HL Deb 27 July 1977 vol 386 cc979-1112

3.7 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Homeless persons and persons threatened with homelessness and priority need for accommodation]:

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 12, leave out ("considers") and insert ("consider").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope I shall be able to take the House through this Bill without confusing either myself or your Lordships. There are a number of Amendments, but I can assure your Lordships that most of them are drafting Amendments. Amendment No. 1 is, in fact, a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 30, leave out ("a result of").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, this was an Amendment which was moved in the name of my noble friend Lord Sandys and myself, and we are, of course, grateful that this drafting point has been cleared up. I am bound to say that we shall find ourselves in considerable difficulties this afternoon with four sheets of Amendments before us, some of which we have actually seen only less than an hour ago. I hope we shall take this subject at a reasonably steady pace so that we understand what we are doing. It would be very unfortunate if a second housing Bill got itself into the same situation as the Rent (Agriculture) Act did and required supplementary legislation because the House was unable to follow in detail the very complicated series of Amendments. On this side of the House we are not at all happy about having so many alterations to alterations to deal with at extremely short notice.


My Lords, I should like to add a few words. When I was asked originally whether we would agree to take the Report and remaining stages today I agreed, on the assumption that there would be a proper Marshalled List of Amendments and that there would be reasonable time to study them. That has not been adhered to, and I feel we must reserve our position as to whether we are prepared to take Third Reading today or whether it may have to be postponed until a later date.


My Lords, I take that point. I would only point out that it certainly was not my wish that we should have a list of manuscript Amendments. There is one down in the names of Lord Wade, Lord Kirkhill and myself, one in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her colleagues. The rest are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford I take the point of the Opposition Chief Whip. I hope that what he suggests will not be necessary. Of those manuscript Amendments, the main ones, falling on Clause 16, are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and are really all tied up with a certain amount of discussion which took place in Committee and will presumably take place again today on Report. The point is the definition of "intent". That leaves two other manuscript Amendments. Certainly we did not wish to add to this list in this way, and most of the Amendments are already on the Marshalled List.


My Lords, I must plead two mitigating circumstances. One is that the switchboard of this House was not working last night. The second is that serious changes in this Bill were made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, only three days ago in Committee.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, with the leave of the House, this is in no sense a criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, who is, of course, perfectly entitled to put down manuscript Amendments. I have no objection to that. I take his point about the Committee stage but for those of us who are trying to take the Bill seriously and to follow it, to have this complex series of Amendments coming up at the last moment makes it very difficult. It is difficult for the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and it is difficult for those of us on these Benches. I think it arises because for some inexplicable reason we are not having a spill-over period in which we should have had proper time to study these Amendments and debate them.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 3, line 3, at end insert— ("(7A) Any reference in this Act to a person having a priority need is a reference to his having a priority need for accommodation within the meaning of this section or any order for the time being in force under subsection (6) above.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 3, may I say that I certainly do not wish to be in any way discourteous to the House and I hope I shall be pulled up if I attempt to deal with drafting Amendments with undue haste. I am anxious that as much time as possible should be available for the Amendments of substance. I think in this case that it might be helpful to the House if we could consider Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 16 and 17 together. After the remarks that have been made, I hesitate to use the word "drafting", but I think that these are primarily of a drafting nature.

May I explain that the purpose of Amendment No. 4 is effectively to improve the Bill by dividing Clause 1 into two parts. The first deals with the definition of homeless persons and those threatened with homelessness, and the second with the definition of priority need. The other Amendments are consequential. It would seem to me that these Amendments deal with the structure of the Bill and not in any way with the effect of the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

3.15 p.m.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 4: Divide Clause 1 into two clauses—

  1. (a) the first consisting of subsections (1) to (3), and
  2. (b) the second consisting of subsections (4) to (7A).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 4. Amendment No. 4A is a drafting Amendment which makes clear, in Clause 2, that the areas in relation to which a housing authority may make inquiries as to an applicant's local connections, if any, are the areas of housing authorities. They could not, for example, be areas outside Great Britain. I hope that that explanation will satisfy your Lordships.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 4A: Page 3, line 23, leave out ("any area other than their own") and insert ("the area of another housing authority").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 4B: Page 3, line 25, leave out ("has") and insert ("have").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think that this is clearly a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 4C: Page 3, line 37, after ("satisfied") insert ("(i)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 4C, which is on the list of manuscript Amendments, and to speak at the same time to Amendment No. 5, which is on the first of the Marshalled Lists. This is little more than a drafting Amendment. It was tabled at Committee stage but ruled out of order—I think mistakenly, if I may say so—by the Table at the time, and has therefore had to be retabled. All it does is to import into Clause 3(2)(b) that classification of people which one could describe in short-hand as the "emergency homeless". I do not think any further explanation is required. I would suggest that, as there are plenty of other matters of more substance, I could move this Amendment with that explanation.


My Lords, it occurs to me that this is not quite a drafting Amendment, and I wonder whether the noble Lord can satisfy me on one point. The "emergency homeless", as he has described them, are, under this Amendment, to benefit from the duty to be furnished with advice and assistance, and again, under subsection (3), they will benefit from the duty to have accommodation made available to them for a reasonable period. Is it not right that they also benefit from the duty under subsection (5) to have accommodation secured for them for their occupation, because they are of course priority needs? The effect of the noble Lord's Amendment is possibly to create some confusion as to exactly how far the duty with respect to the emergency homeless stretches. With this Amendment they will, as I see it, fall within subsection (2), subsection (3) and subsection (5). I am not opposed to that but I hope that it is appreciated, for the avoidance of doubt.


My Lords, I think that, with a clause as complex as this, it would be foolish to say that the issue was without doubt, but I am satisfied that, when it is examined carefully, the case is as the noble Lord and I would want it to be.


My Lords, I do not want to be awkward while we are proceeding so amicably, but I am a little unhappy about this Amendment. Perhaps I may explain as clearly as I can my reasons for saying that. This Amendment, as I understand it, would mean that, where people become homeless in an emergency, the authority would not be obliged to secure accommodation for them but only to offer advice and assistance, and ensure that interim accommodation was available. The Amendment makes a slight alteration clarifying the position.

I turn to the main point which concerns me. I understand the reasoning behind the Amendment. No doubt most of those people who become homeless in an emergency will not be in need of permanent rehousing, but will need shelter for only a limited period—perhaps while repairs are being carried out. Where that is the case, the authority will simply arrange temporary accommodation for those people. Obviously, the authority will not offer a permanent council tenancy to someone who has a home of his own. Nor do I see any danger that people who are not happy with their previous accommodation could compel the authority to give them a tenancy.

In any event, when the emergency was over, the authority's duty would cease because accommodation would, presumably, be available to the people concerned. Nevertheless—and this is the main point that I wish to make—there will be some people who become homeless in an emergency and who will, or may, be in need of permanent rehousing. It may be that their house has been totally destroyed. If they were owner-occupiers one hopes that they would be insured to cover such a situation. However, if they were private tenants they might find themselves in real difficulties through no fault of their own. In such a case, I think that the duty under Clause 4(3), which deals with temporary accommodation, would not be adequate.

Persons becoming homeless in an emergency were included in the priority groups laid down in the joint circular. It would not be right, in my view, for them to find themselves in a worse position under the Bill than under the circular. Therefore I feel confident that the Bill is right as it now stands. It ensures that all emergency cases will be provided with accommodation while allowing for them to all be dealt with, I hope sensibly, according to the circumstances. I appreciate that this also covers the single person and others not otherwise in priority groups, but as I have explained, there is a wide range of ways in which the duty can be satisfied by the housing authority. In the light of the perhaps exceptional circumstances, we must not forget them. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will feel inclined to withdraw the Amendment.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, which I hope will, in our special circumstances, be granted, I should say that, in circumstances such as those about which the noble Lord, Lord Wade, is concerned, subsections (2), (4) and (5) are available for the local authority to come to the view that, although the householder in question is in the category which I have described as "emergency homeless", he has, because of those special circumstances, a priority need, in which case it can act under subsections (4) or (5). I am satisfied that that would be sufficient to secure for him the accommodation that he would need.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I have also looked at this matter very carefully. I see what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is getting at and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and my noble friend Lord Gifford, that it could mean that, when people became homeless in an emergency, the authority would not be obliged to secure accommodation for them but only to offer advice and assistance and secure that interim accommodation was available. That possibility is something which I do not think should be accepted within the Bill. Therefore, I must join with the other noble Lords who have spoken and ask the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, to withdraw the Amendment.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, replies I should like to say that I, too, believe that this might especially affect the situation of the single person who is seeking accommodation. It might cause confusion as regards what is already, in my view, not a very satisfactory position and it might even add to the difficulties of the single homeless. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, whether he will be good enough to withdraw the Amendment.


My Lords, again with the leave of the House, I should like to say that I am happy to respond to the request that the Amendment should be withdrawn. I think that it would have improved the Bill, but it is not a matter of great moment and there are a number of other matters which are of more substance. It is a pity that we were not able to discuss this matter during the Committee stage when we could have handled it more readily and then reflected in a more leisurely fashion on the points of view that have been put forward. However, in the light of the importance of trying to get the Bill on to the Statute Book, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 [Duties of housing authorities to homeless persons and persons threatened with homelessness]:

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 5A: Page 4, line 2, leave out from ("that") to ("is") in line 4 and insert ("he").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 4 [Responsibility as between housing authorities]:

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 5B: Page 5, line 15, leave out ("he has no") and insert ("neither he nor any person who might reasonably be expected to reside with him as a").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, before dealing with this Amendment, I should like to express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for his helpfulness. I am sure that he is desirous of getting the Bill through. At the same time, we do not wish the House to feel that matters are not being adequately discussed.

