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Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, this group of amendments is probably the most important that we will consider today as part of our deliberations on the housing section of the Localism Bill. If passed, it would give Parliament the opportunity to reflect on the changes after they become law and a period of three years has elapsed. They would then only be renewed if affirmative resolutions were passed by both Houses.
The changes in the Bill are significant. There is widespread concern about them. When the Government make such changes, they should always be prepared to listen and to be aware of the law of unintended consequences. By passing this amendment, Parliament would have the ability to review the decision it has made in a simple way that would not require lots of parliamentary time. I hope that the Government will be persuaded to accept this group of amendments.
It is important that we remind ourselves of what the Government propose and then reflect on the benefit of what I am proposing to your Lordships' House today. Clause 134 amends Section 193 of the Housing Act 1996 to enable local authorities to discharge their duty to homeless households by offering private sector accommodation. Individuals concerned lose their right to give their consent to the arrangement. Clause 136 gives a two-year safety net. We have to examine that in the light of the fact that that may not be long enough.
"It is unbelievable that at a time when every two minutes someone faces the nightmare of losing their home, the Government is proposing to reduce the rights of homeless people who approach their local authorities for help".
The charity Crisis has an equally concerned view of these proposals. Both charities, along with many other respected organisations, have a unique understanding of the problems faced by homeless people and we should listen to them carefully.
If the proposals are further considered with the impact of the changes to housing benefit then the risks of homeless households being placed in a difficult, downward spiral are all too apparent. These are the reasons why we should avail ourselves of the opportunity to correct the situation, in case the reality turns out to be much less welcome and more damaging than the intention of the proposals in the Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Best: My Lords, my name is against this amendment, in support of the sunset clause coupled with a report on the position of homelessness three years from now. The Minister said earlier that one of a local authority's most important duties is towards the homeless. A pretty fundamental change in the way that that duty is to be discharged means that it must be a good idea to pause for thought three years down the line and see whether these quite important and significant changes have made a big difference.
At the moment, the local authority must find the family or householder a secure and affordable place in the social housing sector. In the future, they will be able to fulfil the requirement placed upon them by seeing that family into a place in the private rented sector. That, by definition, is not going to be secure in the long term. Understandably, landlords may wish to have the property back and security of tenure over the long term cannot be offered. It may be that that property, after the reforms to housing benefit and the local housing allowance, will prove to be unaffordable. There is a gap between what the tenant pays in rent and the amount that they receive in benefit, and the private rented sector option may not work out.
It may be that the dire warnings that we have heard from Shelter, Crisis, Homeless Link and others do not work out in practice, but there is a danger that those warnings prove to be entirely timely. We had a lot of discussion on these provisions earlier in the House. The noble Lords, Lord Shipley, Lord Rix, Lord McKenzie and Lord Kennedy, the noble Baronesses, Lady Doocey and Lady Greengross, and others all spoke on this matter in Committee. There is a great deal of concern about the fundamental changes to the duties upon local authorities.
I hope that noble Lords had a chance to look at Hansard over the summer. As I have said, noble Lords should regard reading the last debate as a bit of a teach-in on all the aspects of homelessness that we ought to think about. We were not able to secure all those different aspects as a whole series of amendments to the Bill but the Government have, in trying to ensure that accommodation is suitable in the private rented sector, come up with a code of guidance. That has some very good things in it. It does not go all the way down the line, but perhaps that will lead to a successful outcome for those who are placed in the private rented sector. This sunset clause would ensure that after a period of three years a thoroughgoing
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Earlier this year I moved a Motion on the housing benefit regulations asking the noble Lord, Lord Freud, the Minister responsible, whether he would over the months and years ahead put in hand a fundamental reform along the lines of the housing benefit reforms in order to see what impact they had on homelessness, families, poverty, people's incomes and the local authorities themselves. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, not only agreed to do that and to have a review, which is now under way and which will report in three stages over the next 18 months, but did it in a way that, I am pleased to report back to the House, met entirely with my approval and indeed that of others interested in these matters. He has brought together Professor Kemp from the University of Oxford and Professor Cole from Sheffield Hallam University; he has Ipsos MORI doing surveys and the IFS looking at the macroeconomics. It is a real, thoroughgoing review of the impact of these changes, which is just what we asked for and just what this House required. A comparable exercise to look down the line at how things are going would again be a triumph for the Government and a thoroughly commendable and useful exercise, which would provide the evidence and inform a decision on a sunset clause three years from now. Let us do it again. I strongly support the amendment.
Lord Beecham: I congratulate my noble friend Lord Kennedy and the noble Lord, Lord Best, on moving this amendment. Having paid that compliment, I hope that they will not mind if I claim paternity of the amendment itself.
There are two issues that really need addressing. One is affordability and the other is the quality of the accommodation that will be offered to people. They give rise to the need to review the situation, as noble Lords who have moved and spoken to the amendment have made clear. Nearly half those who are housing allowance claimants find that their housing benefit now falls short of what is required by an average of £24 a week, which is a considerable shortfall. That is before the impending changes. A significant proportion, a quarter of tenants, find themselves spending half their income on rent, which is a very high proportion.
The condition of properties in the private rented sector in particular also gives rise to concern, as 40 per cent of them fall short of the decent homes standard, which is twice as high as the percentage in the social rented sector and well in excess of the figure in the owner-occupied sector. A high proportion of cases dealt with by Shelter come from the private rented sector-twice the proportion of claimants that you would expect from the proportion of households in the sector. Again, a high proportion of environmental health officers are reported by Shelter as encountering landlords who refuse to carry out even the necessary repairs to maintain properties in a safe condition; 36 per cent of environmental health officers say regularly that they find private landlords in breach. Yet this is the sector to which many people will be directed under the provisions of this Bill.
It may be that things will improve, which is obviously the Government's hope and intention, but it is surely necessary to take a check on this after a reasonable period. These amendments give that opportunity to rethink the situation if necessary. If things are going well, it is a simple enough matter to carry the legislation forward; if not, there will be an opportunity to address what might well be a very difficult situation for a great many people.
Lord Taylor of Goss Moor: My Lords, I declare an interest since I chair the National Housing Federation. The Government are embarking on some quite fundamental changes to the homelessness legislation, a piece of legislation that dates all the way back to my former colleague, Mr Ross. It has been of immense benefit to have that legislation in place, although it is not always popular. That said, as things stand there are some perverse consequences to the legislation and in how people may respond to its provisions. As a Member of Parliament for a Cornish constituency where homelessness and poverty have been high for many years, I saw some of that taking place. Concerns have been expressed about the use of the private sector, but I think that is wrong; the private sector can be right for individuals and homelessness should not be seen as a trump card in the process of housing allocation. So there are important potential benefits in the changes that the Government are making.
I have great sympathy with the argument that when profound changes are made we should ensure that there is a proper process of review of the consequences that come from those changes. Inevitably, there are unexpected consequences of these things; while it may not be that this particular amendment is the best form for that, I hope that I will hear from the Minister a very clear commitment for a process of review, in particular to look at whether the quality of accommodation provided by the private sector is adequate and, perhaps even more important, what the consequences have been in terms of individuals' ability to pay rent given the changes to the benefit system. I hope that the consequences of these changes will be positive, but I am all too aware that they may not be, so I look to the Minister to give some reassurance on that front.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I am slightly concerned about two different aspects. First, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made the point about places being unsafe. That concerns me greatly because I understood that the council had powers, if a property was unsafe, to demand that work be carried out. So that disturbs me.
The other point that worries me very much is the whole attitude of private landlords to housing benefit claimants. This is a serious problem that I had personal experience of this week when someone I know, who has been going to estate agents and finding properties that they could afford with their £250 a week, was told by estate agents and by landlords themselves, "Sorry, we won't take anyone on housing benefit because if they don't pay"-I know that there is talk of sending the payment directly to the landlord, which has both advantages and disadvantages-"or if there's any doubt, we have to meet all the costs of the court and of
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I point out at the start that the noble Lord, Lord Best, made a powerful intervention over the welfare Bill and as a result-or, perhaps, we fully intended this anyway-the Department for Work and Pensions will carry out extensive research into the impact of the changes to the local housing allowance that are being introduced in 2011. That will go a long way towards dealing with the matters that are raised in this amendment. The department intends to monitor the impact of the changes on claimants, landlords and local authorities over a two-year period and will be publishing an interim report in 2012, with a final report due in 2013.
We do not want to trudge along this path twice. Not only should the report being carried out by the DWP address the impact of its changes but it will pick up some of the points that the noble Lord has made in his intervention today. I am not much wedded to having yet another report on what is virtually the same subject, although we might ensure that the report being produced by the DWP picks up on some of the points that have been made. I am not making any promises on that right now but I promise to raise the issue and see if we are at a stage where that could be done.
We believe that requiring the homelessness clauses to expire three years after commencement, which is what the noble Lord's amendment is about, would undermine the intention of our reforms. Allowing people under the main homelessness duty to turn down offers of suitable accommodation in the private rented sector and wait for an offer of social housing would be unfair. I do not think that that point was raised particularly but I want to lay it down at the moment. The changes that we are making are part of the reforms to social housing and we need to ensure that all this is fair, not only to the people who are homeless but to those who are on the waiting list and looking for good, affordable housing. We need to ensure that we get the best from our 4 million socially rented homes.
It is not necessary for us to require Parliament to look at a wealth of information on homelessness. There is already a report on homelessness to be laid before Parliament and local authorities collect a wealth of statistics on the subject. I asked what this meant but no one seems to know: the P1E form, which is published quarterly, shows the trends in homelessness and how many households accept private rented sector accommodation.
Between all this, we are in fact addressing most of the areas that the noble Lord has raised and the requirements to ensure that people understand the nature and effect of homelessness and the impact of the measures taken by the DWP. I hope that the noble Lord will feel that this is satisfactory and that enough is going to be carried out, particularly, as I say, if I ensure that the DWP covers all the aspects that have been raised. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I am a disappointed that the Minister has not accepted my amendment, and she needs to go a bit further to satisfy me on that. If passed, my amendment would enable Parliament to review the situation, with the benefit of a report, of what the reality over the previous three years had been. That, I contend, is good government. With that, I seek again to test the opinion of the House.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, in moving Amendment 8 I shall also speak to Amendment 20. Amendment 8 would restore the requirement that any offer of private sector rented accommodation must be reasonable for a homeless household to accept. For clarity, the amendment would simply restore the law to its current position, which is why it refers to the deletion of a clause.
