HC Deb 08 July 1977 vol 934 cc1674-702
Mr. Durant

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 9, leave out 'might reasonably be expected to reside with him' and insert 'normally resides with him as a member of his family or in circumstances in which the housing authority considers it reasonable for that person to reside with him'. This amendment follows on our proceedings in Committee, when an amendment was moved to incorporate the words "blood relation or marriage". It was felt in Committee that this was too narrow and that it was necesary to consider some slightly wider wording. As the Bill is drafted, the word "reasonable" is very difficult to interpret. Therefore, it was felt necessary to amend the legislation to clarify the position. But then it was felt in Committee that the words "blood relation or marriage" were too narrow, and there was considerable discussion about it, the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) having tabled a similar amendment.

This present amendment arises from what might be described as a manuscript amendment which was put forward in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi). Of course it was not permissible to move a manuscript amendment, but my hon. Friend virtually wrote it on the spot.

We are anxious that priority should be given in the Bill to the family of the person found to be homeless. Both in Committee and on the Floor of the House we have had discussions about Irishmen. I do not wish to raise this matter again. I raised it in Committee. I shall now drop the subject of Irishmen, otherwise I shall not be able to go into certain pubs in my constituency.

People take into their homes lodgers who pay the cost of a room. As the legislation now stands, when a family is made homeless those extra people, the lodgers, would have to be rehoused, but they have no direct relationship with the householder. We feel that this is too wide, and we are pressing for a keener definition.

In Committee some hon. Members raised the subject of companions to old people, and that is one category about whom we are worried. The phrase "blood relation" was felt to be inadequate. Here we have an attempt to use the word "family", which will still give the local authority an opportunity to interpret the situation. I hope that the amendment will meet the point which was made in Committee. Since I wish to expedite the business before the House, I shall now resume my seat.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I ask the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) not to press his amendment, because if it were passed it would place us in some difficulty.

We considered generally in Committee the question of how best to describe the people who should be considered as a unit for this purpose. We saw difficulties about the terms "family" and "household" as such, but we undertook to look again at this and at the wording suggested by hon. Members. We have done so, and I believe that the original form of words should stand. There is a great diversity of household forms. This covers all those that may occur, and it leaves to the authority a certain discretion to decide, in doubtful cases, whether it is reasonable for the people concerned to expect to live together. It is for the authority to consider whether it is satisfied that a person is homeless. This forms a necessary part of its inquiries.

The proposed amendment appears at first sight not very different from the words used in the Bill. I would in that case anyway urge the shorter form in the Bill as I shall, if I am permitted, seek to use it elsewhere in the Bill also. But I would question, too, the effect of the amendment. It might well be taken to some extent to narrow the authority's field of discretion. If a person normally resided with the applicant as a member of his family—which does not, of course, necessarily mean that they must be related by blood or marriage— the authority would apparently be bound to accept him as a member of the house- hold, even if there were circumstances in which the authority did not regard it as reasonable that they should continue to live together. I hesitate to give examples, but a family where the father had been battering the children could well present real difficulties for an authority.

We are not very far apart on this matter, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Rossi

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes that view of the matter. I thought that it had been made clear in Committee that the wording in the Bill was far too wide and imposed an objective test. It is not a matter of who, in the opinion of the local authority, might reside in the accommodation in question but a matter of who might be expected to reside there which could create difficulties. It could lead to circumstances in which people were sharing households for temporary reasons and would demand to be rehoused by the local authority simply because somebody had moved in temporarily and, therefore, could claim to be homeless. For this reason, we wish to import into the Bill a discretion on the part of the authority to be able to distinguish cases on their merits and decide whether rehousing should take place. We felt that it would be wrong for a local authority to have a discretion so wide that it could break up a family.

It was suggested in Committee by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) that in the case of blood relatives a local authority would be under an obligation. It was also pointed out that a lady companion to an elderly person might not be a blood relative but might live as a member of the family of the person concerned.

3.15 p.m.

It is with those circumstances in view that we move the amendment, so that the local authority, in rehousing a homeless person, will also be obliged to rehouse someone who normally resides with that person as a member of that person's family household, whether a blood relative or not. It is important that we should impose upon local authorities an obligation to do that and not to seek to rehouse only a part of that person's household.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) said that there could be a household in dispute, with a particularly disagreeable member of the family such as a father who had ill-treated everybody. The amendment would not require the local authority to house those people together. It merely means that the local authority must make housing provision for all the members of the household. The local authority could in appropriate circumstances do that, and no doubt in such circumstances the family would be the first to demand it. The local authority could ensure that appropriate accommodation was made available for, for instance, a wife and children who felt that they were being particularly ill-treated. However, to leave it in the objective way that the wording of the Bill seeks to do would leave matters far too wide.

We must import an element of discretion on the part of the local authority to prevent abuse but to ensure that the local authority has discretion when there are such family circumstances. It is for that reason that we have separated the family from all other cases and made it absolutely obligatory for a local authority to house not only an applicant but the people living with him as members of his family, whether they happen to be blood relatives, companions or others.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight has indicated to us what the parliamentary draftsmen said in advance of the Bill. However, that was not in the mind of the Committee because we departed from the parliamentary draftsmen's concept, and we shall make it narrower by the amendment. I hope that the hon. Member will accept it. If he wishes, he can come back to the matter at a later stage. That would be the right way to do things.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 13 leave out 'a' and insert 'an express or implied'.