Amendment No. 513 is a drafting Amendment. It is intended to ensure consistency of wording in Clause 4. Under subsection (1) an authority are not subject to a duty to secure accommodation for a person if they are of the opinion that, among other things, neither he nor any person who might reasonably be expected to reside with him has a local connection with its area, but that he or such person has such a connection with the area of another housing authority. In such a case, if the authority so notify the housing authority in whose area there is such a connection, the duty to secure the availability of accommodation becomes that of a notified authority in certain circumstances. As it stands at present, subsection (3) deals solely with the case where the applicant has no local connection with the notifying authority's area. This Amendment therefore brings subsection (3) into line with the rest of the clause. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 6 (Duty of housing authorities to provide temporary protection for property):

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 5C: Page 6, line 32, leave out from ("authority") to ("and") in line 34 and insert ("have become subject to a duty towards a person under any provision of this Act to which this subsection applies (whether or not they are still subject to any such duty)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think that it would be helpful to the House if we considered Amendment No. 5C together with Amendments Nos. 5D and 5E, which relate to furniture. They are drafting Amendments designed to make clear that the duty to protect furniture arises in each case when housing authorities have a duty to secure the provision of accommodation. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 5D: Page 6, line 41, at end insert— ("(1A) The provisions of this Act to which subsection (1) above applies are—

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a consequential Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 5E: Page 8, leave out lines 12 and 13 and insert— (b) have not become subject to a duty towards him under any provision of this Act to which subsection (1) above applies,".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is consequential.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

3.31 p.m.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 5F: Page 8, line 3, leave out from beginning to ("to") in line 13 and insert ("or").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it might be helpful also to deal with Amendments Nos. 5F and 5GG together. I apologise again to the House for the fact that noble Lords are having to consider so many Amendments. This Amendment deals with furniture and again is a comparatively small point. The Amendment would mean that the authority's duty to protect property would cease in the same circumstances as in the power in subsection (2), when the person concerned is able to protect it himself. I hope that that seems reasonable and obvious.

Amendment No. 5GG is consequential. It seemed to us that the original clause did not quite provide adequate protection. If a homeless person was placed in furnished accommodation, the authority's duty to secure accommodation might well be fulfilled, but a need to protect the furniture might remain. This Amendment would therefore strike out subsection (6) and allow the duty to continue—which would still be only temporary—until the person concerned is able to look after the furniture himself or herself. That is the purpose of the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 7 [Duties of notification]:


My Lords, I apologise for the delay, but my papers seem to have got slightly mixed up.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendments Nos. 5G and 5H:

Page 9, line 25, after ("or") insert (",subject to subsection (6A) below,")

Page 9, line 30, at end insert— ("(6A) An authority who cease to have the power conferred by subsection (2) above in respect of the property of any person need not notify him that they have ceased to have the power unless they have exercised it.")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Lord. I think that we are dealing with Amendments Nos. 5G and 5H. The effect of these Amendments would mean that authorities would have to notify a person that their power to protect his property has ceased only in cases where they have exercised the power. We expect authorities to have to exercise their power to protect property very rarely, but on reflection it seems rather excessive to ask authorities to notify people that the power has ceased even when the power has, in fact, ceased. This would only add unnecessarily to the work of the local authorities. Therefore, the Amendments provide that notification is required only when the power has been exercised. I beg to move.


My Lords, I have just arrived at the same conclusion having found my notes. I support these Amendments.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Lord WADE moved manuscript Amendment No. 5GG: Page 9, line 30, leave out ("have so ceased") and insert ("are of the opinion mentioned in section 6(8) above").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord WADE moved manuscript Amendment No. 5HH:

Page 9, line 30, at end insert— (6A) An authority who cease to have the power conferred by section 6(2) above in respect of the property of any person need not notify him that they have ceased to have the power unless they have exercised it.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope that this is a drafting Amendment.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, is now amending an Amendment that has just been moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. It would help the House to have on record the difference in effect of this further Amendment from the one that has just been moved.


My Lords, I am afraid that I must call in aid the noble Baroness, Lady Birk.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, the words "Section 6" were evidently omitted from the other Amendment. That is all that this Amendment amounts to. I do not seem to have a note of the Amendment, but it was an error of words being omitted.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, we are of course grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for explaining this and I appreciate that she is in considerable difficulty. But it makes it very difficult for us on this side of the House to follow this when no one seems to be fully briefed on the detailed effects of all these altered Amendments.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 5J: Page 9, line 33, after ("him") insert ("only").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment also deals with notifications. I hope that I shall explain it this time with clarity, which I was unable to do on an earlier Amendment. The effect of this Amendment would be that a notification required under Clause 7, other than under subsection (6), which relates to termination of the duty or the power to protect the property under Clause 6, must be made available for collection at the authority's office. That does not mean that all the authority has to do is to have it available at the office. This is an additional duty.

The object of this Amendment is to specify that where an authority is required to give a notification under this clause, with the exception of a notification relating to the protection of personal property, it must make it available for collection at that office. In addition, if it wishes and if it knows that it is likely to reach the applicant, it may send it through the post or deliver it by any other means. But in any event it must be available for collection. That is the only way in which to ensure that people whose addresses may be uncertain are reasonably certain of receiving the notification. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, appreciates that sometimes difficulties arise when people just cannot be found. The addresses given by homeless persons or those threatened with homelessness are, in the nature of things, liable to change.

This Amendment does not mean, of course, that the applicant himself would have to call and collect the document. It can be collected by someone else on his or her behalf if that is more convenient. It is hoped that this will help to create as much certainty as possible that, where there is a notification, the person for whom it is intended will receive it.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point about this. It is, necessary because it will be essential to explain in the guidance that goes to local authorities, or some form of circular, that people must know that they can collect this notification from presumably the housing department of the local authority, otherwise its effect will be nullified.


My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. Although it does not arise on this Amendment, may I say that I hope that all the words of notification and other documents will be written as clearly and simply as possible.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

3.41 p.m.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 6: Page 9, line 41, at end insert ("only").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is also to do with furniture. It makes clear that the notification required by Clause 7(6)(b) that a housing authority have ceased to have a duty or the power to protect a person's property under Clause 6(1) or 6(2) may be given only in three ways specified. This Amendment makes it clear that where a housing authority have such a duty the necessary notification is given as specified in the form that I have just mentioned. As the clause stands, it would be open to doubt whether the ways specified are exclusive or whether the authority may, if they chose, notify the person in some other way instead; for instance, by making the notification available at their office to which I have just referred. That might be inconvenient since the person would not be expecting such a notification and might have to call repeatedly at the office. This Amendment is intended to clarify the position still further. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 8 [Co-operation between authorities.]:

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 7: Page 10, line 17, after ("2") insert (",3").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it would be helpful to take Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 10A and 11 and group them together. Amendment No. 10A will replace the original Amendment No. 10. I can honestly say that these are drafting Amendments. They deal entirely with cross-references which I hope will clarify the wording of the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 8: Page 10, line 21, after ("2") insert (",3").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 9: Page 10, line 23, leave out ("their functions") and insert ("the functions to which the request relates").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is essentially a drafting Amendment. It makes clear that a body which is required to co-operate with a housing authority is not required to exercise any of the latter's functions except those to which the request relates. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 10A: Page 10, line 27, leave out ("reference to sections 2 and 4 above in that subsection") and insert ("the reference to sections 2, 3 and 4 above").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already referred to this Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 11: Page 10, line 28, leave out ("5") and insert ("6").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the same remarks apply to this Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 9 [Power to charge]:

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 11A: Page 10, line 34, leave out ("(3)") and insert ("(4), 3").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Lord, Lord Wade, here. This is an Amendment that is consequential on Amendments that were accepted during Committee stage, and these resulted in duties on housing authorities to secure the provision of accommodation being included in Clause 2(4) and Clauses 3 and 4. The power to charge needs to relate to these. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 10 [Offences]:

3.46 p.m.

Lord GIFFORD moved Amendment No. 12: Page 11, line 13, leave out subsections (2) to (4).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 12. It is a very much more substantial matter. It concerns Clause 10 which deals with the offences introduced by the Bill which people applying for accommodation under the Bill might commit. Clause 10 (1) contains an offence which is similar to offences in legislation of this kind whereby if one makes a false statement in order to get accommodation from a local authority under this Bill one will be guilty of an offence. I have no quarrel with that offence. It parallels provisions in similar Statutes.

Subsections (2), (3) and (4), which are those I am seeking to delete from the Bill, deal with a different kind of offence. If one looks at subsection (4), the offence is if you fail to comply with subsection (2). If you marry that up with subsection (2), the offence will be committed if a person who has applied to a housing authority for accommodation fails to notify to the authority as soon as possible any change of facts material to his case". On reading that I found it somewhat grotesque that someone should be liable to be charged with failing to notify something as soon as possible, particularly when it is something so vague as a fact material to his case.

It smacks of the jackboot if you are committing an offence if you fail to tell something to somebody on your own initiative without being asked any questions. It is made worse when one looks at the provisions of subsection (3). Everyone who applies for accommodation under this Bill has to be told in ordinary language about this offence. What one has to imagine is that everyone who is homeless and comes to the town hall is going to have to be told something like this: "I have got to tell you that if you don't notify us as soon as possible of any change of circumstance which is material to your case, you will be committing a criminal offence." It is a duty on local authorities to give that warning.