At present, local authorities must be satisfied that accommodation offered to homeless households is "reasonable to accept". The Bill as drafted removes this requirement. However, the condition is important because "reasonable to accept" is distinct from suitability. It covers cases where a property may be defined as suitable in law by its condition, location and affordability but where there may be wider reasons for a household to turn down the offer. It has been used to challenge through the courts an offer of housing in an area where there had been racial harassment. It could apply equally in cases of domestic violence.
Amendment 20 seeks to define the suitability criteria for private sector rented accommodation offered to homeless households. It was previously tabled in Committee and would define suitability criteria for private rented accommodation in which homeless households are placed under the changes to the homelessness duties proposed in the Bill. It sets out important safeguards around physical standards, management, location and affordability. The Government have accepted some of the concerns raised about these issues at previous stages of the Bill, and have said that they are prepared to use order-making powers to set standards on physical condition and property management. Those are indeed very welcome. However, the Government have still not fully addressed the concerns around affordability and location.
Let me address examples of why an environment might not prevent accommodation being objectively considered as suitable but would, if an applicant were housed there, have a detrimental effect on that applicant. Examples include the risk of threats of racial harassment or violence by individuals unknown to the applicant, or a risk to the welfare of the applicant where the accommodation offered is in a neighbourhood associated with drug use or dealing and the applicant is a recovering drug addict. There may be a perceived risk of harassment or violence from individuals known to the applicant, such as a violent ex-partner whose relatives, friends or associates live in the neighbourhood.
There have been such legal cases; I draw attention to one in particular. A family refused an offer, arguing that it was unreasonable for them to accept the accommodation, even though it was suitable in terms of what was in it, because, when viewing the flat, they and their children had suffered racist abuse from people living nearby. That case went to the Court of Appeal, which considered that the flat may have qualified as suitable in its size, location and so on, but that the council should have gone on to consider the wider question of whether it was reasonable for the family to accept it in light of the intimidation. The court stressed that suitability and "reasonable to accept", while overlapping terms, are different concepts. The requirement of "reasonable to accept" does not apply to temporary accommodation, but only to offers that are intended to discharge the authority's homelessness duty completely. It is a serious issue and I am concerned.
In an ideal world I would be opposed to the removal of choice from homeless people by allowing local housing authorities to discharge their homelessness duty via an offer of private rented accommodation without the applicant's consent. However, I recognise the general problem of supply and that more than three-quarters of local authorities, when responding to the Government's consultation, said that they welcomed the proposed change and would use it. If local housing authorities are potentially able to discharge their main duty with one offer of private rented accommodation, it becomes much more important that this offer is suitable to meet the needs of the household.
The Government have recognised that physical and management standards are important and have outlined them in the statement that the Minister placed in the Library recently. However, I do not think that we have been told what the draft regulations will say. As the protection of homeless households is such an important issue, and given the absence of draft regulations, should we not include definitions of suitability in the Bill, particularly physical and management standards? The statement in the Library does not address the vital issues of affordability and location. The assurances given by the Minister in Committee that the local authority must by law consider the applicant's financial resources and the total cost of accommodation in determining whether the accommodation is suitable will do nothing to tighten the affordability aspect of the suitability definition.
There seem to be no reassurances on location. Once an authority has considered the applicant's financial resources in assessing family income and expenses, it can still take its own view of what is affordable when deciding where to place a family, as long as it can show that it has had regard to the guidance-or, to put it another way, local authorities are advised that a household's residual income should not fall below subsistence level. However, a local authority is able to depart from this guidance as long as it can prove that it has been considered. It would be much better if this were included in the Bill. The proposed new clause would include in the Bill certain specific criteria in relation to the affordability of accommodation and its location. These tend to be the most important factors in any offer of accommodation. This will
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In addition to the affordability and location of the accommodation, we should consider the management of standards, who is renting out the accommodation, what processes they follow in managing their accommodation and whether it meets the standards of decency and reasonableness that I am sure all your Lordships would expect. I have further amendments concerning standards of accommodation in the private rented sector. I do not want to discuss them now but it is important that we define the quality of the accommodation, minimum physical standards and management standards better than we do at present. We should also take greater account of affordability and location. I hope very much that the Minister will agree to look further at this issue. People should not feel that the making of a single offer on the part of the local authority means that it has fulfilled its legal obligation towards them and that they should therefore take it up. I have great doubts about this issue but I still hope that the Government will understand that they have to do a little more than what is outlined in the note that has been placed in the House of Lords' Library.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I wonder whether I can tempt the Minister-probably not-to answer the point I made on a previous amendment about the applicability of offers made outside the area of the local authority that is determining the issue of homelessness. It is a question of suitability in this context. Perhaps she could enlighten us on that aspect when she replies.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: This is a question of whether people have a 100 per cent right to decide what is suitable. I think we have all read about the case of a family who were very unhappy in Kilburn as they considered that the shops were not smart enough and who were moved to Kensington and Chelsea, which involved a huge amount of housing benefit being paid. I consider that those people did not have the right to say that they did not like Kilburn as it was not smart enough. That was unreasonable. However, as regards Amendment 20, is it not a fact that if a local council wished to do so it could use these criteria as part of its own flexible criteria and would not need to have that enshrined in the law? I very much support the flexibility in the Bill. It is unreasonable to tie councils in this regard. However, if you do not like what your council is doing, you can vote it out in the hope of getting a new council with a different attitude.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I know that the Minister does not want to discuss the Dale Farm evictions, which are to take place in the week beginning 19 September. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, said, we are talking about a general instance of homelessness. She pointed out that every single Gypsy or Traveller who is encamped on an unauthorised site is ipso facto statutorily homeless and therefore the local authority has a duty to provide that person with alternative accommodation. However, in no case of which I am aware has any offer of alternative
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As regards the definition of suitability which my noble friend has suggested in Amendment 20, people in this position are often deprived of the rights which he proposes to confer on the homeless. For example, there is a reference to,
and more than 100 young children on the Dale Farm site attend the local primary school and will be dispersed across the countryside with no provision made for their education to continue. Bearing in mind that Gypsies and Travellers are the most deprived of all ethnic minorities, in terms of achievement and attendance in education, it is something of a triumph that so many of the children on this site have been persuaded to attend primary school. That is all going to be scrapped because, when they are on the roadside, it will be physically impossible and impractical for them to attend local schools-assuming that there would be a place for them to be admitted.
As regards the level of support available to the applicant in the district in which the accommodation is situated, we do not know where this accommodation will be, except in the two cases I mentioned earlier. One of them is in Suffolk, which is miles and miles away from where the applicants are at present living, and the other is in Lancashire, which is even more distant. There will be no level of support whatever; yet, in Dale Farm, they have access to services from not only the local authority but the Catholic church, which has made tremendous efforts on behalf of these people. Other local volunteers have given them social support of various kinds.
To generalise, therefore: whenever families are evicted from unauthorised sites the same thing happens. They are deprived of any support whatever-support that they are receiving from the local community. Any caring responsibilities of the applicant in relation to another person are also scrapped, because if a person is in need of care-such as the woman who is on dialysis on the Dale Farm site or a pregnant woman who has been notified today by the PCT that she will no longer be eligible for prenatal care-all that goes out of the window when you disperse people miles away across the landscape. I am not talking solely about the evictions from Basildon; I am trying to impress on the Minister that this is a general phenomenon of homelessness that applies to Gypsies and Travellers across the country.
I therefore warmly support my noble friend's proposal to insert in the Bill the new clause in Amendment 20. I only suggest to him that if we have to come back to this at Third Reading it should be added that the accommodation be culturally appropriate, because even the Government accept that Gypsies and Travellers are entitled to live in caravans or mobile homes; they have been used to doing that for generations, and before that in wagons. Many such people are therefore
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I support Amendments 8 and 20, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. Amendment 8 is simple and keeps the law as it is. The proposals from the Government weaken the position of the homeless household and potentially put it at further risk. A property could well be deemed suitable, but not having the protection of "reasonable to accept" means that other factors such as a risk of racial harassment or, in domestic violence cases, the closeness to a former partner may not be taken into account. That is surely unacceptable.
As to Amendment 20, the ability to allow local authorities to discharge their homelessness duty through an offer in the private sector without the applicant's consent is controversial. If housing authorities are able to discharge their main duty with one offer of private rented accommodation, it becomes much more important that this offer is suitable for the needs of the household. A number of factors need to be taken into account, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley: affordability, location, management standards and physical standards.
One of the major factors in people becoming homeless is affordability. Is the home being offered really affordable, without the risk of them falling into debt? Is the location right for the family? Can the children remain at the same school or, conversely, do they need to be moved to another area because of threats to the safety of family members? On management standards, it is a fact that homeless households are very likely to be offered accommodation at the cheapest end of the private rented sector market. This puts the family at risk of being placed with landlords who are unsuitable-who breach housing legislation, have undertaken unlawful evictions or harassment, or have committed other offences. As to physical standards, private rented accommodation is often poor quality, and the Government's own research shows that 40 per cent of people living in the private rented sector live in non-decent homes, compared to 23 per cent of social tenants and 29 per cent of owner-occupiers.
If local authorities are to be able to discharge their duties in this way, the points I have outlined need to be taken into account, and the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord seeks to do just that. I hope for a positive response from the Government but, if there is none, I hope that the noble Lord will test the opinion of the House. He will certainly find support on these Benches and, I hope, in other parts of the House. I say that in particular as I reflect on the comments of the government Chief Whip that, other than an extension of time, this is a normal Report stage, and as such we are running out of options to deal with these serious and pressing issues.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I hope that there will be few differences between us by the time we reach the end of what I have to say, because one of the main differences is that I would resist these amendments, largely due to the need for flexibility for the local authorities, and because definitions are always very difficult to follow.
I should like to go through not only what I laid in the House Library, which includes our statements on what we expect to do, but our discussions with Crisis and Shelter over the past few months on an order that will bring in some of the aspects that have been raised-probably most of them. Over the summer we have been considering our preparedness to use order-making powers and discussing which factors could be included in such an order. That includes consideration of protections against physical property standards, mentioned by the noble Lord, and whether landlords are fit and proper. We do not believe that there is any need to amend the Bill to achieve these aims. As I said, we have discussed this with Crisis and Shelter and have informally consulted local authorities on the proposed content of such an order, which we will bring forward for consultation. Do not ask me when, but we will bring that forward.
Existing safeguards in the homelessness legislation and statutory guidance will apply before the duty can be brought to an end with an offer of private rented sector accommodation. The authority must be satisfied that the accommodation is suitable for the applicant and his or her household. I shall go into more detail on that. It must also be made clear to the applicant that he or she has the right to ask for a review of suitability.