The effect of this amendment is to make clear that a licence to occupy accommodation may be expressed, that is, in the form of a written agreement, or implied. A person would not then be homeless for the purposes of the Bill if he were permitted to occupy accommodation. This is essentially a technical amendment, to make clear that those whom the local authority are satisfied have implied licence to occupy accommodation are not to be regarded as homeless. That has been the intention all along, but doubt has been expressed that licence in Clause l(a)(ii) covers cases where there is no formal agreement, such as young couples living with parents. The amendment puts it beyond doubt. Such couples are not, because they have no expressed licence, to be regarded as homeless.

The amendment is more desirable, because Clause l(a)(iii), which refers to Scotland, refers to an implied right to occupy accommodation. The term "licence" is not used in Scottish law in the same sense as in English law. Thus, reference to implied right in Scotland might, in the absence of any similar word such as "licence" referring to England and Wales, cast doubt upon the intention to include expressed and implied licence. I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Sainsbury

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 7 leave out from 'that' to 'or' in line 9 and insert 'occupation of it will lead to violence on the part of some other person residing in it or to threats of violence from some other person residing in it and likely to carry out the threats'. This point was discussed in Committee during our second and third sittings. The amendment seeks to change the wording of the Bill but to retain its effect. We found the wording unsatisfactory, because of the use of the term "threats of violence "This made empty threats a cause of homelessness, and in the normal proceedings of family life there are sometimes empty threats of violence. We want to exclude them as a cause of homelessness.

I hope that it will be agreed that our wording better meets the need to cover violence that leads to homelessness. I am sure that we agree that such is the incidence of violence that it is necessary to recognise the threat or likelihood of violence as something that can lead to homelesness that must be treated in the same way as homelessness from other causes. We believe that the amendment deals with the problem more satisfactorily.

Mrs. Millie Miller

In Committee there was some doubt whether the phrase "threats of violence" was satisfactory, because it would be difficult to define. Since then, I have discovered that the same term appears in the Criminal Law Bill that is before Parliament. The phrase has also been discussed with reference to the Law Commission's view of its acceptability. If it is acceptable to the Commission it may not be necessary to amend it. I have a lengthy explanation from the Commission about the term, but perhaps it would be better to put the amendment to the House.

Mr. Rossi

The amendment does not seek to remove the words "threats of violence" from the Bill. They are repeated in the amendment. There has been a rearrangement of the paragraph. The Bill says that a person will be treated as homeless if it is probable that his or her occupation of a property will lead to violence or to threats of violence. However, a threat of violence is only a probability of violence, so the Bill is saying that there should be the probability of a probability of violence. We regarded that as a tortology and have spelled out that it should relate to a person who is subject to violence or to threats of violence.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I am pleased to accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 18, leave out 'special' and insert 'priority'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Gal-pern)

With this, we may take the following amendments:

No. 52, in page 2, line 21, leave out 'living with him or in care' and insert 'who are residing with him or who might reasonably be expected to reside with him '.

No. 6, in page 2, line 21, leave out from 'with' to end of line and insert 'or apart from him'.

No 7, in page 2, leave out line 22 and insert— '(b) he is homeless or threatened with homelessness as a result of any emergency or as a result of flood, fire or any other'.

No. 53, in page 2, line 24, leave out 'is vulnerable because of old age, disability, pregnancy' and insert 'or any person who resides or might reasonably be expected to reside with him is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability'.

No. 8, in page 2, line 23, after 'age' insert 'pregnancy or is handicapped by mental or physical illness, injury or other disability, or has in the housing authority's opinion a priority need for accommodation or any other reason '.

No. 9, in page 2, line 24, leave out 'pregnancy'.

No. 12, in page 2, line 25, at end insert— '(cc) he is a single person who fulfils the conditions for admission to a reception centre in terms of Schedule 5 to the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976'.

No. 10, in page 2, line 25, at end insert— '(d) is pregnant'.

No. 54, in page 2, line 26, leave out from beginning to' has' in line 30 and insert— '(4A) For the purposes of this Act a homeless person or a person threatened with homelessness who is a pregnant woman or resides or might reasonably be expected to reside with a pregnant woman has a priority need for accommodation. (4B) The Secretary of State may by order—

  1. (a) specify further categories of persons as having a priority need for accommodation, and
  2. (b) amend or repeal any part of subsection (4) or (4A) above.
(4C) Before making an order under subsection (4B) above the Secretary of State shall consult such associations representing relevant authorities as appear to him to be appropriate. (4D) No order under subsection (4B) above shall be made unless a draft of the order'.

No. 15, in page 2, line 31, at end insert— '(5) Notwithstanding subsection (2)(c) above, a person is not homeless for the purposes of this Act if he is a gypsy within the meaning of section 16 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968'.

No. 20, in Clause 2, in page 3, line 6, leave out 'special' and insert 'priority'.

No. 46, in Clause 10, in page 7, line 18, leave out' A' and insert 'Subject to section 1(4C) above, a'.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

I intended to make the point that I am about to raise on Amendment No. 4, but I was unable to do so as the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) was not in the Chamber. In fact, Amendment No. 5 applies to the same subsection, which refers to the regulations and the categories to be prescribed by the Secretary of State after consultation with associations representing housing authorities.

