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Housing (Homeless Persons) Money

Volume 932: debated on Friday 20 May 1977

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Queen's Recommendation having been signified

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make further provision as to the functions of local authorities with respect to persons who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, to provide for the giving of assistance to voluntary organisations concerned with homelessness by the Secretary of State and local authorities, and to repeal section 25 of the National Assistance Act 1948, it is expedient to authorise—
  • (i) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any sums required to enable the Secretary of State to give financial assistance to a voluntary organisation concerned with homelessness or matters relating to homelessness; and
  • (ii) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any sums falling to be so paid by virtue of the said Act;
  • and for the purpose of this Resolution 'voluntary organisation' means a body the activities of which are carried on otherwise than for profit, but does not include any public or local authority.—[Mr. Armstrong.]

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is not the first occasion when objection has been made about Money Resolutions appearing on the Order Paper on a Friday afternoon without notice. My recollection is that two or three weeks ago there was a similar objection. We thought that the Government had at that time taken on board that we should receive notice. It is extremely unfortunate for hon. Members to have this motion on the Order Paper without notice.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) is in his usual form. He delayed the House for one and a half hours on the Rent (Agriculture) (Amendment) Bill and did not have the decency to appear last night when it was debated in the House. Is it not a fact that this matter was subject to negotiations through the usual channels? The hon. Gentleman is making a fuss about something which is very normal practice indeed.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is this not in fact a debatable motion? Is it not—

    Order. Let us get on to the business, because these points of order are coming out of the time allotted for the debate. It is debatable.

    My point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that if the motion is debatable, why do not hon. Members opposite, instead of raising points of order, debate the subject and explain their points?

    Because of the weakness of the occupant of the Chair. I think I have taken enough points of order.

    I have already indicated that the Chair is not responsible for the business to be debated by the House. I do not see why I should take any further points of order on this particular matter.

    Can you assist me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I am one of the newer additions to the House, having been here for only three years? Is it in order to have a Money Resolution on a Bill, to which the Second Reading has already been given, which clearly states that

    "There will be no net addition to public expenditure"?
    Is it in order to have a Money Resolution when we have already granted the Second Reading on the declared statement that
    "There will be no net addition to public expenditure"?

    It is absolutely in order. I have already proposed the Question. Does anyone wish to take part in the debate?

    4.9 p.m.

    In view of your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker I shall restrict my remarks to the merits of the resolution before the House. But I also protest at the timing that the Government have selected to bring this Money Resolution before the House. It is a gross abuse of the convenience of hon. Members to put such things on at 4 o'clock on a Friday evening. We know why the Government have done it. Clearly, they suspected that there would be very few hon. Members present and hoped that they could slip it through without any debate whatever.

    I am surprised that the Government Chief Whip has not yet realised that the best way to get this sort of thing through is to put it on at a sensible time. Today is a Private Members' day. The right hon. Gentleman fully expected that it would be a quiet day with very few hon. Members present and that this Money Resolution could be slipped through. If we are permitted to go on until 4.45 on a Private Members' day on a Friday, how much more sensible it would be to allow that time to those hon. Members who have failed to secure Second Readings for their Private Members' Bills? It is a misuse of a Private Members' Friday to put on Government business after 4 o'clock.

    It is also of great inconvenience to the staff, who were probably expecting to go home at 4.30 p.m., as is their right. It is also inconvenient to the occupants of other offices and posts. I was hoping that the Under-Secretary of State would rise to say that he understood this and would not move the Money Resolution but would bring it forward on another occasion. That would have met with approval from all sides of the House. But he decided not to do that. I believe that it is very regrettable and that it will make the conduct of business that much harder. The Government should think seriously about proceeding in this way in the future.

    The Under-Secretary might argue that the original Bill was considered on a Friday three months ago and, therefore, that the Money Resolution should do so as well. However, the Money Resolution is entirely a Government measure. If the hon. Gentleman argues that this is a proper use of a Private Members' Friday, perhaps it could be said to have been an improper use of a previous Private Members' Friday to have debated the Bill on Second Reading. In fact, what the Government have been doing is to use Private Members' time for Government legislation.

    The hon. Gentleman says that it is not Government legislation. That comes as a surprise to me. I understand that the measure has full Government backing and, of course, the Government are moving this Money Resolution. I fail to see, therefore, how they can say that it is not their Bill. The hon. Gentleman cannot shuffle off responsibility for this procedure in that way.

