' After section 202 of the 1996 Act (right to request review of decision) there is inserted—
"202A Section 202: reviews
(1) This section applies where an applicant has the right to request a review of a decision by an authority or authorities under section 202.
(2) If the applicant is dissatisfied with a decision by the authority—
(a) not to exercise their power to continue to secure that accommodation is available for the applicant's occupation pending a review under section 188;
(b) in a case where the authority have secured that accommodation is available for the applicant's occupation under section 190(2)(a), to cease to secure that accommodation is so available before the time available to the applicant to bring an appeal under section 204 of the Act has expired (or, if sooner, the day on which an appeal is brought by the applicant);
(c) not to exercise their power to secure that accommodation is available for the applicant's occupation pending a review, under section 200(5) or;
(d) to exercise their power under either section 188 or section 200(5) for a limited time ending before the time available to the applicant to bring an appeal under section 204 of the Act has expired (or, if sooner, the day on which an appeal is brought by the applicant), or, in either case, to cease exercising their power before that time,
he may appeal to the county court against the decision.
(3) An appeal under this section may not be brought after the time available to the applicant to bring an appeal under section 204 of the Act has expired (or, if sooner, after the date on which an appeal is brought).
(4) On an appeal under this section the court—
(a) may order the authority to secure that accommodation is available for the applicant's occupation until the time available to the applicant to bring an appeal under section 204 of the Act has expired (or such earlier time as the court may specify); and
(b) shall confirm or quash the decision appealed against,
and in considering whether to confirm or quash the decision the court shall apply the principles applied by the High Court on an application for judicial review.
(5) If the court quashes the decision it may order the authority to exercise any of the powers mentioned in subsection (2) above in the applicant's case for such period as may be specified in the order.
(6) An order under subsection (5)—
(a) may only be made if the court is satisfied that failure to exercise the power in accordance with the order would substantially prejudice the applicant's ability to pursue the review against the authority's decision in his case;
(b) may not specify any period ending after the time available to the applicant to bring an appeal under section 204 of the Act has expired.".'.—[Mr. Don Foster.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendment No. 22.
Amendment No. 21, in schedule 1, page 15, line 23, at end insert—
'16A. For section 210(1) of the 1996 Act (suitability of accommodation) there is substituted—
"In determining for the purposes of this Part whether accommodation is suitable for a person, accommodation shall only be regarded as suitable if—
(a) it is not overcrowded (within the meaning of section 324 of the Housing Act 1985);
(b) it is fit for the number of occupants and it has adequate means of escape from fire (within the meaning of sections 352 and 365 of the Housing Act 1985); and
(c) in the view of the authority it is fit for human habitation (within the meaning of section 604 of the Housing Act 1985).".'.
We have had some fairly lengthy debates on the first three new clauses, so you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and, no doubt, the rest of the House—will be pleased to know that notwithstanding the significant enthusiasm in the House for the Bill, hon. Members from all parties have been fairly restrained in the number of issues that they have sought to raise by tabling amendments for us to deliberate on this evening.
I reiterate what my hon. Friend Mr. Sanders said earlier—that the Liberal Democrats are delighted that our deliberations on the Bill are coming to an end, and that it will shortly pass to another place. Although we wish to make some minor amendments to it, we wish it good speed there, so that it can be implemented as soon as possible.
As I said, there are several minor areas in which we seek to make improvements. That is why we tabled new clause 4 and amendment No. 21. I am delighted to see Government amendment No. 22 included in this string of amendments, and were there to be a vote on it—I am sure that there will not be—we would support the Government.
New clause 4 and amendment No. 21 deal with rather different issues, so I shall discuss each in turn. New clause 4 concerns people's right to access to justice at all stages of the operation of the homelessness legislation. Unfortunately, that is a complex body of legislation, which includes many different stages in the consideration of a request for accommodation by a homeless person.
At the later stages of the process, the local authority can determine somebody's eligibility for assistance, and at an even later stage, it can determine what priority should be given to such a person when his or her eligibility has been acknowledged. The Government have already accepted that at those two later stages it is right and proper that the applicant should be able to appeal against a decision that goes against him or her. They have also decided that during the appeal process an applicant should be able to seek to obtain accommodation. If the local authority fails to provide accommodation, the applicant can appeal against that judgment, too.
During our deliberations on that complex issue, the Government accepted that the right court to determine whether someone should have accommodation during the appeal process was not the High Court, because that involves a remote judicial process, but the county court. When they accepted the content of some of the amendments moved by Liberal Democrats, although they slightly amended it, the Government argued that it was appropriate that a local court with knowledge of the area should make the decision.
