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Allocation of Housing (Reasonable and Additional Preference) Regulations 1997

1.26 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 26th June be approved [5th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in our manifesto we promised to restore a proper safety net for families and vulnerable individuals who are made homeless through no fault of their own. These regulations are the first step towards fulfilling that undertaking. The provisions in Parts VI and VII of the Housing Act 1996, which limit the protection that could be given to homeless households, were a matter of grave concern in your Lordships' House when they were introduced in 1996. These regulations would ensure that households owed a homelessness duty receive proper priority for rehousing in long-term social housing.

The policy framework we are now putting in place to deal with homelessness consists of three elements. One is the introduction of new resources. We covered that in the debate in this House this week on the Local Government Finance (Supplementary Credit Approvals) Bill. The second is the fostering of partnerships between all organisations that deal with the homeless. The initiative that we are taking to deal with the problem of rough sleepers is an example of the partnerships that we are trying to foster. The third is genuine and regular consultation. That consultation preceded the regulations that are before us today.

These regulations are necessary because, under Part VII of the 1996 Act, a local housing authority may be obliged to secure suitable accommodation for a homeless household, but only for a period of two years. When that period ends, the authority may, in certain circumstances, decide to continue to secure accommodation for the household, although it cannot use its own stock for more than two years out of any three-year period.

This principal homelessness duty, limited as it is, does not even apply where an authority is satisfied that there is other suitable private sector accommodation available in the district. In those circumstances, an authority's only duty is to provide advice and assistance. We have, to some extent, addressed this lack of security by making an order under Section 210 of the Act which provides that other accommodation shall not be regarded as suitable unless the authority is satisfied that it is available for occupation by the household for at least two years.

The overall effect of these arrangements would nevertheless be to leave a homeless household in a continuing state of uncertainty. That adds to the considerable disruption and misery that they would already have experienced. That is why it is necessary that these regulations are made.

The existing position is that under Part VI of the Housing Act 1996 there is a single route into long-term social housing through an authority's housing register.

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Section 167 of the Act sets out certain categories of household to whom "reasonable preference" must be given within an allocation scheme. These are households in overcrowded, insanitary, temporary or insecure accommodation; persons with a particular need for settled accommodation on medical, welfare, social or economic grounds; and households including a pregnant woman or dependent children. There is no place in the list for households defined as owed a principal homelessness duty. In including these households in these categories receiving preference, the Government is making very clear to local authorities the importance that they attach to the experience of homelessness in determining priorities for long-term, stable housing allocation.

The regulations add to the list in Section 167 various new categories that cover everyone who is unintentionally homeless and in priority need. They include those people to whom the main duty is owed both under the existing and the earlier homelessness legislation and people who have within the previous two years been referred to other suitable accommodation in the private sector in discharge of the homelessness duty. Households owed a homelessness duty would thus be rehoused more quickly, reducing the often heavy financial burden on authorities of having to secure and finance temporary accommodation for them.

There is one other point I should bring to the attention of the House. The regulations also remedy an oversight in Section 167 as drafted. 'Additional preference' is to be given to households which consist of or include someone with a particular need for settled accommodation on medical or welfare grounds where they cannot reasonably be expected to find settled accommodation in the foreseeable future. As currently expressed, the entitlement applies only to individuals. Regulation 3 extends the entitlement to all households falling within the medical category which cannot be expected to find settled accommodation. This would enable authorities to take account of other cases in this group--for example, where the household includes a carer who has to provide around-the-clock care for the person in his or her charge.

These regulations will begin to restore hope to homeless families and vulnerable individuals who have become homeless and I commend them to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 26th June be approved. [5th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Hayman.)

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not propose at this time on a Friday to rehearse the many arguments we had across the Dispatch Boxes on this subject so very recently. I think we had an honourable disagreement of principle as to whether it was right to include homelessness in the Bill--as the noble Baroness now proposes to do in effect--and thereby to continue, as we saw it, the iniquities of queue-jumping or whether it was better to do as the noble Baroness now proposes and have it as an added factor which can be taken into account. We have to accept that the Government are going to try it their way.