    The Under-Secretary was ill-advised to press ahead with this resolution on a Friday evening in this way. I have no doubt that he has discovered that there are precedents for doing it. I do not know whether there have been discussions through the usual channels. But, whether there are precedents and whether there have been discussions, neither has very much to do with Back Benchers. We are entitled to proper notice of resolutions of this kind and to know that the Government are aware of the convenience of hon. Members.

    I said that the Second Reading was three months ago. I suspect that it is almost unique to have a Money Resolution coming forward three months after Second Reading. Why has there been this extraordinary delay? Is it due to the incompetence of the Government? Is it due to the incompetence of the Government's business managers? Did they forget about it? If they forget about it, were they so embarrassed that they decided to move it at 4 o'clock on a Private Members' day? I hope that we shall be told the reason for the three-month delay.

    Then one has to look at the Bill itself, with specific reference to the Money Resolution—

    Not only has the hon. Gentleman to look at the Bill itself. He should also look at what we are discussing. So far, all that I have heard has been a procedural contribution. I should like the hon. Gentleman to get to the matter before the House, which is a Money Resolution and a specific part of the Bill.

    I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I said that it was necessary to refer to the Bill itself, I should have said "to the Explanatory Memorandum".

    That brings me specifically to the motion before the House. I turn to the financial effects of the Bill. We were assured in the Explanatory Memorandum that there would be

    "no net addition to public expenditure."
    Today, three months later, we have before us a Money Resolution which presumably, unless the world is standing on its head, is about public expenditure. Perhaps we ought to go back and debate the Second Reading again. I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us what the public expenditure implications are.

    The Explanatory Memorandum said that the Bill would require a transfer of resources from social services to housing authorities and that there would be
    "no net addition to public expenditure."
    It went on to say that the needs of the homeless for public sector housing would continue to be reflected in local authority housing programmes within the expenditure limits which had already been approved. There we had a clear and categorical assertion that there would be no public expenditure implications.

    If there are no such implications, I can find no justification for a Money Resolution being brought before us at any time, let alone at this time on a Friday. If we are now presented with the proposition that public money is to be spent, let us consider how much is required. We look to the resolution to ascertain the sum for which the Government are asking. We look in vain because the resolution states:
    "for the purposes of any Act".
    Further on in the resolution it is stated:
    "it is expedient to authorise—
    (i) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any sums required to enable the Secretary of State to give financial assistance to a voluntary organisation concerned with homelessness or matters relating to homelessness; and (ii) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any sums falling to be so paid by virtue of the said Act".
    It is an extraordinary proposition that the Government can say "Please authorise us a Money Resolution to spend any sums that we deem necessary". Perhaps some of my hon. Friends will refer to the recipients of the money. There have been considerable doubts about whether all the voluntary organisations concerned with homelessness in all parts of the United Kingdom have been worthy recipients, or whether the funds have been properly controlled. This is an important matter that is introduced specifically into the Money Resolution.

    I am sure that there have been times in the past when money was flowing so plentifully through the coffers of the Treasury that we could authorise Money Resolutions without limit, but I thought that we were now in the days of public expenditure constraints. I thought that we were in the days of talking about cash limits. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will tell us what cash limit is introduced by the Money Resolution. As I read the resolution it refers to "any sums". That does not place any constraint on the Government. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what public expenditure he considers to be involved.

    :The hon. Gentleman says "It is there", but the only specific reference is in the Explanatory Memorandum, which includes the following:

    "no net addition to public expenditure".
    If that is so, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us why we have a Money Resolution and why the Government are trying to slip it through on a Friday afternoon.

    How does the Money Resolution fit into the Government's public expenditure programme. Has it been approved by Dr. Witteveen as fitting in with public expenditure constraints as agreed with the IMF? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take up that point. If there is an element of public expenditure involved, presumably it must come out of some other budget or pocket. If it is not to come out of another Government pocket, I fear that it will be yet another burden imposed on local authorities without any additional resources being given to them. That is my real worry about the whole proposition.

    Even if it is just shuffling off the responsibility on to local authorities, pre sumably at some stage there will be considerable implications for Government public expenditure. If there is a net increase in the housing duties of local authorities, it cannot be denied that the effect of the resolution is that at some stage such expenditure must be met at least in part through rate support grant or other subsidies. The figure should be spelt out specifically in the resolution. The Government may say that they cannot measure the figure in a financial resolution, but surely they should be able to do so.

    Is this not an example of passing the buck to local authorities with a vengeance? The Government must take account of the considerable indirect burdens that could result and the implications for local authority housing management and housing programmes. I do not want to go into detail because that would be out of order, but such matters as rent arrears and the encouragement of self-induced homelessness are arguments that must be considered. They cannot be brushed aside lightly.