In considering suitability, the authorities must by law consider whether a specific property is suitable for the applicant and the household's individual needs. This includes considering whether the accommodation is affordable for the applicant, its size, its condition, its accessibility and its location. In considering affordability, again, the local authority must by law consider the applicant's financial resources and the total cost of the specific accommodation in determining whether it is suitable. That means that it would not be able to place households in accommodation with a higher rent than they could afford, whether with the help of benefits or otherwise.
When determining the suitability of the location of the accommodation, the authority must-again by law already in place-consider factors such as whether the accommodation is near the applicant's place of work; whether it will remove or disrupt the education of young people in the household; and whether it is as close as possible to previous accommodation, so that established links with doctors, social workers and so on can be maintained. As now, applicants have the right to ask for a review of accommodation suitability and, if not satisfied, to appeal to the county court on a point of law-the law being as I outlined.
I hope that that will, to some extent, reassure those who have moved or spoken to the amendments that there are already sufficient provisions within the current homelessness legislation regarding location and affordability. We are concerned that further strengthening that in legislation would restrict the ability of local
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Following concerns raised in both Houses about the standard of private rented accommodation-made much of by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley-in Committee I referred to a statement that I laid in the House Library. That confirms that we are prepared to use existing suitability order-making powers to set out the factors that could be included in such an order. That includes not only physical standards but the landlord's behaviour and tenant management standards, which responds to the noble Lord's concerns. As I said, we have worked with Crisis and Shelter on the order, and that seems to be going smoothly.
On Amendment 8, I spoke in Committee about whether "reasonable to accept" removes a protection for homeless applicants, whether "suitability" will deal with that and the wider factors that, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said, the courts have considered to fall under "reasonable to accept". I stress that there will be no change to or lessening of protection as a result of what we propose. The Government's view is that suitability covers a wide range of factors, and that view was included in the 2006 statutory guidance. For example, that guidance specifically provides that account needs to be,
Importantly, in the light of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, any risk of violence-I take that to include domestic violence-or racial harassment in a locality would also have to be taken into account, so the applicant retains the right to request a review of the suitability of the accommodation and can raise any issues at the review. We remain in discussion with Shelter to provide the necessary reassurance on that point.
There were a couple of other questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, reinforced what I said at the beginning of the debate: by putting all this in the Bill we could reduce the flexibility for local authorities. We believe that an order-which, of course, has to go through Parliament-is the proper way. The provisions are as they stand at present.
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I thought that I had responded to his question. Homeless people, under "suitability", can be placed outside a borough, but all that I mentioned would still have to be taken into account, so that if it was not suitable for them to go to live in the noble Lord's lovely Newcastle-which I know is perfectly managed and always has been-they could not be made to go. It is clearly possible that they might want to live somewhere else so, yes, they can be moved.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has tempted me again on the subject of Dale Farm and a few others. Some of what he mentioned will depend on whether the site on which Travellers are resting is authorised or not-whether it has planning permission or not-and therefore whether it falls within other regulations and legislation. That helps with the matters which the noble Lord raised.
I have dealt with the matter this time by reading my notes, because I felt that it was so important that this was done properly. If noble Lords need to look at what I said before our next sitting, they can. However, I very much hope that what I said will reassure them that this has all been taken very seriously, but that it is a restatement of what the law can already do.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may press her a tiny bit further. Her comments are welcome. Would it be possible to see an early draft of the order before Third Reading?
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I am very grateful for the intervention and the Minister's response. I was encouraged by the fact that most of the issues that we have raised under the amendments will be in the order and that further discussion will take place. Strong views have been expressed on this issue and a lot of worries have been expressed in this afternoon's debate about increasing homelessness and the rights of those who are or may be made homeless. Any debate that can take place between now and Third Reading would be very helpful. I am very grateful to the Minister for making that clear and clarifying the position. On those grounds, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) are satisfied that he or she became homeless intentionally,
(b) are satisfied that he or she is not in "priority need", or
(c) both of the above.
(a) secure that accommodation is available for his or her occupation for such period as they consider will give him or her a reasonable opportunity of securing accommodation for his or her occupation, and
(b) provide him or her with (or secure that he or she is provided with) advice and assistance in any attempts he or she may make to secure that accommodation becomes available for his or her occupation.
(4) The advice and assistance provided under subsection (2)(b) must include information about the likely availability in the authority's district of types of accommodation appropriate to the applicant's housing needs (including, in particular, the location and sources of such types of accommodation).""
Lord Shipley: I shall speak also to Amendment 21. In a sense, the ground has already been covered because Amendment 16 relates to the emergency duty to accommodate to ensure that non-priority-need homeless people are entitled to emergency accommodation. To repeat the position, at present, if a household is deemed to be in priority need but intentionally homeless, in addition to providing advice and assistance, the authority has a duty to provide suitable accommodation for a period that would give the household a reasonable chance of finding accommodation themselves. The amendment would extend the duty to homeless people who are not in priority need. The evidence base for the amendment has been previously stated, so I shall leave it at that, but other Members of your Lordships' House may want to add to it.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I support Amendment 16 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. The amendment seeks to make provision for non-priority-need homeless people to be afforded emergency accommodation. The charity Crisis collected considerable evidence that the homelessness service of local authorities does not always provide single people who are not in priority need with any meaningful assistance. A small extension of this provision to those who are not in priority need may be all that is needed to get people back on their feet, to help them to stay in employment and to prevent them from falling into a downward spiral. If the Government are not minded to accept the amendment, I ask the Minister to give the House an assurance that this matter will be looked at by the ministerial working party on homelessness chaired by Mr Grant Shapps MP, on which the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, serve as members.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was very brief in moving this amendment, for which I am grateful. I think that the best thing I can do is to say that I will certainly make sure that it is considered by the homelessness working party and I shall ask the Minister to take that on board. I hope that with that assurance the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
(a) tenancies granted to a tenant (alone or jointly with others) aged 60 years or more;
(b) tenancies granted to a tenant (alone or jointly with others) in circumstances where the tenant or a member of his or her household suffers from a long-term illness or disability, or has a need for secure accommodation on medical or welfare grounds;
(c) tenancies granted to such other persons as regulations shall provide who have a need for secure accommodation.
(4) Where a tenancy is a secure tenancy by reason of regulations made under this section, it shall be a ground for possession within section 84 of the Housing Act 1985 (grounds and orders for possession) where the accommodation afforded by the dwelling-house is more extensive than is reasonably required by the tenant.
(a) it is satisfied that suitable alternative accommodation will be available for the tenant when the order takes effect; and
(b) it considers it reasonable to make the order.
(6) Part IV of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1985 (suitability of accommodation) shall have effect for determining, for the purpose of subsection (5)(a), whether suitable alternative accommodation will be available for the tenant.
(7) Where the landlord considers that the ground for possession in subsection (4) applies to a tenancy, the court shall not entertain proceedings for possession of the tenancy unless the landlord has complied with the notice requirements in section 83 and subsections (3) and (4) of section 84 of the Housing Act 1985.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 25 and 26. Amendment 22 defines the exemptions from flexible tenancies and, in particular, ensures that people aged over 60 and those with a long-term illness or disability are exempt from flexible tenancies. The amendment is designed to ensure that people who are in need of settled or stable accommodation and whose situation is unlikely to change are exempt from the flexible tenancy regime and receive a fully secure tenancy. It reflects the Government's own stated policy to guarantee social housing for life for some new tenants. Indeed, in their consultation paper, Local Decisions: A Fairer Future for Social Housing, the Government acknowledged that,
Fear should be a great worry for us. I refer to people who fear that they will not have a roof over their heads for whatever reason and those who fear that they may not be able to stay in the place where they have cultivated a garden or looked after a home with happy memories
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Amendment 25 would increase the minimum tenancy period to five years. I feel strongly about this because the stability provided by social housing is vital for many vulnerable people. Indeed, it may be the first stable housing experienced by those in homeless households. Stability through social housing can provide a platform from which people can improve their individual and personal circumstances and it will encourage their aspirations.
Flexible tenancies will mean that people stay in areas for shorter periods, leading to higher turnover on estates and an increase in the associated problems of poor community cohesion. Therefore, as I think I said at Second Reading and in Committee, in theory I support lifetime tenancies, although I realise that there are practical difficulties in continuing to implement them in relation to new tenancies. It is absolutely right that the lifetime tenancies currently enjoyed by existing tenants should not be altered. In an ideal world I would prefer that to be the case for new tenants as well, although the inadequate number of social housing units means that in reality it will not be possible to do that for everyone. However, increasing the minimum tenancy from two to five years is important.
I have addressed this issue briefly from the perspective of the household and its personal circumstances but perhaps we can also address it from the perspective of a neighbourhood where there is no stability of cohesion because no one has a stake in it. Who will run the local community association and residents' groups or the youth clubs and all the things that come with stability and from people feeling part of an area?
The Government have already indicated that they would be willing to regulate to make it clear that in most cases the tenancy length will be five years. I would appreciate hearing more from the Minister about how that might work but I would prefer a minimum tenancy of five years to be written into the Bill.
Amendment 26 would ensure that secure tenants moving to a new property rented out by a social landlord were granted another secure tenancy. There was discussion about this in the other place and in your Lordships' House in Committee, when it was raised by my noble friend Lady Doocey. In response, I think that the Minister said that the Government would ensure, through directions to the tenancy regulator, that existing tenants moving from a social tenancy to another social home would keep their security of tenure. That is welcome, but the current direction to the regulator may be insufficient because it does not protect tenants who move to an affordable rent tenancy. As many of the available properties will be let at the affordable rent, this fundamentally undermines the goal of protecting the security of tenure of existing tenants.
These three amendments are important because they relate to the exact kind of tenancy and tenure that individual households are going to enjoy. One can approach this matter from the perspective of the
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Lord Taylor of Goss Moor: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend putting forward these amendments, and particularly Amendment 22. I should like to chase the Minister for some clarity about what seems to me a fundamental issue in the Government's reforms. There are two forms of provision in the development of social housing-long-term social housing at low rents for security and an intermediate affordable rented model. There is something of an unanswered question and for clarity it would help if Ministers could explain their long-term intention in how we are approaching these changes.
It seems to me that-this is reflected in Amendment 22-where there is clear, long-term need, it continues to make complete sense to have a model of housing that is secure and has low rents, for which the primary government support system is through a capital subsidy. We should be looking in the long run to ensure that there is adequate provision in terms of numbers of social houses to meet long-term needs. It makes no sense for the state to do this otherwise. That does not provide adequate security to individuals and it comes at high cost to the state if higher levels of rent are paid. In pure value-for-money terms, it makes sense to adopt the traditional social housing model.
