might be sent back to the borough from which she had fled because she had some housing entitlement there. That would have exposed her to the very dangers from which she sought to escape. Although that occurred some years ago, it is an example relevant to the concerns which give rise to the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We discussed this issue to some extent in Committee last Wednesday with regard to an amendment to Clause 158. On that occasion, in the context of discussing a proposed amendment to Clause 158, I explained that my right honourable friend, the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration, had written to the honourable Member for Greenwich, confirming that he would bring forward amendments to extend the domestic violence provisions in Part VII. That intention covers not only the provisions in Clause 158 but also those in Clause 177. As I explained last Wednesday, because we rather changed the timetable at Committee stage, I was unable to table those amendments in time, but it remains my intention to do so at the next stage.

The purpose of the amendments before us is to widen the range of possible risk of violence that a homeless applicant may face in a particular locality if a local authority were to refer his case to another authority in whose area that locality was situated.

As drafted, Clause 177 restates the relevant provision in the 1985 Act. It provides that an authority may not refer a homeless case to another authority if the applicant or a member of his household would run a risk of violence, or threat of violence, from someone who might, but for the violence, have been expected to live with the applicant; or, someone who formerly lived with him or her. We accept that this rather narrows the range of persons who would fall within the scope of the test of whether there is a risk of violence.

We intend to broaden the range of possible perpetrators who should be taken into account by reference to their relationship or former relationship to the applicant. However, as I said when speaking to the amendments on Clause 158, we do not accept that the provisions should be so widened that they would extend to any perpetrator. As I explained in my contribution on Clause 158, there are other legal remedies available which applicants could pursue in more general cases of violence. I am talking about violence or abuse outside the house. Threatening behaviour and assault are, of course, already punishable offences under criminal law. It would not be unreasonable for someone experiencing violence outside the home to pursue available legal remedies in the first instance. A court would be able to attach a power of arrest to injunctions obtained by social landlords where there has been violence or a threat of violence. Taking together my remarks on Wednesday and my remarks today on the rather narrower point about domestic violence and its definition, I hope that the noble Earl is able to accept my assurance that we intend to bring forward an amendment which will, I believe, in large part meet his concerns and that he will be able to withdraw the amendment before us.

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9 p.m.

Earl Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I do not think there is anything in principle that divides us. We are united in our agreement that this matter is extremely difficult to get right.

The best way to deal with such matters is not by apparently adversarial discussion across the Chamber when I do not think we feel any need to argue with each other from any official position. It might possibly be best if we could discuss a draft of this amendment privately and quietly and, I hope, without any need to strike formal poses and move amendments before we officially see it. I thank the Minister, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 268ZAAB and 268ZAAC not moved.]

Clause 177 agreed to.

Clause 178 agreed to.

Clause 179 [Duty to applicant whose case is referred]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 268ZAB:

Page 105, line 6, at end insert ("provided always that any person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness shall be entitled to help from a local authority; and if an authority notified under section 177(1) refuses to accept responsibility for the person concerned, the Secretary of State shall decide whether responsibility should fall on the notified or the notifying authority.").

The noble Earl said: This really is a coincidence. For the second time in a row, an amendment designated "ZAB"--the one I think of as "zabaglione"--seems to have fallen to me. I do not know what are the odds against that coincidence, but they must be pretty long.

This amendment seeks to deal with the procedure when somebody is thought not to be the responsibility of a particular local authority and the authority passes him on to somebody else. My method of tackling the amendment arises from reading a great many settlement cases under the old Poor Law. The problem seems identical, and the solution may be identical. The stresses that cause the problem to fall out the way it does are almost certainly identical.

The problem tends to be that the first local authority says, "He is not our problem, he is yours". The second local authority says, "No, he is not ours, he is yours". Then they may agree to send him on to a third local authority, which also does not want him. In the 17th century such disputes used to rumble on for years until ultimately they had to be sent to the Privy Council, which sent down a resolution which in the end people had to accept however much they objected to it.

This amendment would attempt to provide that, first, everybody who presents as homeless must be the responsibility of some local authority. You cannot be passed round like a parcel until you eventually go round outside the circle. Somebody has to do it. Secondly, if the authority to which the person is sent on refuses to accept that person, the Secretary of State (or his authorised representatives) should decide who should take responsibility.

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This may not be the right way of tackling this problem. The Minister may have a better method in mind. But the problem will occur, so there has to be some way of tackling it. I beg to move.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal: I support the noble Earl. In relation to domestic violence, I received quite startling figures from the DoE. That is why I join in the noble Earl's sentiments. In 1995, 7,650 households were accepted for rehousing because of domestic violence; 19,700 households indicated that they had lost their second home through violent relationship breakdowns. So what the noble Earl enunciates tonight is a very serious problem which, unfortunately, local authorities have to solve in some way or other. The only way may be with more help from housing associations. It is a very serious problem for most local authorities.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: There is nothing between the noble Baroness and myself on the seriousness of the problem of domestic violence. Indeed, we discussed it earlier this evening and last Wednesday. I certainly hope that when we come forward with the amendments to which I referred, she and other Members of the Committee who are particularly interested in these matters will be satisfied.

However, while this particular amendment may include domestic violence, it goes a little further. It deals with the case where an authority to which a referral is notified refuses to accept responsibility for the person to be referred and suggests that the Secretary of State should then have the power to decide which of the two authorities should have responsibility for that person--a sort of Judgment of Solomon.

The present law, which is to be re-enacted in this Bill, is clear that whether or not a person who is unintentionally homeless and in priority need presents himself to the "correct" authority, accommodation must be secured for him. The issue we are discussing here is how it is to be achieved. I do not think the noble Earl's proposal is either necessary or practical. The Secretary of State cannot be expected to intervene in each and every case in which such a dispute arises. Further, such a power might encourage authorities to pass over to the Secretary of State the "difficult" cases, or those where a decision might prove controversial or unpopular.

Noble Lords will be aware that, since 1979, all local authorities have administered inter-authority referrals in accordance with an agreement drawn up by the local authority associations. That agreement has operated very effectively on the basis of voluntary co-operation, and deals with the practicalities of referrals and with the procedures for dealing with disputes between authorities. The agreement relates to the position under the Housing Act 1985, and the Government will be asking the associations to review and renew it in the light of this Bill. We are anxious to maintain the principle of a voluntary agreement in this area. It has worked effectively until now. I see no reason why it should not continue to do so.

The power of intervention by the Secretary of State in individual disputes is, I submit, a little too interventionist. I might just tease the noble Earl by

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saying that I am surprised that he wished to introduce such an interventionist provision. On a more serious note, I hope that I have been able to convince the Committee that the power is unnecessary, given the perfectly adequate voluntary arrangements that are already in place.

The Committee will be aware that Clause 177(6) contains a power for the Secretary of State to direct by order how questions about referrals should be resolved in the event that arrangements under the associations' agreement do not resolve any disputes. So there is a backstop power there in the legislation. But I prefer to rest on the perfectly good agreement that has been between local authorities over the years and rest on my confidence that authorities will continue to act in the way in which they have acted in the past.

With that explanation, I hope that the noble Earl will withdraw his amendment.

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