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Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 62:

Page 109, line 26, after ("satisfied") insert ("that the accommodation was suitable for him and").

The noble Earl said: After that diatribe from the noble Baroness, perhaps we may turn to Amendment No. 62. It relates to concerns which were expressed during Committee by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that under the clause an authority may be able to discharge its duty prior to the end of the two-year period required by subsection (3) with an offer, through the housing register, of unsuitable accommodation. The noble Earl said that it had been the practice of some authorities to offer unsuitable accommodation to people whom they did not want to house; the duty would end if an applicant refused the offer.

It has always been our intention to ensure that the duty may only be discharged if the accommodation offered is suitable. We have had the opportunity to consider the implications of subsection (3) further. Although it is my view that the provisions in the subsection would provide the protection which the noble Earl seeks, it is important to put the matter beyond doubt. Amendment No. 62 does so; an authority must satisfy itself that accommodation offered through the housing register is suitable before it discharges its duty. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl very warmly for this provision. I agree with him: I believe it does put the matter beyond doubt. I hope it will make things work a good deal better in practice, and I thank him for that.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 182 [Power exercisable after minimum period of duty under s. 181]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 63:

Page 109, line 40, at beginning insert ("Unless the Secretary of State otherwise prescribes,").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 64.

In a rather throw-away line in responding to Amendments Nos. 60 and 61 the Minister seemed to dispose of these amendments by saying that he saw no need to dispense with the review. Nevertheless, I introduce them in order to obtain a slightly longer response.

Clause 182 allows a local housing authority to continue to provide accommodation after the minimum period but only when it has carried out a review of the matters set out in Clause 182(2). This small set of amendments seeks to give the Secretary of State the power to set aside the requirement for a review.

We have heard on a number of occasions of the quite possible but almost absurd position that an authority may have to turf a family out of temporary accommodation

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after two years if in its view at the end of the period no other suitable accommodation is available in the district, even if the family is "nearly there" and could expect an offer of permanent accommodation quite quickly.

This amendment would allow the Secretary of State to give a local housing authority a discretion as to whether or not to secure accommodation depending on the circumstances of the individual case. I cannot see that this would lead to any danger that authorities would leave families in temporary accommodation needlessly, since such accommodation is likely to be more expensive than permanent accommodation. It would be quite irrational for an authority not to re-house a family as it reaches the head of the queue for permanent housing.

The Bill allows the Secretary of State to do a very great deal by regulation. This amendment would leave Clause 182(1) intact and gives him the possibility of allowing something not to be done, but to pass the discretion to the local housing authority. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, 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. I move with hesitation lest I stimulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, into a twizzle again and she lacerates me on my understanding--or misunderstanding in her view--of the object of council houses. I will ask her to be quiescent over that.

We have already discussed, in dealing with Amendments Nos. 60 and 61, the extension of the minimum period to accommodate to two years. The authority also has a discretionary power in Clause 182 to continue to secure accommodation for up to a further two years and possibly beyond if necessary.

If the authority declines to exercise that power and if the household believes that it is still entitled to assistance, then it can make a further application. Authorities will recognise that it is not in their interests to provoke further justifiable applications in this way and will wish to think carefully about whether to continue providing accommodation.

When the authority decides to exercise its power to provide accommodation beyond the initial two-year period it must check that the household is still eligible for assistance. For example, it would have to check whether the children, who might have formed the basis of the priority need in the first place, are still part of the household. It must also satisfy itself whether other suitable accommodation is now available in the area. Those are the criteria which determine whether a household is eligible for the two year homeless duty. It is perfectly reasonable and logical that they should be the same criteria which must be satisfied before an authority can exercise its power to continue to secure accommodation.

Clause 182 allows an authority to continue to secure accommodation for a household for as long as it wishes. That is a generous provision, but it is inherent in the policy that such assistance should only be available to people who need it, and there must be reasonable periodic checks

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to ensure that people retain the basic entitlement to it. The review requirement in Clause 182 achieves that. I do not see any reason, or indeed any justification, for adding provisions to the Bill which would allow those fundamental provisions to be suspended.

The noble Baroness was concerned that the local authority may have to turn a family out after two years. Theoretically it could do so, but, of course, there is no point in doing so. If the household is still in priority need and there is no alternative accommodation, then there will have to be a new duty for two years if the household re-applies. Therefore, I think that is a situation which is unlikely to materialise in fact, even though in theory it might be possible.

Earl Russell: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, might I say that only the rules of order have hitherto restrained me from saying that the noble Baroness did not speak only for herself.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for that. I do not think that he was restrained by any rules of order from saying so, in the same way as I do not think I was restrained by any rules from saying that I thought the noble Baroness had gone a bit far.

Baroness Hamwee: No, my Lords, the noble Baroness did not speak only for herself. It is with a little difficulty that I am not starting on my own diatribe. I think one could add, for instance, the use of housing revenue accounts by some authorities over the years, to give but one example.

The Minister says that the local housing authority must check certain things. This is circular. It "must check" only if the Bill requires that it shall check. The Minister says that this is a generous provision, as if somehow the provision of housing is a gift. He goes on to say that as a matter of fact a local housing authority probably would not find itself in the position that I have posed. The Secretary of State has so many powers to make prescription and to make regulations that I am rather sorry that the Minister is not accepting the offer of another one, simply to help matters along. However, I can see that he is not going to accept this gift from me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 64 not moved.]

Clause 183 [Duties in case of threatened homelessness]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 65:

Page 110, leave out lines 26 and 27.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I spoke to this with Amendment No. 54. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 66:

Page 110, line 33, at end insert--
("This subsection has effect subject to section 185 (duty where other suitable accommodation available).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 67:

Page 110, line 34, leave out ("This") and insert ("(2A) Subsection (2)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

Clause 184 [Becoming threatened with homelessness intentionally]:

[Amendment No. 69 not moved.]

Clause 185 [Duty where other suitable accommodation available]:

[Amendment No. 70 not moved.]

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Cox): My Lords, I should point out that if Amendment No. 71 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 73 because of pre-emption.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 71:

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