As Vice-President of the AMA, I wish to say that in general it is satisfied with the Bill as it has been amended while going through Committee. It is sympathetic to the aims and objectives but it wants an assurance from the Minister—not from the promoter, because, as he appreciates he has no standing—that there will be adequate and full consultation before any regulation specifying further priority categories under Clause 1(4)(d) is prescribed by the Secretary of State. I ask that the temporary Minister, if he is able to do so, will give such an assurance even if we do not reach the end of this stage.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)

The answer is "Yes".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) wish to say anything further?

Mr. Stephen Ross

I have nothing further to say.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. George Cunningham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not know how we shall do this, but Amendment No. 52 was to be grouped with Amendment No. 4. Of course, Amendment No. 4 was not moved and we have reached Amendment No. 5. As Amendment No. 52 has not been discussed with any other amendment I take it that it is discussable, although I do not want to discuss it at any length. I merely want to raise one point.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The purpose of grouping amendments is to allow a debate to take place on the amendment that heads the grouping. Surely the proper place for the hon. Gentleman to raise his point was during the consideration of Amendment No. 5. Amendment No. 5 was the next amendment heading the group.

Mr. Durant

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does that mean that I cannot raise anything on Amendment No. 15, which is in the same group?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Strictly speaking, no. I read out each individual amendment that had been grouped. The mover of Amendment No. 4 was not in the Chamber and the next amendment in the grouping was Amendment No. 5. The time to raise the matter was during the consideration of Amendment No. 5. Now we shall have a whole series of debates each time, which is contrary to the usual practice of the House. If each amendment is treated as an individual amendment, it will create difficulties for the Chair.

Mr. George Cunningham

I suggest, Sir Myer, with respect, that just as the Chair made an alteration in the selection earlier for the convenience of the House, you can allow separate debates on the remainder of the amendments. I do not think that there will be very much debate on any of the remaining amendments in this grouping. If that is not possible—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am concerned about the convenience of hon. Members. I do not stay in London over the weekend—I do not know about other hon. Members—but on this basis we could be sitting throughout Saturday and Sunday and create an emergency situation. In view of the circumstances, I am prepared to allow a brief discussion on individual amendments, although that is not, strictly speaking, in order.

Mr. George Cunningham

If it is not in order for me to talk on Amendment No. 52, it would not be in order for a vote to be taken on it. That means that we would lose the amendments as well.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is not up to his usual standard. As he will know, we are discussing a group of amendments. The amendments are all discussed together. Having disposed of the amendment that heads the group, we deal with the others formally. The hon. Gentleman will accept that that is the position. Anyway, someone has slipped up. It has not been the Chair. Therefore, I am prepared—

Mr. George Cunningham rose

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must deal with the point of order. In view of the situation and the lack of attention of some hon. Members to what I read out, I am prepared to allow this discussion. The amendments will be dealt with as we reach them. We shall not discuss Amendment No. 52 until we reach it. We shall take each one separately. We shall now deal with Amendment No. 52.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I beg formally to move Amendment No. 52, in page 2, line 21, leave out "living with him or in care" and insert who are residing with him or who might reasonably be expected to reside with him".

Mr. George Cunningham

I should like to ask the sponsor of the Bill whether I am right in thinking that the effect of Amendment No. 52 will be to remove from definition of the beneficiary group all reference to people having dependent children living with them or in care. It is those last words "or in care" that I am concerned about.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) will recall that I raised this matter in Committee. It would be preposterous to say that a couple from whom children had been removed and taken into care by a local authority, because that couple were maltreating the children, should be defined as being within the priority group. Am I right in thinking that Amendment No. 52, which substitutes other words for the words to which I referred, will have the effect that the definition of the priority group will no longer in any place in the Bill contain the words living with him or in care"?

Mr. Stephen Ross

That is the intention. The comments made by the hon. Member for Islington, North and Fins-bury (Mr. Cunningham) were taken on board. They were relevant. That is why we propose to change the wording to who are residing with him or who might reasonably be expected to reside with him".

Mr. Durant

In view of your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I feel that I should speak now on Amendment No. 15.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have now had an opportunity to reflect on what I said earlier. I was taking into consideration the convenience of hon. Members who, when I referred to the weekend, clearly showed that they would like to get away by 4 o'clock this afternoon.

I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if we took Amendment No. 15 as the leader of the group and discussed with it the whole group listed on Mr. Speaker's provisional selection of amendments. Therefore, we are now to discuss Amendments Nos. 5, 52, 6, 7, 53, 8, 9, 12, 10, 54, 15, 20 and 46. That will tidy up the whole of our deliberations.

Mr. Durant

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your guidance.

I wish to speak to Amendment No. 15, which brings in the word "gipsy". We are anxious, as are most local authorities, about caravan dwellers. We have taken the definition of "gipsy" as it is expressed in Section 16 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968: 'gipsies' means persons of nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin, but does not include members of an organised group of travelling showmen, or of persons engaged in travelling circuses, travelling together as such ". We are in no sense having a go at real gipsies—the people who live in gipsy caravans and travel the country and who make and offer for sale various objects, including onions. We are referring to the itinerant worker who gets himself a run-down caravan, moves into a district, dumps it in an inconvenient place and, when asked to move on, goes to the local authority and says "I have nowhere else to put my caravan. I am therefore homeless."

Most of the local authorities, particularly in areas which have a number of these itinerant workers, particularly the Midlands and certain parts of the South, are concerned about this. I felt that we should not let this occasion go by without expressing those anxieties All the letters that we recived from the district authorities mentioned this problem. We should seriously consider accepting the amendment, which defines what we are talking about in the terms of the Caravan Sites Act 1968. It provides a clear definition and enables local authorities to refuse to deal with such people, who cause difficulty and disturbance.