I believe that, for people who are transitioning through periods of need, it makes more sense to have a much more flexible model, in which the subsidy may well come in the form of temporary help with rent-that involves a benefit system rather than a huge up-front capital subsidy and then a low rent. Very similar individuals in similar circumstances can either get the gold standard trump card of social housing or they may be in the rented sector. It is not obvious what the distinction is other than the circumstances in which people went into that housing. It is also the case that it makes no sense, when we are short of such housing, for property that has had a huge up-front capital subsidy to be permanently made available to people whose needs may radically change over time and who may not need it.
I can see the argument for two models but I do not see the Government being sufficiently explicit about the path by which the right people will get the right kind of offers and the circumstances in which they will get the security that they need if their needs are long term, in the way described by my noble friend. The definition in Amendment 22 looks perfectly reasonable, but it may be that it can be done better or that the Government think there are other routes for doing it.
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It looks to me that, without such a definition, we will be left with deep uncertainty for individuals in long-term need who want security. There will be deep uncertainty in terms of the individuals who get housing-some may get a social housing offer or an affordable housing offer, but there will be no clarity about who gets what. It is more likely that it will depend on what is available at any given time rather than on need. In particular, on the social housing model for those in long-term need, which is the best form of delivery, we will be giving up assets as they transfer over to affordable rent without any clarity on the numbers that we need in this country, the places where we need them or the long-term strategy.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, my name is down for two amendments in this group. I strongly agree with most of what the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that this is the point where we are asking the Government to set out their long-term strategy. I am afraid that once they do, I think I will deeply disagree with it.
I appreciate and understand that existing tenants in their lifetime tenancies are by and large protected from this change. Therefore, any change and ultimate destination is pretty long term. It also seems to me that the Government's long-term ambition is to abolish long-term and lifetime tenures. I can understand the temptation for them to do so when there is a shortage of affordable housing and great pressures on the existing stock but it is the wrong temptation, largely for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. The role of council housing, not in its absolute origins but for most of its existence, has been to provide for people who cannot get on the housing ladder a degree of security and stability and to live in and work for a community in which to bring up their children.
I appreciate that there are some failures in that but there are also some significant successes. It has also meant that in some areas both rented and owner-occupied private sector properties can put the market price well out of the reach of most people. It has also allowed us to have mixed neighbourhoods in areas that would otherwise become ghettos for the rich. Just to take a random example, I mention the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Because of the legacy of Victorian philanthropists and some of their predecessors in what were two boroughs, there is a significant amount of social housing in an otherwise extremely rich area. Is that to be gradually phased out for people who are not regarded as exceptions but as part of the community? The stability of community has existed in many of the estates there, in other London boroughs, and in places such as Bristol, Newcastle, and so on because we have had long-term and lifetime tenancies. To abandon that prospect and effectively in the long
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That is not a recipe for a stable and coherent society. The Government should hesitate before going completely down that road. There are some brakes on that provision in this group of amendments. On the amendment suggesting that flexible tenancies should be a minimum of five rather than two years, I cannot understand the Government's position. They are telling us that in practice five years probably will be the minimum except in exceptional circumstances, so why cannot we write the provision that way round in the Bill? It could say that there would normally be a minimum of five years except in exceptional circumstances which could then be defined in secondary legislation, and which would be subject to a degree of quality control by council decisions. If we move into flexible tenancies throughout, that would at least put a brake on the destabilising effect of potentially having only two-year tenancies, which does not give a couple, a family or even an individual a lot of security.
I would like to be more radical than that. My final amendment in this group suggests that there should be a limit, at least at this stage, on the degree of movement towards flexible tenancies, thus preserving, for the most part, that the default position for those who are entitled to new tenancies under these provisions are limited. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, on his exemptions. The most vulnerable people should certainly be exempt from this provision, but I would make the exemption wider or put a limit on the degree of progress towards destroying the stability that social housing has provided for many in our population.
As I said in the earlier debate, other sectors of housing provision are in crisis and overstretched, and likely to be so for a considerable time. That leads to instability and to a change in relations between the generations. If people cannot get on the housing ladder until they are 40, they will not be in a position to help their sons and daughters until they are well past retirement age-or at least the current retirement age. Therefore, there will be a need for more family accommodation, because people in many parts of the country will not able to get on to the housing ladder, or in many cases meet the rent for decent accommodation in the private rented sector.
Social housing should continue to provide that asset. The terms on which it does so may vary, but the comprehensive move away from life tenancies to flexible tenancies that may have a length of as little as two years would destroy a significant element of housing provision and opportunities in this country. I appreciate that it will take time to get to that position, but it should not be the final position. Therefore, my amendment in this group suggests that only 25 per cent of households should be moved to flexible tenancies. One could argue about the percentage, and obviously individual councils will take different percentages. However, there needs to be a maximum, otherwise we are laying down
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has the full support of the Opposition. I concur in particular with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Whitty. This amendment was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Best, in the curtailed Committee stage on the last day before the Summer Recess. As the noble Lord explained, the amendment concerns the flexible tenancy regime proposed in the Bill. It is supported by both Crisis and Shelter and seeks to provide protections for certain vulnerable groups by excluding them from the proposals. The groups to be exempt are of people for whom, through a variety of circumstances, flexible tenancies are not appropriate. The groups include older people aged 60 or more, households where one or more member has a long-term illness, and tenants who need more secure forms of accommodation.
What worries me most about this section of the Bill is the reliance that the Government have placed on words such as "in most cases" or "of course, the social landlord will take into account the needs of the vulnerable". This is all too risky for the people most in need of additional help and protection. I hope that the Minister has had time over the summer to reflect on the proposals, and will be able to give us some welcome news today, and assurances that at least things will be tightened up. If that is not the case, I hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, will press his amendment and test the opinion of the House.
Lord Best: My Lords, perhaps I may say a brief word. I moved an amendment along these lines just before the Committee stage finished, and received many helpful reassurances about the way in which the policy might work. Perhaps it would help the House if the Minister, in responding to the question about where the policy leads, would agree with me that a fundamental part of the policy is that no opprobrium will fall upon any council or housing association that decides not to deploy flexible-that is to say, fixed-term-tenures. The Hanover Housing Association, which I chair, houses only older people. We are a retirement housing organisation. We have absolutely no intention of giving anybody a two-year or five-year tenancy: the idea is absolute anathema. People who move in to a sheltered flat or a retirement apartment will be able to stay there for the rest of their life: that is the deal. Some local authorities may take the view that the families whom they are housing-just like the older people in my case-should have security on a permanent, long-term basis. I invite the Minister to confirm-I think that she will be able to do this-that if a social landlord, be they a council or housing association, does not wish to take advantage of flexible tenures and fixed-term tenancies, that will not in any way rebound on them.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, perhaps I may briefly comment on the back of that. It was extremely helpful. Incidentally, I note that the noble
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A lot of councils and housing associations do not want to go down this path. I hesitate to oppose all ideas of flexibility, because on the whole it is a good thing-and trying to say that localism is not a good thing is rather like opposing motherhood. However, if it were acknowledged that most people do not wish to see this policy applied, and if the Minister were to accept that no pressure will be put on them to apply it, that would ease the minds of many of us.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I hope that I can ease the minds of all noble Lords on this. When we say flexible tenancies, that is what we mean. We also mean, with localism, that local authorities, housing associations and social landlords will be able to make their own decisions about this. If local authorities decide that they have enough housing provision and can manage their tenancies without the flexibility that we are offering, and if, as the noble Lord said, they are providing specialist housing, for example for older people, they will offer lifetime tenancies and that will be it-no one will put any pressure on them.
The reasons for introducing the measures relate, first, to the fact that housing is in short supply. Anyone who has anything to do with local authority housing knows that some people do not need lifetime tenancies. For various reasons they need them for a short term such as five or 10 years. At the end of that time their children may have grown up, they may need to move, their income may have improved so that they no longer need social housing and they may be perfectly happy to have a shorter tenancy. The move is in the right direction. It is correct that we should be able to say to local authorities that in discussion with their tenants they will be able to offer a tenancy of less than a lifetime. If, at the end of the three, four, five or 10 years that the tenancy is for, the situation has not changed, they will renew the tenancy. Nothing here threatens any housing association or anyone who is looking for social housing.
We have made it absolutely clear, and I have laid information on this in the House Library, that the two years mentioned in the Bill-I do not accept the premise of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that we should put five years and then downgrade it to two-will be exceptional. Some noble Lords may not agree, but some people need only short-term accommodation. The Minister, Mr Shapps, cited someone he knew who had a major disability that was caused unexpectedly and who for a very short time needed help, which the local authority under these provisions would be able to give him because it could give a restricted-time tenancy. Other people such as recovering drug addicts and people with short-term financial problems should not be given a lifetime tenancy but would benefit from social housing for a short time on the understanding that if at the end of two years the situation has not changed they will be offered a further tenancy if it is required.
I refute absolutely that we are trying to change the whole nature of a tenancy. We are trying to maximise the use and value of social housing. We have all agreed
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I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and others have received the letter that I sent during the summer saying what we are proposing to do. We have made clear to the social housing regulator that this is to be the situation in the new tenancy standard on which we are currently consulting. The revised text sets out that tenancies with a term of less than five years may be granted only exceptionally, and if social landlords decide that there are exceptional circumstances they will be able to set out in their tenancy policies what those exceptional circumstances will be.
In addition to the example I have given, young people who need support for a short time, families who need a larger home for a short period and shorter-term support for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts are examples that we have been given as a result of the consultation on this by social landlords. They are real cases and there is a real ability to help people.
When the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, raised this in Committee, I made it clear that we recognise that the needs of older people and those with disabilities, for example, are going to remain constant over the long term. It will certainly be open to local authorities to give them long-term tenancies. It is perfectly sensible to keep older people in the house or flat that they are familiar with and not to remove them from the people and places that are familiar to them. We believe that landlords understand that as well, but we believe that safeguards are needed and that the tenancy standards are the right place for them as they will cover all tenants. This is important because the amendment would not cover both social tenancies and local authority tenancies. We believe that they should cover both so there is no doubt about it. We are consulting on a draft direction, and we will consider whether that can be tightened up. The direction relates to the tenancy policy. If it is possible, I hope that we will have a draft of that before Report, but I shall not make any promises on that at the moment.
We believe that Amendment 28, which was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is unnecessary. It seeks to guarantee continued security on moving home for secure and assured tenants, but only when they move to a local authority home. We want to make it clear that we are talking about moving within the affordable sector. Through the tenancy standards, we have guaranteed continuing security for existing tenants who move to another social-rented home.