My new clause suggests that the same procedure should apply at another stage of the consideration of a homeless person's application. In the very early stages, someone has to go to a local authority and seek to be treated as homeless. That precedes all detailed discussions about eligibility and levels of priority.
In section 202 of the Housing Act 1996, there already exists a provision to enable someone whom the local authority is not prepared to treat as homeless to ask for an internal review of that decision. That is not affected by the Bill. Also within existing legislation, the local authority has the power to offer accommodation to such a person pending the outcome of the internal review. Unfortunately, all the research shows that local authorities rarely make use of that power, and many people need to fight a battle for a review while remaining homeless. Nevertheless, a right to seek assistance remains and to have a judicial review of the decision by the local authority not to provide accommodation.
The Government have accepted that, at later stages in the procedure, judicial review in the High Court is an inappropriate procedure. They have accepted that a county court is better placed to make the decision. Therefore, new clause 4 would substitute the county court procedure for the High Court procedure.
It has been argued that the change would mean a significant increase in the number of internal reviews required. Indeed, the Local Government Association misunderstood the new clause and thought it meant that anybody who requested an internal review would be given an automatic entitlement to accommodation. That is wrong. All that would happen is that the individual would have the right to apply to the county court for consideration of the decision not to provide accommodation. The individual would not be provided with accommodation during that time.
It has also been suggested that the change from High Court to county court—some would argue that the county court might be more sympathetic to homeless people—would make it more likely that the decision would go in favour of the homeless person and require the local authority to provide accommodation. That, too, is incorrect, because the county court would be required to use exactly the same test as the High Court.
The new clause is not a charter to ensure that any homeless person will be able to prolong their case in an attempt to obtain accommodation. It merely seeks to change the location of consideration of the issue from the High Court to the county court. The only change would be that justice would be easier to access by the homeless person, and those who have argued differently—such as the LGA—have misunderstood the purpose of the new clause.
Amendment No. 21 is about the suitability of accommodation, especially temporary. The current requirement is that accommodation provided for homeless households should be suitable. However, local authorities must have regard only for housing standards, overcrowding and physical conditions, which does not mean that accommodation has to meet those standards. Therefore, homeless households are often placed in temporary accommodation that is overcrowded or unfit, a fact that the Government acknowledge in several documents, including the most recent, "Homelessness Strategies: A Good Practice Guide". I am delighted that that document could be rushed out in time for our debate today. In it, the Government state, in reference to the most usual form of temporary accommodation, that bed- and-breakfast hotels
"are almost always the worst option for temporary accommodation, offering the poorest conditions at the highest cost."
Real concern is felt about the quality and suitability of accommodation and the amendment seeks to make it a requirement that such accommodation meets some agreed standards on overcrowding, availability of escape routes and being fit for human habitation within the meaning of existing legislation.
At the end of March 2001, some 75,000 households were in temporary accommodation. In areas with high demand for housing, homeless people can spend many months in so-called temporary accommodation before being offered long-term housing. As a result of the inadequacy of current legislation, including the Bill, many households may continue to be forced to endure poor housing conditions for long periods without a requirement that temporary accommodation meets specific standards.
No doubt the Government will say in response that they have recently established the bed-and-breakfast unit, and that is welcome. The Government may also say that moves to establish standards now are premature, because we will soon have legislation about the licensing of houses in multiple occupation. The Government's response may be to acknowledge the problem and say that the solution may be reached via other mechanisms—the work of the bed-and-breakfast unit and the HMO legislation. I hope that if the Government are not prepared to accept amendment No. 21, they will give the House a clear understanding of how they will, in the near future, end a situation in which so many people live in substandard accommodation. I have raised two separate issues and I look forward with considerable interest to the Government's response.
Mr. Foster will recall that in Committee on
Eligibility for and suitability of housing are both matters that should be determined by the county court. There is an element of overlap and the same court may be asked to adjudicate on both issues, which would streamline the process for the local authority and for the homeless person who is appealing its decision. We all know that the judicial review is a slow, cumbersome and expensive procedure and the homeless person has first to apply to the High Court to be granted leave to seek judicial review. The poor homeless person has to employ a lawyer, possibly without the benefit of legal aid, to prepare a case for his eligibility to apply for judicial review and a High Court judge has to give judgment on that. Some months later, the judicial review itself is carried out. Given the often charged situations in which homeless people live, that is most unsatisfactory.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the clear support that he is giving to the new clause. However, so that he does not mislead the House, I remind him that the small issue covered by the new clause is whether a local authority is right to deny accommodation to a homeless person whose local authority has deemed that it is unwilling even to treat that person as homeless. It is a small issue, although vital for the individual, and that is why it is appropriate that the county court should make the decision.