All local authorities, under pressure from the Government and recent legislation, are urging county councils to provide adequate sites. I am happy to say that this is being done. There are, however, still some areas where sites are not provided, where people arrive and dump themselves into a community. They usually do this in the most awkward places. I have had recent experience of this. Some people dumped themselves on the riverside at a place where we were to hold our Jubilee celebrations. They were moved on and dumped themselves in a street in another part of the town.

It would be a mistake to use the Bill as a means of rehousing such people ahead of many people already on the housing list in a district and ahead of those who were genuinely homeless through no fault of their own.

Sir Anthony Meyer

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant). This is a matter of great interest to a large number of local authorities. If the amendment is not carried, there will be a further inducement to itinerant workers to come into an area with their caravans in the hope that if anything goes wrong they can get to the top of the housing queue.

Mr. Douglas-Mann rose

Mr, Deputy Speaker

I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) in the Chamber again. If he had been present earlier, we could have saved 10 or 12 minutes. We are not now discussing Amendment No. 4.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I appreciate that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I came back in to the Chamber within seconds of your having said that Amendment No. 4 had been called. I have been present for almost all of today, but I am afraid that we sped on rather more quickly than I expected. I had intended to seek leave to withdraw Amendment No. 4 because the majority of Government amendments are great improvements on mine.

I wish to refer to Amendment No. 53, which still retains a central weakness in that it leaves open the question of vulnerability. I urge my hon. Friends to consider whether it would not be preferable to incorporate a form of words which would ensure that those who were in certain defined categories were in the priority groups. In Committee there was an attempt to extend the discretion of local authorities so that they could cater for those in need even if they did not precisely fall within the priority groups. That is now incorporated in the Government amendments. However, local authorities are still left with too great a discretion to say that such and such a person, although old, blind, dumb or handicapped, is not vulnerable. That is unsatisfactory. I hope that it will be found possible in another place for an amendment to be accepted which would impose a basic duty upon authorities to consider such categories referred to in the amendment, irrespective of whether they are considered to be vulnerable.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

I wish to express my strong opposition to the exclusion under Amendment No. 52 from groups with priority need of families with children in the care of a local authority. This is a retrograde step. I have read some of the discussion in Committee but I do not accept as valid the arguments of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). The position of social workers working with families will be made more difficult and their attempts to reconcile families and to ensure that children are restored to a family environment will be hampered if this category does not become a priority need group.

I should like to hear from the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) why he has accepted that amendment so readily. Part of the serious problem of homelessness for families is the way in which it often leads to the splitting up of families, with children taken into care. Many local authorities have not taken up their responsibility for homelessness, and social service departments have been far to willing to take children into care as opposed to giving the whole family temporary accommodation. I do not want such situations to be exacerbated.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

My amendment No. 12 in this group extends the priority groups to include those who would qualify for a reception centre under the Social Security Acts. This is logical, because the philosophy of the Bill is to transfer responsibility from social work authorities to housing authorities. It seems anomalous not to accept that same philosophy in relation to the Supplementary Benefits Commission and local housing authorities, because the Commission has, if anything, less accommodation available than social work authorities have.

It would also make sense since both the Commission and the local housing authorities date back to the parent Act of 1948, which first laid an obligation on social work authorities to house the homeless and provided for reception centres. In February of this year the Chairman of the SBC himself, Mr. Donnison, said that this would be more appropriately dealt with by local housing authorities, especially since many of those in the reception centres have been in the area for some time, are as entitled as married people to assistance from local authorities, have stayed in the area even after becoming homeless and in many cases have been in the reception centres for over six months.

I originally intended the amendment as the basis for a wide-ranging and fairly lengthy debate on the single homeless, a debate in which some of my hon. Friends hoped to take part. In view of your suggestion, Sir Myer, that we should aim to finish by 4 o'clock, that is not feasible and I shall not press it, but a marker should be put down that many of us are unhappy about the continuing neglect of the single homeless which is given statutory effect by this Bill.

For too long, local authorities have concerned themselves with the housing problems only of married people. They must be forced to face the fact that a growing number of single people also have a serious housing problem and a genuine case for rehousing. There is a growing number of single homeless but there is a cut in provision for them.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has left, because he had intended to tell the House of a hostel for single homeless in his constituency. It is to be closed on 1st August and 30 inmates will be made homeless. The local housing authority has offered to rehouse only six of them. That is one illustration of a widespread problem, examples of which exist in many constituencies. Obviously we cannot remedy it in the Bill or debate it now, but I hope that the other place will find more time to debate this aspect. It requires urgent Government attention. I fear that it might require even more Government attention as a result of the Bill, which puts into legislative effect a bias towards homeless families which local authorities already have.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Rossi

Amendments Nos. 52 and 6 seek to deal with the same problem. They involve the provisions which require the local housing authority to house a homeless person plus dependent children living with him or in care". The wording follows that contained in Circular 18/74. On reflection, they are clearly defective. The children could be neither living with their father nor in care. The family could have become separated because it is homeless. If we leave the Bill as it is, that category of child will not be provided for. It is important that we modify that provision.