I hope that I have made it clear in what I have said and the way I have said it that we do not expect these provisions to do anything other than free some local authority and social housing from people who do not need it and make it available for people who do, but they by no means undermine the provision and ethos that people who need a home for life should have it. It is just recognition that that is not always the situation and that local authorities should be able to work to that.
Lord Whitty: Before the Minister sits down I should say that I felt that her assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Best, was not quite as unequivocal as the one I think he was seeking. The history is that when the past two Governments gave flexibility to local authorities, if those authorities had not followed the Government's preferred option-being less enthusiastic than was hoped about the right to buy or, under the previous Government, less enthusiastic than they wanted on stock transfer-a financial penalty followed down the line. If the Minister is giving an assurance in response to the noble Lord, Lord Best, that that will not happen this time, we should be grateful, but I do not think she quite went that far.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thought I made myself pellucid on this. Local authorities and housing associations will have the flexibility and the right to offer only lifetime tenancies. I do not see that that money has anything to do with this. I do not think there is any likelihood that Parliament will want to intervene in that. That is the situation. They can have lifetime tenancies for everyone if they wish, but if they have other people who they think could make better use of the property or have people who do not need it, as I have said before they will be able to do that. I cannot commit future Governments, so I would like to commit mine for a very long time, as they will be there, but as the noble Lord knows perfectly well one can commit only one's own Government, and I think I can commit ours to that.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the Government's approach to these amendments. I raised two issues. The first was the extension of minimum tenancies from two to five years and the second was the exemption of vulnerable people and households from flexible tenancies. On the first, I heard the Minister say that housing providers, local authorities and social housing can all continue to offer lifetime tenancies to new tenants. I think that is a very important statement, and I am encouraged by it. As I said earlier, I am an advocate of lifetime tenancies, largely on the grounds that if people are financially able to move, the vast majority do so and enter owner-occupation in practice. The problem that I have been trying to solve is not obvious in that respect because people move on from rented accommodation to owner occupation in large numbers. I was concerned about two issues. On the two to five years, I heard the Minister say that councils and social housing providers may continue to offer lifetime tenancies if they wish to do so, and that for two years to be used has to be exceptional and that the exception has to be clearly
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On Amendment 25, which deals with the exemption of vulnerable households, I heard the Minister say that there is nothing in it to threaten anyone. I am much encouraged by that because I believe that to be true. We all recognise the fear of people who do not feel confident that they have their homes for their lifetimes and that they may be forced to move in old age, which is not particularly nice.
I am sufficiently encouraged by what the Minister said to believe that five years may apply in some places. I believe that most housing providers will continue to provide lifetime tenancies. Some, where they can prove the need for an exception, will go for two years. There may be specific individual cases where that is important or it may be for a specific geographical reason. I hope it will not be an excuse for those parts of the country that have serious problems with the availability of affordable rented housing to go for two years, with lifetime tenancies being offered much further away by other authorities. I see my noble friend the Minister shaking her head and I am sure that that is not the Government's intention.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, it may be convenient to now repeat a Statement made in another place by the Prime Minister on the situation in Libya. The Statement is as follows:
When we met here on that Friday in March, Gaddafi's tanks bore down on Benghazi. His air force had already begun strikes against his people there, and his army had smashed through Zawiyah with grave loss of life.
Gaddafi had vowed to hunt down his own people like rats, using the full might of his armed forces, backed up by mercenaries. I did not think that Britain could stand by as Gaddafi slaughtered his people. Nor could we allow a failed pariah state festering on Europe's southern border, with the potential to threaten our own security.
The Libyan Opposition and the Arab League both called for NATO to protect the civilian population, so together with the US and France, we secured agreement for UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. With this clear legal mandate, this House voted by a majority of 544 in favour of military action. Today the Libyan people have taken their country back.
I am grateful for the support that all sides of this House have given throughout the past six months and I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the incredible dedication and professionalism of our pilots, sailors and ground crew and everyone in our Armed Forces involved in this mission. But we should also pay tribute to the bravery and resilience of the Libyan people themselves. This has been their revolution and none of it would have happened without them.
Ordinary Libyans from all walks of life came together and rose up against Gaddafi, from the villages of the Nafusa mountains to the tower blocks of Misurata, the alleyways of Zawiyah and the streets of Benghazi, the Libyan people fought with incredible courage. Many paid with their lives. Others have been seriously injured and the struggle is not over. They still face forces loyal to a dictator who last week threatened to turn Libya "into a hell".
The long work of building a new Libya is just beginning. But what is clear is that the future of Libya belongs to its people. The task of the international community now is to support them as they build that future. That means helping to finish the job, ensuring security, addressing the immediate humanitarian needs and supporting the longer-term process of reconstruction and political transition.
Let me address each in turn. First, finishing the job. Britain has been at the forefront of the military operation to protect the Libyan people. Our aircraft have made 2,400 sorties across Libya carrying out one fifth of all NATO airstrikes, against some 900 targets in Gaddafi's war machine. Our warships have supported this effort, helping enforce the UN arms embargo, and bringing aid to those in need.
At its peak, some 2,300 British service men and women were deployed on Operation ELLAMY, with 36 aircraft including 16 Tornados, six Typhoons, five attack helicopters, tankers and specialist surveillance aircraft and helicopters. Those were supported over the course of the operation by eight warships and a hunter-killer submarine. But the job is not over. As we stand, the Free Libya Forces have liberated Tripoli and control Libya's key population centres, but pro-Gaddafi forces still pose a threat and in particular control the towns of Bani Walid, Sirte, and Sebha in the south.
The National Transitional Council has been working to negotiate a peaceful outcome, but its leaders have explicitly requested that NATO continues its operations to protect civilians until that is achieved. Over the weekend, RAF Tornados struck eight military command and control installations south-west of Waddan and nine weapons and ammunition stores near Sirte.
For as long as Gaddafi remains at large, the safety and security of the Libyan people remains under threat. So let me be clear. We will not let up until the job is done. First, Britain and its NATO allies will continue to implement UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 for as long as we are needed to protect civilian life. Those thinking that NATO will somehow pull out or pull back must think again. We are ready to extend the NATO mandate for as long as is necessary.
Secondly, we will support the Libyan people in bringing Gaddafi to justice. This is a man whose crimes are becoming ever more apparent every day and who is wanted by the International Criminal Court. There must be no bolt-hole; no pampered hiding place from justice. He must face the consequences of his actions, under international and Libyan law.
Turning to security, the early signs have been encouraging. There has been some disorder, but it has been focused on symbols of the former regime. The National Transitional Council is moving to stand down fighters from outside Tripoli. The police are returning to the streets, and the council leaders have been clear and consistent in cautioning against disorder and against reprisals.
Britain and its international partners are helping too, working closely with the National Transitional Council in securing chemical weapons sites and supporting mine clearance in Misurata, Benghazi and other affected areas.
On the humanitarian situation, Britain has played a leading role from the outset. The priorities are health, water, food and fuel. On health, our humanitarian partners report that hospitals and clinics in Tripoli are now functioning well, with staff returning to work. Britain is providing additional support through the ICRC, including surgical teams and medicines to treat up to 5,000 war-wounded patients.
On water, substantial numbers of people in Tripoli are still without running water. However, UNICEF is procuring 11 million litres of bottled water, and the Libyan authorities are working to repair the water systems. The NTC reports that 100 wells are back online representing 20 per cent of capacity and there is already evidence of improved supplies.
Finally, on fuel, there remain significant shortages, but the situation is improving and the World Food Programme shipment is supporting the National Transitional Council with the procurement of 250,000 tonnes of fuel. The National Transitional Council will continue to lead the response to the humanitarian situation, working with the UN Humanitarian Coordinator and other humanitarian agencies.
Libya is a country of 6.5 million people. It is one of the richest in Africa. Its proven oil reserves are the ninth largest in the world. Libya is fully capable of paying for its own reconstruction. Of course there is a role for foreign advice, help and support but we do not want to see an army of foreign consultants driving around in 4x4s, giving the impression this is something being done to the Libyans, rather than done by them.
What the Libyans need above all is their frozen assets back. A week ago Britain got Security Council agreement to release £1 billion-worth of dinars back to the Central Bank of Libya, and RAF planes have already flown in hundreds of millions of dinars of Libyan banknotes. At the summit in Paris last Thursday, the international community committed to unfreezing $15 billion-worth of Libyan assets. For their part, vitally, we expect the new Libyan authorities to meet their pledge of ensuring transparent and accountable financial systems.
Next, I shall turn to political transition. Some people warned, as Gaddafi himself did, that the Libyan people could not be trusted with freedom-that without Gaddafi there would be chaos. What is emerging now, despite years of repression and the trauma of recent months, is immensely impressive and encouraging. In a far-reaching road map and constitutional declaration, the new authorities have set out a clear vision and process for a new democratic Libya.
This is not being imposed from above; it is being shaped by the Libyan people. At the Paris summit, Chairman Abdul Jalil spoke of his determination to build a society of tolerance and forgiveness, with respect for the rule of law. A national conference will bring together all the tribes, civil society, men and women, from east and west, united to shape the political transition. They are planning for a new constitution and elections within 20 months.
Britain is also in discussions in New York about a new UN Security Council resolution to reflect the new situation. The new Libyan authorities must now be able to represent their country at the United Nations, as they did last week at the Arab League. I also look forward to building a bilateral relationship with the new Libyan authority. We have close relations with the National Transitional Council through our mission in Benghazi. Today the UK's special representative is deploying to Tripoli to re-establish our full diplomatic presence in that city.
Our relationship with the new Libya must of course deal with a series of problems from the past. On Megrahi, this is obviously a matter for the Scottish Executive, but I have made my position clear: I believe he should never have been sent back to Libya in the first place. On WPC Yvonne Fletcher, I want to see justice for her family. There is an ongoing police investigation, and the House will wish to know that Prime Minister Jibril has assured me of the new Libyan authority's intention to co-operate fully.
Finally, significant accusations have been reported today that under the last Government relations between the British and Libyan security services became too close, particularly in 2003. It was because of accusations of potential complicity by the British security services in the mistreatment of detainees overseas, including rendition, that I took steps last July to sort this whole problem out. As the House will remember, we took steps to bring to an end the large number of court cases being brought against the Government by former inmates of Guantanamo. We have issued new guidance to security and intelligence service personnel on how to deal with detainees held by other countries.