It is stressful enough to be homeless and without a roof without having some official informing you, in language which cannot fail to be intimidating, that you are a potential criminal if you do not come along and tell them. What do you have to tell? What is a change of facts material to one's case? One can envisage the case of a woman driven out of a home by a violent husband, and applies for accommodation in desperation under this Bill. Let us suppose, as may well happen, that two or three days later the husband comes round and says, "I am sorry, darling. You can come back again. I won't do it again." Even if that has been said many times before, I suppose that it is a material fact that the husband says he has changed his mind and is not going to be violent or get drunk again. It is the sort of thing that someone would have to notify to the local authority as soon as possible.

I wondered whether there was any precedent to this offence. I looked at other legislation dealing with welfare benefits and relationships with authorities, such as the National Assistance Act 1948, which this modifies, the Supplementary Benefits Act, the Family Allowances Act, the Social Security Act. All those provisions have an offence similar to Clause 10(1), but it is an offence if you tell lies to the local authority or to the department concerned. None of them has the offence of failing to notify a material change of circumstances. Thanks to my noble friend Lady Birk, I have been informed that there is a precedent; apparently such an offence appears in the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976. It seems therefore that this is a new offence which some official has begun to introduce into recent legislation. If so, I suggest that the less we see of it the better because it is totally unnecessary.

If somebody applies for accommodation, fills out a form and tells the truth, no doubt in due course, if that person obtains accommodation, somebody can ask, "Before you are admitted into this council house which we are prepared to provide for you, tell us if there has been any change in your circumstances; have you found somewhere to live?" If the person falsely answers, "No", he can be prosecuted under Section 10(1) as it stands. Therefore there is no need for this sort of vague offence, the effect of which can only be to intimidate people who are homeless.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Gifford; having made out a strong case, I have no doubt that the Government will wish to agree with him.

3.52 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, this provision is not designed to make life difficult for homeless people or to frighten them off by giving warnings about criminal proceedings. It is designed to protect the interests of the genuinely homeless by preventing housing authorities from being unreasonably burdened at a time when we are all aware that their resources are extremely stretched. We are trying to find ways to make the Bill not just something written on to the Statute Book but a measure which will work in practical terms. It is a counterweight to the duty on the authority to notify reasons for giving its decision; by giving those reasons in writing, that will act as a safeguard.

I could not agree with my noble friend Lord Gifford in the example he gave of a woman driven out of her home because of violence or a threat of violence and returning with the husband saying, "I will now behave myself", because that example meets the pattern followed in so many cases of battered wives, and a woman in that position would be absolutely protected under other clauses of the Bill. It would in no way be a fact which was material to the case in this instance.

It is important that authorities should make the position clear to applicants, clear in a way that is not threatening but clear in a way which will reveal the changes about which they need to know. I could not agree with Lord Gifford that this will be done, to use his words, in language that cannot fail to be intimidating. I accept that it could be done in such a way, but we are very concerned—I have discussed this because I am personally concerned about it—to see that it is made quite clear in the code of guidance exactly what the responsibilities are. It should be done in such a way that the applicant is given information and told about his rights and responsibilities, and of course this is a responsibility.

It may be that, when a person's circumstances change, it does not occur to him to report that. We do not expect ordinary people to refer to an Act of Parliament every time something needs to be dealt with—to expect that would be absolutely outrageous—but they should know their position because this is not simply a question of people trying to do something wrong. It is also a question of the housing authority needing to be made aware of a change of circumstances which can affect the rest, or certainly some, of its allocation of housing, both in terms of the long-term housing list and for homeless people.

The idea behind subsection (2), to which my noble friend takes exception, is that if a person applies to a housing authority and claims in good faith to be homeless, which he is at the time, then if, while the authority is considering his case, something happens—say, some other accommodation becomes available to him—he should be obliged to tell the authority so that it will not be required to secure accommodation for somebody who is no longer in need of it.

There is a certain degree of fairness here from the point of view of other people who are in a similar position. Somebody might want deliberately to withhold information, and that would be covered. But perhaps people simply do not inform about a change of circumstances, and in that situation it is extremely important to know the facts because every unit of accommodation counts. There is also the question of the need for careful monitoring.

I am sure we will hear about it if the provision is abused; local councillors, voluntary organisations and, I am sure, my noble friend will hear about it, and then, in the light of information which shows that it is being misused, something can be done about it. If it reaches the point of a person being guilty under the provision, being liable on summary conviction—and we do not envisage many cases coming into that category—the court would have to be satisfied; the local authority is not being given power to fine people on the spot.

Although this will not be used very much—it is, as it were, a fall-back clause—I do not think it will have the devastating effects my noble friend thinks it will have. It will also make local authorities feel that they have covered any loopholes and gaps that might otherwise affect their housing allocations and their ability to deal with other homeless people who are in equally desperate circumstances. I hope that my noble friend will accept that explanation and will not press the Amendment.


My Lords, having listened to the remarks of my noble friend Lady Birk, I am still rather mystified. If one is in need of accommodation one normally tries to get one's name on several lists. Obviously if one obtains accommodation, there is no reason not to inform the other lists that one is no longer in need of accommodation. I cannot visualise the case of a homeless woman, say a battered wife, not informing the local authority if she obtains accommodation. To make it an offence in the way proposed seems serious. It is all very well the Minister saying this power may not often be used, but is it wise to have such a clause, one which could be used? While listening to the Minister I tried to imagine the sort of case she had in mind and, frankly, I failed to do so. As I say, there seems no reason why, if one finds accommodation, one should not inform the local authority.


My Lords, this is the old problem of trying to be fair and at the same time taking into account that there are a few who abuse the law, while the majority suffer in consequence. I should like to make a general point here. There are cases where legislation such as this is passed with the best of intentions—and I certainly hope that this Bill will reach the Statute Book—and there is perhaps only one case of somebody abusing the law. There is then an outcry, with the possible result being an amending Act which destroys the good work that has been done; and all of this is because of only one or two people. Those facts must be taken into account.

The main point here is that the Amendment would remove the applicant's duty to notify material changes of fact to the authority considering his case. I think it is reasonable that an applicant should be under such a duty, and I regretfully feel that we ought not to accept the Amendment. If the noble Baroness, Lady Young, makes a very persuasive speech in the other direction, it may affect the position, but I have explained how I feel about the matter, and that is evidently the view of the spokesman for the Government.


My Lords, I am not at all satisfied with what I have heard. Those who have spoken against the Amendment appear to me to be far too ready to introduce into the law new crimes of a very vague nature. We must remember that we are here talking about crimes. We are concerned with the crime of omission, of not doing something, or not doing it as soon as possible. We are introducing this kind of crime without thinking whether it needs to be on the Statute Book at all.

Having said that, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Birk for the very full reply she gave me. To some extent, I am impressed by the fact that the guidance which is to be issued will deal with this aspect of the Bill. Those who have had experience of local authority officials in some districts—only a minority of districts, but it is perhaps the difficult minority of districts with which the Bill is most concerned—will know how callous officials can sometimes be. I am not at all satisfied that any guidance which may be given by the Department would encourage officials to be sympathetic in the way in which they administer this clause. I hope that I heard my noble friend aright when she said that the guidance would contain some provisions as to the way in which local authorities should deal with applicants and should explain to them their rights and responsibilities.

There is another comment which must be made. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Wade, who talked about the need to be fair in this Bill. It is beginning to strike me that whenever a responsibility is laid upon a homeless person, failure to carry it out is immediately to be visited with criminal prosecution and penalty. On the other hand, if the local authority fails to do its duty, there is no such sanction, and I fear that this may appear in the working of the Bill. Having said that, I will—somewhat reluctantly, in view also of the support I have received from my noble friends Lady Phillips and Lord Longford—accept the invitation to see how this matter goes. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.5 p.m.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 12A: Page 11, line 17, leave out ("3") and insert ("7").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is consequential on earlier Amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 11 [Guidance to authorities by Secretary of State.]:

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 13: Page 11, line 32, leave out from ("functions") to ("to") in line 33.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No 13, which would restore this clause to its former terms. A relevant authority must have regard to guidance given by the Secretary of State, but will not be required additionally to have regard to local circumstances and the facts of individual cases. Possibly the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, may help us on that point, but I understand that this matter arises from an alteration made during the Committee stage.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, this matter arose because when the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, moved Amendments to this clause at the Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Wade, then indicated that he was not happy about it. Neither was I. But I think that the matter went through very quickly, as it was one of those occasions when we were speeding along. A degree of confusion then arose because we were discussing two Amendments together. The words which the previous Amendment inserted, and, which the present Amendment seeks to remove, have the effect of undermining the status of the guidance which is to be issued by the Secretary of State. As I understand it, an authority could effectively disregard the Secretary of State's guidance if it decides that the local circumstances, or the facts of individual cases, warrant it. The wording conveys that flavour to me.

I do not suggest that an authority should lose its discretion to determine the facts of a particular case, or what to do about a case in the light of local circumstances. But to suggest that an authority should be entitled to disregard the Secretary of State's guidance, or to have regard to it just to the extent that it suited it, is to misconstrue the purpose and nature of the guidance.

The general housing responsibilities and duties of authorities are set down in the main body of housing legislation from the 1957 Act onwards. Nothing by way of guidance from the Secretary of State under this clause can affect those responsibilities and duties. The purpose of the code is to provide a set of criteria, or an operating framework within which all authorities would be acting consistently regarding their functions under this Bill. It is very much to the benefit of authorities, as well as the homeless, that this consistency should prevail.