    Real consideration must be given to whether a Bill of this sort, with its broad definition of homelessness, would encourage rent arrears. Would it encourage the minority of non-payers and rent dodgers not to pay their rent? If they fail to pay their rents, that will have implications for the housing fund of the local authority and, ultimately, for our national expenditure programme.

    It goes rather further than just non-payment of rent. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that in my constituency I have had examples of actual connivance between landlord and tenant to get a court order so that people could put themselves into the sort of position envisaged in the Bill.

    My hon. Friend is quite right. I shall now quote from a letter written by the Kent Housing Managers Association:

    "Councils are becoming increasingly concerned with the problem of escalating rent arrears. The Bill will remove the one threat that has proved the greatest deterrent to the non-payment of rent, namely, eviction. Once it is known that evictions are not possible, the problem could well grow to unmanageable proportions in some areas."
    I refer to that not in regard to the general principles of the Bill but simply to show that this is a matter in which public expenditure could increase as a result of what is proposed. The Government will have to seek money from the House to cover such developments, yet we are not told how much.

    Even if I did not object to the timing of the Money Resolution, I should object even more to a vague blank-cheque proposition of this kind being brought before the House. I hope that either the Government will decide to withdraw the Money Resolution and bring it in at a more civilised and sensible time or that the House will decide to reject it.

    4.21 p.m.

    I strongly endorse the plea put by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) that the Government withdraw the Money Resolution at this time.

    I start, however, by taking up at once the point thrown across the Floor at me by the Minister when he said that on the Rent (Agriculture) Amendment Bill I delayed the House and did not bother to turn up for the debate last night. He knows perfectly well that, during the course of the week I informed him that that Bill could go through on the nod. I made that known also through what are known as the usual channels. Moreover, I made known my reasons, which, quite simply, were that the two issues I had raised on that Bill were fully ventilated, first, on Second Reading, and secondly, in Committee, and there was therefore nothing further to discuss on the Floor of the House.

    I could have put down a whole series of amendments last night if I had been minded to play with the House and waste its time, but I was not minded to do that, and I gave the hon. Gentleman the courtesy of advance warning that the Bill could go through on the nod. There was no need for any debate.

    It ill becomes the hon. Gentleman now, therefore, to try to throw such an accusation in my face after I had extended to him every possible courtesy, in stark contrast—I have checked this—with what is happening today. There has not been the slightest communication through the usual channels informing us that this Money Resolution would be on the Order Paper today. That is again in contrast to the assurances given us last week by the Leader of the House when he was forced to withdraw this Money Resolution and say that there would be full and proper consultation.

    The truth is that the Government are treating the House in their usual arrogant way. They have no consideration whatever for the convenience or interests of right hon. and hon. Members. They put these matters down when it pleases them. They do it when they choose in the hope that by so doing they will be able to slide matters through without the smallest opportunity for debate, in the knowledge that on a Friday most hon. Members are away in their constituencies unless some pressing matter requires them to be here.

    This is a pressing matter, because, as I was about to tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on my further point of order, I know of no Bill concerning local authorities on which I have received more representations expressing anxiety about its terms and the financial consequences for local authorities. Not only have the local authority associations approached me, but over 100 individual local authorities have written to me personally on the matter expressing their anxiety about the financial implications. Moreover, virtually all my right hon. and hon. Friends have been approached by their own district councils, and they in turn have written to me. Therefore, if I had had sufficient warning of this matter, I could have come here with about 250 letters to produce to the House to show how great is the anxiety.

    Precisely for that reason, because they do not want hon. Members to be here to show the difficulties which will arise as a result of the Bill, the Government try to slide their Money Resolution through in this underhand way on a Friday, without due warning. I register my protest in the strongest possible terms.

    I shall turn now to the Money Resolution itself. I understand that it relates to only one aspect of the Bill, namely the provision of money for voluntary organisations. It makes no mention of the provision of money for local authorities which in due course will have to work the Bill. But there is an open-ended commitment in it to the voluntary organisations. Parliament is being asked to provide for sums required by the Secretary of State. There is no limit on the figure for disbursement to voluntary organisations. Which voluntary organisations—Second Genesis, Novo and the Paddy O'Connors of this world?

    This is a matter which should concern the House very much. My understanding of the Housing Act 1974, and particularly of Section 84, is that it provides that public money should be made available only to properly registered housing associations. Yet experience has shown us that certain unregistered housing associations which have not been properly vetted were provided with properties and considerable sums of public money without any proper accounting by the last administration of the Greater London Council.

