HC Deb 08 July 1977 vol 934 cc1599-674

"(1) On completing their inquiries under section 2 above, a housing authority shall notify the person who applied to them for accommodation or for assistance in obtaining accommodation of their decision on the question whether he is homeless or threatened with homelessness.

(2) If they notify him that their decision is that he is homeless or threatened with homelessness, they shall at the same time notify him of their decision on the question whether he has a priority need.

(3) If they notify him that their decision is that he has a priority need, they shall at the same time notify him of their decision—

  1. (a) on the question whether he became homeless or threatened with homelessness intentionally, and
  2. (b) on the question whether it is probable that he will be able, with advice and appropriate assistance, himself to secure that accommodation becomes or does not cease to be available for his occupation.

(4) If they notify him—

  1. (a) that they are not satisfied that he is homeless or threatened with homeless-ness, or
  2. (b) that they are not satisfied that he has a priority need, or
  3. (c) that they are satisfied—
    1. (i) that he became homeless or threatened with homelessness intentionally, or
    2. (ii) that is is probable that he will be able, with advice and appropriate assistance, himself to secure that accommodation becomes or does not cease to be available for his occupation,
they shall at the same time notify him of the reasons for their decision.

(5) Any notification required under this section shall be given in writing and is to be treated as having been so given if the housing authority have made it available in writing at their office to the person to whom they are required to give it."—[Mr. Rossi.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Rossi

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

With this we may take the following:

Amendment (c), in line 8, leave out subsection (3).

Amendment (a), in line 17, leave out from "need" to end of line 22.

Amendment No. 24, in Clause 2, page 3, line 10 leave out subsections (4) to (6).

Amendment No. 25, in page 3, line 12, at end insert and he shall have a right of appeal against that decision to the Secretary of State within 14 days of the notification of the decision".

Mr. Rossi

The key to the new clause is Amendment No. 24, which seeks to remove from clause 2 subsections (4), (5) and (6).

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Is it not Clause 3?

Mr. Rossi

No. Clause 2, subsections (4), (5) and (6).

Mr. Cunningham

In that case there must be a misprint on the Amendment Paper, because Amendment No. 24 on my copy has been printed as referring to Clause 3.

Mr. Rossi

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I had not noticed that. It is indeed a misprint, and I shall proceed to explain the situation.

In Committee we considered the obligations of a local authority to carry out inquiries to ascertain whether a person was homeless and, indeed, whether, when somebody was found to be homeless, it was a priority case. Having considered that, we then felt it right that the local authority should notify the applicant in writing of its decision and give reasons. When the Bill first appeared before us, although there was an obligation on local authorities to give reasons, that obligation existed only if the applicant asked for the reasons. There was no obligation on the local authority to give reasons in writing. In Committee we introduced wording to ensure that the notice and the reasons were to be given in writing.

In Committee the sponsor of the Bill and the Minister thought that the wording was not wholly satisfactory from a legal point of view. It was indicated that a better way of dealing with the matters would be to remove subsections (4), (5) and (6) from Clause 2 and to bring in an entirely new clause dealing as a whole with the obligations of local authorities under the Bill to give notice in writing and also to give the reasons for decisions reached.

11.30 a.m.

I am indebted to the Minister, who has requested the parliamentary draughtsman to produce a suitable new clause in a language that would have proper legal effect. I am also grateful to the Minister for offering me the opportunity of moving the new clause in my name and that of my hon. Friends, since the concept of requiring the authorities to give notice in writing and the reasons for their decisions in writing emanated from us in Committee.

I wish to acknowledge that the suggestion that this requirement should be placed on local authorities was put to us originally by the seven charities which felt that the Bill was defective in the first place. That is the history of New Clause 3. In effect, the clause and its wording have been proposed by the Government and the parliamentary draftsmen.

Mr. Arthur Latham

I do not wish to anticipate the speech of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), but what he is saying could appear to be rather ingenuous, because in dealing with a separate clause and provision for notification of reasons, I take it that the hon. Gentleman will go on to mention that two additional criteria are written into the clause which are far more serious than simply the mechanics of how the applicant should be notified.

Mr. Rossi

I take the point. I was just about to come to it, because I wanted to refer to the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and to Amendment (a) in the name of the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members. While I understand what motivates the hon. Gentleman in putting down those amendments, I must point out that he was mistaken. He has put down amendments to the new clause, but he should have put them down to Amendment No. 28, which we shall discuss in due course.

As I understand the amendments, the hon. Gentleman objects to two concepts. First, there is the concept that the local authorities will be required to consider whether a person has become homeless intentionally. That is one point that I feel the hon. Gentleman has in mind. The second point that appears to worry him is the requirement that, other than securing accommodation, the local authorities can discharge their obligations to a homeless person by tendering advice or by giving other assistance. Those are the two matters to which the amendments in the name of the hon. Gentleman are directed. However, those two concepts would be introduced into the Bill sub-stantively by Amendment No. 28.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

They will be introduced substantively into the Bill only if Amendment No. 28 is carried.

Mr. Rossi

I take that point, but our debate should be on Amendment No. 28 and not on this clause, because if we assume—contrary to what the hon. Gentleman has just indicated, that Amendment No. 28 is carried, it would be singularly inappropriate to exclude from the duty of the authority to give notice a requirement that it should also tell the homeless person that it has decided that he is intentionally homeless and that it has decided to deal with him other than by securing accommodation.

Mr. George Cunningham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Not surprisingly, we have got ourselves into an impossible situation here—and not for the first time during the passage of this Bill. As has been said, the substantive amendment relating to the whole matter is Amendment No. 28, even though it is not first in the group of amendments in which it appears. That amendment will give the House an opportunity to decide whether a person excludes himself from the category of those who must be housed if he intentionally makes himself homeless. It is another qualification. Amendment No. 35 is grouped with that amendment. Amendment No. 35 relates to the question whether it is an offence to mislead people about one's intention. We are now in the process of deciding what should be notified to such a person before we have had an opportunity of considering whether that amendment needs to be made. That is preposterous. One cannot consider a Bill in that way.

I respectfully suggest that New Clause 3 and all its attendant amendments should have been grouped with Amendment No. 28 or, at least, ought to be considered after Amendment No. 28 and not before it. Failing that, I respectfully suggest that we should take this matter on the nod, one way or the other, and leave it to the Lords to sort out. We could then get on to the substantive discussion of intention in Amendment No. 28 when we come to it.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I go along with a great deal of what has just been said, but it might be that if the House and the sponsor were willing to accept the new clause, and if, at a later stage, the House were not willing to accept what is, in effect, subsection (3) of the clause, the Lords would have to correct it. The House would therefore save a great deal of time if the sponsor were willing to accept the new clause and we could come to the heart of the matter later on.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That point of order was useful. However, we shall have to wait and see whether New Clause 3 is accepted. There is a possibility that it will be.

Mr. Rossi

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) was absolutely right. We are in this difficulty because, according to our procedures on Report, we consider new clauses first, and the amendments to clauses are taken subsequently in clause order. However, the hon. Gentlemen, in putting down these amendments to New Clause 3, were, in a sense, mistaken in not at the same time putting down amendments to Amendment No. 28. All that they are attempting to do is to remove from the local authority an obligation to give notification of part of its decision and the reasons for it. I can easily understand how hon. Gentlemen have got themselves into that difficulty by reading the offending wording, which appears early on the Order Paper, deciding that it was not acceptable and that something must be done about it, and then not reading through to see whether other parts of the Bill were being amended in a substantive manner.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

The House faced the difficulty that New Clause 3 and Amendment No. 28 appeared on the Order Paper for the first time yesterday. I concede, naturally, that our consideration may have been hurried and imper- fect, but the hurry was not of our making. We have tabled amendments to New Clause 3, which we intend to press. If we are successful in carrying them and, indeed, if we can debate the principle of the amendments, I suggest that the easy way out for the House—if the Chair will agree—will be for us to move subsequently a manuscript amendment to Amendment No. 28, which will be consequential if our amendments to New Clause 3 are successful. That would be the procedure. These amendments were tabled last week and consideration has not been as cool, calm and collected as it might have been.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That might be helpful to the House. If I may look at the manuscript amendment that the hon. Gentleman proposes to Amendment No. 28, I will get a ruling on it.

Mr. Rossi

The House is now in a procedural difficulty, because we do not wish to avoid or exclude debate upon important matters that have been raised by the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham). It is merely a question whether it is most appropriate to have the discussion at this point.

We should put ourselves in an extraordinary difficulty if we debated the matter now, when we are dealing only with giving a notice and the reasons for that notice in writing. The suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) and the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) is reasonable. We could take the new clause as it stands, on the basis that we are dealing with formal matters. If the House thinks, when we reach Amendment No. 28, that the duty should be different from that proposed in the amendment, consequential amendments dealing with notification could be moved in another place. The most logical way out of this procedural difficulty would be if you would accept a manuscript amendment to Amendment No. 28, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the form in which hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have sought to amend the new clause.

Mr. George Cunningham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am puzzled where that would leave us on Amendment No. 25. I do not know how that fits in with this lot. It is one of the most crucial amendments, and deals with the question whether there should be a right of appeal for an applicant against a decision of the local authority that he is not homeless or in priority need. It has been put in with a group dealing with notifying people about things that have, substantively, been decided.

We cannot process a Bill on this basis. It is a hopeless combination of amendments, which have nothing to do with one another.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There is nothing that I can do about that at this stage.

Mr. Rossi

We leave Amendment No. 25 entirely between the mover, the Minister and the sponsor of the Bill. We have no view on that question.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Amendment No. 25 stands in my name, and my hon. Friends and I are also concerned about the grouping. We should have preferred to debate it later. It is a substantive issue concerning a right of appeal and we believe that it is an important amendment. We are in some difficulty, and this is reflected by the Report stage procedure of taking new clauses and amendments to them first.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It may not be so convenient, but there is no difficulty in discussing Amendment No. 25 now. That is why it has been grouped with the new clause. The hon. Gentleman is not debarred from discussing it. He can make his contribution in this debate.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not clear whether the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) has finished his speech on New Clause 3, or how we intend to handle Amendments (a) and (c). I think that the most sensible way to proceed would be for the House to take our amendments and use them for a debate on the principle. We shall abide by the result of that debate, and if we are successful—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is raising an unnecessary point. The amendments have been grouped with the new clause and if the hon. Gentleman wishes to divide upon them he may do so at an appropriate stage

Mr. Stephen Ross

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been asked about my view on the way in which we should proceed. I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) that it would have been more helpful if we could have discussed Amendment No. 28 first. I should prefer the House to accept New Clause 3, although I am unhappy about two elements of it, namely—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are getting mixed up between points of order and general contributions to the debate. Has the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) finished moving New Clause 3? I thought that he had.

Mr. Rossi

If the House decides that we should now debate the substantive matters raised in Amendments (a) and (c), I shall want to address hon. Members on those matters. If it is decided, in answer to the invitation of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, that we should take the new clause as it stands because it deals only with procedural matters and discuss the substantive point later, I have nothing further to say.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I gather that the intention is to continue the discussion on Amendments (a) and (c).

Mr. George Cunningham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not sure whether you take the full nature of the point. The substantive issue, namely, whether intention should be important, is raised in Amendment No. 28. Some hon. Members are saying that we should discuss the whole business of intention, and not only in relation to whether a person has been notified and what the local authority thinks. May we have now the discussion that we would have on Amendment No. 28? It would be sensible to do that if it were in order, but I understand that we should not be in order in doing so.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The situation is getting a bit complicated. We are discussing New Clause 3, with Amendments (a), (c), No. 24 and No. 25. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has raised a point about the substantive question. If the House agrees, we could combine with this group of amendments, Amendments Nos. 17, 28 and 49. Then we shall get somewhere. Is the House agreeable to that? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Very well. With this group we may also take the following amendments:

No. 17, in Clause 2, page 3, line 3, leave out 'whether he has a special need ' and insert—

  1. '(i) whether he has a priority need, and
  2. (ii) whether he became homeless or threatened with homelessness intentionally, and
  3. (iii) if the authority are satisfied that he has a priority need, any further inquiries necessary to satisfy them whether it is probable that he will be able, with advice and appropriate assistance, himself to secure that accommodation becomes or does cease to be available for his occupation; and
  4. (iv) if they so wish, as to the area in which he was normally resident prior to his application or with which he has some special connection by reason of family ties or employment.'.

No. 28, in Clause 3, page 3, line 25, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert—

'(2) Where—

  1. (a) they are not satisfied that he has a priority need, or
  2. (b) they are satisfied that he has a priority need but arc also satisfied—
    1. (i) that he became homeless or threatened with homelessness intentionally, or
    2. (ii) that it is probable that he will be able with advice and appropriate assistance, himself to secure that accommodation becomes or does not cease to be available for his occupation,
their duty is to furnish him with advice and appropriate assistance.

(2A) Where—

  1. (a) they are satisfied that a person who has applied to them for accommodation or for assistance in obtaining accommodation is homeless, and
  2. (b) they are subject to a duty towards him by virtue of subsection (2)(b) above, they shall secure that accommodation is made available for his occupation for such period as they consider appropriate.

(2B) Where they are satisfied that he has a priority need and are also satisfied—

  1. (a) that he did not become homeless or threatened with homelessness intentionally, and
  2. (b) that it is not probable that he will be able, even with advice and appropriate 1608 assistance, himself to secure that accommodation becomes or does not cease to be available for his occupation,
their duty is to secure that accommodation becomes or does not cease to be available for his occupation.

(2C) A housing authority may perform their duty to a person under subsection (2B) above by making available accommodation held by them under Part V of the Housing Act 1957 or Part VII of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1966 or under any other enactment or by securing that he obtains accommodation from some other person or retains his existing accommodation.

(2D) Where a housing authority would otherwise be under a duty by virtue of subsection (2B) above but are satisfied that he was not normally resident in their area prior to his application or that there is some other area which he has a special connection by reason of family ties or employment, they may notify the making of the application to the housing authority of the area in which it appears to them that he was so resident or with which he has such a special connection.

(2E) It shall be the duty of an authority receiving a notification under subsection (2D) above on being satisfied that the applicant was normally resident in their area prior to his application or had some special connection with their area by reason of family ties or employment to secure that accommodation becomes available for his occupation as if the application under Section 2(1) had been made to them in the first instance.