We have also asked Sir Peter Gibson to examine issues around the detention and treatment of terrorist suspects overseas, and the inquiry has already said it will look at these latest accusations very carefully. My concern throughout has been not only to remove any stain on Britain's reputation but also to deal with these accusations of malpractice so as to enable the security services to get on with the vital work they do. Because they cannot speak for themselves, let me put on record once again our enormous gratitude for all they do to keep our country safe.
The achievement of the Libyan people gives hope to those across the wider region who want a job, a voice and a stake in how their society is run. On Syria, Britain will continue to lead the argument for a UN resolution to build on the EU's oil embargo which is now in place. The message to President Assad must be clear: he has lost all legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead Syria; the violence must end, and he must step aside for the good of his country.
It is the Libyan people who have liberated Libya. There was no foreign occupying army. This has been a Libyan-led process, assisted by the international community. Many cynics proclaimed stalemate and asserted that Gaddafi would never be defeated. The Libyan people proved them wrong. It was a unique set of circumstances and not something that we can or wish to repeat all over the world, but I have never accepted the argument that because you cannot do everything, you should not do anything.
Removing Gaddafi from power was a major achievement. Although the work is not yet done, the Libyan people can be proud of what they have achieved and we can be proud of what we have done to help them. I commend this Statement to the House".
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister. I wish to begin by paying tribute to the courage of the Libyan people. They knew the price that might be paid if they rose up against Gaddafi to claim a better future, and yet they found the courage to do so and to win through. We salute their bravery and their sacrifice.
Change in Libya would not have come about without action by the international community. If we had not acted, we could have spent the recent months wringing our hands over slaughter in Benghazi, as we did after Bosnia. This time the international community did not stand by; it acted through and with the authority of the United Nations. Once again, it was to our brave British service men and women that we turned. As always, they have risen to the challenge. They represent the best of our country and we owe them a debt of gratitude.
I also wish to commend the Prime Minister and the British Government for the role that they have played. The initiative of pressing for UN Resolutions 1970 and 1973 made the action to protect civilians possible. It was a risk but it was the right thing to do. We supported it at the time and we support it now.
I have a number of questions about the security situation, economic stabilisation, the political settlement now required and some of the wider lessons, but first I must say that I agree with the noble Lord that the Gibson inquiry must get to the bottom of the allegations about the involvement of the security services in rendition to Libya. No part of the British state should ever be complicit in torture.
Let me turn to the security situation. UN Resolution 1973 was clear that the NATO mission was for the protection of civilians. Can the noble Lord update us on the security situation in Bani Walid, Sirte and other towns in which there is still fighting? In the light of the
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Turning to the reconstruction of Libya, the whole House will agree that it must be Libyan-led and owned. We know that for civilians across the country the situation remains difficult. I welcome the extra assistance that the Government have announced to help provide medicine and food and to reunite families who have been affected by the fighting. The noble Lord will agree that the role of the UN is very important in co-ordinating this help. Can he say what discussions have taken place with the UN special envoy and how prepared the UN is to provide the necessary help to the Libyan people? I note that Britain is in discussions in New York about a new UN Security Council resolution to reflect the new situation and I welcome that.
Libya's oil wealth offers huge potential for the Libyan people. The legitimacy of this popular uprising was based around the fact that the Libyans themselves were clearly in the lead. This must also be true in relation to their oil resources. Does the noble Lord agree that we should learn the lessons of previous post-conflict periods and ensure that the role of private companies working in Libya is to operate transparently and in a way that clearly benefits the Libyan people?
On the politics, I join the noble Lord the Leader in welcoming the NTC's commitment to establishing a new constitution and holding elections within 18 months. Of course it is right that the leadership of the Gaddafi regime must face justice, whether through the International Criminal Court or the Libyan courts but we have learnt from past conflicts the need for a broad-based, inclusive political process of reconciliation. Will the Leader share with the House the Government's understanding of how the NTC will seek to achieve these goals? We know that democracy takes root not just through the formal process of the ballot box but through a strong, vibrant civil society and free press. Will he say what specific plans there are for direct relationships between Libya and organisations such as the BBC World Service, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the British Council?
Finally, perhaps I may ask about the wider lessons of this conflict for Britain and the international community. The Arab spring was clearly not envisaged at the time of the strategic defence and security review, which has meant a call on some resources which were due to be scrapped. In the interests of transparency and good government, I suggest that it might be responsible to have another look at the SDSR in the events of Libya and the Arab spring. For the international community as a whole, the lesson is of the effectiveness that it can have when it comes together through the United Nations and speaks with one voice. No two situations are the same. Does the noble Lord agree that we should, for example, in Syria use all the
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The Arab spring has seen the overthrow of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. We must be on the side of those who are fighting to enjoy the basic political, social and economic rights that we take for granted. We should take pride in the role that we have played in protecting the Libyan people as they claim this better future and we should now help the Libyan people as they enter the next phase of moving from popular revolt to stable, democratic government.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition for an immensely supportive, positive and constructive reply to the Prime Minister's Statement. I very much agree with what she said at the end of her speech. We should take great pride in the role that we and NATO have played, and that, of course, of the Libyan people themselves who have taken on this appalling dictator and are-if I can put it in such terms-winning, but who are also aware of the tremendous challenges that will unfold in the months and years ahead.
I also very much welcome the noble Baroness's tribute to the people of Libya and commendation of the Prime Minister. I very much welcome her support. She asked a question about the Gibson inquiry. I think she said that the Gibson inquiry should try to get to the bottom of the accusations that have been made. I entirely agree, which is why I am delighted that the inquiry has said that it will look at these allegations as part of its wider investigation. We must await the outcome of that. The current security situation is fast moving and ever changing but obviously there are still hotspots in Libya that we hope will be dealt with in the days ahead.
As regards NATO, the NATO Secretary-General and the Prime Minister have both made clear that there will be no cessation of military operations until we can be assured that our responsibilities under UNSCR 1973 have been fulfilled. The British Armed Forces will continue to make a significant contribution to that mission. There have been discussions with the United Nations special envoy. The UN special envoy, Ian Martin, is in place. We believe that the UN mission should focus very much on what the Libyans want and not on what we think they want or should have. I gather that that was very clear from listening to them at the Paris conference last week. On oil, of course we should learn the lessons of previous conflicts, as we will undoubtedly and inevitably do from this conflict.
How will the NTC achieve the goals it has set out as it moves towards a more democratic government? We and many others will be with it every step of the way. There are already close contacts between the British Government and the NTC but there is no point in trying to second-guess the process. We have learnt in
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The noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition also asked a question about the building up of civil society and democracy, and what plans there are to help Libya with the British Council, the BBC World Service, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and so on. She is right that we have these tremendous assets, which have good international reputations. However, it is hard to see what role they can play until the security situation is considerably better. But there will be a medium- and a long-term role for these organisations.
The one slightly negative note mentioned by the noble Baroness was that of the SDSR and whether we should review this in the light of Libya and the Arab spring. I do not blame the noble Baroness for raising it at all. We believe that the case for what we are doing in the SDSR has been proved. The Tornado decision was right. The Typhoon has come of age. Of course, as I have said, as in any conflict of this kind, there will be a review, an examination of what happened, a lessons-learnt exercise, which will be led by Sir Peter Ricketts. This will include many aspects of the campaign of the past few months.
I hope that I have covered the ground that the noble Baroness covered. If I have missed anything out I will of course write to her. In conclusion, there is nothing easy in these kinds of conflicts, particularly between political parties. I very much welcome the non-partisan nature of the noble Baroness's response and the support that has existed across both Houses on what has been an extremely difficult situation for the people of Libya.
Lord Gilbert: I, too, congratulate our forces on the extreme accuracy of the missions in which they are engaged; the extent to which there have been very few casualties reported among civilians in Libya; and the fact that, as far as I can understand the situation, there have been no casualties on our own side, something for which I am sure we are all very grateful. That is a tribute not only to our pilots but to the weapons they have been using.
I am a little uncomfortable with this constant reference to NATO. In point of fact, it has been certain members of NATO that have been doing what needed to be done in the past few weeks. One or two members of NATO simply have not shown up, and we all know who they are. Can I get an assurance from the Government that they will inquire of the German Government about the actual meaning of certain remarks made by Mr Westerwelle in the very recent past? Do those remarks represent the considered opinion of the German Government? Can we get from the German Government a clear indication of how they will view future NATO activities? I hope that it will not be on the lines
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, in reflecting on how relatively few casualties there have been in Libya, although no doubt we will discover more about that over the course of the next few weeks. But it is a remarkable thing that there have been no British casualties at all, and the pilots and others who have played such an immensely important part should be commended.
The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, could not resist having a little dig at our NATO partners. I can tell him that the Germans were of course at the Paris conference, where they played their full part. They are full members of NATO and they will no doubt on other occasions wish to play a different part. As a former Minister in the Ministry of Defence, the noble Lord will have his own views on what different members of NATO do and how they involve themselves. Of course, as part of a review, there will be discussions with our NATO partners and allies from time to time. We very much hope that we will not need to have an event like this again, but history demonstrates that we probably will, and we will continue to act in unity.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, Britain must be very proud of its humanitarian action that has brought about this political change in Libya, but I have a concern in relation to recent revelations about the relationship between the security services here and in Libya. Is the Leader of the House satisfied that Sir Peter Gibson has adequate powers to conduct this inquiry, given that it is on a non-statutory basis? Would it not be better to look at whether he should be given adequate powers so that witnesses could be summoned both from this country and from abroad to come to a conclusion? Otherwise, people will lack confidence in the inquiry.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, we have every confidence in the Gibson inquiry. The scope of the inquiry has been carefully drawn up to keep it manageable and to ensure that it can meet the Prime Minister's requirement for it to report within a year. The inquiry will look at the policies of the UK intelligence agencies on working with other countries holding detainees, including allegations relating to torture, improper treatment and rendition. I do not think that the Gibson inquiry itself has asked for extra powers, and we feel happy and are confident that it will be able to achieve its task.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House will accept that, on the face of it, it would appear that the main objectives of Resolutions 1970 and 1973 are very near to being achieved in the sense that organised resistance on behalf of Colonel Gaddafi is now limited to a very few specific areas. Nevertheless, as the Leader of the House put it, it may well be technically correct to say that those resolutions will still have a relevance unless and until Gaddafi is killed, is captured or flees the country.
