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Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 79:

"( ) In carrying out their functions under this Part, the appropriate person and the local housing authority must have particular regard to the provisions of sections 1 to 3 of the Homelessness Act 2002 (c. 7)."

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 79 amends Clause 88, which deals with housing and homelessness strategies. It is a probing amendment. I hope that the Government will be able to use it as a basis for giving assurances about the priority that should be given to homelessness by local authorities, and particularly the development of effective homelessness strategies.

I am grateful to Shelter for its assistance with the amendment and, indeed, for bringing the matter to our attention. Sections 1 to 3 of the Homelessness Act 2002 require local housing authorities to carry out a review of homelessness in their area and to develop a strategy for tackling it. They must publish the strategies by July of this year.

The statutory requirements place a strong emphasis on partnership and multi-agency working, with specific duties on social services departments to assist local housing authorities in developing the strategy.

Clause 88 puts local housing strategies on a statutory basis. In practice, these requirements are similar to those that local housing authorities are already carrying out on a non-statutory basis. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill make it clear that the local housing strategy document will in future form the overarching framework within which the authority should consider other policies on more specific housing issues.

There are obviously benefits in rationalising the number of strategies and allowing them to be merged in a single statement. What concerns Shelter—I ask the Minister to respond to this—is that the provisions in the Bill should not be seen as a signal that homelessness, and in particular the development of effective homelessness strategies, should be given less priority.

I hope the Minister can give us a number of assurances. First, perhaps he will make it clear that the Government continue to believe that a strategic response to homelessness remains a key priority for local authorities and that the proposals in the Bill will not detract from their statutory responsibility under the Homelessness Act.

Secondly, there is the emphasis on prevention and support. Traditionally, there has been a focus on bricks and mortar issues. But prevention and support must not be lost. I hope that the Minister will provide assurances that that is certainly where one of the focuses of homelessness strategies will be.

Thirdly, the strategy process also stresses the importance of joint working between local authority departments and in particular with social services. I understand from Shelter that local authorities have responded well to the 2002 Act and are engaging positively in the strategy process. However, there is some concern about the extent to which housing authorities and social services are working effectively together. Shelter has carried out a survey of local housing authorities. More than three-quarters said that improvements were needed in the way that they work with social services.

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The Minister may feel that it is appropriate to take up the matter with colleagues in the Department of Health. I hope, as I say, that this morning provides a basis for assurances along the lines which I seek. I beg to move.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I shall make a brief response to an important issue. I make it absolutely clear that we have some sympathy with Amendment No. 79. However, we believe that we have already taken account of what it seeks to achieve.

The amendment, as the noble Baroness said, would impose an additional duty on the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales, when exercising their powers under Clause 88, to require local authorities to have housing strategies. The amendment would require us and authorities to have particular regard to authorities' strategic homelessness functions.

It is of vital importance that housing and homelessness strategies support and reinforce one another. The existing guidance stresses the need for robust links between housing and homelessness strategies. We believe that the importance of this approach can be emphasised through further guidance. Therefore, there is no need to include this level of detail in statutory legislation on the face of the Bill.

I hope the noble Baroness will welcome our proposals set out in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill to give local authorities the option of rationalising their housing strategy, homelessness strategy and home energy conservation reports into one document. We envisage that this would improve the necessary links between the documents by reducing the overlap. It would also reduce the burden on local authorities.

However, we continue to believe that a strategic response to homelessness remains a key priority for local authorities. Clause 88 does not change the provisions in the Homelessness Act 2002. Therefore, if an authority chooses to incorporate the homelessness strategy in the broader housing strategy, the duties under the Homelessness Act still apply.

The noble Baroness is quite right: it is new legislation. It is being embraced by local authorities. We are doing everything we can within the homelessness directorates of the department to assist local authorities. We have targets for local authorities on some aspects, about which it is important that people understand—particularly in terms of those in bed and breakfasts and rough sleepers. We have an active involvement in those areas through the government offices of the regions.

Even in recent times—not in any way that is negative or chastising—I have met local authorities either at my office or when I have gone on visits and my ministerial colleague, Yvette Cooper, has done the same with about a dozen authorities where we needed to be reassured that action is in hand with a hands-on approach now to ensure that targets that are important to us, especially that for families with children in bed-and-breakfasts, are achieved next March. We are not waiting until February to find out

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whether we are on course for that. So we are taking the matter extremely seriously—we know that local authorities are as well; there is no division between us on that.

As I said, if we need extra provision, we can provide it through guidance; we are absolutely confident of that. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling the amendment. I would say through her to Shelter that although everything in the garden is not rosy, we are on the case and do not see the need to write the provision into the Bill. I hope that, with those reassurances, the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: Of course, my Lords. I hope that the Minister will take further opportunities to stress the joint working that is needed between different parts of local authorities. That is never that easy—that is in no way inconsistent with what I have been saying about centralisation in debates on earlier parts of the Bill—but further ministerial comment about the value of that would be helpful. I am grateful for the Minister's remarks and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 122 [Orders and regulations]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 80:

    Page 74, line 39, at end insert—

"( ) Such power to make transitional provision shall be applied to ensure that any arrangements previously lawfully made pursuant to the provisions listed in section 101(2) shall not be made unlawful."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment returns us to the issue of retrospection, which I raised in Grand Committee. I then said that what the Minister had said deserved rereading quietly. I have done that. Among other things, the Minister said that he agreed with the thrust of my concern, but felt that the issue could be dealt with through secondary legislation. I was having difficulty working out what secondary legislation would enable the Secretary of State to deal with my concerns. The Minister said:

    "Leave it with me. I shall take further advice and, if need be, I shall write to the noble Baroness".—[Official Report, 17/6/03; GC 271.]