Amendment No. 6 seeks to deal with that problem by taking out the words "or in care" and inserting the words "or apart from him". That would have dealt with the problem of the child living apart from its parents. Since then, we have seen the sponsor's amendment, the wording of which is preferable to that of my amendment.

One must bear in mind the different situations that can arise. A child could be in care because it is undesirable for that child to remain in the family because of the danger of child battering. The child could be in care because the family has not been able to give a home to that child. One must be able to distinguish between those situations.

It would be reasonable to require a local authority to rehouse the child who is in care because the family cannot cope, although it is capable and should be allowed to cope with the child. It would be unreasonable to require rehousing if the child is in danger from the family. The sponsor of the Bill has dealt with that by using the words reasonably be expected to reside with him ".

Mr. D. E. Thomas

My main concern is that a decision whether a child should be placed in care should rest solely with the social work department and not impinge upon decisions made by the local housing authority. I am also concerned about the exclusion of the man with children in care from the priority group.

Mr. Rossi

The decision to put a child in care is one for the social services department and not the responsibility of the housing department. It is reasonable to include provision for whether a child should be removed from care and placed with the family. I leave that argument to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross).

I draw the attention of the House to Amendments Nos. 9 and 10, which meet an undertaking that we gave in Committee about the problem of pregnancy. We propose words based on the Circular 18/74. We have heard of examples of some local authorities drawing a dividing line based on whether a mother is six or seven months pregnant. Some authorities have said that they rehouse only if a woman is seven months pregnant

We want to avoid that situation. We accepted the argument in Committee and therefore, in Amendment No. 9, I seek to remove the word "pregnancy", and in Amendment No. 10 to put in a new paragraph (d) saying "is pregnant". The effect will be that if a young woman is pregnant she will be treated as a priority case, and there will be no question of the local authority being able to say that it wants her to be so many months pregnant beforehand.

Mr. George Cunningham

That means that if the young woman in question is pregnant but has the absolute intention of having an abortion, nevertheless she is within the priority groups irrespective of that absolute intention as quickly as possible to have an abortion.

Mr. Rossi

I foresaw that difficulty when we were considering the matter in Committee. That is why I adhered at first to the use of the word "pregnancy" rather than "is pregnant". By using that formula one leaves a discretion on the part of the housing authority to be able to say "Where there is the likelihood of a terminaion of pregnancy, our obligation does not remain." In trying to meet the other objections raised. I thought that perhaps one would have to sacrifice that particular situation.

If the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) can think of a better way of putting it, perhaps he can persuade a noble Friend of his to deal with it in another place. I do not think that we can go beyond that now, other than to refuse these amendments, and if that were to be the case we would be in greater difficulty. I have done my best to meet what I understood to be the wishes of the majority of the Standing Committee in proposing amendments in this form.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

I want to speak to Amendment No. 15 specifically as it was raised by the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant), who was concerned about the number of gipsies in his constituency. I probably have as many gipsies in my constituency as any hon. Member has, predominantly because of the fruit-picking that occurs in the north of Wis-bech. I was deeply concerned about this but I think that I am now convinced, in view of the fact that the definition of a gipsy is that he is a nomadic man, and in view of the provision on deliberately contrived homelessness. I cannot see the case of a gipsy going to the local housing authority ever putting it into a situation in which it would even have to consider putting someone on its priority list one place down in order to put up a gipsy. Therefore—really, for the sake of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross)—I say that I am satisfied with this provision as it stands.

Mr. Stephen Ross

We had a lengthy discussion in Committee on the subject of gipsies. The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) will know that, generally speaking, it is the job of county councils to provide sites for them. It is also improbable, as my hon. Friend for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) said, that gipsies want the kind of accommodation provided by local authorities. It would be wrong to say that just because someone happens to be a gipsy who may no longer be nomadic he should be denied accommodation. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman means that. It would be unjustified to incorporate such a provision in the Bill, so I hope that he will not put it to a vote.

Mr. Rossi

May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to Amendment No. 7? Representations have been made by the Association of District Councils that the use of the words any emergency as a result of flood, fire of any other goes far too wide and could possibly lead to abuse. The wording in the circular was "emergency such as", for example, the consequences of flood, fire, and so on. Will the hon. Gentleman undertake that this wording will be looked at again in another place?

Mr. Ross

I take the point, but I put this to the hon. Gentleman: we live in rather violent times, and one can think of emergencies which are not flood or fire. For example, there may be homelessness as the result of a siege, such as that in Balcombe Street, with people unable to get into their homes because they are under siege. Fortunately, it is a rare occurrence, and one hopes that it will be even rarer. But that is one reason for using the words "any emergency". I shall certainly look at it, and if the point requires amendment this will be considered, but I do not want to give a firm undertaking.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will the hon. Member say something about his attitude to Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 on the question of pregnancy? His name is not attached to the amendments, but I would have thought that it was in line with what he had done elsewhere to retain the wording as it stands, which is that a woman who is vulnerable because she is pregnant should be treated exactly like someone who is vulnerable because of disability.

Under Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 a person who is disabled will not automatically fall within the definition, however badly disabled, but a woman who is pregnant and who definitely intends, and says that she intends, to have an abortion would qualify. That is absurd, and it would be in line with the other provisions not to make Amendments Nos. 9 and 10.

Mr. Ross

I am sorry to cross swords with the hon. Gentleman. It will be a rare case if someone demands a house because of pregnancy and then undergoes an abortion. A local authority could find out about that and take some action about it.