The code of guidance is not something that is to be imposed peremptorily. Drafts of it have already been the subject of detailed discussions with the local authority associations. These discussions will continue with the object of securing as broad a consensus as possible. But without doubt a code of guidance aimed at a consistency of approach is necessary, if only because even now getting on for 40 per cent. of housing authorities have not implemented Circular 18/74, which has no statutory backing. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will agree that the position should be restored to what it was peviously. I do not think I am mistaken in saying that the noble Lord was quite surprised over the short period of triumph when the Amendment went through previously, by default, as it were.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I regard it as a very unusual procedure for the Government to agree to an Amendment on Committee, and then decide to take it out on Report. I accept that this is a Private Member's Bill, but what I have just said is the effect of this Amendment. It is perfectly true that we, on this side, were not expecting the Amendment to be agreed in Committee. Nevertheless, it was agreed, and that is the situation. I have looked up the matter in Hansard, and I see at column 714 of the Official Report that the Amendment was agreed to without discussion. Although it was not discussed, there is a very real local government point which lies behind this matter; namely, the freedom of the local authority to consider the local circumstances and the facts of the case. Surely this involves a not unreasonable request so far as a public authority is concerned. Local circumstances vary, and the facts of any given case vary, and all that is being sought in the Amendment is that these factors should be taken into account, as well as the guidance from the Secretary of State. It is quite common practice in other matters of local government. It would not be an exception, and I am very surprised that the Government should seek to take it out again at this stage.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I might reply to that. At the Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said: I am not entirely happy, but I do not wish to discuss the matter at the moment".—[Official Report, 22/7/77; col. 715.] As the hour was late—and I think that at that time the noble Baroness herself was also anxious to get on with the business—the Question was quickly put, and the Amendment was agreed to. I took it, speaking from the Government side, the noble Lord, Lord Wade, having said that he did not wish to discuss it at that moment, that we would certainly be returning to it, and we have now in fact done so. All that is happening is that the discussion which would have taken place in Committee is now taking place on Report. I think that the points made by the noble Baroness and by her noble friend in Committee have been very well aired—in fact, they have now had two very good airings—and I hope that, with that, they will now withdraw their opposition and let the Amendment go through.


That may be, my Lords, but not just yet. The position that I should like to make clear first of all is that it did not at all surprise me that the Amendment which I moved in Committee was accepted, because I thought it was a good one, and I still do. Nor was it in any sense an Amendment that was accepted by default. We may have been wanting to get on—I as much as anybody else—but it was quite clearly moved. I thought I explained it briskly but nevertheless clearly, and the point is exactly as my noble friend has just indicated. The noble Baroness just now referred to undermining people's status. What will be undermined if this Amendment is now carried is the status of the housing authorities. They, as your Lordships know, are local authorities, which are controlled by locally-elected councillors, and they are not in any sense at all the agencies of the Secretary of State. This is the position we were anxious to secure.

The second point I should like to make is that it is one of the rules of the House that there should not be reversed at Third Reading, the last stage of a Bill, Amendments which have been accepted at an earlier stage. It is perfectly true that we are now at Report stage, but, as my noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip said at the beginning of these proceedings, we have agreed that Report and remaining stages should be taken today. So I think that, at any rate in the spirit if not in the letter, the rule that we do not reverse at this stage something which has been accepted at a previous stage ought to apply. I therefore take considerable exception to an Amendment which, if the noble Lord, Lord Wade, or the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, had wanted it so, could in fact have been debated fully at the previous stage.


My Lords, if wrath is to fall on anyone, no doubt it should fall on my head for being too peaceful a person. I merely said at the time that I was not happy about this, but as there seemed to be a general desire to get on I did not press the point. No doubt I should have pressed it then and not left it till now. But I am bound to say that I hope the House, I having been duly rebuked and having considered it, will accept the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 12 [Financial and other assistance to voluntary organisations concerned with homelessness]:

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 13A:

Page 12, line 12, at end insert— ("(3A) Neither the Secretary of State nor a housing authority nor the Greater London Council shall give a voluntary organisation assistance under this section unless the organisation have first given an undertaking—

  1. (a) that they will use the money, furniture or other goods or premises made available to them for such purposes as may be specified in the undertaking, and
  2. (b) that if the Secretary of State, or, as the case may be, the housing authority or the Greater London Council serve notice on the organisation requiring them to do so, the organisation will, within the period of twenty-one days beginning with the date on which the notice is served, furnish a certificate giving such information as may reasonably be required by the notice with respect to the manner in which the assistance given to them is being used.

(3B) Subject to subsection (3C) below, if it appears—

  1. (a) to the Secretary of State, in a case where assistance has been given under subsection (1) above, or
  2. (b) to a housing authority or the Greater London Council, as the case may be, in a case where assistance has been given under subsection (2) or (4) above,
that a voluntary organisation to whom the assistance was given have failed to carry out their undertaking under subsection (3A)(a) above, the Secretary of State or, as the case may be, the housing authority or the Greater London Council, shall take all reasonable steps to recover from the organisation an amount equal to the amount of the assistance.

(3C) No sum shall be recoverable under subsection (3B) above unless the Secretary of State or, as the case may be, the housing authority or the Greater London Council, have first served on the voluntary organisation a notice specifying—

  1. (a) the amount which in their opinion is recoverable, and
  2. (b) the basis on which that amount has been calculated.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment has been spoken to already. I beg to move.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, this Amendment is, I think, of a more serious nature, and it is one which was discussed at length in another place. I think it is designed to meet the sort of situation which, in the context of this Bill, can be conveniently summed up by saying it was described in the television programme, "Goodbye Longfellow Road"; and it is intended to cover the case of voluntary organisations which receive public money. It was the wish of my honourable friend Mr. Rossi and noble Lords on this side of the House, not only that the accounts of these voluntary organisations should be properly kept but that the local authority concerned should see that its intentions with regard to the keeping and the spending of the money should be properly observed. An exact parallel of this, I think, would be the case of trustees and a trust. It is not good enough simply that the money must be spent correctly; it must be spent in the way in which the trustees and the trust lay down.

I am bound to tell noble Lords that we on this side of the House are not entirely satisfied with the drafting of this Amendment. Nevertheless, I understand the position to be that it would be too late at this stage of the Bill to look at all the relevant law on trusts and then to write it into this Bill, and that in the time that is available this is the best that can be achieved. It is, I think, more than a drafting point. It is in fact an important matter of principle; and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, has felt that this can be put into the Bill. We on this side of the House would have liked it to be a little tighter than it is, but at any rate it is considerably better than was the position originally.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support very strongly what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I think that, in respect of the matter to which she referred and which was exposed some time ago on television, we had the experience of a terrible abuse of public funds. The position is one which requires extremely careful consideration. The idea that money can be abused in the way that was illustrated, particularly in view of the fact that homelessness is so prevalent and that housing associations are so terribly important for the purpose of meeting the needs of the situation, is something which should be given the most careful consideration, particularly in relation to the points raised by the noble Baroness. It is very important, I think, that, in a manner similar to that in which trusts have to be carried into effect, the use of this money should be subject to similar careful scrutiny, so that abuses such as that to which we have referred can be avoided. In the circumstances, whatever may be the wording of the Amendment—I have not examined the wording very carefully, but I think it covers the point—I think we should strongly support it.

Viscount GAGE

My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Janner, not for the first time, has criticised the entire housing association movement on the basis of two bodies which are not registered and which are not really considered housing associations at all. I hope he will not go on expounding this view, because it is untrue. Although I will not contest what my noble friend has said, I sometimes wish that people would remember that voluntary bodies are voluntary, and if you make things too difficult for them they just will not work at all.


Of course, the voluntary bodies, although they do remarkable work, also have an obligation to see that any funds that come into their possession are properly dealt with. I am not going to say that they do not make mistakes. Of course, they do; otherwise no lawyer would be able to live. But, at the same time, it is of great importance that in the use of public funds the most careful consideration should be given to ensure that there is no abuse.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I think that this Amendment covers the point which was expressed by my noble friend Lord Janner and by the noble Baroness; but obviously it is not intended as an insult or as a weapon against properly run and properly audited voluntary societies, any more than the fraud laws are there to be used against people who do not commit fraud. Nevertheless, it is true that there have been cases in the past—and I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, will agree—and that when these things happen they often tend to give the reputable bodies a bad name, and to smear them unfairly.

What this Amendment does is to make sure that they keep proper books of account and have them audited. We have been pressed that Clause 12(4)—and the noble Baroness clearly said so—does not go far enough. We hope (and I think this convinces me) that we have found the right point. It is the point between what has been expressed by my noble friend Lord Janner and by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. This Amendment, in requiring a procedure for obtaining repayment if the money is not used for the purposes for which it was given, meets the substance of this point. Local authorities are responsible to their ratepayers for the stewardship of substantial sums of money and I am confident that, with this now in the Bill, it can be left to them to judge whether the organisations which they propose to assist are responsible and trustworthy. In order to help them to do that, it seems sensible to introduce a safeguard of the sort envisaged in this Amendment against what we all hope is the occasional abuse which tends, as I have said, to bring discredit on the whole voluntary housing movement. I hope noble Lords will support this Amendment.

Viscount GAGE

My Lords, for the record, would not the noble Baroness agree that the purpose of the registration system which has been introduced was to circumvent these bad associations, and that it could not happen again with any new associations?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, one hopes not. Of course, those in default were those who were not registered. But I think we need a safety net, which is what this is.


My Lords, I want to make it clear that there is no implication on local authorities generally or on voluntary bodies generally.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.]