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However, I should be very grateful if the noble Baroness could write to me and say how she proposes to measure the success of the policy change. What statistics does she wish to see improved and in what way in the future? I do not expect an answer now but I would appreciate a letter.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I will certainly undertake to write to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and I might even be tempted to tell him how wrong he is to think that this measure will encourage queue-jumping. I hope that we shall not see the number of homeless families in this country increase during the lifetime of this Administration as they did--to more than double--during the lifetime of the previous administration.

We believe that the housing needs of individuals and households who will have been found by local authorities to have become homeless through no fault of their own and to be in priority need--I agree with the noble Lord that we had a disagreement in principle on this issue--will be as severe and as genuine as those of any other household on the housing register and it is right that their needs should be addressed by local authorities through this measure. I commend the regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Transport and Works (Guided Transport Modes) (Amendment) Order 1997

1.35 p.m.

Baroness Hayman rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th July 1997 be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the draft order before the House today will, if approved, effect a modest, but nonetheless useful, amendment to a previous order. As such, it should not, I hope, be controversial.

The House will doubtless find it helpful if I explain something of the background to, and purpose of, the order. The Transport and Works Act 1992 (TWA for short) replaced private Bills with ministerial orders as the means by which new railways, tramways and other forms of guided transport are authorised in England and Wales. (It also covered inland waterways and works interfering with rights of navigation, but that need not concern the House today.) The Act came into force on 1st January 1993.

The order-making procedures are set out in Part I of the Act. Section 1 enables the Secretary of State to make an order for the construction of railways, tramways, trolley vehicle systems and guided transport systems using modes prescribed by order made under Section 2. The legislation was framed in this way to ensure that the powers were sufficiently flexible to enable the order-making procedure to extend to novel or unusual forms of transport by affirmative orders. If the types of guided transport had been set out on the face of the Act, non-conventional forms of guided transport which had

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not been foreseen at the time would only have been capable of being authorised by means of a private Bill or by amendment of the TWA itself.

The first Section 2 order--the Transport and Works (Guided Transport Modes) Order 1992--prescribed eight modes of guided transport. These are summarised in the explanatory note. While the range of potential guided systems has proved--so far as we can judge--to be sufficiently comprehensive, the 1992 order restricted their application to, in effect, passenger carrying systems. The reason for this is not entirely clear, although it may have been assumed that guided transport systems were unlikely to have a freight carrying application.

However, the previous administration agreed that a public consultation exercise should be undertaken with a view to removing the restriction. This took place earlier this year. Very few responses were received but those who did respond either welcomed the proposed change or had no comments.

It is in response to the public consultation that the order is being introduced now. The timing has been prompted by a proposal, still in its formative stage, by a private sector and Royal Mail consortium to make use of the existing Royal Mail tunnels under London to develop a new automatic freight distribution system called Metrofreight. This would use rubber-tyred, battery-driven, driverless vehicles to supply goods to major goods outlets in the Oxford Street area from a central distribution centre in Willesden. The project would involve additional tunnelling, for which TWA powers would be required. It is claimed that this project has the potential significantly to reduce lorry deliveries in central London and hence bring welcome relief from congestion and other environmental benefits.

I should stress that the making of this order today would not necessarily mean that the Secretary of State would approve that scheme. It would be considered only in the context of an application made under Section 1 of the Act. But such an application would be made possible by this amendment order.

I should explain that broadening the prescription of guided transport to include the carriage of goods is not designed to increase regulation in relation to these types of work or to cover any guided freight systems which do not currently require TWA powers. The order will simply enable promoters of guided freight systems who require such powers to apply for them through the Transport and Works Act process rather than to have to petition Parliament by a private Bill. This is wholly consistent with the purposes of the 1996 Act. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th July 1997 be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Hayman.)

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