We are trying by the amendment, however, to stop authorities refusing to house pregnant women until they are, say, seven months pregnant. That is how some local authorities are implementing the original wording of the circular. I know of cases in which local authorities have told women to come back when they are seven months pregnant. In Committee we felt that it would be better for there to be a binding obligation that when a pregnancy is confirmed—and obviously a local authority would want to be assured that the lady in question was intending to have the baby—

Mr. George Cunningham

What could it do?

Mr. Ross

We are nit-picking over these things. I cannot believe that there are many single people in this country who will see this as a way of getting a house. It would cause uproar with the neighbours. The intention is to get a pregnant woman housed much sooner in pregnancy than is happening now. It is early in pregnancy that things can go wrong.

Mr. D. E. Thomas rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has already spoken to this group of amendments. Is the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) giving way?

Mr. Ross

No, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have finished.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

In that case I shall put the Question.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 7, in page 2, leave out line 22 and insert— '(b) he is homeless or threatened with homelessness as a result of any emergency or as a result of flood, fire or any other'.

No. 53, in page 2, line 24, leave out 'is vulnerable because of old age, disability, pregnancy'

and insert 'or any person who resides or might reasonably be expected to reside with him is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability'.

No. 54, in page 2, line 26, leave out from beginning to 'has' in line 30 and insert— '(4A) For the purposes of this Act a homeless person or a person threatened with homelessness who is a pregnant woman or resides or might reasonably be expected to reside with a pregnant woman has a priority need for accommodation. (4B) The Secretary of State may by order—

  1. (a)specify further categories of persons as having a priority need for accommodation, and
  2. (b) amend or repeal any part of subsection (4) or (4A) above.
(4C) Before making an order under subsection (4B) above the Secretary of State shall consult such associations representing relevant authorities as appear to him to be appropriate. (4D) No order under subsection (4B) above shall be made unless a draft of the order'.— [Mr. Stephen Ross.]

Mr. Rossi

I understood that it was the wish of the House that we should deal with Amendments Nos. 9 and 10, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but you have passed them over.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Amendment No. 9 fell when Amendment No. 53 was carried.

Mr. Durant

What has happened to Amendment No. 15 in the middle of all this, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We have not come to it yet. We are in a bit of a muddle, but we shall sort it out.

It being Four o'clock, further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill may be proceeded with at this day's sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Graham.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are dealing with a substantial number of amendments, and there is a danger that by an oversight we may confuse amendments which are in a group with amendments which are not. We have dealt with the Government's amendments, but it was understood to be the wish of the Committee and of the House that Amendments Nos. 9 and 10, which deal with pregnancy, should be dealt with by the Committee. As you went through the list, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thought you would be putting these amendments formally. You have not called Nos. 9 or 10, and these are amendments which—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have already indicated that Amendment No. 9 has fallen, consequent upon the carrying of Amendment No. 53, and Amendment No. 10 is now superseded because Amendment No. 54 has been carried. The hon. Gentleman may take it that that is authentic, because I am saying it from the Chair. That is the position.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you are now, presumably, about to go on to the group headed by Amendment No. 13, will you tell us at what stage you will be permitting Amendment No. 15 to be voted upon?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

In its proper place on the Order Paper.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I beg to move Amendment No. 13, in page 2, line 31, at end insert— '(5) The Secretary of State may for the purposes of this Act by order specify the principles upon which the particular housing authority with responsibility for providing permanent accommodation (by reason of previous residence, employment or other circumstances) should be identified.'

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take the following amendments: No. 18, in Clause 2, in page 3, line 4, at end insert— '(c) such inquiries as are necessary to satisfy the authority whether there is any other housing authority which in accordance with any order made under section 1(5) of this Act has a responsibility for the provision of permanent accommodation'.

No. 23, in page 3, line 9, at end insert: '(irrespective of where he may have been normally resident prior to the application)'.

No. 26, in page 3, line 16, at end insert: 'and of their decision as to whether there is any other housing authority with responsibility under section 1(5) above; and if their decision is that any other housing authority has such responsibility, they shall also notify that authority'.

No. 27, in page 3, line 19, at end insert— '(7) The Secretary of State may for the purposes of this Act by order lay down procedures for the resolution of disputes between housing authorities, or between housing authorities and homeless persons as to which authority has responsibility for providing permanent accommodation; for the provision of temporary accommodation pending the resolution of the dispute; and for the provision of financial and other assistance to the homeless person to enable him to move from such temporary accommodation to accommodation provided by the responsible authority.'

No. 29, in Clause 3, in page 3, line 30, at end insert— '(2A) Where in accordance with the provisions of section 1(5) and 2(7) of this Act another housing authority has the responsibility for providing permanent accommodation the duty imposed by subsection (2) above shall also be imposed on that authority; and the duty of the authority to whom the application has been made may be fulfilled by making appropriate arrangements with the authority responsible for providing permanent accommodation for the acceptance of the responsibility under subsection (2) above (whether or not it is in a position to provide permanent accommodation immediately) and by providing temporary accommodation until that responsibility is accepted and to provide such assistance to the homeless person as may be reasonable to enable him to travel to the area of that authority.'

Mr. Douglas-Mann

The amendments have to a substantial extent been superseded by Amendment No. 28, but I urge the sponsor of the Bill and my hon. Friends and Conservative Members to consider whether the procedure outlined in Amendment No. 13 is not preferable to that contained in subsection (2D) of Amendment No. 28. Under subsection (2D) it will be the local authority which decides that a person has a connection with another area, rather than applying certain principles which should have been laid down by the Secretary of State.