(2F) Upon an authority receiving a notification and becoming under a duty by virtue or subsections (2D) and (2E) above the authority giving the notification shall cease to be under a duty to secure that accommodation becomes available for the applicant's occupation.

(2G) In the event of there being disagreement between the authority giving and the authority receiving the notification as to the area in which the applicant is normally resident or with which he had some special connection by reason of family ties or employment and accordingly as to which authority is to secure that accommodation becomes available such questions (including questions as to what constitutes normal residence or special connections) shall be determined in accordance with arrangements to be made between housing authorities generally or in default of such arrangements as provided by general guidance given by the Secretary of State under section 7 of this Act.

(2H) Until any disagreement between authorities is resolved in accordance with the provisions of the preceding subsection it shall be the duty of the authority to whom the application under section 2(1) was made to secure that accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant.

(2I) Notwithstanding the right of a housing authority to give a notification under subsection (2D) above such an authority shall remain under a duty to ensure wherever possible that the applicants accommodation does not cease to be available for his occupation.

(2J) Nothing in this section shall affect any right of a housing authority to secure vacant possession of accommodation, whether by virtue of a contract or of any enactment or rule of law.'.

No. 49, in Clause 11, page 7, line 22, at end insert— '"appropriate assistance", in relation to any person, means such assistance as a housing authority consider it appropriate in the circumstances to give him in any attempts that he may make to secure that accommodation becomes or does not cease to be available for his occupation;'.

Mr. Rees-Davies

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. May we also take Amendment No. 35, which goes with Amendment No. 28?

Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that we had agreed that Amendment No. 35 would be taken with Amendment No. 37.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The House has agreed to my suggestion that we should combine the amendments to which I referred. Let us now proceed.

Mr. Rossi

I invite the House to consider Amendments Nos. 17 and 28 together. We spent a great deal of time in Committee considering the problems that could arise for local authorities if some people sought to take advantage of the absolute obligation to rehouse homeless people by making themselves homeless.

On Second Reading a number of hon. Members from both sides of the House expressed concern over what we termed self-induced homelessness. The example was given of someone living in not very attractive privately rented accommodation who was aware that the local authority had been carrying forward an ambitious programme of attractive new building. In those circumstances a tenant might stop paying his landlord his rent or start breaking some of the obligations under his tenancy, with the result that the landlord would naturally make an application to the county court for a possession order. The tenant, having no intention of wanting to remain in his accommodation, would not defend that action and would have a judgment for possession made against him automatically.

Under Clause 1 such a person is defined as a homeless person. That person, as the Bill is drafted, would be perfectly entitled to go to a local authority and say "I am homeless. You are not entitled to inquire how it was that I became homeless. I fall within the definition of homelessness under Clause 1. Therefore, you must rehouse me."

Some of us may say "If a chap is in desperate circumstances and in unsatisfactory housing accommodation, why should he not try to get the local authorities to rehouse him into something decent?" That is all very well up to a point if one is prepared to ignore the fact that the council will probably have an obligation to hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have been patiently on a housing waiting list to be rehoused by the local authority. We could well be creating a situation in which some people would seek to jump the queue by introducing circumstances in which an authority would be obliged, under the Bill, to rehouse them in priority over every other family irrespective of needs and irrespective of conditions. They would be given priority over those who had been waiting patiently on the housing list to be rehoused.

That is one example of how the system could be worked by someone who was extremely astute, who came to know what the law really said and who was, in a sense, prepared to be dishonest in com parison with his fellow citizens who were equally in need of rehousing. Possibly his fellow citizens would be in greater need of rehousing bearing in mind the unsatisfactory conditions in which they might be living.

Mr. George Rodgers (Chorley)

Does the hon. Gentleman concede that, while the new clause might deal with a minority who go to the lengths he has described to abuse the system, it would debar many decent and honest people who become homeless because they have had no option, perhaps through circumstances of violence or poverty?

Mr. Rossi

I shall come to the wording of the clause in a moment. First, I want to outline the reasoning that leads us to attempt to make an amendment. We can discuss at a later stage whether it is the right amendment.

I have given one example of where there could be queue-jumping. That is self-induced homelessness so that a person may take advantage over other citizens in unfair circumstances. There are other ways in which that can be done. There is an anxiety that is shared especially by local authorities in seaside resorts or other highly attractive parts of the country in which to live.

Under the Rent Act 1974 the House has excluded from security of tenure holiday lettings or lettings of holiday accommodation off season. If a tenant goes to the seaside and has a fortnight's holiday or a three-week holiday, he has to leave at the end of that period so that other holidaymakers can rent the accommodation. Under the Rent Act there is no security of tenure. That seems to be common sense.

Similarly, if the landlord, the owner of the property, lets the cottage or flat for eight months of the year outside the holiday season but normally provides the accommodation to accommodate holiday-makers, the person who takes the property off-season for eight months of the year will not be entitled to security of tenure. At the end of the winter, when the landlord wants to start letting to holiday-makers, he can say to the person who has taken the property for eight months of the year off-season "Your contract is at an end. I now want the accommodation for holidaymakers who have booked with me months earlier. You must go. There is no security of tenure."

That is the situation that everyone accepts and recognises, but under the Bill as drafted and unamended it is possible for holidaymakers, or those taking holiday accommodation out of season, to say at the end of the term "We have to go and you, the local authority, must rehouse us." The obligation under Clause 1 as it stands would be absolute upon the local authority. It is the fear of Bournemouth, Brighton, Worthing, Eastbourne, Thanet, Margate, Ramsgate, Wales and Scotland, where there are substantial holiday lettings and which are very attractive parts of the country in which to live, that they will find themselves in a situation in which they will be obliged to rehouse holidaymakers in priority to their own people for whom they are making provision in the normal way on their housing list. There is no protection against that situation arising. It would be to the detriment of the residents in those areas if that door were left open.

It is not only holiday areas that are in this difficulty. Any main city that has a main railway terminus, seaport or airport within its area could find itself in precisely this difficulty. The magnet areas could find themselves with the burden of taking in and rehousing others from all over the country in priority to their own citizens, their own residents.

In Committee we tried to deal with this possibility by making amendments to the definition of homelessness. We sought to speak of homelessness in unforeseen circumstances. We tried to speak of someone being homeless through no fault of his own. In Committee there was unanimity among the three parties that we had to revise the Bill in some way so that we removed from local authorities the obligation to rehouse the self-induced homeless person, the person trying to work the system. We were not successful in finding the correct wording.

It was fairly pointed out that the wording "due to unforeseen circumstances" could create a situation in which someone became homeless because he defaulted on his mortgage repayments. It could be argued that those circumstances were not unforeseen.

Mr. Arthur Latham

Before the hon. Gentleman continues with his other illustrations, perhaps he will complete the story in his first illustration of the seaside town or somewhere near an airport. It seems that he is covering that illustration in Amendment No. 28 in subsection (2D). Under that subsection there would be no need to have the reference to intentional homelessness because the individual would be referred back to the district from whence he came.

12 noon.

Mr. Rossi

If I may be allowed to develop my argument in my own way, I shall cover the points that seem to be causing the hon. Gentleman anxiety.

The Committee was unanimous in its concern about the problem of self-induced homelessness and the impossible burden that could be imposed upon local authorities in attractive parts of the country— the magnet areas. We were unsuccessful in arriving at a form of wording that could give effect to our intention. Therefore, it was agreed that the amendments to Clause 1 should be withdrawn. The Minister kindly offered to make his Department and the parliamentary draftsmen available both to the sponsor of the Bill and to myself in order to help to produce a form of wording that would give precise legal effect to the expressed intention of the Committee.

I am indebted to the Minister for his help in this matter. But, in so far as there are critics of this form of wording who were not parties to the long and detailed discussions in Committee, I should point out that this wording has been produced by parliamentary draftsmen to give effect to the Committee's unanimous decision.

Perhaps I might now indicate to the House how the problems that I have outlined are sought to be solved by the wording in these amendments. The first amendment that we have to consider is No. 17. Clause 2 deals with the situation where a local authority has to make inquiries into the requirements of a person claiming to be homeless. As the Bill stands, under Clause 2 (2) (a), when a person applies to a housing authority for accommodation or assistance and the authority has reason to suspect that that person is homeless, the authority has to make certain inquiries. First, it has to make inquiries to satisfy itself that the person is actually homeless or threatened with homelessness as defined in Clause 1. It then has to go on to decide whether the homeless person is a priority case.

In addition, if the House accepts that local authorities ought to be put in the position of being able to say "We are not accepting this case because it is self-induced homelessness and is unfair to those on our general housing waiting list", they should be able to make inquiries, if they wish as to whether the person concerned was homeless intentionally. The word "intentionally" was chosen not by myself or my hon. Friends but by parliamentary draftsmen to be put in place of the words that we suggested in Committee, through no fault of his own or through unforeseen circumstances", to which there are certain objections. I put forward "intentionally" on the basis of its being the best word that we are advised can be used to give effect to the Committee's intentions.

Mr. Arthur Latham

I have been trying unsuccessfully to follow the hon. Gentleman without asking him where I might find the evidence in the Committee's proceedings for the suggestion of unanimity about the purposes behind the amendment. If he can assist me with that, I shall be most grateful.

Mr. Rossi

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has come to the House today wishing to raise these matters without having looked at the Committee's proceedings. If he looks at the reports of the first, second, third, fourth and part of the fifth sittings, where we consider the definition of homelessness, he will find in those five sittings, which took three days of work, the discussion on these matters that I have raised.

Mr. Arthur Latham

I was endeavouring to be polite or to give the hon. Gentleman the benefit of the doubt. Frankly, after studying those proceedings I cannot draw the conclusion that there was unanimity about the purposes behind the amendment.

Mr. Rossi

I ask the hon. Gentleman to re-read the whole of the debate upon the wording by reason of unforeseen circumstances. He will see reiterated time and again by myself, the sponsor of the Bill and the Minister that there would have to be acceptance of the view of the Committee. I do not know whether the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) wishes to intervene, but he knows about the pressure that the Committee as a whole placed upon him to consider the question of self-induced homelessness.

Mr. Stephen Ross

There is no question but that in Committee there was a substantial body of opinion on both sides which felt that we should deal adequately with the question of the mobile homeless and the person who deliberately contrived to make himself homeless. I accepted from the early stages of our discussions that those matters had to be dealt with to try to satisfy the genuine fears of many local authorities.

Mr. Rossi

Following the discussion on Amendment No. 17, apart from self-induced homelessness, there was also the question of authorities in seaside and rural areas—the magnet areas—which found themselves having to rehouse people from other areas.

Amendment No. 17 enables local authorities, if they wish—there is no obligation upon them; they can accept the responsibility without any difficulty— to make inquiries as to where the person making the application was normally resident or had special connection by reason of family ties or employment prior to making the application. The amendment relates to the inquiries that a local authority has to make when a person claiming to be homeless presents himself to it.

Those inquiries having been made, we come to the duty imposed upon the local authority when someone claims to be homeless. Therefore, we turn to Amendment No. 28. That takes out from Clause 3 subsections (2) and (3), which require the local authority to secure accommodation for somebody who comes as a priority case. They also enable the authority, where there is not a priority case but a request for rehousing on the basis of homelessness, to deal with the situation other than by providing accommodation—for example, helping to settle a family row by assisting the person concerned to find accommodation for himself. Those two propositions are now dealt with and expanded in Amendment No. 28.

We start with a series of propositions with an ascending degree of duty on the part of the local authority, depending on the circumstances of the individual who has applied to that authority. Under subsection (2) of Amendment No. 28, where the authority believes that there is not a priority need as a result of its inquiries, that there is a priority need but that it is self-induced homelessness, or that the circumstances of the individual are such that it is possible for accommodation to be found for him without making a demand upon the limited stocks of the local authority, the authority is simply required to give "advice and appropriate assistance".

I do not think anyone would cavil at that suggestion for non-priority need. There might be cases where there is a priority need but the authority believes that it can discharge its obligations by giving advice and assistance. It is to that point that the amendments to Clause 3 direct themselves.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

One of the aspects that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned causes me anxiety. He suggested that homelessness could be overcome by patching up a family quarrel. Is he suggesting that the local authority might discharge its obligation, when a wife has left her husband and taken her children with her—not in circumstances when there is a threat of violence, but when she has left for valid and sound reasons—by persuading the husband to let her return?

Mr. Rossi

I do not think that that would be right in every circumstance. We would not want to force battered wives to return to their homes. I have pointed out that I am dependent on the Government and parliamentary draftsmen for the form of wording. As for the question of intentional homelessness, my hon. Friends and I take a strong view. We would not wish to see that concept eroded in any way. We had the support, if not of every member of the Committee, certainly of virtually every member. I cannot recall anyone speaking against this concept who did not eventually accept it as a reasonable proposition. That was why I used the word "unanimous."

Mr. Robin F. Cook

I shall return to that last point when I address the House later, if I catch the eye of Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would, however, like to return to the exchange between the hon. Member and my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) earlier and to the circumstances which are referred to in the new clause, which may indeed have been drafted by the Government but which appears in the hon. Member's name. As I understood the hon. Gentleman, he said that in his view it would not be reasonable to ask a battered wife to return to the home. I cannot see that that necessarily arises from a strict reading of the clause. I would have thought that the clause leaves it open to the housing authority to provide such advice and assistance as it may think necessary to patch up that marital problem. If that is not what it means, will the hon. Gentleman explain the clause?

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Rossi

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that when this wording was put to me I asked about it. I was advised that it was within the experience of local authorities that the simple giving of advice and social service assistance could deal with a homeless problem without the necessity to provide new accommodation. The example given was that of a family quarrel, net necessarily involving a battered wife. Suppose that a youngster has a row with his parents. The father says "How dare you speak to your mother in that way? Never darken my doorstep again." In the heat of the moment, the youngster slams the front door and is gone. He goes to the town hall and says "Rehouse me, I am homeless." [Interruption.] It could be a priority group in the sense that it was a married daughter and son-in-law living with the parents. Unhappily, too many people are forced into such a situation.

In such a row, hard things are said in the heat of the moment and are immediately regretted. Often matters can be resolved by the intervention of a third party who can smooth the situation. Local authorities have found it possible to patch up such family rows. It is better to do that than to perpetuate the row by physical separation, which rehousing would cause. Given our limited resources, if local authorities are to be obliged to rehouse in such a situation, without there being any alternative open to them, we could be spending a great deal of money.