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I think I can put the noble Lord's mind at rest by saying that the British Government are already discussing within the United Nations resolutions that will do exactly what the noble Lord has suggested. He is also right about UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. Last week at the Paris conference, we collectively reiterated our commitment to continue to protect civilians in Libya in accordance with those Security Council resolutions, which I think is entirely appropriate.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, the noble Lord has made it clear that there have been very few casualties from NATO's operations, and that is to be enormously welcomed. Does he accept nevertheless that when it comes to assessing the activities overall, the number of civilians who have died on both sides-whether from rebel forces moving forward or from Gaddafi's forces trying to defend-must be considerable, and it would be appropriate at some point in time for an estimate to be made of what those figures are?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I would not want the House to think that we were minimising the reporting of the number of casualties on the Libyan side. The wording that both the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, and I have used is that there have been relatively few casualties compared to many other conflicts of this kind. In fact, the UK Government through DfID are now providing urgent humanitarian support into Tripoli, including medical help, food and other basic supplies. A key component of that is to provide surgical teams and medicines for the treatment of up to 5,000 war-wounded patients and to boost local medical staff's expertise in war surgery techniques.
Lord Desai: My Lords, the noble Lord said that the need in Libya was to establish a democracy, and that is quite rightly the challenge. Could he suggest, through the Prime Minister, that the Commonwealth has a lot of experience in a diversity of multi-ethnic and multi-tribal situations? Perhaps the Commonwealth could provide the kind of support that Libya needs right now.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, has come up with a good and sensible suggestion. I understand from my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford that this idea has been raised by others too,
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Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, in relation to that last point, there is a very clear emphasis in the Statement that this is now increasingly a matter for the Libyan people to resolve. We must be extremely careful not to suggest that we are going to teach them how to do things, no matter how wise the advice that may come from other quarters. In that respect, if one looks at the unhappy situation now in Iraq, one can see that merely getting rid of a bad dictator is not the end of the problem at all. The challenge that is now faced by the new Libyan Administration, who I think have impressed many of us by their clarity and integrity at the present time, is absolutely enormous. If one considers that one of the core sources of the Arab spring has been the terrible shortage of jobs and unemployment in those territories, the challenge that a new Libyan Government will face-they are facing this in Egypt and in other territories now-is very daunting indeed. Money would at least help. In that connection, what is the situation at the moment with regard to the oil plants and refineries? Having said in the Statement what a rich country Libya potentially is, can the noble Lord say how soon those are likely to be able to come into fruitful use and benefit the Libyan economy?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I agree very much with what my noble friend said, which is why the support coming from the United Kingdom is support and not a lecture on how to do things. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, was saying in his question, "Here is a model-take it"; it is very much a matter of co-operation and advice when the Libyan people need it. But it is their show and my noble friend was right to raise that.
We of course welcome the plan for the formation of an inclusive interim Government. We have noted that the NTC's constitutional declaration provides a clear plan for conducting the political transition in the spirit of unifying the Libyan people and reconciling those who have been on both sides in the current conflict. We have given a commitment to support the Libyan-led transition and the rebuilding process to establish a democratic, independent and united Libya. We will do everything we can to help the Libyan people achieve those goals, but it must come from them.
My noble friend was right also to mention money, because, as I pointed out in the Statement, Libya is a rich country. I gather that the damage to the oilfields, gas pipelines and refineries is relatively small, and there is no reason why the oil and gas should not be flowing in the refineries again very soon.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, as the Prime Minister's Statement referred to the possibility of trials by the international court and within Libya itself, can the Leader of the House give us some optimism that the legal profession in Libya-people appropriate to be judges et cetera-is up to mark? I mention that because Hitler, we would all recall, was in power for only 12 years, yet there was huge difficulty in finding people
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I understand entirely the point that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, makes, but I rather echo the words of my noble friend Lord King: it is for the Libyan people to determine their own future. Therefore, what happens to Gaddafi and how they do it is ultimately a question for them. I cannot answer the noble Lord's question on the legal qualifications of the Libyan judiciary, but that must be a decision for the Libyan people. As far as the International Criminal Court is concerned, we want Saif Gaddafi and Abdullah al-Senussi to face justice, but how and when that happens will also be a decision for Libya.
Lord Burnett: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that great credit goes to the Libyan people and the Free Libya forces for their bravery and steadfastness. I also join him in paying tribute to the professionalism and dedication of our pilots, sailors and the ground crew. I hope that he will also acknowledge the exceptionally important work done by the courageous members of our Armed Forces who have been serving in Libya and assisting the Free Libya forces, and the staff of our permanent joint headquarters under the command of Air Marshal Sir Stuart Peach.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I apologise for not having been in my place at the start of the Statement. I also declare an interest as a former member of an international panel of advisers to the development board of Libya, which was chaired by Dr Jibril, who was one of the first to defect.
A moment or two ago, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, raised a point about the rule of law. The Law Society was already engaged in talks with the Libyan Government, at their request, about the rule of law and establishing various norms of judicial proceedings. The British Council was also fully engaged on a number of issues, including the development of women. The Welsh universities were engaged with the Libyans-I am talking about those on the side of people such as Dr Jibril who were trying to develop such mechanisms. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy was engaged. John Moores University was engaged on health and the Crown Agents on tackling corruption. The Leader of the House said that re-engagement was not necessarily appropriate yet because of the security situation, but I understand from the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office that the Foreign Office is engaging in reconnection on all those issues in which people like me were heavily involved before Colonel Gaddafi lost his head. The
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Baroness brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to her questions. She has demonstrated how much good work has already been done, and there is absolutely no reason why it should not continue, though there is an immediate security problem to overcome.
There is no reason that I can think of why proper re-engagement on all these areas should not continue with the NTC and, ultimately, under a new Government over the course of time. That is very much what the British Government will seek to support.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I welcome the Statement repeated by my noble friend the Leader of the House and also his replies to the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition and to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. They are important because the Libyan people feel close to the British at the moment. I chair the Conservative Middle East Council. Our director, Leo Docherty, and my deputy and honourable friend, Adam Holloway MP, have just spent the past five days in Tripoli. They are flying the union jack and Qatari flags at the moment in Martyr Square and asking when the Prime Minister might visit. The Prime Minister undoubtedly made an impact when he visited Tahrir Square after the revolution in Egypt. If he could visit Libya as soon as possible, he would have a very warm welcome from the Libyan people.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I commend the work that my noble friend does in the Middle East Council. I am delighted to hear that some of her colleagues have been in Tripoli in the course of the last five days. The whole House will understand that, for entirely obvious reasons, I could not possibly comment on when or if the Prime Minister is planning a visit to Tripoli. I also agree with my noble friend that the links between the people of Libya and the people of this country are close, should be closer and no doubt will become closer over the course of the next few months and years.
(1) A local housing authority in England working with registered providers of social housing in its area, residents, and other stakeholders shall consider appropriate responses to relevant tenancy issues locally.
(a) the kinds of tenancies they grant,
(b) the circumstances in which they will grant a tenancy of a particular kind,
(c) where they grant tenancies for a certain term, the lengths of the terms,
(d) the circumstances in which they will grant a further tenancy on the coming to an end of an existing tenancy, and
(e) any other issues as determined appropriate by the local housing authority.
In moving Amendment 23, I shall also speak to Amendment 24, which is consequential. Amendment 23 addresses the issue of tenancy strategies and seeks to replace the provisions in the Bill with an alternative formulation. It provides that the local housing authority in England, working with registered providers of social housing in its area, residents and other stakeholders, shall consider appropriate responses to relevant tenancy issues. The local housing authority must publish information detailing the approach taken locally to tenancy issues in any manner that it considers appropriate. The information may include how the local housing authority, registered providers and partners will work together in relation to a range of tenancy issues. The powers may be exercised by a single local housing authority or two or more local authorities acting jointly.
We have no objection in principle to tenancy strategies but consider the formulation in the Bill as it stands to be misplaced and too prescriptive. This was debated in the other place, so the issues are not new, just unresolved. Noble Lords will recognise that the amendment has been provided by the LGA and the National Housing Federation. The fundamental concern with how the Bill is drafted is that it reflects a centrist approach that
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We have been presented with case studies that underline excellent work that is ongoing. I shall refer to two. There is the case of Hackney, where the Better Homes Partnership brings together a wide range of partners, including housing providers, community and voluntary representatives, to identify support and steer the delivery of Hackney's long-term strategic objectives as set out in its sustainable community strategy. The partnership board is co-chaired by the deputy mayor and the chief executive of Hackney Homes, and the board has a housing management and housing investment subgroup that focused on strategic issues affecting Hackney's people and places, such as antisocial behaviour, overcrowding, investment challenges and opportunities and the design and sustainability of new homes.
Shropshire Council's housing strategy identifies housing needs and sets out how the council will meet them through an action plan agreed with internal and external partners. There is a clear focus on strengthening partnership with both registered social landlords and the private sector, and the council's affordable housing allocation has been developed in consultation with tenants, applicants, housing associations and other stakeholders. The council is currently in discussion with registered providers regarding the development of its strategic tenancy policy.
The amendment would facilitate working across single local authority boundaries, as we have just instanced, and the development of local tenancy forums. Further, as the LGA points out, the timing of policy in Clause 137 is not well thought through. It requires the commencement of strategies that start in April 2012 but, given that the affordable rents model commenced in April 2011, that seems to be a bit late. I do not believe that we are apart on the need for strategic tenancy strategies, nor, I suspect, on the vision of how they might be developed. We suggest, though, that unfortunately once again the Secretary of State cannot let go and trust local councils and communities to deliver as they see fit. I beg to move.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I recognise that the amendment is founded on the concerns that the creation of tenancy strategies would enable local authorities to dictate to the housing associations in the area-exactly what the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said. I reassure the House that that cannot and will not be the case.
A housing association has to be aware of the strategy and take it into account as a relevant consideration when deciding what its own tenancy policy should be, but each individual landlord will be able to decide for himself-or itself, as far as the association is concerned-
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Concerns in other quarters that a tenancy strategy represents the imposition of a heavy and centralist burden are, we believe, unfounded. All we are seeking to do is ensure that local policies on tenure are developed collaboratively and transparently, and that the tenancy strategy provides a simple framework for that to happen.
A tenancy strategy is not going to be difficult or burdensome to produce. There is no requirement for it to be in a specific format or to be of a particular length, and there is no barrier to local authorities working jointly with social landlords to produce one. I believe that we have struck the right balance between encouraging joint working and maintaining an individual landlord's freedom to decide how they will use their new flexibilities, and that this is done in a light-touch way.
Clause 139 adds tenure to the matters on which the Secretary of State has the power to direct the social housing regulator regarding the standards that it has set. This power is key to the delivery of our proposals on tenure reform. The revised tenancy standard, to which I have already referred, will determine the detail of the additional freedoms on tenancies available to landlords and protections available to tenants, so it is right that the Government are able to give a direction on tenancy standards to the regulator. The Government's power to direct the regulator is limited to a very few key areas, and it has always been acknowledged, including by the current regulator, that tenure is fundamentally a matter of government policy.