I do not wish to detain the House for any length of time over these amendments, and there is not likely to be any very deep thought at this stage of the afternoon on how best to deal with this issue. But as consideration will be given to the Bill between the time it leaves here and its arrival at another place, I hope that the procedure outlined in Amendment No. 13 and the other amendments in the group, which is alternative to that suggested in subsection (2D) and the rest of Amendment No. 28, will be considered by the Government Front Bench and by the sponsor. I hope that, if they agree that Amendment No. 13 is preferable, appropriate amendments will be moved in another place.

Having said that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I indicate that, with the leave of the House, I shall seek to withdraw the amendment?

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

The amendment involves some extremely important matters affecting my constituency, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I must outline them. The particular problems which may arise out of the Bill are in my case those of a garrison town. The term "garrison town" is given to local authorities which have a large number of Service residents. My own constituency, Gosport, is such a town.

In the Portsmouth Home Command, 3,500 families leave the Services each year. It was shown recently that over a 17-month period, of the 4,900 people who left the Services, about half of them, 2,500 families, left within four years of joining the Services, or prematurely. By definition, those who leave the Services within four years or prematurely may well have a housing need. Most of these families manage to solve their housing problems by buying houses, but because of the absence of rented accommodation those who cannot buy their houses find that they have a need to apply to local authorities for their housing.

I have put this point to the Minister before and had his reply during an Adjournment debate. The Department of the Environment spells out advice that is given to local authorities. To me, it has a horrible similarity to the guidance which may be given under subsection (2G) in Amendment No. 28, which has been accepted by the House.

If I may remind the House, the advice given by the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Defence in Circular 54/75 reads: Local authorities should be prepared to accept an application from any ex-serviceman, as they should an application from any other kind of applicant: and, as recommended previously, there should be no residential qualifications. Those ex-servicemen who are returning, alter several years' absence, to the locality in which they lived before joining the forces have a special claim to sympathetic consideration. I have raised this point before with the Minister, when I said that the circular was not accepted by a very large number of local authorities and was ignored. At column 197 of Hansard of 9th February 1976, hon. Members will see that I gave an example. I pointed out that Mr. and Mrs. A came from Lewisham, as did their parents. They wanted to go back to Lewisham, where Mr. A thought that he could get a job. They applied to Lewisham for accommodation six months before leaving the Service, as they had been advised to do, only to be told by Lewisham: If you are able to secure private accommodation (however temporary and inadequate and especially if it is in this Borough) your application can be considered in accordance with the terms of the points scheme. This is a kind of Catch-22 situation— "We will provide you with housing if you can provide yourself with housing."

A very large number of Service families cannot get themselves housed and have to throw themselves on the garrison town authorities for housing. In the same 17-month period to which I referred earlier, 273 families in the Portsmouth Home Command area were holding over in their Ministry of Defence housing because they could not find accommodation elsewhere. Of these, 173 were in my constituency of Gosport and six were in bed and breakfast accommodation.

When I raised the matter of Circular 54/75 on a previous occasion, the Minister's answer was: Our circular was issued only last summer and it is too early to give a view about its general efficacy, though we shall, of course, keep it under review. Our present view would be that the circular strikes as good a balance as it is possible to strike between the particular needs of ex-Service men and housing needs generally and recognises the special difficulties in garrison towns."—[Official Report, 9th February 1976; Vol. 905, c. 206.] I maintain that nothing has happened to improve my view of the efficacy of that circular. There are still severe problems.

I refer to the case of a lady who came to see me in my advice bureau about two weeks ago. She had links with a number of towns—Portsmouth, Bristol, Bournemouth and Fareham. She has two children and is expecting another child this month. She wrote to Bournemouth, where she had links—I ask hon. Members to remember that the Ministry had recommended sympathetic consideration— and here was a woman with two children, pregnant and with a divorce pending. She had no one to whom to turn. Bournemouth told her: in view of the very difficult housing situation which now exists in Bournemouth, applications for registration on the Housing Waiting List can only be accepted from persons who are either living or working within the Borough, and a residential qualification of three consecutive years prior to the consideration of any such application is required. That was the sympathy she got from Bournemouth.

She tried Bristol, from where she came originally. Bristol told her: before an application can be accepted, an applicant must be able to show an assessable housing need and also be resident or have employment within the City boundary at the date of application. This means that you could not be registered until you were residing or actually working in the City ". She is expecting a baby this month. But if you wish to apply at that time a waiting period of twelve months is stipulated before an application from a newcomer to the city could receive consideration. The Portsmouth authority did not waste much paper. It said: I regret that I am unable to assist you with accommodation and, in the circumstances, I would advise you to contact the Gosport Borough Council to see if they can assist you. Fareham, on which she felt she had a claim, told her that she required two years' continuous residence in Fareham immediately prior to the date of application, or four years' continuous resident in the Fareham Borough in the past 15 years.

Those who are in the Services are, as it were, stateless for housing purposes. They cannot establish residence in any particular area. Therefore, the housing need is thrown on the garrison town where the people happen to be living at the time of the termination of their period of service.