It was put to me that when moving these amendments to deal with self-induced homelessness I should leave it open to the authorities to deal with the type of problems I have referred to— and which were given to me as an example—by incorporating in the amendments wording which would give freedom of action and flexibility to local authorities, allowing them to help people in ways other than rehousing.

Obviously, I would not wish local authorities to use this as an escape route, a means of avoiding their obligations. Where a wife has been battered or in other extreme cases where there is no possibility of reconciliation, or where it would be impossible to require people to live under the same roof together, we would not wish local authorities to use the formula that I have just outlined to escape their obligations. I accept that at once. I have discussed this matter with the sponsor of the Bill. When that possible interpretation was put to me, I replied that if a local authority could act in such a way we must look at the clause again and tighten it up.

The arrangements between myself and the sponsor of the Bill is that he will see that this matter is looked at again between now and the Bill's appearance in another place. He will discuss the problem with parliamentary draftsmen to see in what way this phrase can be tightened up so that local authorities will not be able to take advantage of the technical wording of the Bill to escape their responsibilities.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that all the cases he has mentioned would be covered by the definition of homelessness? If the person concerned could reasonably go somewhere else, he should not be regarded as homeless. Therefore, this provision of getting a place which is reasonably available is unnecessary. The person would not be regarded as homeless if the circumstances were reasonable.

Mr. Rossi

I am advised that that is not the legal situation and that the term "homelessness' is badly defined in Clause 1. In our debates on Clause 1, we tried to widen that definition. It is because we did not succeed that we now have to deal with it on Clause 3.

Mr. George Cunningham

To get this right, is it not correct that a person would be homeless only if he had no title to occupy? The fact that he could go somewhere but without a title to go there would not mean that he fell within the category denned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann.)

Mr. Rossi

I am obliged; that is the precise legal point. Homelessness, as defined in Clause 1, simply means not having somewhere to live, without going into the circumstances that I have been trying to outline. It is therefore necessary to modify the concept of homelessness, either by definition in Clause 1, which is what we tried to do in Committee, or now in New Clause 3, where we apply the duty of the local authority and, therefore, try to vary the duty in accordance with the circumstances.

It is not the method which attracted me in dealing with it as pan of the duty. I should have preferred to deal with it as part of the definition of homelessness. But we must give and take in these matters to try to reach a sensible working solution. I accept the advice of the Minister and his legal advisers that it is better to deal with the problem by seeking to redefine not homelessness but the duty of the local authority in different circumstances. That is why the amendment is in this form.

Therefore, when it comes to the new subsection (2)(b)(ii) in Amendment No. 28 on the question of advice and appropriate assistance, I should not be averse to that being looked at again in order to meet the anxieties expressed by Labour Members. Those anxieties came to my mind when I first read this provision, but I was assured that it could not be applied in that way. The provision will be backed ultimately by the code of guidance to be laid down by Clause 7. In that code, to which the local authorities will be obliged to have regard, the Secretary of State will spell out in detail the circumstances in which advice and assistance would be appropriate rather than the duty to rehouse, It was on the basis that they would be so spelt out that I put my name to this wording.

However, whether we deal with the matter ultimately by altering this wording or by ensuring that the code of guidance is sufficiently tight to ensure that battered wives and others are accepted by the local authorities, but that where a family discussion can resolve the problem it should be dealt with in that way, I am happy to leave it to the code of guidance. This, however, is a matter which the House of Lords will have to discuss if we are to make progress with the Bill today.

I have dealt with the situation in which local authorities have to give advice and assistance. We now come to the higher duty imposed upon them by subsection (2) (a) in Amendment No. 28, which states that the authorities must secure accommodation for someone for a period which they consider appropriate where the person has made an application claiming to be homeless. This arises where there is not a priority need, where there is a general claim of homelessness and where the local authority's existing obligation under the Social Security Acts is to provide temporary shelter.

The third and highest duty arises where the authority is satisfied that the person concerned has a priority need, that the homelessness is not self-induced and that the problem will not be resolved by advice and assistance. The duty on the authority then is to secure that accommodation is made available or does not cease to be available.

There is an entirely different concept in the remainder of Amendment No. 28.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I should tell the House that the manuscript amendments to Amendment No. 28 have been accepted.

Mr. Rossi

I am obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We come now to the problems which arise not on the question whether the person is genuinely homeless and how the local authority can best deal with that person's problems but on the question of which authority shall have the responsibility for rehousing. It is only the question of rehousing which is dealt with by the remainder of Amendment No. 28.

If someone goes to a local authority as a priority case and claims to be homeless, that authority is immediately obliged to try to advise and assist and, failing that, to provide temporary accommodation. Then the question of permanent accommodation arises. We then have the difficulty of the holiday areas and the question of who shall have the primary responsibility to rehouse. The amendment seeks in those circumstances to enable the authority to which the application is made to look into the circumstances and, if it finds that the applicant has a greater tie with another authority, to notify the other authority that the person is its responsibility.

If the second authority accepts that responsibility, the duty to rehouse immediately impinges upon the second authority and the first is relieved of it. The second authority may not be prepared to accept that responsibility, perhaps on the grounds that the person was not normally resident in its area or that he had roamed around the country and could not be said to have a definite connection with any area.

To deal with that situation, Amendment No. 28 proposes, first, that a homeless person shall be secure and that there is no question of his falling between two stools. Therefore, the first authority has the obligation to give temporary accommodation until the discussion with the second authority is resolved. As originally drafted, the suggestion was that the two authorities should agree between themselves. I felt that that was unsatisfactory because an interminable stand-off could result.

Therefore, in the suggested subsection (2G), which is the key to this concept, we have sought to require local authorities throughout the country to work out among themselves a code defining where an ultimate responsibility will lie. There is, therefore, no question of any individual homelessness not being the responsibility of some local authority. Throughout the Greater London area, the London Boroughs Association has for some time successfully operated a practical code under which the boroughs decide which borough should in certain circumstances be responsible for housing a homeless person. We see no reason why such an arrangement should not be nationwide. The local authorities would then determine among themselves the criteria by which responsibility for housing a homeless person was achieved.

Mr. Arthur Latham

The hon. Gentleman has now come to my question about his subsection (2D) as he kindly said he would. Will he now apply this argument to his illustration about intentional homelessness and say why he does not feel that his own subsection (2D) would be sufficient to deal with the holidaymaker who deliberately overstayed?

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Rossi

This part of Amendment No. 28 deals with the problem of which local authority shall take primary responsibility for rehousing. We are trying to establish that that responsibility should fall on the authority in whose area the person concerned has a principal connection and is normally resident. That would deal with the holiday-maker. Self-induced homelessness is another matter, which has to be determined separately.

If it is decided that someone has deliberately brought about his own home- lessness the authority will not have an absolute duty to provide accommodation. Authorities have to protect other citizens who are on waiting lists for accommodation. They are two different situations.

Mr. Arthur Latham

This is an important matter. The hon. Member has sought to justify his proposals by saying that there are genuine fears that need to be met. In order to establish that there are genuine fears the hon. Member used the example of the holiday-maker who took temporary accommodation, decided it was a nice place to live, gave up his own accommodation elsewhere, claimed to be homeless and therefore became the responsibility of the local authority. Subsection (2D) would enable that local authority to refer the applicant back to the authority in whose area he originated. That is not a case in favour of having a provision to disqualify him because he became intentionally homeless.

Mr. Rossi

One has to go further back and look at the circumstances of the person concerned before he took holiday accommodation. If that person was reasonably housed in another part of the country, decided that he wanted to get on to the housing list of a seaside authority and deliberately forsook adequate accommodation, the local authority would be entitled to decide that he had deliberately and intentionally made himself homeless, and would be entitled to say that he could not queuejump.

There could be other circumstances in which a family had no home and in desperation moved from one area to another in search of temporary accommodation. In that case the local authority would say that this was not self-induced homelessness, that the family had not deliberately created the situation but had been trying to help itself by moving around. The homelessness would not be intentional and therefore the provisions of subsection (2D) would apply to decide which authority had the primary responsibility for rehousing that family. The example I gave earlier of holiday lets could spread over these two concepts. I hope that that answers the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham).

Mr. Sainsbury

One could simplify the question by giving examples. Let us suppose that a family living in Paddington in private rented accommodation is evicted and presents itself to the housing authority. It is genuinely homeless and is entitled to be rehoused.

Another family might be living in the same area in privately rented accommodation which it decides it does not like, because of the noise of trains, for example. This family moves out and turns up at the local housing authority offices and says that it wants to be rehoused. That family has become intentionally homeless, and would be dealt with by a part of Amendment No. 28. That same family, having become intentionally homeless, might decide that it did not want to live in Paddington. It might go to Hove and turn up at the local housing authority there saying that it was entitled to be rehoused.

If the first family went to Hove and demanded to be rehoused it could be sent back to Paddington. It would be rehoused because it had not become homeless intentionally. The second family would not be entitled to be rehoused in Hove or Paddington because it became intentionally homeless.

Mr. Rossi

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) for explaining in practical terms what I have been trying to say in abstract terms.

Mr. George Cunningham

Subsection (2G) contains the provision whereby, if there is a dispute on the question whether authority A or B is responsible, it has to be settled according to arrangements by local authorities or, in default of such arrangements as provided by general guidance given by the Secretary of State under section 7 of this Act. That arbitration would be binding. Guidance under Clause 7 is not binding. One has only to have regard to it. Does that position not apply in the drafting of the provision?

Mr. Rossi

I do not think so. Clause 7 provides for guidance to be given to local authorities, to which they shall have regard. We have said that a dispute "shall be determined". That goes further than "shall have regard". Under Clause 7 the Secretary of State is given power to give general guidance, to which, for purposes other than this, local authorities merely have to have regard. Later we import firmer terms.

Mr. George Cunningham

If that is the intention it would be necessary to delete the words in Clause 7. I hope that you take this argument, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I shall refer to this exchange on another matter. We are discussing subsection (2G). If the hon. Member's intention is that the arbitration provided for in subsection (2G) is to be binding, the words in Clause 7 will have to be deleted. The Secretary of State does not need power to issue guidance. There would be a confusion if this provision stated that there was to be binding arbitration, when Clause 7 states that there shall be regard.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall try to satisfy you that this is a proper point of order. I submit that the point that I have just made is one of dozens and dozens that show that the Bill is not in a fit condition to be proceeded with on Report. That is the private opinion of probably everyone in the Chamber.

I am sorry to say to friends of mine "I told you so", but I did tell them so in Standing Committee. We simply cannot go on passing on to the statute book provisions which are the dog's breakfast that this is. I seriously make this proposition to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and ask whether you would be prepared to accept a motion at this stage, or at a later stage, that the Bill be recommitted to a Standing Committee of the House.

I shall not argue the case at length, but I put it in this way: there are in relation to this Bill only a few really serious central issues. They are, first, the definition of the people who are to have an outright right to be housed; secondly, the question of which authority has the obligation to rehouse; thirdly, the question whether a person escapes that right by his own intentional act in making himself homeless. None of these issues was settled upstairs in Committee. All have been left to the Report stage.

The main amendment, No. 28, which we are now discussing, was tabled only yesterday, and we have seen how defective it is. We have already said that we shall have to leave it to the House of Lords to sort the thing out in a week or two's time. From Standing Committee until this stage there has been no clarification of the issues, and I doubt whether they could be made clear-cut between now and the Bill being considered by the House of Lords. We are in danger, with the worthiest of motives, of putting absolute nonsense on the statute book, and I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether you would be prepared now to accept a motion for recommittal of the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)

I cannot accept that motion at this time under the Standing Orders. I could consider such a motion after the end of this debate. The correct time to do it would be at the end of the series of amendments we are discussing.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House is in a difficult position. I understand the situation in which the Standing Orders leave you. I suggest that it might be in order for the sponsor of the Bill or for the Government to consider whether the Bill in its present form should not be withdrawn at this stage. Since the debate began on this clause, a further two points have been drawn to my attention which complicate the matter further.

I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) to what he is moving in Amendment No. 28. If he looks at the first line of sub-paragraph (b) in subsection (2B), he will see that there is a redundant negative in it and, therefore, it would achieve the reverse of what he wishes to attain. Secondly, since we began this debate my own manuscript amendment has been returned to the House typed the wrong way round. Of course we can get over that procedural point, but in view of what has happened since we began consideration of the Bill it is the last straw on the camel's back.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) had sought to move a motion for recommittal at the beginning of consideration, I would not have supported him because I would have regarded it as a delaying tactic, unfortunate and regrettable. But, given the chaos into which we have sunk I doubt whether it is responsible for us as a legislature to continue with the Bill in its present form.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have already indicated that at the moment there is nothing I can do about it. If the Undersecretary of State wishes to say something about it, it is a matter for him.

Mr. Armstrong

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). It is not the first time that he has made this submission. We are trying in the Bill to find the right balance between the obligations that we lay on local housing authorities and the desperate needs of the homeless. This morning's debate has not been new at all. We are dealing with issues which have been discussed with local authorities, with voluntary bodies, in Committee upstairs and in all sorts of conversations as well.

12.45 p.m.

I have lived with this it alter for a long time. All I can say to my hon. Friends is that recommitting the Bill or withdrawing it would not remove any of these issues. They would not go away. We have to make a judgment. In the end, it is a judgment in trying to spell out the duties of local authorities. We know that the attitudes and the will of local authorities differ throughout the country, and we also know the very desperate and pressing needs of the homeless, I think that we would be unfair to those in desperate need if we said "Let us discuss the whole of these issues all over again" in the belief that we could find an answer that would satisfy everybody.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Whether we are to take steps to recommit the Bill to a Standing Committee or whether we are to try to improve the procedures in the course of consideration today, we have in this group of amendments four major issues which have to be resolved.

First, there is the question of intention —whether a family is intentionally homeless and whether that should debar it from being treated as being entitled to the benefit of the terms of the Bill. Secondly, there is the issue of whether the family can provide for itself. Thirdly, there is the question of whether some other area is responsible rather than the area to which the family has applied. Fourthly, there is the question of the right of appeal.

The question of the right of appeal is a relatively easy issue, and we shall have a separate vote on Amendment No. 25. But I find it difficult to see how we can vote on each of these specific issues on the amendments which now stand before us. Presumably, the first vote will be on Amendment (c). the effect of which would be to leave out subsection (3) of New Clause 3. That, however, deals with both the issue of the intention and the issue of whether someone is capable of providing for himself. We have no opportunity of dealing with these two matters separately from each other, but they should be treated as being separate issues rather than be taken en bloc.

