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Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I support the amendment. Indeed, I wanted to add my name to it, but I was too late to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, stated the case clearly and convincingly.

It is important to include Amendment No. 19 on the face of the Bill. Inaccessible or unsuitable accommodation may have a serious spinoff or impact on disabled people and can limit their independence. Also, it can affect not only one's physical health and wellbeing, but also one's psychological and social welfare. In some instances it may retard and even prevent one's eventual rehabilitation. A case was instanced by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen.

It would also be helpful to include Amendment No. 70 on the face of the Bill. I hope that the Minister--I am delighted to see him back at his post; I believe he has been back for a couple of days, but this is the first time I have seen him--will give us an encouraging reply.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister has only himself to blame for facing this amendment. These are precisely the problems that arise when the Secretary of State takes the power to specify all the criteria for allocation of local authority housing. It means that as soon as he forgets to put anything in--as he has here--he will face well-founded, heartfelt and well-informed arguments suggesting that he do something about it. Inevitably, we will have a politicisation of the debate on the criteria for need. That debate has begun here and I cannot think of any more powerful ground on which it could have begun.

I particularly welcome Amendment No. 73. Simply to say that other suitable accommodation is available may be a temptation to a cash-strapped local authority which is very near its capping limit. And, as in the case mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, other accommodation which is suitable to anyone else may be completely unsuitable for somebody who lacks the mobility to get there. I found the example given by the noble Lord extremely moving. Normally when one thinks of the homeless one thinks that the one asset that they enjoy is their mobility; their ability to come and go and perhaps sleep in a different doorway because the wind is warmer in one than another. But if one lacks mobility, one cannot do that. It makes the pain of homelessness far greater than it would be under any other circumstances I can think of. These are important amendments. If the Secretary of State intends to keep control of all the criteria of allocation, he must find some way of accepting them.

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6 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I, too, support this amendment. The first amendment goes to the provision in Clause 157, which refers to reasonable preference being given to people living in, "unsatisfactory housing conditions". The reason why I particularly support the amendment is that I am not yet persuaded that "unsatisfactory" refers to anything more than the housing conditions. In particular, I am not persuaded that it can be construed to mean unsatisfactory for a particular person even if it is satisfactory for another.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) for what she has said. She said that she hoped that I would give a sympathetic reply. I hope to do just that and that it will satisfy her. I also hope that it will satisfy the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, too. The noble Earl is in a combative mood today. First, he said that we should not have any regulations and he then moved a whole host of amendments to take out all the regulations. Secondly, he says that if one is to have regulations, this particular regulation has not been included. Thirdly, he then explained how Xerxes created a bridge of boats and when the wind and the waves got up, the boats were upset and the men fell in the water and they were ordered to whip the sea. As regards that amendment, I wonder whether Xerxes was more successful in whipping the sea than the noble Earl was in whipping his own troops into the Division Lobby.

The fact is that one has to have regulations. There cannot be a completely different panoply of housing rules throughout the country so that Somerset will be different from Lancashire and Yorkshire different from Birmingham. There has to be some kind of regulation running all the way through, particularly as the Government provide a very great part of the funding.

What concerns me here is that the noble Earl blames the Government for not including various items whereas I am much more concerned that we see that the points are covered. In my view--and this is where I hope to be able to satisfy the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) and, with a generous attitude from the noble Earl, persuade him also--these matters are covered.

Amendments Nos. 19 and 70, to which my noble friend has spoken, both relate to the particular needs of disabled people. Amendment No. 70 would insert into Clause 185 a requirement that other suitable accommodation, which is available for occupation, must meet the needs of the household in terms of affordability and size and it must be accessible to disabled members of the household.

Clause 185 in fact provides that the accommodation must be suitable for the needs of the applicant and his household. Where the household includes a person with physical disabilities, it must be suitable for his needs as well. I draw the attention of my noble friend Lord Swinfen to the terms of government Amendment No. 71 to Clause 185. This will provide that the advice and assistance must be commensurate with the personal

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circumstances of the applicant. I can assure my noble friend Lord Swinfen that this matter will be fully covered also in the forthcoming revised guidance.

So I believe that the concerns that my noble friend has expressed--I can well understand them and he is entirely justified to be concerned--have been met in the Bill as it is. I admit to just a twinge of regret that the amendment which my noble friend originally put down did not appear on the face of the Bill. Originally, when it appeared in the list of amendments, the authorities would have been required to meet, "the needs of any desirable members of the household". Of course, that was a misprint, but I wondered how "desirability" would be defined to the satisfaction of all parties. One also wondered what would happen to the undesirable members. If they were rendered homeless, just think what would happen then!

My noble friend has seen the folly of his ways--or at least his drafting and, possibly, even his handwriting. Even if he had written the amendment properly, which he has now done, it is still not necessary. Amendment No. 19 would insert into Clause 157 a requirement that disabled people who are occupying unsuitable or inaccessible housing should be among those to whom reasonable preference is given in allocating housing accommodation.

I hesitate to tell my noble friend, because I admire the work that he does in this direction, but this is an unnecessary amendment. Clause 157(2)(a) specifies that reasonable preference is to be given to those occupying "unsatisfactory housing conditions". In our view that description must, and does, embrace,

    "disabled people occupying inaccessible or unsuitable housing".
Under Clause 157(3)(a) and (b) the Secretary of State can specify by regulations further descriptions of people to whom preference is to be given and he is enabled to amend existing descriptions.

The allocations provisions of Clause 157 grew out of Section 22 of the Housing Act 1985. We are not aware that the omission of a specific reference to disabled people has in the past caused any problems, but if it did, we have the power to put matters right in the regulations should that be found to be the case. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Swinfen for the tragic example which he gave. I shall certainly look at the provisions to see whether that kind of case will be likely to be reflected in future.

There is also the guidance. That will deal not only with homelessness and housing advice, but also with allocations. I shall look carefully at what my noble friend said about disabled people in the context of allocations. We shall try to incorporate any salient points in the guidance. In drawing up guidance on the applications provisions of Clause 157, we shall cover matters of physical accessibility.

My noble friend was concerned about the needs of the disabled not being covered by guidance, but I can assure him that we shall expand the matters on guidance. The present code was written before the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 was implemented so there is room for improvement there. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, suggested that what was

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suitable for one person was not necessarily suitable for another. That may well be the case. The test of suitability is applied on a case-by-case basis. It should take account of the applicant's particular and peculiar needs. That is the reason why it is important that each person should be considered individually. The same applies to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who was also concerned about that matter.

I hope that I have been able to persuade your Lordships that, despite the quite correct concerns of your Lordships about making certain that disabled people are properly looked after, that is the case in the Bill as it stands. I hope that that will prove satisfactory to my noble friend Lord Swinfen; to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) and to the two noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches, even if one is a lady. I hope that they will both consider that their cases and concerns are met.

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