Clause 15 [Meaning of accommodation available for occupation.]:

4.25 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 15A:

Page 14, line 10, leave out from beginning to ("available") in line 11 and insert— ("For the purposes of this Act accommodation is only available for a person's occupation if it is").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 15A and 15B are drafting Amendments. There are several references in the Bill to accommodation being available. Some are worded in different ways. These Amendments are simply to cover these more satisfactorily in drafting terms than does the present text. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 15B: Page 14, line 13, at end insert ("and any reference in this Act to securing accommodation for a person's occupation shall be construed accordingly.")

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 16 [Persons intentionally homeless or threatened with homelessness]:

4.28 p.m.

Lord GIFFORD moved Amendment No. 15C: Page 14, line 15, after ("if") insert ("with a view to gaining an advantage under this Act").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 15C. This Amendment is to be found as a manuscript Amendment on the list of manuscript Amendments which has been circulated. Perhaps it will be to the convenience of the House if I were to speak also to the other four Amendments which stand in my name on that list. No doubt, also, there should be debate on Amendment No. 15E on that list in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and my noble friends Lady Birk and Lord Kirkhill. These Amendments all deal with the clause regarding intentional homelessness, so called.

In presenting this Amendment, it is necessary briefly to review the history of this concept. When the Bill was originally introduced in the House of Commons there was no reference in it to any question of intentional homelessness. However, in Committee in another place, concern was expressed by various Members that people would abuse the Bill; that, in effect, they would say to themselves, "Here we are with an authority that has a duty to house the homeless. Let us make ourselves homeless in order to benefit."

Because of that concern, Amendments were introduced on Report in the other place introducing into the earlier clauses the concept of intentional homelessness. There has been further amendment in this House and, as the Bill stands now, your Lordships will find, first in Clauses 2 and 3, various references to those who are homeless intentionally or threatened with homelessness. In respect of such people, the duty which the local authority has is very much less than it has to other priority need people. Their duty is only to secure interim accommodation, such accommodation as they would consider reasonable, and would be fulfilled, for instance, by providing shelter and bed and breakfast for a short space of time, a week or two; whereas the main duty is to secure accommodation on a permanent basis.

Once those Amendments had been made, a great amount of concern was expressed both in this House and outside that the introduction of this concept of intentional homelessness would provide a major loophole through which local authorities who did not wish to observe the spirit of the Bill could evade entirely their responsibilities. On Second Reading in this House many noble Lords—some of whom, like the noble Lords, Lord Soper and Lord Hylton, are not here at this moment—expressed serious reservations about that concept.

On Committee, I sought to move an Amendment to delete that whole concept of intentional homelessness and, receiving little support in the face of very stout opposition from both Front Benches, I withdrew it and I do not now seek to reintroduce it. However, also in Committee a whole new clause, now Clause 16 of the Bill, was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and carried. That clause as it now stands reads: … for the purposes of this Act a person becomes homeless intentionally if he deliberately does or fails to do anything in consequence of which he ceases to occupy accommodation which is available for his occupation and which it would have been reasonable for him to continue to occupy". Subsection (2) has similar provisions with regard to those threatened with homelessness; and subsection (3) reads: An act or omission on the part of a person who was unaware of any relevant fact is not to be treated as deliberate for the purposes of subsection (1) or (2) above". There is a further provision in subsection (4) allowing the authority to pay regard to local circumstances in determining what is reasonable.

On Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Soper, described the very phrase "intentional homelessness" as "gobbledygook". We now have a whole series of phrases, and if the phrase was originally gobbledygook, this new clause makes it far worse. It is my serious contention that, as it stands, the clause renders this Bill worse than useless. Any local authority is faced with different kinds of people who come to it for assistance: people who are in arrears of rent or mortgage payments; people who have had family disputes; people who have taken on holiday lets or short lettings. In almost all those categories, the loophole is there, if they choose to use it, to say: "No, you have become intentionally homeless. You have done, to quote Clause 16, a deliberate act".

Among the many appalling cases which have been brought to our attention by the charities, there is that of a family in Cleethorpes on Humberside. Because of the unemployment of the husband, they fell behind in their mortgage payments. They were required by a court to pay £19 a week off a mortgage when they were receiving benefits of only £30 a week. This is a family with one child. Of course, they could not keep up with that and they were evicted. The local authority refused to house them because they had intentionally made themselves homeless—intentionally, I suppose, because, being in receipt of benefits of £30 a week, they intentionally decided to spend some or all of that money on food or clothing rather than on paying a £19 a week mortgage instalment. Practically anything which leads to homelessness, apart from fire and flood and that kind of emergency, is the consequence of some kind of act which is deliberate in the sense defined by this clause; that is to say, it is not accidental.

My Lords, I have gone in some detail into the history of the Bill as it is so far, in order to explain the purpose of my Amendment. On Committee, the various spokesmen of the Front Benches agreed, after some pressure, that the wording of this new clause could be looked at. I have put down a series of Amendments which will have the effect of making Clause 16(1) read: … for the purposes of this Act a person becomes threatened with homelessness intentionally if with a view to gaining an advantage under this Act he does or fails to do anything the likely result of which is that he will be forced to leave accommodation which is available for his occupation and which it would have been reasonable for him to continue to occupy. Subsection (2) is amended in a similar way. Subsection (3), with its very convoluted wording, "unaware of any relevant fact", would not be necessary.

That wording is put forward in a moderate spirit and a spirit of compromise. What it retains is the power to prevent those who have a deliberate intention of abusing the Act by getting an advantage under the Act from qualifying to be rehoused. It hits at those who have the motive which, so far as I understand it, is the motive with which people want to deal. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, who has steered this Bill with great moderation and courtesy, said on Second Reading that the "intentional" clause was designed to deal with people whose object is to abuse the system and jump the queue". That is from column 1131 of Hansard for 15th July. My Amendment would cover such people who have a motive to gain an advantage under the Act. It would delete from the Bill this concept of deliberateness, with its very artificial definition, and would make the clause generally very much more simple to operate. If a local authority were satisfied that someone was abusing the Act, it could act accordingly and not be under a duty to rehouse such a person.

I do not know whether that wording, the final form of which I only put forward this morning because of the great shortage of time on this Bill, is acceptable to the various Front Bench spokesmen. From the fact that two Front Benches have put their names to Amendment No. 15E, it may be that it is not acceptable, and that they contend that Amendment No. 15E does the trick. Because of that, I will deal shortly with that Amendment.

Amendment No. 15E would insert in subsection (3) the words, "in good faith" It would read: An act or omission in good faith on the part of a person who was unaware of any relevant fact is not to be treated as deliberate". That narrows the Bill; it makes it even more difficult to get round the intentional homelessness criteria. It certainly does not go any way towards the vice which I say the Bill has. It only deals with people who, in good faith, are unaware of something. A lot of people, such as the person who defaulted on his mortgage payments, were not unaware of any relevant facts, but were just crippled with poverty. It is the people who are crippled with poverty, that we want to see rehoused under this Bill rather than allowing them to escape through loopholes of this kind. Having heard my noble friend Lady Birk I may have to come back to the Government Amendment. For the present, I commend most seriously the series of Amendments to which I have spoken. I beg to move.

4.37 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that it will be helpful, save time and make a more coherent debate if we discuss his Amendments together with the Amendment standing in my name and that of my colleague. May I just say to my noble friend who said that if this clause is left in the Bill, the Bill will be worse than useless, that he should go and tell that to the people who are at this moment homeless, who have no other recourse, and for which there is no statutory rescue to which they can turn. To say that is not only going too far oratorically, but is taking a completely impractical and counter-productive approach to the Bill.

My noble friend is aware—and we discussed this at some length at Committee stage—that this Bill is the result of a consensus between the sponsors, the Opposition and the Government. I have been quite frank, and there are many of us who would prefer not to see this particular clause in the Bill. I and my colleagues in another place and in this House are not prepared to jeopardise the first Statute to go on the Book to deal with the homeless because we have had to come to a compromise on a clause.

I will explain why I think that the Amendment standing in my name should be accepted, and that the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend should be rejected. I have explained that what is proposed narrows this clause as finely as possible to make it acceptable to get this Bill through. But this means it will have to have Royal Assent by the end of this week. These are the brutal facts of the case. Under this Bill, just about all who are homeless, or threatened with homelessness, are entitled to advice and assistance from their housing authority. Those in categories with a priority need are entitled to immediate shelter, and subsequently to permanent accommodation. As we know, the priority categories include families with children, pregnant women, and those vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability. Moreover, the homeless are explicitly defined to include those subject to violence or real threats of violence, so that a battered woman is entitled to advice and assistance from the housing authority and, where she has children with her, to shelter and permanent accommodation if she needs it.

The Bill also provides for arrangements to be made, subject to Parliamentary approval, governing the responsibilities of authorities for the homeless moving between one area and another. It can no longer be the case that the homeless will be shunted willy-nilly from one local authority area to another. I apologise to noble Lords for going over this once again, but I feel it important to stress that all these provisions represent very significant advances on the very limited terms of the National Assistance Act 1948, and on the joint Circular 18/74. Not only do they establish an integrated legislative and administrative system; they apply to all housing authorities, not just to those who, at their discretion, have adopted the joint circular in whole or in part.

However, the comprehensive character of this new system has created genuine fears in another place, in this House and generally among local authorities throughout the country, that it will be used by some people, quite deliberately, to gain an unfair advantage in competition with the genuinely homeless and at the expense of others, with a real need, on the waiting list. It is fair to say that this Bill commends itself to Parliament and to everyone outside, in so far as it deals with the intentionally homeless.