The Minister may have felt that to be unnecessary, but the need was mine rather than his.

I hope that in response to the amendment, he will explain how the matter can be dealt with through secondary legislation. If he would rather leave that for a letter during the recess, that would be fine, but I should like to understand. I beg to move.

12.45 p.m.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I certainly do not intend to send a letter. I have here a statement on which is printed in bold at the top of the page, "Read in full". So there will be no deviation. I apologise to the House for taking the few minutes necessary to put this on the record. It is a small amendment but a rather large statement so, as I have been warned by my advisers, I shall stick to the text.

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Amendment No. 80 is in our view unnecessary. Clause 122, to which the amendment refers, sets out a number of general provisions in relation to orders and regulations made under the Bill. Subsection (1) provides that any power to make orders or regulations under the Act includes power, first, to make different provision for different cases or areas, and, secondly, to make incidental, supplementary, consequential or transitional provision or savings, including amending or repealing any enactment or instrument made under any enactment.

Amendment No. 80 seeks to add to that a requirement that such power to make transitional provision shall be applied to ensure that any arrangements previously lawfully made under the provisions in Clause 101(2), which is entitled,

    "Exercise of powers by reference to authorities' performance categories",

shall not be made unlawful. Clause 101 covers the exercise of various powers that allow the Secretary of State to remove regulatory controls on authorities or to grant additional powers to them. The powers mentioned include the power to modify legislation that prevents or obstructs compliance with best value or the promotion of well-being and the power to remove requirements to produce plans or strategies. They also include powers to specify: performance indicators and standards; frequency and content of best value reviews and performance plans; and non-commercial considerations for local authorities entering into contracts.

The amendment relates to Clause 122. That means that it would cover only those transitional provisions where the power to make them is in the Bill rather than another Act. The provision would affect only orders made under Clauses 96 to 98, affecting trading, and Clause 119, affecting the use of penalties from dog fouling. It would not attach to orders made under Section 70 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, the Local Government Act 1999, the Local Government Act 2000 or the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, as the powers allowing transitional provisions in such orders are in the Acts, not in the Bill. Transitional powers may be attached to these provisions—for example, Section 16(3)(c) of the Local Government Act 1999 already makes provision for any order under the section to include,

    "consequential, incidental and transitional provision".

During Grand Committee, the noble Baroness asked questions about the trading provisions in the Bill. My understanding was that the particular issue with which she was concerned related to transitional arrangements following reassessment under the comprehensive performance assessment—in particular, that arrangements entered into lawfully should not be made unlawful. The concern was about an authority slipping down a category and thereby losing a freedom—particularly one that involved an agreement with a third party—and the effect that the re-categorisation would have on that authority in relation to that freedom.

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The amendment addresses the question of what happens to existing freedoms and flexibilities—for example, trading powers—if an English local authority undergoes re-categorisation and is no longer able to exercise the power to trade by virtue of falling into a lower performance category. As I said in the debate, we agree with the thrust of the concern but that issue can be dealt with through secondary legislation.

It may be helpful if I take a few more minutes to explain how we believe that that issue can be adequately covered by the transitional provisions in the Bill and those already in the enabling powers that will be used to grant freedoms and flexibilities. I have already written to the noble Baroness about that, but this will allow me to place our view on the record.

Clause 101 covers the exercise of various powers that allow the Secretary of State to remove regulatory controls on authorities or to grant additional powers to them. In particular, subsection (1) makes it clear that the powers mentioned in subsection (2) may be exercised for the purpose of making provision that relates to authorities that are for the time being in a particular performance category under Clause 100. Where provision of that kind is made and an authority undergoes re-categorisation, the result will be that the provision relating to the authority's old category will no longer apply to it and, instead, the authority will be subject to the provision that applies to its new category. The powers mentioned in subsection (2) include the powers to make orders under Clauses 96 to 98—those affect the power to trade and the power to modify enactments in connection with charging or trading.

Clause 122(1)(b) in particular makes provision for transitional arrangements to form part of any orders made under the Bill. An order made under the trading powers in Clause 96 will be framed by reference to descriptions of authority which by virtue of an order under Clause 100(4) are of a particular category. I can confirm that Clause 122 enables provision to be made in any Clause 96 order for transitional arrangements, where an authority undergoes performance re-categorisation and is no longer able to exercise the power to trade by virtue of falling into a lower performance category—that is, under a comprehensive performance assessment of being weak or poor. It is intended that the transitional provisions would be drafted so as to ensure that trading arrangements already entered into by an authority while it was exercising those powers could continue subject to certain time limitations, which we are to consider further.

Existing powers therefore enable us to make provision for transitional arrangements following re-categorisation. The amendment is in effect attempting to limit the Secretary of State's discretion. The Secretary of State could decide that, in exercising the power to make transitional provisions, an authority should—for good reason—lose the trading power. He will exercise the power reasonably and is able to preserve a freedom, but we do not want him to have to preserve a freedom once it is granted. It will be for the authorities to ensure that their arrangements are consistent with that. The transitional provisions are likely to ensure continuity but there may be

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circumstances where that is inappropriate and, therefore, the Secretary of State's discretion should not be limited in the way suggested.

In view of those reassurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment. God bless us all.

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