Then we have Amendment (a), which would deal with the question of need also. We cannot effectively separate these issues in the selection that we have before us. Then we have the latter part of Amendment No. 28, which deals with other authorities, and Amendment No. 13, dealing with issues specifically rather than as part of the general package. We thus have amendments in a form which expresses the intentions of four specific points which we need to decide.

Mr. Arthur Latham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If I understand the situation correctly, you have said that you might consider accepting a motion for recommittal at a slightly later stage in these proceedings. I hope that that is the case.

May I refer to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State? Whether I am correctly or incorrectly informed, and whether he feels able to admit it or deny it, my understanding is that he may have been a party to agreeing certain matters without being absolutely convinced that they were the best way, or forming a judgment that they were the best way, in which to achieve the Bill. Although, like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook), I started this morning feeling somewhat unhappy about the Bill, it is clear that in the last couple of hours—it has become apparent to everyone, including, I hope, the Chair and the Table—that the Bill is in an awful mess.

Now, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has to face a second set of choices. If, in the first place, this is the Bill that he accepted rather than have no Bill at all, he may now have to face the fact that the Bill will have to go back to Committee for some sensible tidying up, irrespective of the merits or demerits of particular proposals, or he must face the fact that the rest of us will be convinced that, in the end, the homeless would be better off without any Bill rather than have this piece of legislation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have indicated that during Report stage I cannot entertain the motion that hon. Members have been trying to ask me to consider. I am sure that the Minister is listening to everything that is said and will be making up his mind as to the right course to adopt.

Mr. George Cunningham

I understand then, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I cannot move to recommit at the end of consideration of this group of amendments since the Report stage is still proceeding. I also understand that when the Report stage is terminated I can move such a motion. If so, is it possible to move to adjourn the debate now and then to move the motion to recommit? Obviously, it is a bit daft for us to go on until 4 o'clock discussing the Report stage if I am then to move to recommit, if that motion is accepted and if we then go over the same ground again. We have three hours left, and I have better things to do with my time than to do things to the Bill only to undo them at 4 o'clock. Can we not short-circuit the debate in the way I have suggested?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I regret that during the Report stage the hon. Gentleman may not do what he has suggested.

Mr. George Cunningham

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am saying that we should terminate the Report stage by moving to adjourn the debate so that I may then move to recommit.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hoped that I had made clear that the hon. Gentleman can adopt some of the courses he has in mind when the Report stage is completed but that during the Report stage he is not able to do what he wants to do.

Mr. George Cunningham

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can I not stop the Report stage and then do what I want to do? If you say that I cannot and that we must go on for three hours and 10 minutes—

Mr. Arthur Latham

Or longer.

Mr. Cunningham

The suspension motion has not yet been passed, and I do not believe that even the House of Commons would pass a suspension motion in these circumstances. If you tell me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the rules and practice of the House dictate that we should go on talking about the Bill for three hours and 10 minutes before we are able to stop, I shall not be the least surprised. That is exactly what we expect from House of Commons procedure. I would hope, if possible, however, to avoid that.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It would enable the House to have a breather and to discuss the matter if I moved the closure on the debate on New Clause 3—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Since everyone is anxious to make progress, I can help the hon. and learned Gentleman by telling him that I cannot accept such a motion while the new clause is being moved.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will you answer my question, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Is there any way of preventing the absurd situation in which we must go on talking about the Bill for three hours and seven minutes when we may recommit it at 4 o'clock?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have already indicated to the hon. Gentleman that he must wait until the end of the Report stage. If in the meantime the Minister wants to adopt some other course, that is entirely a matter for him.

Mr. Armstrong

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to adopt some other course. We are dealing with a Bill which seeks to give legislative effect to a circular which has been acted upon by most local authorities to the considerable assistance of the homeless. I am concerned about the homeless. I realise that people may say, on reading about what is now hap- pening, that my hon. Friends were attempting to delay the Bill, but I absolve my hon. Friends completely of such a charge because I know that they are genuinely concerned—just as I am— about the plight of the homeless. I have lived with the Bill, however, and I have weighed all the possibilities. The course proposed by my hon. Friends would do no service to the homeless, to the local authorities or to the House. I contend that it would help the Bill for us now to proceed.

The Bill places upon local authorities instead of upon social service authorities an obligation and duty. I have visited many of the local authorities and I know that they take that obligation and duty seriously, which explains why I have had so many submissions from them. Secondly, the Bill specifies priority groups, and that is of great benefit to those who fall within those groups and who desperately need housing. Therefore, I think that on reflection my hon. Friends, having suggested that no Bill is better than this Bill, will concede that that is not a fair judgment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I should have made one other point clear. It is that the Bill is not the Minister's Bill but is sponsored by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), and he has the right to do whatever he thinks fit.

Mr. Stephen Ross

If you are inviting me to comment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am glad to do so. I am surprised that one or two of my co-sponsors are adopting the line they are. I think I could quote from their speeches in Committee indicating that they agreed with me that there were four basic points that the Bill should attempt to meet and on which I gave fairly firm undertakings. We are discussing the clauses and amendments dealing precisely with those points.

I do not say that I am satisfied that we have the Bill right. The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) has indicated an area on which he concedes we might have to look at the wording again in case it can be interpreted differently from what was intended. We have, however, made plain that we think that the notes of guidance would cover these points adequately.

I ask hon Members to allow the Bill to proceed. I cannot believe that the social service authorities, the people who are concerned about battered wives, and all the other people who have written to us wish to see the Bill defeated. I cannot believe that the local authorities are not reasonably satisfied with the amendments that are before us today. Those amendments meet most of the points, if not all the points, that the authorities have been making to us. We seem to be covering almost every point made by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities in its letter.

Mr. Rossi

Before I resume my arguments may I raise a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker? In the light of the views of Labour Members on the question whether we should proceed with the Bill, let me make the Opposition's attitude clear. When we first saw the Bill we had considerable reservations about how well it would work. However, I gave it a welcome on the basis that it simply sought to give legislative effect to my Government's Circular 18/74. We reserve our position to make amendments to deal with otherwise serious weaknesses which cast doubts on its practicability. We have made proposals about self-induced homelessness and the obligations of local authorities to rehouse people who come from other areas and also on the question of the priority groups which should be included and given the entitlement to demand housing from local authorities as an absolute right. There have been considerable discussions on this both in Committee and outside.

We have sought not to deny to the homeless the opportunity of having their problems solved in a proper and practical manner. To that extent we have supported the Bill and have done everything in our power to ensure that it reaches the statute book in a proper form. If the House takes the view that the Bill should be recommitted it must appreciate that that will serve to defeat the Bill. I understand that the parliamentary timetable is such that all the efforts of the seven charities and the sponsors of the Bill will come to nought.

1.0 p.m.

That is a decision that hon. Members must take. The Opposition wish to help the Bill reach the statute book at an early date, and our conduct in Committee and today has been directed to that purpose. We have negotiated and received assurances on the aspects of the Bill that troubled and concerned us. Having been given what we asked for, we are prepared to see the Bill reach the statute book quickly. If any hon. Members wish to frustrate it, it must be on their consciences whether the homeless are to receive the kind of help that this Bill could give them.

Mr. Arthur Latham

What the hon. Gentleman has just said appears to stand events on their head, certainly as conveyed to me by those who served on the Committee. Given the difficulties that many of us see arising from the amendments that the hon. Gentleman has tabled, no matter what their origins, would he be prepared to facilitate the Third Reading of the Bill if the House, in its wisdom, did not accept New Clause 3 and Amendment No. 28? Or would the hon. Gentleman then say to the sponsor and to the Government "We shall not let the Bill go through unless you amend it in the way that we demand"?

Mr. Rossi

We consider Amendment No. 17 and Amendment No. 28 to be absolutely crucial to the workability of the Bill. If the House were so minded as to reject these amendments we could not see our way to supporting the Bill on Third Reading.

Mr. Arthur Latham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the frankness of his reply. That puts what he said earlier into its proper perspective.

Mr. Rossi

It is no different from the attitude that we have adopted from the very beginning—from Second Reading —and it is one that was accepted in Committee. The sponsor of the Bill gave us firm undertakings, on the basis of which the Bill is proceeding, and we hope that it will reach the statute book. But we should find it intolerable to accept a Bill the consequence of which would be to encourage self-induced homelessness, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of people on the housing waiting lists throughout the country. It is to this that our amendments are directed, and without this the Bill would not be acceptable to us.

I revert, if I may, to the question that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) was raising with me in our discussion on subsection (2G) of Amendment No. 28. I think that that was the point I had reached when the points of order were made. The intention of subsection (2G) is not to set up a procedure for arbitration. To that extent the hon. Gentleman misled himself. It is for that reason that I invite the House not to accept Amendment No. 25, because it would create an impossible situation to have an arbitration system whereby the Secretary of State or the Department of the Environment would be required to adjudicate on every individual case that might arise where there was disagreement between two local authorities as to the application of a particular person.

If one were to require arbitration by the Secretary of State between two disputing local authorities it would also be necessary to give an audience to the applicant whose case was being considered by the two authorities. It would be an intolerable burden upon Government, and an entirely new principle of government, for the Department of the Environment to have to consider individual housing cases.

The concept contained in subsection (2G) therefore, is simply that a code be prepared to cover all possible circumstances. We cannot write it into the Bill, because we should then have a Bill of many hundreds of pages. The code must operate voluntarily between local authorities. The London Boroughs Association already has one which operates quite happily.

There is no reason why the principle should not be extended on a nation-wide basis. The local authorities would agree virtually between themselves on the principles to be applied in determining which authority, in given circumstances, had the primary responsibility to rehouse people claiming to be homeless. But should it so happen that local authorities cannot or do not prepare this code in time, the Secretary of State, through his code of quidance, would lay down the criteria to determine the way in which these disputes would be decided. It is no more than that.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Does not the hon. Gentleman consider that when these dis- putes are resolved the provisions of subsection (2D) of Amendment No. 28 will be much too rigid? They lay down that Where a housing authority would otherwise be under a duty … but are satisfied that he was not normally resident in their area prior to his application or that there is some other area with which he has a special connection by reason of family tles or employment, they may notify", and so on. There is no scope there for the homeless woman to say that she cannot go back to a particular area because her husband will find her and beat her up.

There is no scope for discretion under (2D), and therefore the provision for arbitration under subsection (2G) will be of very little effect. Would not the hon. Gentleman prefer the sort of provision that is contained in Amendment No. 13, which provides for flexibility at the beginning of the determination of the question of which authority is responsible, rather than at the late stage provided in the hon. Gentleman's amendment?

Mr. Rossi

I am assured by those advising the Minister that this is a better way of dealing with the matter, and the code of conduct or guidance will indeed cover all the possibilities that appear to be troubling the hon. Gentleman. It will also, in effect, cover the problems that exist in hon. Members' minds on subsection (2B), which might be looked at again. The code of conduct would cover that point quite happily.

Mr. George Cunningham

I realise that the code drawn up by the Secretary of State to decide whether authority A or authority B has the responsibility in any particular circumstances would operate only where there was disagreement, and where that disagreement was not resolved by arrangements made generally between local authorities. Let us suppose that we have got through those preliminary stages and the code that the Secretary of State is having to apply. Am I right in thinking that the hon. Gentleman wants that code, irrespective of the decision, to be binding upon the two authorities concerned? If it is binding, may I suggest to him, with no apologies for semantics, that it cannot be called guidance?

Mr. Rossi

It is semantics, because when one uses the word "determine", it makes clear the responsibility and where it lies. The use of the word "guidance" and the reference to Qause 1 is simply to facilitate matters for the Secretary of State in incorporating all the items that he has to deal with under the Bill in one document instead of half a dozen. As to which local authority shall have the primary responsibility, I understand that that part of the guidance will determine the circumstances in which the responsibility will fall on one authority or another.

Mr. George Cunningham

Therefore the guidance will not be guidance.

Mr. Rossi

It will determine the issues between the parties, as the wording of subsection (2G) states.

I have spent a great deal of time on this group of amendments, partly because I responded generously to the invitations of Labour Members to try to explain the thinking behind the wording of the amendments and also because the matters raised by these amendments really go to the heart of the Bill. It is upon these matters, so far as my hon. Friends and I are concerned, that the Bill will stand or fall. I think it is necessary, therefore, to detain the House a little in order that I may explain precisely why we have tabled the amendments in this way.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

I wish to speak to Amendments (c) and (a) which are grouped with New Clause 3, and in so doing I want also to speak to the manuscript amendments of which I have given notice and which, I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from your predecessor in the Chair, have been accepted. Copies of them are now available in the "No"' Lobby. Unfortunately, their proper order has been reversed. Nevertheless, the sense of them is clear.

Before I speak to the substantive nature of these amendments, I must underline the difficulty in which we find ourselves. It is easy to see why we are in difficulty because, as the exchange between the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) revealed, we have at last come to the crunch issue at this very late stage of our consideration of the Bill. There was no Division on Second Reading. There was no Division in Committee on the question of self-induced homelessness. I take exception to the observation of the hon. Member for Hornsey that there was unanimous agreement on the point of view that he expressed. He will do me the justice of recalling that at no stage did I indicate my agreement with his view on self-inflicted homelessness.

When I returned to the Committee on the second Thursday sitting, I indicated my unhappiness at the degree of agreement which had apparently emerged between the hon. Member for Hornsey and the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). I attempted to summarise my views on that occasion when I said: … as I recollect the arguments from the Labour side of the Committee … we said that the group of people suffering from self-inflicted homelessness, if indeed such a group exists, was a very small proportion of the whole and that, even if such people do exist, their number was so small it should not deflect us from our concern to assist the greater numbers of genuinely homeless."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 23rd June 1977; c. 353.] I stand by that as a reasonable summary of the views expressed by me, by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman).

Moreover, I have to admit frankly that on reflection I would have tabled my proposed amendments to the new clause in a different fashion if I had had more time to consider the matter. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) that it might have been more sensible to table these two amendments separately so that we had an opportunity to leave out the subsection which introduced the concept of intention and had the alternative option of leaving out the provision referring to ability to provide one's own solution to the housing problem. Unfortunately, my amendments are so drafted that we do not have an option. We have to strike out both or neither.

This is one of our difficulties, bearing in mind that the two principal amendments which we are required to consider on Report—Amendment No. 28 and New Clause 3—appeared for the first time yesterday as starred amendments, giving me and my hon. Friends very little time to consider the matter in depth and to table appropriate amendments.