    There has been a great public scandal over the matter which was demonstrated by a film "Goodbye Longfellow Road" produced by Yorkshire Television. I have tried to pursue that matter in the House during Questions directly with the Minister for Housing and Construction. I asked whether he intended to ensure that money was not provided to unregistered associations. After the Yorkshire Television film and all the publicity that went with it, he said that he had no evidence that money had been used in this way. I then asked whether he had taken the trouble to contact the television company to see its documentary evidence on the misuse of public funds. I got a sheepish grin across the Dispatch Box by way of reply. I can tell the House that as of yesterday the Minister for Housing and Construction had not taken the trouble to contact Yorkshire Television to see what written evidence it has on the misapplication of public money in order that he can decide what corrective measures might be taken to ensure that it does not happen again.

    Is it the intention of Section 84 that public money does not go to unregistered housing associations? Secondly, if there is a loophole in the law which enables the GLC to give money to Novo and Second Genesis, what steps is the Minister taking to plug that loophole? I have heard nothing from him which would suggest any concern or desire on his part to protect public money in this way. Instead we have an open-ended commitment in the Money Resolution with the Secretary of State, unconcerned with these problems, asking Parliament to vote any sum to be given to the voluntary associations.

    That is not good enough. We in this House have a responsibility for the proper discharge of public moneys and the Government have not acted responsibly in this matter. One is even more worried when one sees the method by which they have introduced this matter into the House. One can only speculate about why, given the history of the matter.

    Having dealt with the problem of the Money Resolution in the open-ended commitment to voluntary associations, the unsatisfactory situation which remains under Section 84 of the 1974 Housing Act, I should like now to turn to what is not in the Money Resolution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham said, the Financial Memorandum says that there will be no consequences in terms of financial expenditure as a result of the transfer of this duty to provide for the homeless from social service departments to housing departments. We have had assurance after assurance to that effect.

    The local authorities do not agree, in which case it is only right to ask why the Money Resolution makes no provision to assist the local authorities which will receive additional burdens and duties under the Bill. It is useless to tell local authorities that they now have the absolute duty to rehouse the homeless if they are not given the financial resources to do so. The whole thing becomes a sham and a mockery. It is deluding homeless families into believing that local authorities will help them if the Government do not give the authorities the wherewithal.

    The Minister has already answered that question. On Second Reading, dealing with my hon. Friend's own assertions that the financial resources would have to be made available, the Minister said:

    "…We have to establish priorities and shift resources because additional funds are not available."
    He went on to say:
    "Having established that this Bill cannot for the time being lead to a net increase in local government expenditure, there are three further points about resources that I should like to make."—[Official Report, 18th February 1977; Vol. 926, c. 966.]
    He then talked the matter away. Thus, the Minister's answer was that there is no money available for allocating further resources.

    I recall very well that answer to my question and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of what was said.

    The Association of District Councils has produced to me a sample survey of 10 per cent. of the local authorities, in which it says that the survey
    "would seem to bear out our fears as to the costs of the Bill despite the financial memorandum. You will see that the estimated net annual cost for the non-metropolitan districts is £5 million".
    The association draws on experience of local authorities which have already sought to do this voluntarily under Circular 18/74 to show what the extra costs are.

    It says that the 16 authorities which have already partially or wholly implemented that circular have not yet received any staff from the county councils, although the proposal is that the social welfare departments of county councils should transfer staff and resources to the housing departments. The 16 districts have therefore had to recruit additional staff for the purpose.

    There then follows a schedule. I am reluctant to delay the House further, but I am willing to table it or leave it in the Library. It shows that over the whole area of additional staff accommodation and so on the 16 authorities have incurred costs of about £5 million. Further figures are projected for the rest of the local authorities which appear to show that a total of £9·6 million will be required in additional resources by housing authorities to discharge their duties under the Bill. Yet there is not a word of that in the Money Resolution.

    This makes the whole Bill a sham. Until such time as the Government bring forward a Money Resolution dealing with all the financial aspects of the Bill in a proper manner and at a time at which it can be properly debated by hon. Members representing their local authorities I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends not to give way to the Government on this matter.

    4.35 p.m.

    I join my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) in complaining bitterly about the way the motion has been put on the Order Paper and about its contents, or its lack of contents. If I read the Money Resolution correctly, it does not deal with any expenditure by local authorities.