Clearly, then, the wording of the Bill with respect to the intentionally homeless is of great importance, because I think I have shown that this fear has been expressed. Whatever the degree of fear, which varies between different people, it is there and it has been agreed that this aspect should be included in the Bill. I certainly do not quarrel at all with my noble friend Lord Gifford for raising this matter again. He is absolutely right, that I said in Committee that I would have a look at the drafting. I was very careful and scrupulous, in making it quite clear that the motivation of the intent clause would have to remain in the Bill in some form or another, without changing its meaning. The Amendment which stands in our joint names is the result of that look at the drafting.

None of us wants to disqualify from any of the benefits of the Bill anyone other than those who set out to "buck" the system. That is why the burden of proof is put on the housing authority—which I think my noble friend will agree is certainly an improvement on the original version—to determine that the applicant is intentionally homeless. Moreover, the authority can no longer hide behind any cloak of secrecy, because they are obliged to give their reasons in writing.

Nor do we want to leave without shelter those with a priority need, however deliberate their homelessness might be. That is why the Bill provides that even the intentionally homeless are to be provided with shelter for as long as is reasonable for them, with advice and assistance from the housing authority, to secure other accommodation. The area of the intentionally homeless is a very difficult and delicate one, and there is no getting around that. Having agreed that this is to be in the Bill, it is absolutely impossible to find a form of words which will be acceptable to everyone concerned, certainly in this House and in another place. So I am afraid that there has to be a considerable amount of compromise, if one wants to get the Bill through.

Let me therefore turn to the exact words in Clause 16: a person becomes homeless intentionally if he deliberately does or fails to do anything in consequence of which he ceases to occupy accommodation which is available for his occupation and which it would have been reasonable for him to continue to occupy". My noble friend wants to insert "with a view to gaining an advantage under this Act"; he would also delete the reference to "deliberately" and with it subsection (3).

I have looked very carefully and sympathetically at these changes, but I cannot accept them, because they are not just a refinement of the present wording. They are not just clearer drafting changes. They constitute a significant change of meaning, and I do not think, from his point of view, that the deletion of "deliberately" helps. They require a housing authority to determine two highly difficult matters: first, that the homelessness was intentional; and, secondly that the intent was to gain an unfair advantage under the Act. In other words, the authority would be obliged to demonstrate the intention of an intention. That would put them in an impossible position and the Bill would lose credibility, both with housing authorities and with the general public.

We have studied the wording of the Bill very carefully, as I promised my noble friend, and I would commend the wording in my name, which would protect those who acted in good faith; for example, those who followed mistaken or misleading advice and became homeless in consequence. This wording means that you cannot say to someone "If you were unaware of the fact, ignorance is no defence in law". You have, in addition, to show that someone has acted in bad faith. I am a little surprised that my noble friend has not immediately found this acceptable, because I believe that a number of other people and colleagues feel that this strengthens the clause and makes it rather tighter, in that it gives an applicant greater leeway. It adds to his side of the problem.

This change will help to express in the wording of the Bill the concept that the sponsor, noble Lords opposite and we have agreed it should contain. Beyond this, we must see what can be done outside the Bill itself, bearing in mind that the provision is intended, above all, to be a deterrent. It is not intended that local authorities should use this provision in order to prevent eligible people, who are among the priority groups, from getting housing. In any case, they cannot do so, because of the way the rest of the Bill is framed. The point that it is only a deterrent has not been sufficiently emphasised. Those intending to "buck" the system are more likely than others to read the small print of the Bill, and be deterred. Those who are quite unaware, in the circumstances in which they find themselves, that it will have this result, and who are also acting in good faith, will now be covered by this Amendment. I should be surprised, and very much alarmed, if the numbers of intentional homeless proved to be large.

From time to time, local authorities take quite a lot of bashing and criticism, as well as praise, but the impression that all local authorities are waiting to pounce, and use this clause in order not to house any homeless, is not only untrue but grossly unfair. I do not believe this to be so. If one accepts that, one is saying that not only officials but also local councillors of each Party, and Independents, will be in cohort in order to stop the housing of homeless people. This is entirely contrary to what is taking place. I find in my Department that there is passionate lobbying in the form of letters and deputations from local authorities which are anxious to find some way to increase their housing resources. If one carries it too far, one will reach the position where the tail will wag the dog. However, this is not so and we must keep the problem in proportion.

We shall make clear in the circular on the Act and in the code of guidance what we see as the purpose of the provision and its appropriate consequences. We shall also monitor the situation through the statistics on homelessness which we collect from local authorities. The House will be glad to know that in the light of this Bill we have already started to discuss with the local authority associations arrangements for the collection of statistics. The statistics will certainly deal with the intentionally homeless. They will enable us to watch what is happening and—to pick up the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, at Committee stage—in dealing with the question of the allocation of resources which must follow the Bill we shall take account of the possibility that in some cases social service authorities may have a residual responsibility.

I appreciate the fears of those who feel that many for whom homelessness is a disaster may be branded as intentionally homeless, but I do not share the fear that this will apply to a great many people. Now that we accept that "homelessness and poverty" is not just a phrase and believe that something should be done about it, the idea that any of us could sit back and quite happily see human beings branded as intentionally homeless when they are nothing of the kind would be quite unfair to everybody concerned. If the purpose of the provision is respected by authorities and by everybody concerned—which includes the locally elected representatives, Members of Parliament, the voluntary organisations, the ordinary, interested citizen and ourselves as Members of this House—then not only will there be little to fear but we shall know what is going on. If there is abuse, obviously we shall have to deal with it. We shall be monitoring the situation very carefully and will be ready to act, if required. One cannot be completely certain at this stage just what the particular effects will be. However, I repeat that it would be folly of the utmost order to jeopardise the benefits which this Bill can begin to bring to the homeless, and which I described when I began, if we allowed what I believe will turn out to be exaggerated fears to overturn our common sense.

I apologise to the House for taking up so much time, but I believe that this is an extremely important point. It is the most important basis of difficulty, contention and discussion, and I am glad that by putting forward his Amendments so that we could bring the matter out into the open again and discuss it my noble friend Lord Gifford has given me the opportunity to state the position as I see it. In the light of what I have said, I hope that my noble friend will not press his Amendments and that the House will accept the Amendment which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, my noble friend Lord Kirkhill and myself.

4.55 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I very much support what the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has said in explanation of the Bill as it stands at present. I intervene to make two points. First, I was very glad to hear in the course of the explanation given by the noble Baroness that the Government acknowledge that social service departments may well have residual responsibilities under the Bill, and I hope that they will enter into discussions on the financing of those responsibilities. My noble friend Lord Amory has asked me to say that he is very sorry not to be in his place this afternoon, because unexpectedly he has had to go to a funeral; otherwise he would have intervened on this point.

Secondly, I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, regarding his Amendments and the Bill as it stands at the moment that I hope he will feel that Amendment No. 15E, which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, helps his case. I drew the inference from what he said when he moved his Amendments that he felt it made the position worse—or, at any rate, no better. I should have thought that this was not true. It means that somebody who becomes homeless because he has accepted had or misleading advice will be helped, as provided in Clause 1; therefore he is not covered by the position set out in Clause 16.

We on this side of the House are quite prepared to accept Amendment No. 15E. It is a reasonable compromise which I should have thought the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, could accept. I hope very much that he will not press his Amendments. I believe that to do so would disturb the basis upon which agreement has been reached on the series of Amendments that we on this side of the House have moved. I should like the noble Lord to believe that we have moved at least some way in his direction since the Committee in terms of Amendment No. 15E, which we are happy to accept. In that spirit I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, will withdraw his Amendments.


My Lords, I need to say only a few words. First, I was glad to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, had to say about the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, because the noble Viscount mentioned several times to me this particular worry of his, and I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will be writing to him on the matter.

There are three points which I wish to make. I am very glad to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is prepared to accept the Amendment which stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, and myself. I must admit that I find the words "intentionally homeless" emotionally repugnant. I am sorry that we have to use the expression at all; if we could find some other words which had the same meaning I should be happier. Nevertheless, there are certain cases which, even if a different term were used, would amount to this and we have to recognise that fact.

I do not intend to quote examples; several were quoted in the other place. The disadvantage of quoting examples is that it tends to arouse feelings both ways and does harm. Therefore I shall not go into details. However, in both Houses a great deal of time has been spent upon trying to find the right wording and finally reaching this rewording, and I hope that, as the best compromise we can reach, this Amendment will be accepted.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, first may I reply to the two noble Baronesses who have spoken about the "good faith" Amendment. I accept what they say: that this Amendment improves the Bill if it includes the little word "or". To say: An act or omission in good faith or on the part of a person who was unaware of any relevant fact", would go a long way towards meeting the kind of objections which I have been making. However: An act or omission in good faith on the part of a person who was unaware of any relevant facts must restrict the ambit of Clause 16(3).

Clause 16(3) already allows into the scope of the duty of the local authorities people who are unaware of any relevant fact. With the Amendment, only those who are unaware of the relevant fact and are also in good faith are to be within the ambit of that duty. It certainly goes nowhere to meet the objections that have been made both by myself and outside Parliament. It may not make that much difference because no doubt those people who are unaware of material things are also people who are acting in perfectly good faith, so it probably does not advance or retard very much, but strictly speaking it restricts the ambit. If any of those who have spoken could indicate that at Third Reading they could agree to the insertion of the little word "or" I would withdraw the Amendment.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, that I am sorry but it would be quite impossible. I should not like him to spend time needlessly pursuing that line because inserting the word "or" would open the whole controversy again. The noble Lord was good enough to say that he believed that this improved the Bill and I hope he will accept that. In many ways, I think the words "in good faith" and "unaware" work together and in a rather odd way can work as alternatives, but we really cannot insert the word "or" into the Bill. I hope the noble Lord will accept that.