The House has to look at its procedures when it finds itself in a position where, in effect, over the past four or five days, in private negotiation, more amendments and more changes in the Bill have been agreed between the Government, the Opposition and the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight than were debated or agreed in Committee. That is one reason why we are in this difficulty.

I now turn to the substantive amendments in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham). The amendments have two objectives. They strike out the insertion of the grounds of intent, and they strike out the grounds for refusing rehousing on the basis that the applicant has the means with advice and assistance, of catering for his housing problems.

It is fair to say that in Committee, when we discussed self-inflicted homelessness, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight indicated that he was prepared to negotiate and to make some concession. But it is important to recall his words. He said: One would certainly not wish to widen the clause in such a way as to enable local authorities to avoid and shuffle off their responsibility for people who are genuinely homeless. Our objective must be to try to find the precise form of words."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 16th June 1977; c. 67.] 1.15 p.m.

When we come to Amendment No. 28 and New Clause 3, we have to consider whether the precise form of words has been found. The form of words found is that he became homeless or threatened with homelessness intentionally. The argument turns not on the form of words but on the meaning of the word "intentionally."

In an intervention, the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) related the case of a family in Paddington who gave up their flat voluntarily because they could not stand the noise of trains and wished to be rehoused in one of the salubrious garden suburbs owned by the appropriate authority.

We have to ask ourselves two questions. First, what evidence havs we that there is a substantial problem of people in Paddington giving up their houses, becoming voluntarily homeless and applying to the local authority for rehousing because they cannot stand the noise of trains? It emerged from the debate in Committee, that, although we could produce hypothetical examples and construct circumstances in which such fantasies could happen, we had no hard evidence of a single case of self-inflicted homelessness.

Mr. Sainsbury

I did not say that the family could not stand the noise of trains. I said that they did not like it, which is slightly different. But a more substantial point was made a number of times in Committee, possibly on some occasions when the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) was unable to be present, during our lengthy discussion of Amendment No. 1. It was agreed that there are not many cases now for the simple reason that people who make themselves intentionally homeless will not get a sympathetic response from the housing authority because the authority has a discretion. Unless we do something about the Bill as originally worded, people will be tempted to make themselves intentionally homeless because the housing authority will no longer have any discretion and will have permanently to rehouse them.

Mr. Cook

I shall return to that later. For the moment, I say only that there is grave difficulty in passing legislation on the basis of hypothetical examples of what might happen after the Bill is passed when we have no evidence of it having occurred in the past.

The second and more important question when we assess the purpose of New Clause 3 and Amendment No. 28 is whether, even if we accept that there are a number of such cases, this precise form of words provides adequate guidance about cases which fall into the category of self-inflicted, self-induced, voluntarily homelessness, as opposed to other cases.

Let me run through the grounds of homelessness which we discussed in Committee. Does this form of words guide us about who is genuinely homeless and who is self-induced homeless? First, there is rent arrears eviction. That is still a substantial form of homelessness. Are those who are evicted because of rent arrears intentionally homeless? We know that some local authorities have traditionally taken the view that anyone evicted for rent arrears was, therefore, a foreseeable homeless case. Will there be authorities who will say that this is intentional homelessness as well? I put it as a genuine question: how does a local authority distinguish a person who intentionally fell into rent arrears in order to be evicted from a person who was unable to meet the rent and therefore fell into rent arrears? How does the authority identify them? How does this precise form of words help?

Then there is pregnancy. We referred to pregnancy several times. In some circumstances it may not be foreseeable. Equally, it may be intentional. Are we to take the view that a local authority faced with a pregnant wife whose family are evicted from their lodgings because the landlord says that he will not tolerate children should be asked to make a judgment about whether the pregnancy was intentional?

Then there is violence and the threat of violence from people residing in the house. Pretty well every case of a woman walking out on her husband because he is violent towards her is one where she walks out intentionally. She does not walk out unintentionally. Does this provision rule out that case from cases of genuine homelessness?

Hon. Members who were on the Committee will reflect that I received a letter from a constituent who was in arrears with her mortgage. Her husband had abandoned her, but she had been unable to maintain her mortgage payments. The house was being sold up by the building society and she was about to become homeless—indeed, I think that that lady will shortly become homeless, if I remember the dates. She was passing on the case to the local authority, which, she hoped, would rehouse her in a convenient area of the city.

In view of the form of words set out in New Clause 3 and the amendments connected with it, if the Bill goes through unamended what will the local authority do in those circumstances? Will it have to make inquiries about whether she failed to pay the mortgage payments intentionally or unintentionally? Will that authority have to speculate whether the husband left her intentionally with a view to their becoming homeless in order to obtain rehousing? Is it reasonable under the Bill—a measure that is intended to give them a right and not to subject them to scrutiny—to ask applicants to fulfil inquiries which the local authority might be obliged or entitled to make if these provisions are passed? I put it to the House to consider these cases and the precise forms of words used.

Mr. George Cunningham

I suggest that the example quoted by my hon. Friend relating to a pregnant person does not stand up, because the intentionality provided for in Amendment No. 28 relates to somebody being homeless and not somebody in priority need. Pregnancy is a condition of priority need, not in the same category as homelessness.

Mr. Cook

I take that point, but my hon. Friend will recollect that I was referring to the fact that a family who had become homeless would benefit. 1 was suggesting not that that would happen on the ground of the family being a special group but that they might become homeless because the wife had become pregnant. In those circumstances it seems reasonable for a local authority to ask whether the pregnancy was intentional or otherwise. Is that a reasonable question to put to the applicant? We should also recollect that it would not be an easy matter for anybody to invoke this legislation if it were to reach the statute book. Those concerned would have to fulfil a number of criteria and, whether those concerned were pregnant or not, they would have to leap over a number of hurdles.

Will such people have to establish homelessness within the definition of the Bill? They will have to convince a local authority not only that they became homeless within its boundaries but that they did not have a job or relatives within another boundary to which the local authority could move them. They will have to establish that they are a priority group within the meaning of the Bill. Furthermore, if Amendment No. 15 is carried they will have to establish that they are not gipsies within the meaning of Section 16 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968. There will be authorities which will put all those points in a questionnaire, including the question "Are you a gipsy under Section 16 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968?"

It will not be easy to obtain a house under the Bill, and if we write in a further condition it will reduce the number of successful applicants to a trickle. It will open the door to local authorities which do not care for this measure— and we are aware that many local authorities take a sceptical view of this legislation—to find many ways of evading the responsibility which we are seeking to put upon them.

Some hon. Members have said that these provisions carry Circular 18/74 into legislation. Let me quote one passage from that circular, which was written when the hon. Member for Hornsey was a Minister in a Conservative Government. That passage reads: And in the last resort if homelessness becomes a real prospect, even if it does seem to have been self-inflicted, councils should give the degree of help necessary to secure that people are not left without shelter. I cannot but feel that if the Bill reaches the statute book as it is sought to be amended we shall not give statutory backing to the full extent of that circular.

Moreover, we must ask ourselves what is the practical necessity for this change. I can see what will happen if local authorities make a practice of offering their most popular, best, quietest, most settled form of housing to those who apply for their rights under the Bill. By the law of averages, it may be that some people will receive good accommodation, but I fear that we should be deluding ourselves if we were to imagine that that would apply to the generality of cases.

Let me refer back to a case I mentioned in Committee. Hon. Members who were present in Committee will recollect that one woman wrote to me because she was about to be evicted for failure to maintain mortgage payments. She was offered accommodation by the local authority, but she did not feel able to accept it because of the location of the property and because—I do not criticise the local authority as it was making available the stock it had at its disposal— it was at the lower end of the scale. It is plain to anybody who reads that letter that nobody will seek voluntary homeless-ness to become rehoused under the Bill, because it will be extremely rare that people will obtain rehousing in a greater standard of accommodation than they presently enjoy.

I hope that I have satisfactorily outlined our objections to the first part of the new provisions. I find it difficult to express my objection to the second part of the new clause and the consequent amendments, for the simple reason that there has been no adequate explanation of what they mean.

Let me quote from New Clause 3: it is probable that he will be able, with advice and appropriate assistance, himself to secure that accommodation becomes or does not cease to be available for his occupation". There was an exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden and the hon. Member for Hornsey in which my hon. Friend pressed for a case in which advice would be sufficient to meet the terms of the Bill and to preclude the local authority from being under a duty to offer rehousing.

The case mentioned by the hon. Member for Hornsey related to a family dispute. He said that this was a case about which the parliamentary draftsmen were concerned. He suggested that the case might involve a second generation problem in which the people had been told to get out of a house and not to darken its doors again. If that involves a single person, he will have no remedy under the Bill; he will not succeed in invoking his rights under the Bill. A person will succeed in doing so only if he falls into a category to which reference was made.

That category involves somebody who has dependent children living with him or in care, somebody who becomes homeless through flood, fire or other sudden disaster, or somebody who is vulnerable because of old age and so on. He will also succeed if he is in a category specified in regulations which we have yet to consider. A person who will not qualify under the Bill is, for example, a single teenager who has insulted his father, but the category of persons who will qualify will be a family unit of a son, daughter-in-law and dependent children, or a pregnant daughter-in-law

1.30 p.m.

What we are concerned about is the local authority which seeks to evade its duties by persuading the father to take back his son or pregnant daughter-in-law. Is that what the House really wants? Does the House really want to allow a local authority to be able to fulfil its duties under the Bill by persuading parents to take back the homeless daughter or son with children whom they had evicted for reasons that we all recognise in circumstances that can be stressful and that can reasonably arise? I do not find that a satisfactory duty to the homeless. Indeed, it is substantially weaker than that accepted by most local authorities now.

It may bo argued that the hon. Member for Hornscy put it incorrectly or that he misapprehended the concern of the parliamentary draftsmen. In that case we are entitled to ask someone, whether the Minister or the sponsor, to explain to us what is meant by the amendment. For instance, docs it refer to means? It is certainly the view of the seven charities which have followed the proceedings on the Bill closely that the amendment would reopen the question of the means test and whether a family had adequate means to meet its own housing need. It is perhaps worth informing the House that we debated that specific point in Committee, divided on it and threw it out. I therefore take grave exception to its being presented to us again in a differently worded form that will reopen the question of means.

I should like to quote to the House what was said on that by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight as we moved towards a Division during the debate in Committee. He said: I confirm that I am rejecting it because I think that the hon. Gentleman is opening a completely new chapter. We had a term for it in the war: there were people known as 'duff snoopers'. Perhaps I am getting old. Bill the hon. Gentleman is opening a very wide subject"—[Oflkial Report, Standing Committee A. 16th June 1977; c. 169–70.] If the amendment was intended by the parliamentary draftsmen, if not by the hon. Member for Hornsey, to reopen the question of means-testing, it is plain that the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight did not like it for reasons that I entirely support and agree with. However, if it means that if there is a family dispute— I put it to the House and to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight that this is exactly what it means—we are back at the matter of snoopers. We are back at the housing authority raising sensitive and delicate questions about the relationship between two generations and other means by which a family might solve its own housing problem.

In short we are, in both these proposals, adding large hurdles to the many that must already be successfully gone over if rights under the Bill are to be invoked. The clause and the amendment seriously increase the nature of the inquiry that local authorities will have to conduct and so broaden the Bill as to make it quite easy for a bloody-minded local authority which does not wish to accept the terms of the Bill to avoid them. Indeed, the amendment is so widely drafted that, if both these proposals go through, some of my hon. Friends and I shall be moved to ask whether the Bill will be worth having in that form at all.

Because of that, it is unfortunate that we cannot adjourn this sitting until a future date when there might be more time to consider the matter and debate detailed amendments that would possibly meet the objections of the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight and would find the precise form of words (hat these proposals do not have.

Mr. Stephen Ross

The hon. Gentleman has drawn my attention to my comments in Committee. While I have already indicated that I am not particularly happy about the wording of the subsection, "advice and appropriate assistance" can surely cover such matters as help with a mortgage, indications of accommodation with a housing association or. possibly, other financial assistance of some sort. That is really the object of the amendment. We discussed this in Committee and I pointed out that I strongly rejected the possibility of means-testing. I am opposed to that. The clause is trying to deal with somebody who has certain means of his own— and that comes out without his having to fill in a questionnaire—being asked whether he appreciates that the local authority could help with a mortgage or possibly an improvement grant. That is the sort of thing we are talking about.

Mr. Cook

That which the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight objects to so strongly is not necessarily discounted by the wording that he has put forward. We must consider not his feelings or views but the words of the amendments. The clause says that it would be appropriate for a local authority to offer "advice and appropriate assistance" to secure appropriate accommodation when it becomes or does not cease to be available The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight has given his interpretation of that as homeless persons being put in touch with a housing association or granted a mortgage. There is an answer to those points. In Committee we laid a duty on housing associations to co-operate in the interpretation of the legislation, and that plainly makes it a competent function of the housing authority to resort to housing associations to fulfil its duty under the Bill. I was keenly in favour of that and I spoke in its support. 1 accept that as a reasonable interpretation and fulfilment of the duty of the housing authority under the Bill.

Surely the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight will recollect that, when we debated that precise point on Clause 3(2), he wanted the words or had any other means". He will recall that there was grave disquiet in Committee that that was too wide, and. indeed, it has been dropped from the Bill. I should therefore be rather unhappy if we were to restore that wide interpretation in another form having withdrawn it from Clause 3.

The hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the amendment has no foundation in law. I must remind him that the interpretation of the hon. Member for Homsey was that the local authority would be fulfilling its duty if it were to give such advice and assistance as to restore the second generation to the family house. It is true that the hon. Member for Hornsey drew the line at restoring a battered wife, but that does not help us to understand the legal meaning of the clause and the amendment. If advice and assistance mean restoring the second generation, and if that meets the terms of the Bill, how does this proposal stop a local authority fulfilling its duty by restoring a battered wife to her former home?

I repeat, the amendment strikes at the principle of the Bill. It is unfortunate that this matter should be raised at such a late stage of the Bill, particularly on the amendments that have been tabled, since we now find ourselves in a procedural difficulty whereby we cannot adjourn to a later date. If we are to consider this now, it is my intention and that of my hon. Friends to oppose these proposals. If they are carried, we shall have to con- sider whether such an amended Bill is worth having.