    It is clear that expenditure under the Bill by local authorities, if they are to carry out the duties placed on them, will be about £9 million to £10 million. None of that is to be provided in any way by the Government. The Money Resolution makes that perfectly clear. It is not to be provided because the Government, in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, under
    "Financial effects of the Bill"
    say something which is absolutely nonsensical—that there will be no increase in public expenditure.

    The Government claim this because under the Bill the duties of local authorities are being transferred from one department of a local authority to another department of a local authority and, therefore, there will be no extra public expenditure. One need only look at the Bill to see the duties placed on local authorities. Clause 2 places a duty on local authorities to investigate when someone is said to be homeless to see whether it is true. Staff have to be set up to do that. There is a duty to house such a person if he comes under the definition of homeless. Local authorities have sufficient difficulty in housing those on their waiting lists already without being obliged to house others who jump the queue.

    As one goes through the Bill one sees that there will be a considerable increase in expenditure for local authorities. They are required to store the furniture or household effects if necessary of those who are made homeless. They must take action when they think that an offence has been committed. They must comply with guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

    The hon. Gentleman disagrees. Clause 7(2) states:

    "The Secretary of State may give guidance either generally or to specified authorities or descriptions of authorities."
    Clause 7(3) states:
    "It shall be the duty of a relevant authority to furnish the Secretary of State with such information as he may from time to time require".

    What I had in mind was that the requirement to take account of guidance issued by the Secre- tary of State under Clause 7 is a requirement that the local authority shall have regard to guidance, not necessarily that it shall comply with it. The two things are very different.

    The hon. Gentleman may be perfectly correct in his interpretation. Clause 7(3) states:

    "It shall be the duty of the relevant authority to furnish the Secretary of State with such information as he may from time to time require with regard to the exercise, in relation to homeless persons and persons threatened with homelessness, of their functions or the manner in which they propose to exercise them."
    So local authorities have to go to some little trouble to provide any information that the Secretary of State may require. That is only one item of the several that appear throughout the Bill.

    Clause 9 is extraordinary, in that under it the Secretary of State can order local authorities to transfer not only property but employees from one authority to another. Is it suggested that no expenditure will be involved there from increased administration?

    Therefore, it is not so much what is in the Money Resolution as what is left out of it. The Money Resolution, while reciting the new duties of local authorities—and one gets quite pleased when one starts to read the first few lines—goes on to make it clear that it is only authorising financial assistance to voluntary organisations. The Secretary of State will, by means of the Money Resolution supporting the Bill, be able to give financial assistance to voluntary organisations. I approve that. As my hon. Friend has said, we ought to have a better definition of the voluntary organisations to be assisted and not be asked under the Money Resolution to authorise the Secretary of State to provide money for all and sundry voluntary organisations, but in general I approve the principle.

    But the Money Resolution disregards the major part of the Bill placing new duties and new administration on local authorities. The Secretary of State for the Environment made a statement yesterday about the expenditure of local authorities—about not only finding new sources for the money they have to expend but about trimming their expenditure. Again and again we are told that we are placing more duties on local authorities and, therefore, more expenditure. Yet here we are in this Bill providing that the local authorities carry out duties, which my hon. Friend has said will cost £9·6 million, without providing any money under the Money Resolution.

    I do not know how a Bill can go ahead based on a Money Resolution which takes account of less than half the Bill. That is an impossible way to proceed. If the Bill proceeds to the next stage on the basis of this Money Resolution, one might well argue that all that part which provides for extra expenditure by local authorities should be removed from the Bill because, in that respect, it is an extra expenditure from the Secretary of State himself. The Secretary of State will have to contribute through the rate support grant to the extra expenditure under the Bill. Therefore, the Money Resolution does not cover all the money which will require to be spent under the Bill itself. It is nonsense to say in the Explanatory Memorandum there there is no further expenditure. I join my hon. Friends in opposing the Money Resolution.

    4.44 p.m.

    Never at any time have I intended to be discourteous in any way to any hon. Member. I have had experience in the Government Whips' office, in the Opposition Whips' office, and as a Back Bencher, as well as in the Department, and I submit that bringing forward a Money Resolution was never the subject of the ordinary procedures, such as giving notice and so on. I assure the House that this Money Resolution has not been tabled to shift anything through or to avoid anything.

    This is a serious Bill. I understood that it had the support of both sides of the House. Homelessness is perhaps the most acute form of social deprivation. I understand that hon. Members opposite may be anxious to say that we are indulging in a bit of sharp practice, but it is not true. I want to deal with the true issues of a very serious social problem in the few minutes that I have left.