It is important to remember that the overall effect of the changes that we are making to the standards will actually be to reduce the level of regulation to which social landlords are subject and increase their flexibility. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that response and be willing to withdraw the amendment.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response and her explanation of the Government's position. She says that she is interested in and focused on a light-touch approach. I would, if anything, describe ours as slightly lighter and less centric, but we shall not argue about this. It is an issue that we have aired tonight and in another place. It is important that there is genuine flexibility in these arrangements, and that there are opportunities for full engagement across the piece locally when these strategies are being developed-not only by local housing authorities and providers but by representatives of tenants and the community more widely. That is the particularly important thing that we sought to probe in this amendment. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"(3A) In carrying out the review, the reviewing officer shall presume that a new flexible tenancy for a term at least equivalent to the current or previous fixed term should be granted to the tenant unless the contrary is shown to be in accordance with the authority's policies, in the interests of good housing management and compliant with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights."
Lord Shipley: My Lords, this amendment is designed to create a presumption that flexible tenancies should be renewed on expiry unless good reasons are shown to the contrary. The reviewing officer should proceed on the basis of the presumption that a new flexible tenancy for a term at least equivalent to the current or previous fixed term should be granted to the tenant unless the contrary is shown to be in accordance with the authority's policies, in the interests of good housing management and compliant with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That is, the decision should take account of the tenant's right to respect for his or her home, or his or her private and family life.
The removal of security of tenure will result in a great deal more uncertainty for tenants where it occurs. They will be aware of the looming threat of possibly losing their homes towards the end of a fixed-term tenancy. While the presumption in favour of renewal would not remove this worry, it would at least ensure that tenants are on a more secure footing and help to ensure that landlords undertake a thorough and rigorous process when reviewing tenancies.
As the legislation stands, the process that tenants will have to undergo when their flexible tenancies come to the end of the fixed term is weighted almost entirely in favour of the landlord. The amendment would help to ensure that when this process is being undertaken there is greater protection and clarity for tenants towards the end of their tenancy. Many of those tenants will be particularly vulnerable. We can do this by placing the onus on the landlord to justify refusing to extend the tenancy, rather than expecting the tenant to undergo a potentially complicated reapplication process. This will be preferable, since many tenants will be unaware of what factors are relevant to the authority's decision and may find it difficult to advocate their case for renewal of a tenancy or struggle to provide proof of need. Further, a presumption in favour of renewal would make it harder for landlords to adopt practices or make decisions that may discriminate against certain tenants, such as those who have made complaints about the perceived failures of the landlord.
Finally, there is one further issue to do with guarding against bureaucratic failure. The administration of a brand new bureaucratic system of housing assessments across local authorities is likely to be a significant undertaking and could well lead to mistakes being made. As a result, it is vital that tenants have basic protections written into the legislation that will provide for default renewal of the tenancy if landlords either
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Kennedy has added his name to this amendment. I support everything that the noble Lord said in moving the amendment. I have nothing further to add. I do not propose to move Amendment 33, which is grouped with this amendment, when we come to it.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, as I said in Committee, Amendment 28 is not necessary. The review already ensures that a decision by the landlord not to renew the tenancy must be fair and in line with the landlord's published tenancy policy. Should the reviewing officer decide that the decision is not in line with the landlord's policy, the landlord will need to reconsider his decision. Where a landlord seeks possession of a tenant's property despite a review concluding that he was not acting in line with his own policy, the court will refuse to grant possession, as the Bill makes clear. Amendment 33 will not be moved. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is minded to withdraw Amendment 28.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her response. I hope that what she has described will happen. I am sure that it will. We need to ensure that people who are worried about a successive tenancy have little cause to fear that the landlord might decide not to grant a further tenancy. On the assumption that the measure will provide what we are trying to achieve, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, this amendment relates to the position of tenants under the new flexible tenancies who seek to improve their property with the consent of the landlord. There is, of course, existing provision for this to happen; this matter is dealt with fairly routinely. The local authority or social landlord does not have an obligation to consent to an improvement. That is still within their remit to determine. However, under the Bill, the tenant will no longer be able to apply for consent or secure compensation for such improvements if he has a flexible tenancy.
It does not seem to me sensible to deter tenants who wish to improve their property from carrying out that improvement as long as the authority is prepared to agree to it. That case was strengthened today by the meeting-this has been referred to on more than one occasion-which the noble Baroness convened this morning with her right honourable friend the Minister for Housing. The latter was clear-indeed, the noble Baroness echoed his thoughts earlier today-that only in a minority of cases would a two-year flexible tenancy be granted, and that he did not expect to see many of those. He was bullish-that characteristic has earned him some notoriety-about the extent to which short flexible tenancies were unlikely to be granted, and said that most would be longer. I think he anticipated that 10 years or longer would be par for the course, in which case it is surely not sensible to put any difficulties in the way of tenants improving a property. Such improvements would still be subject to the consent of the local authority. I cannot see any reason why that option should not remain open and why a property should remain unimproved by the tenant when there is a real possibility that he might carry out such works for the benefit of future tenants as well as himself.
This is not in any sense a political or ideological amendment. It is simply a practical one that seeks to retain the present position, in the hope that people will be encouraged to improve their properties without the difficulty that Clause 142 would put in their way. I hope that the Minister, if she cannot affirm tonight that the Government are prepared to accept the amendment, will take the issue back and have a serious look at it, because I cannot see who gains from the clause as it stands. I beg to move.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I can probably reassure the noble Lord about this. While the amendment would provide flexible tenants with the same statutory rights as traditional secure tenants to improve their properties with the written consent of their landlord, and be compensated for those improvements on leaving the property, our proposals provide flexible tenants with many of the same rights as other secure tenants-for example, a right to exchange their home with another tenant or a right to succession for a spouse or partner.
However, the right to make improvements is, we feel, less appropriate for a tenancy that may be for five or 10 years than it is for a traditional secure tenancy, where a tenant may be in the same property for the rest of their life. That does not mean that tenants on flexible tenancies cannot make improvements to their house or, indeed, be compensated for them. What it does mean is that it will be for the landlord to decide what improvements the tenants can make, and that that would be included in the tenancy agreement. If the tenants are there for a full term, a whole lifetime or more, they can do what they like. Effectively, they can improve their property and the landlord would compensate them subsequently. However, in shorter tenancies, landlords must delineate what they will allow tenants to do; then there is nothing to stop them being compensated for that.
Lord Beecham: I am sure that I never look cross when I look at the noble Baroness. I accept her assurances, which I shall perhaps investigate further. For the time being, I am prepared to accept those assurances and I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) The Secretary of State must publish directions to the social housing regulator requiring the regulator to set standards on the provision of succession rights in express terms of secure tenancies."
Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, I speak to Amendments 30 and 31 concerning the Bill's removal of automatic succession rights for relatives of those living in local authority properties and the Government's introduction of express terms of tenancy. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that the Government make it explicit how and when these express terms of tenancies should be given to people other than spouses and civil partners to succeed a tenancy. The learning disability organisation Mencap is concerned that, as the Bill stands, it potentially weakens the position of disabled people who live with their parents or relatives in succeeding a tenancy. It also undermines the position of carers who have had to give up their own homes to look after a parent or relative. This issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, in the truncated hours of the Committee stage, and he would have moved these amendments today had he been able to be present. He of course supports them and is grateful to the Minister for meeting him to discuss his concerns.
The right of succession is especially important for some of society's most vulnerable groups-especially for disabled people who have lived with and been supported by their parents well on into their adult lives. According to current figures, between 50 per cent and 55 per cent of people with a learning disability still live with their parents. Their right to the home where they have lived all their lives is currently protected when their parents pass away. The Bill removes that security.
While the Government's move to introduce express terms of tenancy is partially welcome, it does not go far enough in protecting the interests of disabled people. It is left to the discretion of housing providers and local authorities, which may well restrict the number of tenancies with an express provision because the position is not clear cut as it is now, so that such tenancies become rarer over time. Furthermore, tenancy agreements could be drafted and agreed at a time when there is no likelihood that an express term in the tenancy agreement will be needed. However, family circumstances can change drastically, and then a carer or a disabled son or daughter could be at risk of losing the security of their home if the housing provider is unwilling to change the terms of the tenancy agreement.
The amendments would ensure that regulations were in place to outline under which circumstances and to which groups of people an express term of the tenancy should give a right to succession. Hopefully, it would be clearer that disabled people, including those with a learning disability, living with parents and relatives who have given up their home to care for a disabled relative would be entitled to a succession to the tenancy. Unless the Secretary of State sets out directions for a standard for succession rights beyond a spouse or a civil partner, the default position of housing providers could undermine the long-term interests of disabled people. That could be one of the unintended consequences of the Bill. I hope that the Government will support the amendments. I beg to move.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I have every sympathy with the amendment, as it deals with an important issue, but I am concerned about one thing. I am all for people who have given up their homes to care for someone else to have a right of further occupation somewhere, but where a property has been specifically adapted for a disabled person, I would be much happier to see another disabled person able to use that accommodation. It should not be naturally guaranteed that the person who was there simply as a carer should then take over a property that might be eminently suited to another disabled person. I wonder whether that issue needs to be considered under the amendment.
Lord Wigley: I support the noble Baroness's amendment. I do so declaring an interest as vice-president of Mencap Wales and having discussed these matters with the noble Lord, Lord Rix. This issue is of considerable concern to those who campaign for and work with people with disabilities-particularly learning disabilities. The insecurity that can be caused by the uncertainty arising from changes in legislation can undermine such people even more than those who are able-bodied but who none the less have a valid case for security of tenure. There is considerable concern and dismay in the world of disability about the changes. I hope that the Minister can give assurances that can put those people's minds at rest. The last thing that we would want to do from this Chamber is to perpetuate or worsen the insecurity felt by those vulnerable people.
Baroness Hollins: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I have worked for the past 30 years with adults with learning disabilities and their families, and I am also the parent of a young man with a learning disability. A particular interest of mine has been how adults with learning disabilities cope when their parents die. Many in the past have had to cope not only with the death of a parent but the loss of their home. Although the possibility was there under the previous Housing Act for the succession to continue, appropriate arrangements had often not been made. Arrangements to support people to stay in their home are now available and it would be very sad if succession rights were weakened at a time when support arrangements to enable people to remain in their familiar family home when their parents die are improving. I agree with the sentiments expressed by previous speakers
5 Sep 2011 : Column 97
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