Mr. Sainsbury

It is not surprising that we arc now spending a lot of time on this new group of amendments, because they deal with substantial points that came up in Committee, and upon which undertakings were given that the matters would be looked at again. The amendments were withdrawn upon that understanding.

The largest part of our proceedings in Committee was concerned with the points dealt with in this group of amendments. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and—I gather from what he said—one or two of his hon. Friends have considerable reservations about the wording of the amendments. I sympathise with them because they have had only a relatively brief time to look at them. We are all in that situation. It is unfortunate that the Bill did not get into Committee earlier and that we could not have had a longer time between Committee and Report. The short gap between those stages has not left us much time to consider amendments.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central spoke about seeking a precise form of words to cover every circumstance. If we try to look for a precise form of words to cover every aspect of human dealings between people and families who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, we shall inevitably go wrong. It is not possible to find such a form of words.

In Committee, the duty imposed on local authorities was drawn too strictly. There was no discretion for local authorities to exercise their judgment in a number of matters. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central is concerned that if we go back to allowing local housing authorities the right, in certain fairly closely defined circumstances, to exercise a degree of judgment, we may create a tiny risk that they will not exercise that judgment sensibly or sympathetically. However, we must recognise that unless we leave some element of judgment we shall fall into the trap of creating an irresistable temptation to some families to abuse the mandatory duty that would be put upon housing authorities to provide permanent rehousing. In imposing such a duty, we should take care that we do not create the opportunity for it to be abused, even in a relatively small number of cases.

In his reaction to the amendments the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central has undervalued the humanity and sympathy of housing authorities. Many of them deal with this problem now and they will all have that responsibility when the Bill is enacted. We do not get perfection in the exercise of local authority duties and no authority would pretend that it performs its duties perfectly. In the Bill and the amendments we are trying to improve the treatment of families and persons who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, particularly in those areas where local authorities have not assumed the responsibility that they were invited to assume in Circular 18/74. If we do this in ways that some hon. Members may feel are marginally short of perfection, it is still worth doing.

Unless we get on with the Bill and get it through there is a grave risk that there will be no change in the existing situation for six months or even a year, and it will take even longer for the legislation to be brought into effect. It is proposed that the Bill should not come into force before 1st December—and that is rushing things. If there is a delay, we could be through to the summer of 1978 before the Bill takes effect. It is worth getting it on to the statute book, even if some hon. Members feel that it leaves a little too much discretion to local authorities.

1.45 p.m.

There has been considerable comment on self-induced homelessness. Although there are not many such cases now, there will be a distinct possibility that people will attempt to abuse any mandatory duty that we impose on local authorities. The whole cause of trying to solve the problem of the homeless will be damaged.

The provision of a right of appeal is included in this group of amendments. In Committee, I tabled an amendment to allow for appeals, but it was defeated. On reflection, I feel that there are objections to allowing appeals against the operation of the Bill because we should be giving a right of appeal to a person whose case for housing came up under the Bill but not to a person whose case came up because he had got to the top of the housing list through time or the accumulation of points. That would be an unreasonable distortion.

Perhaps we should look at this problem in the wider context of some of the remarks that were made in the consultative document on housing—though they were not made strongly enough, in the view of many hon. Members. We could consider this topic in relation to the tribunals and courts that deal with housing matters.

I wish to direct my remarks in support of the amendments to Amendment No. 28 and particularly the part that deals with the vital point of preventing abuses of local authority duties by persons who are homeless or threatened with homelessness choosing to seek permanent rehousing in an area with which they have no special connection and in which they are not normally resident. This does not happen often now, because such people are sent back to their areas of origin. I know of families being returned from Brighton to Glasgow and from Glasgow to another part of Scotland because that was their place of normal residence.

The amendments reflect a prolonged discussion in Committee on amendments moved by myself and the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann). I believe that they satisfactorily deal with the points raised in those discussions. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden stressed the importance of not leaving the family applying for rehousing without temporary accommodation while discussion took place on the question whether it should be permanently rehoused. This aspect is satisfactorily dealt with in subsection (2H) of Amendment No. 28. In subsections (2A) and (2E) the amendment provides a mechanism for transferring applications to the housing authority in whose area the applicant is normally resident. This is satisfactory.

I believe that subsection (2G) provides for a satisfactory resolution of any dispute or doubt about which housing authority has responsibility. However, I hope that if a manuscript amendment were to be put to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to delete the words at the end of subsection (2G), namely: under Section 7 of this Act it would find favour in your eyes and would be accepted for consideration.

Amendment No. 28, in so far as it deals with areas such as my constituency and surrounding South Coast areas that have good reason to suppose that they might become magnets to mobile homeless, protects those who live in areas that might be considered to be at risk and who are on the housing list in such areas. It ensures temporary and eventually permanent rehousing for homeless people who might come to those areas. If there are minor difficulties in the wording of the amendment, they do not seem such that they cannot be satisfactorily and expeditiously dealt with in another place.

Mr. Arthur Latham

I have been waiting to see whether the hon. Gentleman would attempt to develop the point that he introduced when he intervened earlier. It would be helpful to know whether there is evidence on which to base the hypothesis. We do not know that any people in Paddington have left because of the trains, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. It is true that the amendment will satisfy him, in that it might prevent people moving from Paddington to Hove but is there any evidence of conflict between Hove and neighbouring similar authorities about responsibility for home-lessness, as he suggested in his intervention?

Mr. Sainsbury

The hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber at the earlier stage of my remarks. I do not want to delay the House unduly. I can tell him that there is abundant evidence, to which I referred in Committee, as did other hon. Members, that Hove, Brighton and numerous local authorities, especially coastal authorities in various parts of the country—I quoted a Cornish local authority, Cleethorpes and a number of others—were desperately worried about the Bill as originally drafted. I believe that they believed correctly that it would impose upon them an unreasonable burden.

Mr. Arthur Latham rose

Mr. Sainsbury

I have nearly finished my remarks, and I shall not give way again. We have already spent a great deal of time on these matters.

I believe that the amendments meet the arguments that we made in Com- mittee. If there are minor defects, they can be dealt with expeditiously in another place. We should be well advised to accept the amendment now to enable the Bill to make progress and get on the statute book so that it may come into force by 1 st December, thus giving further benefit to families that become homeless or are threatened with homelessness.

Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)

I have listened with great sympathy but with growing horror to the discussions that have taken place today, especially in view of the comparatively amicable way in which these matters were dealt with in Committee.

I remind hon. Members that when the promoter decided to promote the Bill he had in mind to put into legislative form the intentions behind Circular 18/74, which was drafted during the period when the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) was in office. It was the purpose of the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) to put it into legislative form and to improve on it. I think that that is the crux of the argument that has taken place today.

It is true that there were a number of issues on which the Committee was divided. However, they were genuine divisions and it was unanimously agreed that the issues should be taken away and discussed and returned in a form that seemed acceptable based on the Committee's discussions.

As time has gone on, after discussing the Bill in Committee and in the House, I think that we have all come to realise that a Private Member's Bill of this type will create grave problems. I return to the days following the Queen's Speech, when I criticised the Government severely for not having put such a measure in their own legislative programme for this Session. It is inevitable that complications will arise when a private Member introduces a Bill of this sort, especially when the discussions have been taking place, politically speaking, in a three-cornered form.

In spite of the difficulties I believe that the Bill should go forward. However, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to put certain aspects of the discussions that have taken place today to the hon. Member for Hornsey and appeal to him to reconsider some of his remarks. I wish to ask him whether he really thinks that the maintenance of an absolutely rigid insistence on the form of words in the amendment is worthy if it results in the destruction of the whole Bill.

The three sides in these discussions, especially those who sponsored the original Bill, wanted desperately to do something to improve the plight of the homeless. I am sure that we still want to do that today. However, we are faced with the difficulty that when the clauses and amendments were taken away for consideration outside the Committee it was almost impossible to have any discussion in depth on some of the crucial points that would decide whether the Bill reached the statute book before they returned.

Mr. Arthur Latham

I interrupt my hon. Friend to seek to underline on the record the point that she has just made. She referred earlier to the three corners in these discussions. That is amplified in her most recent remark, namely, that the three corners are really the promoter, who is the Liberal spokesman on housing, the Minister and, most of all, the Tory Front Bench spokesman on housing. It bothers me—I was not on the Committee —that my Labour colleagues on the Committee and outside it have been excluded from the considerations. Does my hon. Friend agree that that makes even stronger the case that was made earlier for a recommittal? Surely it is quite wrong that the issues should have been dealt with in a private manner, without public discussion.

Mrs. Miller

My hon. Friend is making a point that no one can dispute. The brevity of time for my hon. Friends to give the consideration that I have described is a serious defect in the negotiations. However, I still feel that we should make every effort to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book.

I want to throw the Bill and the homeless to the mercies of the hon. Member for Hornsey. In Committee we discussed interminably the element of intention in homelessness and the self-inducement of homelessness. We discussed how to introduce a form of words that would not cause injustice to those who wait patiently on council housing waiting lists only to find newcomers coming in and leapfrogging over them.

I am sure that the form of words that has been decided upon will have the opposite effect from that which the hon. Member for Hornsey is suggesting. We must remember that it is necessary to have a Bill on homelessness because we have not been able to depend on 40 per cent. of local authorities accepting Circular 18/74, although the other 60 per cent. have been operating it throughout. It appears necessary that some form of pressure by legislation must be applied, mainly for the purpose of influencing the 40 per cent. For that reason it is difficult to accept that if the words are included in the form that the hon. Gentleman has produced the local authorities that have not accepted the circular until now will begin to apply it in the way that he suggests, and in particular will apply it to the plight of battered wives. This group concerns us all very much.

2.0 p.m.

As has already been said, the woman who leaves her home with, or even without, her children and seeks refuge, is intentionally making herself homeless. Sympathetic authorities will accept her as a priority need category, but authorities which have to consider whether or not they accept his legislation will find an easy way out by using that intention against that group. It does not matter what the hon. Member for Hornsey thinks will happen; what matters is the form that the legislation takes and the judgments made by authorities that accept it unwillingly. I beg him to consider this matter from that point of view.

I deeply regret that the hon. Member for Hornsey should have said in the House that it would be impossible for him and his colleagues to support the Bill unless Amendment No. 28 and New Clause 3 were accepted in toto. I suggest that he is accepting the onus of saying that be has such faith that the 40 per cent. of authorities that have so far been recalcitrant will accept the responsibilities that we wish them to take that we can leave this matter as wide open as it is.

We had a long discussion in Committee on the question of a means test. I said: The point the hon. Gentleman is making —the hon. Member for How (Mr. Sains-bury)— raises the whole question of how one deals with applicants for housing".—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 16th June 1977; c. 150.] I pointed out that there was no question of a means test for housing applicants in the normal way.

The hon. Member for Hove, who is not in his place, said that I had made an interesting point, and went on to imply that it might be a good idea to have a means test for the homeless, which might at some later date extend to those who were on the normal council house waiting list.

After a lengthy discussion the amendment was voted on, and it was conclusively agreed that there should not be a means test. That is another matter that I ask the hon. Member for Hornsey to consider. By putting this amendment back in this way he is forcing Labour Members, who have already voted and considered the matter in great detail, to find the amendment unacceptable. If the Bill founders—if it is by chance recommitted—the plight of the homeless in 40 per cent. of local authorities will stay as it is now—a scandal to all of us.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Does the hon. Lady agree that bearing in mind the tenor of the debate and the unanimity of thought over a wide area it is extremely likely that many of those authorities will now reconsider their policy?

Mrs. Miller

That may be. It is sad to think that, whereas in Committee all three parties were able to reach agreement over a broad spectrum, even knowing the pressure that was being put on by certain groups of local authorites, some authorities might reconsider their policies to the detriment of the homeless. It is a tragedy. The difficulties of homeless people—single people and families— represent probably the gravest social problem that we face. If local authorities mistakenly think that it is not the Commons' intention to give further aid to homeless families, they would be acting in a paltry and inhumane manner.

Mr. Arthur Latham

The point that I want to make is crucial to how we treat the subsequent stages of the Bill. My hon. Friend said that, despite the defects that seem likely to arise, the Bill is still worth having. She also referred to the 40 per cent. of recalcitrant authorities. Does she agree that the references to intentional homelessness and the require- ment that the applicant should use other means to rehouse himself undermine the Bill to such an extent that those 40 per cent. of recalcitrant authorities will use those provisions as loopholes to escape their obligations?

Mrs. Miller

That is the point that I am endeavouring to make. That is why I make this appeal to the hon. Member for Hornsey, who has tabled the amendments. If he makes his stand—if he does not accept some way of getting round this matter to ensure the life of the Bill— the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham) is undeniable. Surely it is possible to reach agreement on the amendments to delete these two offending subsections and for the clause to be accepted without them. That would provide the opportunity for more detailed discussion between now and the arrival of the Bill in the other place, where a form of wording could be introduced that would satisfy our grave fears and doubts. I sincerely beg the hon. Member for Hornsey to reconsider the stand that he has made. I believe that he would find it easier than we should to persuade those in the other place to accept amendments that would have any hope of victory. If he will do that, it will go a long way towards satisfying our fears. I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Rossi

I wish to respond as helpfully as I can to what the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) has been saying to me.

First, I should like to deal with the point concerning a private clandestine arrangement being made between the Minister, myself and the sponsor of the Bill and excluding Labour Back Benchers from our discussions. That was not the intention. We took the Committee proceedings and looked at the undertakings that had been given. The parliamentary draftsman was then instructed to try to give effect to the spirit of what the Committee had indicated was its collective wish. No more and no less than that happened.

Mr. George Rodgers rose

Mr. Rossi

Please let me finish. I have already spent a lot of time on my feet answering interventions from hon. Members who did not serve on the Committee. Please allow me to try to explain the situation in answer to the genuine plea that has been made to me by the hon. Member for Ilford, North.

We finished in Committee on Thursday last week. Between then and now we have had continual meetings about the form of wording that would give effect to the Committee's intention. The hon. Lady knows that it is not the easiest thing in the world to produce clauses in legal language that give effect to people's intentions. There was no intention of trying to slip something in other than what the Committee really wanted. The Minister and the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), were there to see that that was what we achieved. The wording on the Amendment Paper is the best form of wording that we could achieve in the time limit given to us.