    I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I am not being discourteous. I have important points to make about this very difficult problem.

    I remind the House that although this is a Private Member's Bill it has full Government backing. Let there be no mistake about that. It has been the result of two years of urgent and sustained negotiation and consultation with voluntary bodies and the local authority associations. It has not been planted on them in any way. The complaints made by Opposition Members were also made more than a year ago because a Private Member's Bill dealing with these matters was not accepted by the Government.

    I followed closely the legitimate complaints of the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), but I must point out that the Money Resolution was first tabled on 24th March. Only the Government can move a Money Resolution, even though this is a Private Member's Bill.

    I say to the House, and particularly to the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), whose knowledge of local government is acknowledged on both sides of the House, that there will be no net addition to public expenditure. That is the truth of the matter.

    The Money Resolution deals with a new power to spend money, but it also implies a shift in priorities. The circular that suggested that local housing authorities should take the responsibility for homelessness, a responsibility which had hitherto been with the social service authorities, went out when the right hon. Member for Crosby was an eminent member of the Government. That circular has been accepted and is working in a great number of authorities. Some of those authorities have dealt with homelessness in a remarkable and encouraging way. The Bill envisages not new expenditure but a re-ordering of priorities. In some respects there will be savings, as evidenced by that joint circular.

    Our main concern today is with the specific terms of the Money Resolution. It is to enable the Secretary of State to make grants and loans to voluntary organisations concerned with homelessness. This is not the occasion for reviewing Section 84 or for dealing with "Goodbye Longfellow Road". That is a very serious matter and we are concerned about it, but it does not concern this Resolution.

    Existing powers and authority are adequate to cover other heads of expenditure. There has been criticism of the wording in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, which states quite clearly that there will be no net addition to public expenditure arising from the Bill. The main aim of the Bill is to replace the existing duty of social services authorities in respect of accommodation for homeless people by duties on housing authorities.

    Does the right hon. Member for Crosby want us to do nothing about the homelessness problem? I suppose that he wants us to provide extra public expenditure. Is that what he suggests that we should be doing? On every other occasion he is saying that we should reduce public expenditure.

    Either we do not have a Bill at all, in which case there is no expenditure, or, if the Bill is to be passed, the local authorities must be backed with public expenditure and should not have to draw from the rates.

    That is a typical Tory approach—that if one has a genuine problem one should try to settle it, but, if one cannot get a perfect Bill, one should do nothing at all about it. That is what the right hon. Gentleman is saying.

    Homelessness is a growing problem and we are determined to do something about it. That is why we support the Bill. I would have hoped that the Bill would be supported by Conservative Members.

    Division No. 143]


    [4.52 p.m.

    Archer, PeterLatham, Arthur (Paddington)Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
    Armstrong, ErnestLoyden, EddleWise, Mrs Audrey
    Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Moyle, RolandWrigglesworth, Ian
    Bottomley, Rt Hon ArthurParker, John
    Cocks, Rt Hon MichaelPavitt, LaurieTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
    Douglas-Mann, BruceShore, Rt Hon PeterMr. Ted Graham and
    English, MichaelSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)Mr. Ronald Brown.
    Freeson, ReginaldThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
    Huckfield, LesTuck, Raphael


    Brooke, Peter
    Lawrence, Ivan
    Mr. Graham Page and
    Mr. Roger Moate.

    No, I shall not give way. I remind the House that the main aim of the Bill is to transfer responsibility to housing authorities. This follows through the policy spelled out in the joint circular on homelessness issued in February 1974.

    We are not dealing with a new problem. Local authorities are dealing with it every day. Even without this Bill the homeless could not simply be set on one side until economic circumstances improved. Is it suggested that housing authorities are not dealing with this problem day by day? The homeless are with us. Authorities are dealing with their needs and will continue to have to deal with them.

    The trouble is that the present statutory framework is quite inconsistent with the generally agreed policy. Section 21(1)(b) of the National Assistance Act 1948 puts the duty to accommodate homeless people on social service authorities. This Bill will put the obligation where it should be—on housing authorities. That means that social service authorities should spend less on homelessness and housing authorities should take over that expenditure responsibility. When we think of the howls of complaint from hon. Members opposite—

    It being three-quarters of an hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 ( Exempted Business).

    The House divided: Ayes 21, Noes 2.

    It appears from the result of the Division that 40 Members are not present. I declare that the Question is not decided, and the business stands over until next week, pursuant to Standing Order No. 29.