My Lords, that really underlines the next point that I want to make. It is the question of a consensus. As I have understood the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and my noble friend Lady Birk, from time to time, Amendments have been tabled to this Bill which both would have been quite happy to see accepted and yet those Amendments have been rejected in this House with their approval because there is no three-Party consensus. As I understand that, it means that, because of the late stage in the Parliamentary Session at which this Bill is being taken through Parliament, the Tory Party has an effective veto on any Amendments which the other two Parties would have been able to pass, even if they would have carried the majority here or elsewhere. That kind of consensus passage of legislation is not the way in which I should wish to see a Bill carried through Parliament. But there it is: if it is to be a law at all it seems that it must be carried through by Friday.

Next, I wish to reply to my noble friend who accused me of being unfair in taking such a pessimistic view of the consequences of this Amendment and appealed for common sense in support of her appeal. The difficulty is that a minority of local authorities, although nevertheless a substantial number, are, here and now, without this Bill being on the Statute Book, praying in aid the excuse of intentional homelessness in order to refuse to rehouse people in the most deserving and devastating of cases. If they are praying that reason in aid now, how much more will they do so when, as a specific exception to their duties, they are able to turn away anybody who has deliberately done something in consequence of which they have become homeless? Common sense requires us to appreciate that people who are doing something now will go on doing it if the law allows them to do so, as this law will.

Of course, a large number of local authorities are complying with Circular 18/74. Nothing that I say is an attack on local authorities in general. A great many of them—indeed, the majority—are housing the homeless. Those who are not doing so will not, with the Bill as it now stands, be required to, except, in my judgment, in a minority of cases. I do not at all see how the Amendments that I have finally tabled are in any way unworkable. In fact, they bring into the Bill those people who—to quote my noble friend—"set out to buck the system", and why the law cannot be clear in that way I do not know. I do not feel able to withdraw my Amendment because I believe that these Amendments are as reasonable as can be and I must see what their fate is to be.

On Question, Amendment 15C negatived.

[Amendments Nos. 15CC, 15D, 15DD, and 15DDD not moved.]

5.6 p.m.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 15E: Page 14, line 26, after ("omission") insert ("in good faith").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment has already been discussed. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 18 [General Interpretation]:

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Jacques)

My Lords, to keep the Amendments in proper sequence in relation to the Bill, I shall now call Amendment No. 18.

Lord GIFFORD moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 16, line 7, at end insert — (""a person vulnerable as a result of old age" means a person who has reached retirement age or any other elderly person who has a special need.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Longford has asked me to make the first speech in moving this Amendment which stands in our joint names. This is an Amendment which seeks to make more precise the duty of local authorities towards the elderly. At present, the categories of priority need include those who are vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason". The word "vulnerable" of course imports a considerable amount of judgment and, so far as the other categories of mental illness, handicap or physical disability are concerned, it is inevitable that some element of judgment must come into play as to how handicapped or how disabled one has to be. But, so far as old age is concerned, that is something that is measurable in years, and this Amendment seeks to define a person vulnerable as a result of old age as a person who has reached retirement age or any other elderly person who has a special need. In other words, it requires local authorities—as I am sure the great majority do—to treat as having priority need anybody of pensionable age.

Noble Lords may think that any humane authority would indeed do that and that no person of pensionable age who was homeless would not be rehoused by the authorities, but the information that I have is that that is simply not the case. There are authorities which say of certain elderly people who approach them that they are not vulnerable, and can fend for themselves. They say, "You are a hale and hearty person". That may be so, but are we really to allow any authority to turn away any pensioners—even if they appear to be as spry as many of your Lordships are—who have not a roof over their heads? The information that I have comes from Age Concern and if it is true—and I have no reason to doubt it—it is scandalous. I hope that those who are responsible for this Bill will feel able to accept this very modest Amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I should like to support the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. In a way, it might be thought that I was better equipped—or perhaps more biased—to deal with this Amendment. A person "vulnerable as a result of old age" would apply to me much better than to him. I come here with a travel permit on the buses, a senior citizens' rail card and no doubt other signs of old age.

Take the case of a travel permit on the buses. I think we must agree that it would be a great mistake to allow a bus conductor to say, "You do not look as old as that". They would not say it to me of course, but they may say it to other noble Lords who do not seem so old. Or take the case of a rather tiresome ticket collector who may refuse to accept your permit. These things must not be left to the whim of a minor official. They must be handled in the methodical and objective way the noble Lord has proposed. So I support him strongly.


My Lords, although the aims of this Amendment appear to be very helpful and straightforward, I suggest to both noble Lords that perhaps the result of their Amendment may be quite contrary to what they wish. They are placing here a quite specific age, that is a person who has reached retirement age". It has been suggested to me that there are those persons perhaps a few years below retirement age who would come within this category, and if this Amendment is written into the Bill those persons will be turned away by the local authority who will say, "You have not reached retirement age and are therefore not eligible". If the Bill stands as it is at present drafted, they will have an opportunity, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, so rightly said, of a judgment. Nevertheless, it will have to be a judgment based not on a specific age. I think the Amendment may be a little too restrictive.


My Lords, I am glad the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has had his opportunity. I felt that he rather missed his chance during that very long Committee stage. I am sure no one would regard him as elderly. I do not think I need to add a great deal to what has been said. We must be quite clear what this Amendment means. It would mean that all persons of retirement age would be classed as having priority need, together with any other elderly persons who have special needs. This would diminish the discretion which authorities would have under the present wording to decide whether persons are vulnerable as a result of old age. Of course, one would like to say that all elderly people should be in the same category, but there is the problem to which we have referred over and over again of limited resources and the question of priorities. We discussed whether youth should come into the priorities. Here we face the problem again. I am hound to say that I would advise the House not to accept the Amendment, although f think we all have tremendous sympathy with the point of view that has been expressed.


My Lords, I, too, should like to oppose the Amendment. Surely it is extremely insulting to imply, as the Amendment does, that men of 65, and even more so women of 60, should be classified as elderly. What is more, it is not only insulting but it is not in accordance with the facts, given that the great majority of men and women in their 60s and their early 70s cannot possibly be bracketed as helpless or incompetent or senile, and they certainly do not wish to be treated as such. What is more, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Wade, was hinting, if the Amendment were carried it would mean that a millionaire of 65 could apply to be housed under the Act. I think the Amendment is misconceived and unnecessary, and I hope the House will reject it.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I will not go over the arguments that other noble Lords have used, except to agree that the Amendment would oblige local authorities to use retirement age as a measure of vulnerability, and it would take away the choice of criteria in the case where somebody below retiring age could be considered, for all sorts of reasons, to be vulnerable because of old age. But I should say that the Government do intend to include a passage on this problem in the code of guidance to be issued under Clause 9. There we shall recommend that retirement age should be one of the main criteria, and authorities will be obliged to have regard to this recommendation. I hope that this will go part of the way—I can see that it will not go the whole way so far as the noble Earl is concerned—to show that this aspect is not being omitted, that this will be used as a criterion. With our restricted use of priority groups at the moment because of resources, I think this is the best way to deal with it.


My Lords, we have had some contradictory reasons for disagreeing with this Amendment. When the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, indicated his view, that less people would be rehoused if this Amendment were passed, I thought he was going to support it, he being one who does not wish to see local authorities' resources being overstretched. But the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said it would cause perhaps more people to be rehoused and that resources were limited, which was a contradictory reason for opposition, coming from what has been so far a very monolithic consensus. However, having heard my noble friend Lady Birk say that this will be covered in guidance, and having aired the matter, and knowing, as we do, that the working of this Bill can be monitored over the years, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 [Meaning of "local connection"]:

Lord WADE: moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 16, line 7, at end insert— (""priority need" shall be construed in accordance with section 1(7A) above;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, a very long time ago, at the beginning of the Report stage, this Amendment was discussed with an earlier Amendment. I therefore formally beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord WADE moved Amendment No. 17: Page 16, line 28, leave out subsection (2).

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Wade.)


My Lords, I would not wish to prolong these proceedings unnecessarily. There is at this stage only one plea I would wish to make. I and other noble Lords, and people outside Parliament, have expressed grave concern because the Bill as it has been amended has become very flexible. It has all sorts of words in it such as "intentionally homeless", "vulnerable", "reasonable", which enable a considerable amount of discretion to be imported into its working. That has been a direct consequence of this consensus approach. We fear that the effect of the consensus will produce a very woolly Bill.

I ask my noble friend Lady Birk whether, where vague phrases occur—especially in Clause 16, which deals with intentional homelessness and which contains a number of flexible words—the guidance that the Government are to give to local authorities will really be specific and clearer than perhaps the Bill is as regards the way in which it should be implemented in the most common cases? I am thinking in particular of rent arrears and family disputes. The most common causes of homelessness are well known. Such a situation will, perhaps, in some cases of difficult local authorities, tip the scales. I hope that that assurance can be given.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to make a few comments. As your Lordships have undoubtedly gathered from the speeches that have been made during various debates on the Bill, some of us have been very disturbed about certain aspects which have been included in the Bill, as well as some which have been excluded. What has prompted most of us to ask leave to withdraw our objections has been the fact that there is no doubt that the Bill itself is useful as regards most aspects. Consequently, I think that it is necessary to emphasise once again that that is the reason why we have refrained from obstructing the passage of the Bill. There has not been sufficient time to press certain points, but we do not want to destroy that part of the Bill which is good, in the hope that when instructions come from the Government they will be of such a nature as, in some ways, and possibly entirely, to meet the points that we have raised.

