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Lord Mottistone: My Lords, I appreciate what the Minister said and that he understands why I have tabled these amendments. I thank also my noble friend Lord Lucas for sending me a copy of his letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, which took us a little further in that direction.

However, the Minister said that he thinks it is unnecessary to include this provision in the Bill. My reason for believing that it is necessary is borne out by what he went on to say, namely, that the guidance will be re-written. One always knows that guidance that is being re-written is something over which Parliament has little control. At present the guidance refers to a housing authority having reason to believe a particular circumstance is occurring. That is how I understand the matter. However, since housing authorities were set up, we have had care in the community. The noble Earl and his department have perhaps been thinking about housing and that side of local government. However, that is quite different from social services which work now with health authorities to provide assessments of people who are severely mentally ill.

My amendments, Amendments Nos. 56 and 68 state,

I rather think that that was what my noble friend considered unnecessary, because a housing authority would make its own decision. We now have a system--which is written into the law--of having assessments made of people who are mentally ill, or who are suspected of being mentally ill. Therefore, there is a source of information which can be referred to over and above an opinion which a housing authority may have. It would seem to me there is a worthwhile opportunity for my noble friend to consider returning with an amendment of his own at Third Reading to seek to take advantage of the care in the community facilities relating to the mentally ill. Those facilities would be worth referring to rather than depending rather vaguely on amendments to the guidance. I hope the House will allow my noble friend to tell me whether he would consider doing that between now and the next stage.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, with the leave of the House, of course I shall consider what noble Lords and my noble friend have said. The important point to remember in all this is that one can, if one is not careful, cut up the legislation--if I may use that phrase without being too vulgar--with all sorts of provisions which may in the long term be undesirable. That is why one has codes of guidance. They fill in what one might describe as the loose spots. The legislation ought to give the whole picture as a generality. The code of guidance then explains how the provision should be carried out.

In the case we are discussing the code of guidance pre-dates care in the community and requires updating in the light of experience. We intend to do that by consulting the Department of Health. Therefore I believe the code of guidance constitutes the best way of

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approaching the matter. Of course I shall take into account what my noble friend and others said. If there is any way I think the provision ought to be altered before the next stage, I shall let my noble friend know. However, I do not wish to raise his hopes too high. I believe the provision is best kept as it is, and that the matter is addressed by the code of guidance. However, I shall certainly consider what my noble friend said.

Lord Mottistone: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for undertaking to consider the matter further. I wish to leave him with one point which I tried to make earlier; namely, there is a difference between people who are mentally ill, and other patients, in that unlike other people the supposition is not that they might be pulling a fast one under circumstances in which their mental illness is taking effect. Often when their mental illness is taking effect they can fool people into thinking that it is not; and then people get killed.

Having heard that, and hoping that my noble friend will budge a little before the next stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 57:

Page 107, leave out lines 32 and 33.

The noble Earl said: I spoke to Amendments Nos. 57, 58 and 59 with Amendment No. 54. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed.

Clause 180 [Duty to persons not in priority need who are not homeless intentionally]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 58 and 59:

Page 108, line 20, leave out subsection (1).
Page 108, line 22, leave out from ("authority") to ("but") in line 24 and insert ("--
(a) are satisfied that an applicant is homeless and eligible for assistance, and
(b) are not satisfied that he became homeless intentionally,").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 181 [Duty to persons with priority need who are not homeless intentionally]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 60:

Page 108, line 38, after ("period") insert ("unless the Secretary of State prescribes otherwise,").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall be brief. The amendment provides a way of allowing the Government to expedite what we all wish to see.

The Government expect local authorities to house the great majority of homeless families within two years. For those years local authorities have a responsibility, a duty, to ensure that there is temporary housing while those families wait. Thereafter, the local authority must review the circumstances and may extend their responsibility beyond the two years. As we rehearsed earlier today, in many parts of the country--London, the South and rural areas--homeless families will have to

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wait longer than two years before their time comes through. Equally, if they have special needs, and are hard to house--those who are disabled, those who require a larger property--they are also likely to have to wait for two years.

