HC Deb 21 June 1978 vol 952 cc445-7
5. Mr. Gourlay

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has had any representations regarding the operation of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act by the district councils in Scotland.

Mr. Milan

A number of local authorities have made representations about the working of the Act, but there is no evidence to suggest, given the sensitivity of the problems that can arise, that the Act is giving rise to undue difficulty.

Mr. Gourlay

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there appear to be wide discrepancies in the operation of the Act between several district authorities? Is he further aware that a number of my hon. Friends and I have received phone calls late on Saturday evenings from people who allege that they are walking the streets in our constituencies? Will he therefore consider providing national publicity to indicate the categories of home- less people who are not covered by the Act?

Mr. Millan

I shall consider that, but I am not sure that this is a matter that should be dealt with by national publicity. I have already sent a circular of guidance to local authorities and we shall consider further guidance. The Act has been in operation for only about three months and one would expect a certain number of teething problems. I hope that the operation of the Act will settle down. I should also make the further simple point that before the Act came into operation there was widespread concern about the previous position. We did not move from a perfect position to an imperfect one—rather the opposite.

Mr. Rifkind

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a number of district councils are now interpreting the Act as allowing them to say that tenants who have been evicted for rent arrears have, in effect, made themselves homeless and should not benefit from the provisions of the Act? Does he believe that to be a correct interpretation of the Act?

Mr. Milan

I do not like to give legal interpretations on the Floor of the House, as the hon. Gentleman, who is a lawyer, will probably appreciate. There are a number of difficulties about certain categories of homelessness. In view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Gourlay) and the hon. Gentle, man have said, I shall consider the matter to ascertain whether we need to issue more guidance to local authorities.

Mr. Dewar

I accept the overriding priority of housing the homeless, but does my right hon. Friend agree that there are genuine anxieties that certain areas may be used as reception areas or, as those in such areas might more crudely put it, dumping grounds, for families with considerable social problems? Will he give strict instructions to local authorities that the burden must be fairly shared and that there can be no question of areas that are already victimised or disadvantaged by having difficult-to-let housing stock having the problems aggravated by the operation of the Act?

Mr. Milian

Some of these problems predated the Act. The sort of problem to which my hon. Friend is referring has been with us for some time. The social work department cannot contract out of its responsibilities. It no longer has the direct housing responsibility that it once had, but any Act of Parliament of this nature can operate successfully only if there is the closest co-ordination between the housing and social work departments. Emphasis has been placed upon that factor in the circular that we have issued.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

To what extent is the problem of homelessness in Scotland due to the fact that under the Government house building has slumped to the lowest level since 1962?

Mr. Milan

That is a silly comment for the hon. Gentleman to make in this context.

Mr. Fletcher

It is true.