I should not like the various voluntary organisations who have been so devoted and dedicated to their work, to feel that what they have in mind and what they have already done as regards various matters—from my own experience the fear of single homelessness is such a matter—has not been properly expressed or considered. It is really due to the fact that we want certain persons or certain categories of people to be included, as they are in the Bill, in the list for priority consideration by the local authorities.

This is an extremely bitter pill for some of us to swallow, but I hope that it will not have the terrible effects that some of us fear. I point out as a warning—I hope that my noble friends will not take it unkindly—that, if, in the course of the operation of the Act, we find that those points that we have put forward are not dealt with in one way or another, they must understand that some of us may, and probably will, be prompted to raise these matters again, perhaps through Questions, but more likely in a Private Member's Bill, with the intention of making improvements.

I believe that the Bill will give special, important and necessary treatment to certain categories of people. As a result, I feel that, although there are surrounding difficulties, we ought to pass the Bill so that those people at least may benefit from it.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Janner, speaks from long experience of over 40 years in Parliament. However, he reminded his noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that he would conceivably bring up certain matters at a later stage. My Lords, I think that the House—I say this in no mood of self-congratulation because I have taken almost no part in the discussions—should be extremely pleased with the way it has managed an extremely difficult Bill over a period of nine sitting days.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, will forgive me for interrupting him but I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and the others who have participated in the debate on both sides of the House for the manner in which they have conducted it.


My Lords, I am sure that those views are most appreciatively expressed from this side of the House. Nevertheless, I think that that should be coupled with our comment, which was most eloquently expressed by my noble friend Baroness Young, that we were invited to look at the Bill on Friday 15th July. I think that this is the ninth sitting day. We have proceeded at a smart gallop, but the Government had the opportunity of taking the Third Reading in what we term the "spillover period." They have chosen not to do so for reasons best known to themselves. It might well have been possible to have had certain Amendments which could have been reached by consensus. However, I should like to point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that I believe her substantial explanation on Clause 16 was helpful both to the House and to the general understanding of the whole Bill, to which she devoted considerable care.

The Bill is a step in the right direction. All those who took part in discussions in another place—discussions which have, of course, assisted us substantially—are to be taken as sharing in our appreciation of the work done as a united attempt to do something about those in this particular distressing predicament.

5.26 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, most of what I wish to say has been said eloquently by my noble friend Lord Gifford, who has played a notable part throughout the proceedings, and by my noble friend Lord Janner. I am one of those who is very disappointed with the Bill in its present form. I am not one of those who think that it will do more harm than good and that we should be better without it—not at all; it is an advantage. However, it is disappointing compared with what it might have been. The anxieties of those most concerned with the single homeless, battered wives and other groups have already been expressed. It would be wrong for any noble Lord to gain the impression that in some way we believe that the Bill is better than when it started: it is worse than when it started and one must accept that. I pay a tribute to the noble Baroness and to all those who have played active parts.

5.28 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for the inclusion of Clauses 14 and 17. As far as I know, this is the first time that preference has been given to the people in Her Majesty's Services, including the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service and the Women's Royal Naval Service. Those people are often in a very difficult position because, when they occupy quarters provided by the Services and have to leave for some reason or another, they are not included on the register of the local housing authority. Sometimes they have no means of knowing when they will have to leave—there may be special reasons why they have to leave the Service—and are in great difficulty. With the low pay that they now receive, together with the fact that they have to pay high rents and they have to rent their furniture, they have very little opportunity, particularly in the lower echelons, of saving any money in order to provide their own homes. Therefore, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for finding an opportunity of including this matter in the Bill after I raised it on Second Reading.


My Lords, I had intended to say a few words on the Motion, That the Bill do now pass, in accordance with our more ancient custom; but as these valuable contributions have been made on Third Reading I shall say a few words and then be silent when it comes to the Motion, That the Bill do now pass. I should like to express my very grateful thanks to the noble Baronesses, Lady Birk and Lady Young, and her colleagues, and all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. We have had a great deal of very valuable and constructive criticism and helpful advice. As we very well know, everyone is not satisfied, but I am absolutely sure that it has all been well worth while.

Turning to the time factor, I very much dislike Bills coming to us late in the Session. I have expressed my views on that before. It is only fair to say that Mr. Ross—and this is a Private Member's Bill—introduced the Bill in another place very early on in the Session. Even with Government support, it is pretty hazardous to get a Private Member's Bill on to the Statute Book and there are not so many who succeed. I congratulate him. It has taken a long time for the Bill to reach us. I am sure that noble Lords have done their utmost to improve the Bill within the limited time available. It is an important step forward and I hope that the Bill will very soon reach the Statute Book.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords first, may I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for the way in which he has carried the Bill through the House in the most difficult circumstances. It is a complicated Bill and the noble Lord introduced it more or less single-handed.

At this stage I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, that if we had taken the Third Reading in the spillover session there may have been time for longer discussion. However, in the circumstances in which the Bill was, so to speak, conceived and from the way it has now grown, I believe that there would not have been any substantial difference. A few "i's" may have been dotted and "t's" crossed, but I think that we have reached the end of the road so far as any substantial agreement was concerned. The fact that the Bill will be—as I hope—on the Statute Book this week and implemented fairly soon afterwards towards the end of the year is really the most important point.

My noble friend Lord Longford referred to the Bill in its original form. Many of us regret the fact that some parts of it are not now in the form in which they were orginally drafted. Nevertheless, when the Bill came to your Lordships' House it contained a number of substantial unresolved points and a great many more points on which there was grave unease. In the short time in which we have considered the Bill, I think that to the best of our ability we have managed to resolve many of them. The Bill is improved. Of course it is not perfect and I do not believe that we could have a Bill of this kind which would suit us all.

My noble friend Lord Gifford referred to the discretion involved. However one worded the Bill, and even if the different points that he wanted could have been added, there would always have to be elements of discretion within it, unless a far greater resource allocation was possible. There would always need to be flexiblity because I believe that we must have flexibility. I can assure my noble friend that we shall do our very best to be as helpful and as clear as we can in the code of guidance. The remarks that he and other noble Lords have made during the Bill's passage through this House have been of tremendous help both to me and my Department in relation to the code of guidance. It is now emerging and we are very much clearer about what should be added and included in it—not only as regards the factual material but also as to the way in which people are handled, how they are treated and how the information is imparted to them.

We shall certainly monitor the operation of the Bill and keep a very watchful eye on the way in which it is interpreted. In fact, there are few Bills that will have so many voluntary, involuntary and other watchdog bodies keeping eagle eyes on them as they proceed.

Finally, even with its imperfections and with the dissatisfactions expressed by many people, the result of our work is a social measure which will be of real benefit to homeless people. On behalf of the Government who have supported the Bill from its introduction in another place, I should like to thank noble Lords for the care with which they have considered the Bill and for the way in which they have all been prepared to hurry it through, which has involved a great deal of work—I am very conscious of that—and giving it a great deal of attention in the short time available. That was possible because of the one point on which there was general agreement; namely, that if we were to have a Bill on homelessness, the sooner it was put on the Statute Book the better. Everyone in this House has helped to do that, and I look forward, together with everyone else, to seeing some real improvement in practice in the lot of the homeless. I hope that this will be just a beginning and that we shall be able to add the other priority groups, about which so many noble Lords feel so passionately, in as short a time as possible.

On Question, Bill read 3a with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.

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  23. COMMONS AMENDMENT 1,529 words
  24. cc1058-60
  25. COMMONS AMENDMENT 723 words
  26. c1060
  27. COMMONS AMENDMENT 79 words
  28. cc1060-1
  29. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 573 words
  30. cc1062-3
  31. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 793 words
  32. cc1063-4
  33. COMMONS AMENDMENT 70 words
  34. cc1064-6
  35. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 783 words
  36. cc1066-7
  37. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 484 words
  38. cc1067-8
  39. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 601 words
  40. cc1068-70
  41. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 796 words
  42. cc1070-1
  43. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 512 words
  44. c1072
  45. COMMONS AMENDMENT 177 words
  46. c1072
  47. COMMONS AMENDMENT 66 words
  48. c1072
  49. COMMONS AMENDMENT 55 words
  50. cc1072-3
  51. COMMONS AMENDMENT 58 words
  52. cc1073-5
  53. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 923 words
  54. c1075
  55. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 120 words
  56. cc1075-6
  57. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 453 words
  58. cc1076-7
  60. cc1077-8
  61. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 495 words
  62. cc1078-80
  63. COMMONS AMENDMENT 638 words
  64. c1080
  66. c1080
  67. COMMONS AMENDMENT 60 words
  68. cc1080-1
  69. COMMONS AMENDMENT 164 words
  70. c1081
  71. COMMONS AMENDMENT 74 words
  72. cc1081-2
  73. COMMONS AMENDMENT 200 words
  74. c1082
  75. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 292 words
  76. cc1082-3
  77. COMMONS AMENDMENT 104 words
  78. cc1083-5
  79. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 1,059 words
  80. cc1085-94
  81. COMMONS AMENDMENTS 3,542 words
  82. c1094
  83. FINANCE BILL 10 words
  84. cc1094-112
  85. DEFENCE STRATEGY 6,699 words
  86. c1112
  88. c1112