Given by definition that homeless families are entering a common waiting list--people other than homeless families will now have additional preference--it means that homeless families will be waiting longer, and are less likely to be housed within the two years.

The amendment allows the Secretary of State to review the situation: whether the majority of applicants in a local authority are housed within two years; whether there has been a build up of households in temporary accommodation; and whether this leads to unjust and unacceptable treatment of homeless people. If so, the Secretary of State can extend the minimum duty beyond the two years. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, one of the central aims of our reform of the homelessness legislation is to ensure that local housing authorities are the last resort--not the first resort--for people who find themselves in a housing crisis. It is vitally important that there should be a safety net to help people who find themselves in difficulties through no fault of their own, and who are unable to resolve those difficulties without help.

The present homelessness legislation was intended to provide that. But, increasingly, it has become clear that the present statutory framework provides an incentive to some people simply to turn to their local housing authority for help without first making any effort themselves. I do not think that that is right, and I doubt whether any of your Lordships think it right either. Everybody must be expected to take some responsibility for meeting their own needs within the limits of their own capabilities.

The provisions in Part VII will ensure that local authorities must continue to provide a safety net for families and vulnerable people who have become homeless through no fault of their own. Where the authority is not satisfied that there is suitable other accommodation available, it will have a duty to secure accommodation.

When these provisions were first introduced in another place, it was proposed that this duty should last for a minimum of 12 months. But in response to representations made at that time, the minimum period was extended to two years.

In most areas I believe that that should be sufficient time for the household to be allocated a social tenancy through the housing register, if that is what they require. Let us remember that at least three-quarters of all people allocated council housing get it within that period. If not, the authority has a discretionary power in Clause 182 to continue to secure accommodation for up to a further two years, and possibly beyond if necessary.

An authority can continue to secure accommodation for a household for as long as it wishes. That is a generous provision. Two years is far longer than most

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people in most circumstances will need to find longer-term accommodation. There is a provision for continuing assistance, but it must be subject to periodic review. I do not see that there is justification for adding legislation to the Bill which will alter the provision. Nor do I see why it should be subjected to prescription by the Secretary of State. I hope that the noble Baroness will be content with that position which is a great improvement on what it was in the first place.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, occasionally one sees the size of the gulf between us. The Minister's reply was to make comments such as: "People should not get council housing if they have not taken responsibility for themselves". It is as though getting a council house is an act of dependency. Like other people in your Lordships' House, I have been involved in the provision of council housing for a quarter of a century. I find that attitude unfortunate and wrong.

Council housing is provided by citizens of a local authority for each other. The assumption seems to be that you help yourself if you go into the private rented sector and pay more for less, but that you are being dependent if you go into a council house provided by yourself, as a citizen and local taxpayer, and you are being less than upstanding and independent. I find that a serious misreading of what council housing has been about since it was first instigated under the Addison Rules.

I wish that the Government would understand what council housing has done over the generations. I will tell the Minister what it has done. It has broken the link between poverty and lousy housing for generations of people in this country. Nor has it come by courtesy of a subsidy from the taxpayer. That is another myth regularly propagated by the Government. Over the past decade, little new capital money has come into council housing, the subsidy comes not from central government to council tenants, it comes as a result of rent pooling and therefore a mutual subsidy from one tenant to another. The notion that such tenants are getting a freebie from the taxpayer is wrong.

The third point I wish to tackle in the Minister's reply is that he continually said that council housing is such a scarce resource that we must not allow permanent housing to go to the undeserving. If it is such a valuable resource, why have the Government refused to allow local authorities to add to it by allowing them to recycle their capital assets? If it is such a valuable resource, why may not local authorities multiply it and meet housing need in the way they should? If that were to happen we would not have some of the problems that we face with the Bill.

If the Government Benches refer to council housing, I hope they will recognise it for what it is: a community asset provided by the local community for its citizens through the mutual pooling of rents. That is how it is formed and run. The notion that somehow you are being a less than upstanding citizen if you seek a council house and that therefore the Government must narrow the entry to it because local authorities cannot be trusted

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to do so is an unfortunate and undesirable response. There is no meeting of minds on this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 61 not moved.]

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