I have listened very attentively to the debate and the representations that have been made. I indicated earlier that when I first saw the wording on Amendment No. 28 I was somewhat troubled by subsection (2)(b)(ii) which states that the local authority may give advice and assistance in priority cases instead of rehousing. I was given an explanation which satisfied me at the time, and this explanation also satisfied the hon. Member for Isle of Wight at the time, inasmuch as it was suggested that in suitable cases the local authority could help people by granting 100 per cent. mortgages for rehousing. What is wrong with giving to local authorities the opportunity to do that where it is appropriate? The advice that we were given was accepted in good faith.

We adhere to the view expressed throughout the Committee stage that we want to help cases of genuine homeless-ness in every possible way, and we want to ensure that local authorities should not be able to escape their responsibility where there is genuine homelessness. We also want to prevent some poor wretch falling between two stools and being sent backwards and forwards. That is still our intention.

I understood that the code of conduct to be produced by the Minister would cover that situation, and I was satisfied on that point. If it should be that the advice that we have been given—which was accepted in good faith by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight and myself— is wrong, and that subsection (2)(b)(ii) is incorrect, I should certainly not urge my noble Friends in another place to resist the insertion of a more appropriate form of wording to reflect what we should like to achieve, and if the Minister feels that an appropriate form of wording can be achieved, rather than leaving it to the code of guidance as we had expected.

However, I must tell the hon. Member for Ilford, North that I could not go as far as accepting in toto the manuscript amendments that we have before us. The manuscript amendments seek not only to leave out the reference to "advice and assistance" but all reference to the distinction between genuine and non-genuine homeless people. I am afraid that, for all the reasons that we discussed in Committee—and with which I believe the hon. Lady agreed in Committee—we must provide that self-induced homeless people cannot make demands on local authorities to the detriment of other people on the housing waiting list.

Some Labour Members are seeking to remove the distinction between genuine and non-genuine homelessness from my amendment. They have not drafted their amendments in such a way that we can discuss these matters separately. Therefore I must resist their amendment. I hope that the way in which I have expressed myself has indicated that there is no real difference between the hon. Lady and myself in our approach on this matter.

2.15 p.m.

Mrs. Millie Miller

Since the very first day of the Committee we have suffered grave disadvantages because of the different interpretations that have been given. I am somewhat hampered, because I have not even seen the manuscript amendments put forward by my hon. Friends and have to speak to the printed amendments alone. It is therefore difficult for me to make a judgment on what the hon. Member for Hornsey is saying, but I feel that there is a hope that we may be able to move forward, given the suggestion that he has made and the undertaking that there would be no resistance to a form of wording that would be acceptable and which would ensure that the people whom we are most anxious to protect are not excluded simply because insufficient consideration has been given to the Bill at this stage.

We are still left with the question of the means test—the investigation of means —which troubles us. I said earlier—I think that the hon. Member for Hornsey was out of the Chamber at the time— that we had debated this and expressed all our fears and doubts about the means test in Committee and the Committee had rejected it.

Mr. Rossi

I do not think that my name was on any means test amendments. It was not my intention to seek to achieve that in any way. I did not want it in the first place.

Mrs. Miller

Time is short and there are still other things to be discussed. I hope that we shall have the kind of compromise that will make the Bill worth while. I believe that the hon. Member for Hornsey has genuinely tried to make a compromise on matters on which there were doubts. Other hon. Members have tried to do the same.

It would be a terrible blow, not to the Labour Party, the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party if the Bill fell, but to all of us as human beings if we allowed it to fall for the lack of an extra hour, two hours or perhaps 10 hours of discussion between now and the time when the Bill comes back in its final form.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I shall be brief in what I shall say, but I think it is important to clarify and underpin some of the points that have been made in the debate. I believe that the hon. Members for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook), Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) and Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) were right to say that it would be better for the Bill to be recommitted and reconsidered. That probably would have been the wiser decision, because bad legislation is always a mistake and I am sure that this legislation, when it reaches the statute book, will certainly not be good legislation. It may, however, be beneficial to some degree. This illustrates the difficulty of striking a balance and trying to assist the homeless, trying to do good.

Trying to do good is a dangerous thing unless it can be done in language which can not only be understood but which can be efficiently carried into effect. That is the problem confronting us. As Member for a part of the Isle of Thanet, a coastal resort, I believe that as this Bill was originally constituted it was a monstrosity. It was undoubtedly a charter for rent-dodgers, beach-scroungers, queue-jumpers and the deliberate home-leaver. I have abundant evidence to support all of those statements, and the statement that there are people whose homelessness is self-induced.

If the Bill had remained in anything approaching its original form those people would have been able to achieve great advantage at the expense of others entitled to a home. Thus it was that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) and his colleagues tabled their amendments, particularly Nos. 17 and 28. There are two aspects of this which are crucial. These deal with the question of inquiry. The simple issue is whether a person is intentionally homeless. The parliamentary draftsman has got exactly the right form of words. It is exactly what I want—someone who intends to become homeless (i) whether he has a priority need, and (ii) whether he became homeless or threatened with homelessness intentionally. I give some examples, because they have have been asked for time and again. First, there is the rent-dodger. There are many classic cases of persons who pile up substantial amounts of rent arrears. They have been receiving money through supplementary benefit for the purpose of paying their rent, but have not done so. These people are evicted and then claim that they are homeless, having induced that situation themselves through misappropriating the funds that they were given. There are many such cases.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

How many?

Mr. Rees-Davies

The hon. Gentleman should ask local authorities. There are thousands of such cases.

My next example is the beach scrounger. To Margate in the summer comes the ne'er-do-well, often an Irish building labourer, with his family but with no home anywhere in this country. At present, he goes to the local authority because he is homeless, having spent all his money on the holiday that he has had, and asks for a home. These cases happen regularly. Under the Bill, if it is not amended, that person, although he had rendered himself intentionally homeless, would be able to get on the Thanet District Council list. No, thank you.

Then there is the queue-jumper of the winter. A great deal of accommodation in the Thanet area is let in accordance with the Rent Act. I was directly instrumental in inserting in the Rent Act in the early hours of the morning a clause removing the effects of the Rent Act from seaside resorts, so that they could do winter lettings. At the end of the winter there are many cases before the local county court of people who will not leave that accommodation an have to be evicted by a court order. There is no doubt that they are homeless, but they have deliberately come to Thanet to try to get a home there. We say "No—a pox on you. Go back to where you came from. We will not be the local authority responsible for looking after you." There are many of that class of case.

Finally, there is the mother-in-law or father-in-law who deliberately secures the eviction of a son-in-law or daughter-in-law, because if they then become homeless this Bill will provide that they have to be looked after. I could give many more such examples.

It is therefore essential to have a clear test whether a person by his own intent has rendered himself homeless. That must be incorporated not only into the provision about inquiries but also into the duty imposed on the local authority.

The second limb which is crucial is that people prefer to live in one place rather than another. Having had the honour to be chairman for many years of the all-party group dealing with seaside resorts, I know that those resorts are not prepared to let people go into those salubrious and attractive areas and give up their old ties and gate-crash or queue-jump.

We want to be sure, by means of Amendment No. 28, that there is a clear procedure for these "demarcation disputes" to be resolved between local authorities. If it is done later by guidelines laid down by the Minister or by a statutory rule and order—whichever it may be—so be it. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey that any type of change which the Government think is better we should accept, but what we will not accept is anything that will not ensure the retention of intent and a good procedure by which local authorities can solve the problem whether an assisted person should be in one area or another.

Mrs. Millie Miller

In Committee, every hon. Member claimed to come from a constituency which was magnetic to people in other parts of the country. When we received the actual statistics from some of the areas that claimed to have been inundated with homeless families because of their magnetism, we found that the numbers were minuscule.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Probably the statistical numbers that the hon. Lady received would have been small. Many of these cases are not reported. One gets rid of them. For instance, the Irish labourer to whom I referred was, I am afraid, sent away—no doubt with some fairly strong language by those concerned. I dislike it intensely when a young couple manage to get on the housing list after they have deliberately left their father-in-law's house, but many of these cases would not be reflected in the statistics.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) and Labour Members would be wise to accept the amendments, although there was a great deal in what they said. If the Bill went back to Committee, some difference of degree might emerge, but it is very difficult to get something that will be acceptable to all local authorities.

It would be a good thing if we could get some accepted national practice. There is a divergence of view among local authorities, no doubt because of matters like those that I have mentioned. Obviously some authorities are worried. A similarity of practice set out in a code would be useful. A Bill along the lines that we have suggested would go much further towards achieving such a common standard. We might not have done much, but we should have done something for the homeless. I hope that the Minister and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight will now be prepared to accept the amendments.

Mr. Armstrong

We are dealing now with the guts of the Bill, and I should like to give a quick reaction to some of the things which have been said.

I have been involved in recent months in a large number of discussions with people and groups and local authorities who are concerned about the Bill. It has been put forcefully to me that there are genuine anxieties at both ends of the spectrum. First, there is an anxiety about those—we must not exaggerate; they are a very small minority—who would deliberately play the system and declare themselves homeless. We should not react too strongly to that.

On the other hand, I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) say that there was no intention to allow housing authorities to escape their obligation to deal with the genuinely homeless. I accept that the wording must be tight so that, if there is any doubt, it should be in favour of the homeless. Wording is very difficult and we have been going backwards and forwards.

I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) that the amendments were produced late. I apologise to all concerned, but wording is always difficult to establish. We are trying to get a wording which will work.

In the light of the debate—I am sure that the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) will agree—I shall gladly look at this again in consultation and will talk to the parliamentary draftsmen before the Bill is considered in another place. Genuine anxieties were expressed in Committee, and the wording is an attempt to reflect them.

2.30 p.m.

I have been concerned about the references that have been made to subsection (2B) and to those who it is said, can fend for themselves. I want to have another look at that. I was pleased about the response of the hon. Member for Hornsey to the submission made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller). I hope that that can be adequately dealt with in another place.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)

There is another objection to subsection (2B). What will happen until it is decided whether a person can obtain accommodation? Are he and his family to be left in the street in the meantime?

Mr. Armstrong

They have to be housed temporarily.

Mr. Silverman

It does not say so in the Bill.

Mr. Rossi

Yes, it does.

Mr. Armstrong

As I understand it, it does. In the light of what I have said about reconsideration and talking to the parliamentary draftsmen before the Bill reaches the Lords, I ask the House to accept the clause.

Mr. George Rodgers

I am in a difficulty. We failed to secure a definition in Committee. We have failed in the collusions or consultations at which I was not present to find a definition. Now it is suggested that a formula will be produced in another place. I find it difficult to accept. If we have been unable to find a satisfactory phraseology by this stage, it is difficult to see how one will be produced later. The word "intention" destroys the purpose of the Bill. A person might leave home intentionally without having a malicious reason. Harsh circumstances could bring that about. If the clause is carried, it will alter the whole purpose of the Bill, I should be reluctant for that to happen.

Mr. Armstrong

I am anxious that the obligation shall be spelt out and that the words should be such that the matter is tightened up. I understand the difficulty of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers). If we had been able to spell it out clearly and simply, it would have been done originally. In the light of the earlier discussions, the genuine anxieties which have been expressed throughout the country and the discussions we have had today, all I can say is that I am willing to look at it again. I have no desire to restrict the discussions. At no time have I tried to arrive at any form of words or compromise in secret. I have lived with the Bill and I know the difficulties. There is no question of going behind closed doors.

Mr. Arthur Latham

I am grateful for that assurance. I have been led to understand that the Minister, in his anxiety to get the Bill through, felt it essential to make certain concessions and that, therefore, it was not possible to discuss some of the principles again.

My hon. Friend has said, when talking about some form of appeal—which is also part of this group of amendments— that these are difficult matters to define. That means that the homeless will be put at the mercy of petty bureaucrats. There is no provision in the Bill to enable a person to challenge the arbitrary decision of a local authority. Will my hon. Friend consider whether a safeguard and suitable appeal machinery can be inserted into the Bill in the Lords?

Mr. Armstrong

I want to be honest with my hon. Friend. One of the main aims of the Bill is to bring the homeless into the mainstream of housing activity. From time to time representatives are made about the misallocation of housing generally. We all know the difficulties involved in allocating housing. To insert separate appeal provisions in the Bill would, in the view of people on the housing lists, give some of the homeless an unfair advantage. I do not want to mislead the House. I was not making a concession in that respect. It is a matter of principle. Legislation across the board would be required if we were to do that. The services of the local ombudsman are available to those who feel that houses are not allocated properly.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has indicated that it is possible that the wording is rather wide and that there is room for tightening it. He has said that he is willing to discuss this matter with all those who have expressed concern. We now find ourselves in an odd position. My hon. Friend has indicated that he will organise the redrafting of a clause or an amendment to a Bill which is not in his name but in the name of an Opposition Member. He will appreciate that there will have to be a response from those in whose name the Bill stands before we withdraw the amendments.

Mr. Armstrong

I shall not go into the difficulties of a Minister who is responsible for a Private Member's Bill and which is subject to a number of other considerations which I do not particularly enjoy. I thought that the hon. Member for Hornsey had responded.

Mr. Rossi

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) was not present when I intervened earlier. I said that an amendment to subsection (2B) would not be resisted in the House of Lords so far as I have any influence with my noble Friends. Ultimately it will be a matter for them. I have accepted that it is possibly capable of a wider interpretation than we understood it to have when it was first put to us.

I hope that in looking at the wording of the clause the Minister will not seek to erode the several principles that we recorded in Committee and to which we have tried to give effect in the clause and the amendments. If he erodes, the principles, what I have said will not necessarily apply.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

I am in the difficult position of having heard a ministerial reply before I speak. There are a number of matters which I should like to stress since I was not a member of the Committee and have not been involved in the discussions.

Self-induced homelessness has been raised as a major issue. I have yet to see statistics from any Department—the Welsh Office, the Department of the Environment or the Scottish Office—which indicate the extent of self-induced homelessness. Inquiries into the incidence of self-induced homelessness would show that in the majority of cases homelessness was environmentally or socially induced. One would therefore want to attack the whole concept of self-induced homelessness. Indeed, I would want to attack the possibility that we should, by Amendment No. 28, have some kind of subjective criterion, the criterion of intention, as a major part of the Bill.