I accept that Amendment No. 28, which has been accepted by the House, seeks to deal with this matter and to resolve the difficulty between the local authority in which the person becomes homeless and the area where the person may have a prior connection. This is fortunate, because it cannot be fair, right, logical or efficient that all those who leave the Services should be provided with houses in the area in which they happen to be living when they become homeless. However, I am not sure that Amendment No. 28 is either effective or strong enough. I find the wording rather opaque.

I have not had an opportunity of raising this matter with the Minister. However, I cannot let this opportunity pass without asking him to clarify the situation. I hope he will give guidance on what is meant by subsection (2G) of Amendment No. 28, which says that if there is a disagreement between the local authority in which the housing need arises—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I thought I heard the hon. Gentleman mention Amendment No. 28. It is not included in this group. We are now discussing Amendments Nos. 13, 18, 23, 26, 27 and 29, but not No. 28.

Mr. Viggers

I have been sitting here since 11 o'clock and I have avoided commenting on Amendment No. 28 because I thought that it would be better to raise this matter on the present grouping. Amendment No. 28 is relevant to this discussion and runs parallel with the amendments in this grouping. However, if the Minister can satisfy me that the point is already covered, I shall not need to press the matter.

Mr. Armstrong

Perhaps I may intervene at this point to assist the hon. Gentleman. He knows that there has been correspondence on this matter and, indeed, an Adjournment debate. There are a number of wide issues to be considered other than those provided in that Bill, but Service families who are homeless are, as are other families, covered by the provisions of the Bill. We are giving careful consideration to the matter and in various circulars, and even in the Green Paper, we have referred to residential qualifications which are of interest to Service men. I assure the hon. Gentleman that this matter is receiving consideration.

Mr. Viggers

My particular concern is that the garrison towns should not be prejudiced by the implementation of the Bill. Circular 54/75 refers to the housing problems in garrison towns. The amendments in the names of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) and myself would strengthen the implementation of subsection (2G) of Amendment No. 28, which has already been agreed. Would it be possible for the Minister and his officials to consider whether it is necessary to take further action in terms of strengthening the circular, or even by means of further provisions to be added to the Bill at a later stage? We should make certain that justice is done to the garrison towns.

I should be happy to concur in the withdrawal of the amendment, but I feel that these points needed to be made.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

In view of the discussions that we have had, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 2, line 31 at end insert— (5) Notwithstanding the provisions of this section a person is not homeless for the purposes of this Act if he is by reason of age infirmity or other circumstances in need of care and attention under section 21 (l)(a) of the National Assistance Act 1948.". The relevant section of the National Assistance Act 1948 states that It shall be the duty of every local authority, subject to and in accordance with the provisions of this Part of this Act, to provide— (a) residential accommodation for persons who by reason of age, infirmity or any other circumstances are in need of care and attention which is not otherwise available to them". We pointed out in Committee that there is clearly an overlap between the Act and this Bill. The purpose of the amendment is to make the position clear to the authorities concerned and to the people who might find themselves in this grey area.

The local authority upon which a duty falls under the National Assistance Act is the social service authority, while the authority which has a duty under the Bill is the housing authority. The effect of the amendment would be to increase the stress upon the distinction between those requiring accommodation from social service authorities and those to be cared for by a housing authority. The distinction is, of course, between those who simply require a house and can fend for themselves thereafter and those who require care and attention in residential accommodation.

The distinction must be clear, otherwise the responsibilities of the different authorities will not be clear. A number of arguments against the amendment were rehearsed in Committee. The main argument was that the amendment excluded those in need of care and attention from benefit under the Bill and I admit that there is some substance in that argument. However, it is not the will of Parliament that those in need of care and attention should be simply rehoused. Parliament has provided for them under the National Assistance Act by imposing a duty upon a social service authority to give residential accommodation to those in need of care and attention.

I am bound to say that the guidelines are somewhat confusing, in that they imply that the housing authorities have the primary responsibility for homeless people in need of care and attention. The Minister told us in Committee that his advice was that the amendment that he proposed was unnecessary. However, he said that he would re-read the argument and discuss it with his colleagues.

Mr. George Cunningham

I suggest to the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) that it would have been better if this provision—with the purposes of which I agree—had been drafted in a slightly different form, and that it would be desirable to make that change at a later stage. The hon. Member has excluded from the definition of a homeless person, the person who—although he has no title to occupy a place or is threatened with the loss of that title— is entitled to assistance under the 1948 Act. Surely we ought to keep to commonsense definitions as much as possible.

If a person does not have a right to occupy a place, he is, in commonsense terms, homeless. We ought to exclude such a person not from the definition of homelessness, since that flies in the face of common sense, but from the definition of priority need. We do not want the housing authority to be obliged to provide accommodation if the social services authority is under a statutory obligation to provide assistance.

This can be done by excluding the man from the definition of priority need—this will not fly in the face of common sense, because there is someone else charged with assisting him. Otherwise, a person may be literally on the street, but be told that he is not homeless within the terms of the Bill. The local authority will be under a duty to provide an explanation in writing to the unfortunate character of why they are not going to do anything for him. The authority will have to say "We know you are homeless and you know you are homeless, but you are not homeless for the purposes of the Bill because you can apply for assistance to the social services authority".

We should alter the definition later to exclude such a person from the definition of priority need rather than from the definition of homelessness.

Mr. Armstrong

I indicated in Committee that I would raise this matter with my right hon. Friend. My officials have been in touch with the Department of Health and Social Security and we are satisfied that no change is required.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

I am grateful to the Minister. Since he has carried out his promise to look at the matter again, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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