HC Deb 15 February 1978 vol 944 cc428-30
13. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether his code of guidance under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 will, when published, clearly distinguish between the responsibilities of the different authorities as has already been done for England and Wales.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

We are on the point of sending out a circular of guidance to housing and social work authorities. Among other things, it will indicate ways in which the Secretary of State would expect social work authorities to supplement the efforts of housing authorities in discharging their statutory responsibility.

Mr. Ross

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the concern that is felt by many people concerned with homelessness in Scotland who feel that the code of guidance that his Department is to publish will be inadequate? Why is it not possible for his Department to take on board the already published code of guidance for England and Wales and to adopt its comprehensive form?

Mr. Brown

I, too, am disappointed at the inability of COSLA to produce a code of guidance. I do not have time to go into the reasons, but if COSLA had agreed with me we should not be in this difficulty. We shall make the code available, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that it would be inappropriate if the references were to the law of England and Wales. Although the circular has much useful information in it, it is not a substitute for the code of guidance for Scotland that ultimately will be produced.

Mr. Canavan

Is my hon. Friend aware that the code of guidance is essential to stop regional councils and district councils passing the buck from one to another? Will he deal with this matter urgently? Does he appreciate that the Act is due to come into effect in a few weeks?

Mr. Brown

A pretty detailed circular is being issued. It is not a substitute for a code, but it satisfies the requirement to give guidance. I am certain that there will be effective co-operation between authorities that will prevent authorities passing the buck either from one housing authority to another or between housing authorities and social work authorities. I should regret such buck passing, and it will be part of my job to ensure that there is the maximum concern shown for the homeless.

Mr. Younger

Does the Minister agree that this deplorable situation arose because the Scottish Office has been trying to pass the buck to local authorities? Surely the Scottish Office should take up its responsibilities under the Act and give proper guidance made out by the Scottish Office for local authorities to follow.

Mr. Brown

I know that the Conservative Party is in a bad way, but the hon. Gentleman should not scrape the barrel. For weeks I have been arguing with the hon. Gentleman that I should consult COSLA in almost everything. Do not blame me for COSLA's inability to come up with a working code of guidance, or its inability to produce some working document. I thought that it was right and proper to consult COSLA and to let those doing the job produce the code of guidance. I regret that the talks have broken down. We shall give the advice now, and I hope that it will be adequate.

Mr. Welsh

May I press on the Minister the urgency and necessity of producing a proper and comprehensive code of conduct before the Act is implemented rather than issuing a circular? I ask the Minister to institute immediately consultations with all appropriate bodies in order so to do.

Mr. Brown

There have been consultations with the appropriate bodies. I repeat that we are sending out a circular that gives guidance. I can give the further assurance that there will be talks with COSLA and the voluntary bodies, and perhaps together we can ultimately draw up a more extensive and comprehensive code of guidance in accordance with the English procedure. However, there will be adequate guidance to ensure that the Act comes into operation on 1st April.