How does one in effect objectively prove an intention to make oneself homeless? Even if a local authority were able to prove to its own satisfaction the intention of the head of a household in a family unit, what is the effect of that individual's intention on the rest of the family? Is the homelessness of the children or the dependants within a family unit to be regarded as intentional? Does the intention of the head of the household cover the position of the other members of the family unit? We have to ask what validity there is in real terms to the notion of self-induced homelessness and to the basic notion of the intentionality which would be written into the legislation in the context of these proposals. This is a step back from the position taken in the circular, where self-inflicted home-lessness was clearly indicated as being in the last resort a matter for which the local authority was to take responsibility.

Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)

We have had a lot of quotations from the circular, from paragraph 33 in particular. Those quoting it should read the beginning of the paragraph, because it makes reference to the fact that the local authority should use "every endeavour" —which is what we have been trying to do in legislative form—so that if a family came back it would go right at the end if "every endeavour" failed in its case.

Mr. Thomas

I accept that point, but the balance of the circular between "every endeavour" and "last resort" protects the interests of the homeless in a way in which the whole of Amendment No. 28 does not do. We have also heard a lot about conflict between different local authorities and the syndrome of the magnet areas, whatever the jargon is to be. This conflict arises because there is inconsistency in the level of implementation of provisions for the homeless in different areas. The crux of the problem is the failure of local authorities in certain areas, particularly in the stress areas, to implement the circular. It is that failure which creates the extent of mobile home-lessness that exists.

I may be deficient in the imagination of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), but I cannot conceive of a family deliberately making itself homeless in a mobile way unless there were other social and environmental stresses upon it. After all the discussions on this issue. I have yet to be convinced that we have, in the extent of the mobile homeless, a wide-ranging problem, a problem which should bedevil the course of legislation and bedevil the right to accommodation of what are known as the genuine homeless.

We are in danger in our discussions of spending far too much time on a very minimal problem, although it has been raised as an issue by local authority associations. Before we enshrine in legislation a protection of the rights of the homeless and ensure that we do not have an abuse of the legislation, we should define the extent of that abuse. That could be, and has been, done in surveys of homeless-ness, which indicate that the number of mobile homeless, or the number of people who are homeless entirely for their own reasons of self-infliction, is very small. Although we can have figures from the hon. Member for Hornsey and others who advocate a restriction of the rights under the Bill by the clause and amendments and others that were moved in Committee, I cannot accept that there should be a limitation of rights.

2.45 p.m.

Mr. George Cunningham

What does the hon. Gentleman say to this point? It has been raised before. Whatever the numbers that one could find of people abusing the system, we cannot judge from those numbers how many people would abuse a system if by abuse they had rendered themselves beneficiaries of an obligation as against the beneficiaries of a discretion. What relevance have statistics to the first situation, the one we live in, and to the situation we would live in if we created that obligation?

Mr. Thomas

In the case of practical provision by the authorities which have accepted representations, we are already in virtually the same position as we shall be when that provision has statutory backing in the Bill. Are we to establish a principle of anticipatory legislation of this kind whereby we anticipate, or legislate to anticipate, abuse? Would it not be better, if we see abuse as a major factor, to legislate in perhaps a more permissive way to establish a right, tightening up the legislation later if there were massive abuse? That is surely a better way than endangering the position of the genuine homeless because of the way in which certain local authorities may use the words of the clause and the amendments in exercising their discretion. It would be better to do that than anticipate in legislation a small degree of abuse, thereby affecting the rights of a far bigger group of people.

Mr. George Cunningham

In that case, would the hon. Gentleman support an amendment to make the provisions of the Bill lapse after two years?

Mr. Thomas

I would not support such an amendment. There will be the means to amend the legislation without having to make it lapse in that way.

Amendment No. 25 concerns the right of appeal to the Secretary of State against a decision of a housing authority. The Minister has indicated that he is opposed to it. The reasoning behind the amendment is to try to ensure parity of treatment of homeless persons and families throughout each authority. The hon. Gentleman took the view that this could be done through the guidelines to be issued. Until those guidelines are published, after the Bill receives Royal Assent, I cannot comment on that proposition in detail. But my concern is that the guidelines may be in such a form that they could be avoided, as the provisions of the circular were avoided.

An appeals procedure would provide an effective way of monitoring the performances of local authorities under the Bill. Clause 7 refers to local authorities having to have regard to the guidance of the Secretary of State and to furnish him with information referred to in subsection (3). Clause 7 does not allow the Departments concerned—the Department of the Environment, the Welsh Office and the Scottish Office—sufficient scrutiny of the way in which the Bill should be operated, and we will once again find ourselves in the pre-Bill, the circular, situation whereby local authorities not keen to carry out their obligations will still be failing to carry them out. Only a limited number of such cases would go to appeal, and they would be cases where there was genuine disagreement between the local authority and the individual concerned, with possibly voluntary groups and housing action groups advising individuals taking cases to the Secretary of State where there was severe disagreement.

The hon. Member for Hornsey said that such an appeals procedure would be exceptional and without precedent. But we have similar appeals procedures in planning legislation and many other cases. It would not be without precedent, therefore. I take the point that there is recourse to the local government ombudsman in cases of this kind, but I still hold the view that, in anticipation of specific arrangements for monitoring and of the wording in the guidelines, an appeals procedure is required, since 40 per cent. of local authorities have up to now been unprepared to carry out their obligations to the homeless. Therefore, I still stand by Amendment No. 25.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I had hoped that we would be able to bring the discussion of this clause and the amendments to a close, because we have had a very long debate and it is perhaps time that, as sponsor of the Bill, I indicated my attitude to them.

I shall deal first with the appeal procedure sought in Amendment No. 25. Both the Minister and the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) made the point that to create an appeal procedure on home-lessness would be embarking on far-reaching aspects of housing administration which do not apply in other areas. I do not think that my Bill is the right measure in which to introduce an appeal procedure. A person who wishes to challenge an adverse decision can do so under the general law on receipt of a written notice containing the decision and can seek an appropriate order from the High Court if the circumstances warrant it. Such a person could also take the matter to the local ombudsman. There is in general housing legislation no specific appeal system, and the aim of the Bill is to bring the problem of homelessness into the main stream of housing activity.

Amendments Nos. 17 and 28 go to the root of the Bill. I have tried to honour undertakings and promises that I gave in Committee. I am sorry if Labour Members feel that some of the negotiations have been too clandestine. That was not our intention. We have made various attempts to meet the problems—and they are difficult problems—of legislating. This matter has been discussed extensively and I saw the final drafts only yesterday.

I thank the hon. Member for Hornsey for being so helpful in these negotiations and in Committee. We have had much assistance. It is an all-party Bill, with all-party sponsorship, and I am sorry that it has run into difficulties at this late stage. On the whole, there was general agreement in Committee—with one notable and one less notable exception—about the main points that we should try to cover. The hon. Member for Hornsey has given specific undertakings about subsection (2B). Like me, he is a little disturbed about it. We talked about it yesterday and we feel that it may be misinterpreted. We know what is intended by the clause, but as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) pointed out, in a very good and eloquent speech, it could be misinterpreted. We have received a promise that amendments to tighten up the wording would not be resisted.

We then come to the question of deliberately contrived homelessness. I have to tell Labour Members that such a practice exists. I am frightened, as I know the local authorities are, that the practice could become more widespread if we did not deal with in the Bill. Perhaps we have not yet got it quite right, but I am concerned about publicity that has been given in some area that the Bill would be a charter for people to move from district to district and be able to demand a house. It should therefore be made abundantly clear here and now that that is not the effect of the Bill, and somehow that sentiment should be written into it.

Only last weekend a family with two children voluntarily gave up a council house in Portsmouth and arrived on the Isle of Wight, asking to be rehoused. The woman's mother was ill and the daughter was finding it difficult to travel back and forth once a week to treat her. The family gave no indication to the local authority or anyone else of its intentions, and it finished up in my office on Monday asking for help. I do not know whether these people got the wrong end of the stick about this Bill, thinking that as I was the hon. Member for Isle of Wight the Isle of Wight was the place to be. I shall have letters from people everywhere—from Bournemouth, Thanet and Margate—saying that they are coming to the Isle of Wight—

Mr. Robin F. Cook

I accept that cases such as that described by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) occur. I indicated in Committee that there was a problem with the migrant homeless. But surely such a problem would be covered by the other provisions of Amendment No. 28. I cannot see why that family could not have been shipped back to Portsmouth under subsection (2D), regardless of what happened under subsection (2B).

Mr. Ross

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I trust that that hap- pened in the case that I described. However, it would clearly be better if we could make it abundantly plain, if necessary by writing the provision into the Bill, that the Bill does not give such people a divine right to a house, so that the tragedy that could arise in such cases— because it would be a tragedy if, in the meantime, their old houses had been relet—did not arise.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Does the hon. Member agree that it is preferable to get an objective criterion about those intending to make themselves homeless? The case that he has described would provide an objective criterion. The voluntary giving up of a tenancy of a dwelling in one area in order to secure a house in another area would be an objective criterion of homelessness, and enshrining that in the Bill would be better than enshrining the general point of self-induction.

Mr. Ross

I must tell the hon. Member that I was asked for examples and I gave one that occurred only last week.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Does the hon. Member agree that it would be desirable to tighten up this provision a bit more? As the amendment stands a tenant of tied accommodation who is deliberately rude to his employer, is sacked and loses his home, could be argued by the local authority to have intentionally risked homelessness. Does the hon. Member not think that a form of words such as with the principal intention of taking advantage of the provisions of this Act would meet the point better, in that it would restrict application of the term "intentional homelessness" to someone who had become homeless with the intention of getting better accommodation under the Act?

Mr. Ross

We all know what we are trying to do, but different interpretations are being read into different forms of words We must leave it to the parliamentary draftsmen to get it right. They have heard the arguments ad nauseam here today. I ask the House, and particularly the sponsors of the Bill, to accept the amendments put down by the hon. Member for Hornsey, on the basis of understandings that have already been given and in the light of undertakings by the Minister, which I fully support.

Sir Anthony Meyer

I feel very churlish in expressing the fear that the Bill may join the long and melancholy procession of Acts of Parliament which, with the best intentions in the world, were counter-productive in their effect. I have a very nasty feeling that, with all its good intentions, the Bill will produce an increase in the sum total of homelessness. However, we must do what we can to make sure that it does not, if we can possibly avoid it.

In particular, I feel that the principal amendment that we are discussing here, No. 28, as at present drafted, is probably about as good an attempt as can be made to ensure that the measure is not used by those seeking to work the system in order to push themselves further up the queue. There has been a lot of argument on the question whether people do this, but common sense suggests that once we make it certain that anyone who can demonstrate that he has become homeless is thereby entitled as of right to be rehoused we are quite certain to produce an increase in the number of applicants under that head, and no amount of theoretical arguing will wish that away.

3.0 p.m.

This is a very real fear for local authorities such as the one in my constituency, which is in an attractive residential area close to some large industrial areas which are less attractive from a housing point of view. One of the worries is that this kind of measure will aggravate the situation in this country, where we have an overall surplus of housing, with a great shortage in certain places. I have a nasty feeling that the Bill will suck people away from areas where there is a surplus into areas in which there is a shortage, and that from the net housing point of view it cannot be anything other than a mistake. However, having said that, I shall appear somewhat contradictory in suggesting that there is a fairly strong case now for arguing that local authority housing ought more and more to be regarded not as the normal method of housing people but primarily as a method of housing people who are in a state of housing emergency.

The Bill represents a step in that direction and away from the concept of the orderly queue—away from the system under which a couple get married, put down their name for a council house, wait a long time, and in due course get one. The Bill marks a step away from that and towards the concept that the local authority house should be something held in reserve for people who find themselves in an emergency. If that is what we are doing we ought to be fairly clear about it, and do everything we can to ensure that those who use this device in order to push themselves to the front of the queue are the needy rather than the knowing.

None of us can be absolutely certain that the form of words included in the amendment is that which is best designed to achieve this objective but, having listened to the argument, I am convinced that for the time being this is probably as good a form as we can find, and I shall have no hesitation whatever in supporting the amendment if it comes to a vote.

Mr. George Rodgers

I can shorten my intended speech considerably, as the ground has been very well explored. I shall address my brief remarks to New Clause 3 and Amendment No. 28.

I have great sympathy for the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). He has undertaken a formidable task, and he has met with enormous difficulties during the passage of the Bill so far. None the less, he chose a Bill that certainly needed choosing. Someone was needed to grasp this nettle, and at least we have demonstrated the difficulties that lie along the path.

I think that the hon. Member's original intentions have been diminished in attempting to secure that the Bill will get on to the statute book. He has—unfortunately, perhaps—had to compromise in some areas. I am, however, relieved that we have established today that the amendment containing the word "intentional" is not sacrosanct, that this is subject to variation and that it will be reviewed—I hope—on the next occasion, when we may secure a definition that has common consent.

There are many circumstances in which homelessness can arise. A family or an individual can become homeless as a result of a calculated decision. This does not mean that it is underhand or fraudulent; indeed, the reasons may be highly virtuous. An obvious one is a threat of violence towards a mother or a child. But it can happen where the wage earner seeks employment elsewhere, even if the employment fails to materialise.

There may be a change in family circumstances, perhaps, because of a death or illness in the family. There may be unavoidable debt, because of a lack of resources in changed circumstances. All these instances can lead to the point where a person says "I can no longer cope with this property, and I must become homeless." But the step is not taken casually or lightly. Frequently a person becomes homeless reluctantly but intentionally at the same time. The two attitudes are not necessarily contradictory.

It is quite feasible that the authors of this new interpretation did not mean to insert a word that could have such far-reaching and unhappy consequences in certain cases. I accept that the intention was to discourage a handful of villains who might be tempted to become homeless for ulterior and underhand purposes. I accept that there will be a few misguided souls who believe that once they are homeless their local authority will leap forward and produce for them splendid, well-appointed, semi-detached houses with all mod cons. But things do not work like that at all.

The overwhelming number of homeless people are simply the victims of circumstance. It would be very sad if we tailored legislation to frustrate the tiny minority who abused the system and in so doing deprived a great number of decent people of accommodation—the very people whom the Bill is designed to protect.

We have heard a great many astonishing stories, especially about rascally Irishmen. They popped up again and again throughout the proceedings in Committee. But they are largely the exception, and, in a number of instances, the stories were nonsense. Throughout our scrutiny of the Bill we have paid far too much attention to the possibility of a misguided few benefiting from the measure when the purpose behind it is to relieve the misery of many.

I hope very much that those who have proposed this changed phraseology, with whatever good intent, will reconsider the position and allow the Bill to proceed without this daunting provision.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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