I entirely accept what Mr. Foster says. I think that my simpler language was compatible with his more detailed legal language. My point about eligibility being subject to judicial review covers the point that he has just made. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions can give the House a more cogent reason for having two judicial routes than he gave in Committee on
We all have a great deal of sympathy for people in housing that is not suitable within the meaning of the legislation because it is overcrowded or does not meet health and safety requirements. However, I think that it will be difficult for authorities to meet the exacting requirements of amendment No. 21 when it comes to those who are temporarily housed. So although I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's proposal and believe that he is right to bring the matter to the attention of the House, I suspect that in practical terms it is not realistic. We await the Minister's response with interest.
We are condemned for ever to repeat the observation that we appear to be taking part in the film "Groundhog Day". If we were, this would be the third or fourth attempt of Mr. Foster to secure the undying love of Andie MacDowell.
New clause 4 would give the county court powers to intervene in a decision by a housing authority not to continue to accommodate a homeless applicant pending a review by the authority of its decision on the homelessness case. Those powers would be similar to those in clause 11 which give the county court the power to intervene in a decision by a housing authority not to exercise its discretion to continue to accommodate an applicant pending an appeal to the county court about the homelessness decision under section 204 of the Housing Act 1996.
It might be helpful to remind right hon. and hon. Members of the two procedural stages open to an applicant who is dissatisfied with the housing authority's decision on his homelessness case. Indeed, the hon. Member for Bath has mentioned this distinction. First, under section 202 of the 1996 Act, he has the right to request the authority to review its decision. Secondly, if he is dissatisfied with the authority's decision on review, or a decision is not provided within the time allowed, the applicant has the right, under section 204, to appeal to the county court on a point of law.
Under current provisions, applicants who wish to challenge an authority's decision not to continue to accommodate pending either a review by the authority or an appeal to the county court must seek judicial review of that decision in the High Court. This provides an avenue of redress for applicants in the event that an authority does not make a proper and reasonable decision—for example, by failing to give due consideration to all the circumstances or failing to consider them at all. It is appropriate that the discretion whether applicants should continue to be accommodated once the authority has completed its detailed inquiries and satisfied itself of the facts of the case should rest with the authority.
Applying to the courts to overturn an authority's decision should be a matter of last resort and should be considered only when it is clear that the authority has not made a proper decision. The nub of the hon. Gentleman's argument is why we have made provision in clause 11 to give the county court the power to intervene when an authority decides not to continue to accommodate an applicant pending an appeal to the county court about the decision on the homelessness case.
During the Report stage of the Homes Bill, my right hon. Friend Mr. Raynsford, who was then Minister for Housing and Planning, gave a commitment to the House to consider whether there was a case for giving the county court power to require an authority to accommodate an applicant pending an appeal to that court. That was in response to a new clause moved by the hon. Member for Bath—one of the first of his postcards—which included such provision.
Following that commitment, my right hon. Friend duly consulted colleagues at the Lord Chancellor's Department and resolved that there would be merit in providing such a power. However, that merit concerned practical considerations. While it remained appropriate in principle for legal challenge of a local authority's decision not to exercise its discretionary power to continue to accommodate to be subject to judicial review in the High Court, there is a persuasive administrative and practical argument for such decisions to be considered in the county court when that court is already considering the substantive decision about the homelessness case on appeal under section 204 of the 1996 Act. In short, it does not make administrative sense for two different courts to consider different decisions about the same homelessness case at the same time.
The Homes Bill fell when the election was called, but a suitable provision—clause 11—was included in the Homelessness Bill when it was introduced shortly after the election. Meanwhile, the principle of judicial review by the High Court remains valid when applicants wish to challenge an authority's decision not to continue to accommodate pending a review by the authority of the homelessness decision.
Will the Minister ponder on the illogicality of his remarks? A decision against an authority's decision to continue to house, which is the most important decision faced by a homeless person, has to go through the cumbersome procedure of judicial review. A decision on whether the person is eligible or suitable can go to the county court—a lower court—and can go on a point of law, which will undoubtedly have to go up through the system if it is a complex point of law. What the Minister has said is illogical. Why cannot the decision whether to continue to house be heard by the county court along with the other decisions?
We are discussing the two stages of the process—review and appeal. The administrative case for conflating the two during the course of an appeal was considered and has indeed been put into the legislation. If the hon. Gentleman can be patient, I will explain why the Government cannot accept the tempting notion of symmetry across the board and do not wish to have a county court course of appeal when a review has taken place.
It is interesting that, during the passage of the Homes Bill, the hon. Member for Bath did not propose a power for the county court to intervene in local authority decisions at the review stage but only at the appeal stage. I put it to him that that might relate more to the collection of postcards than to anything else.
The homelessness legislation makes clear distinctions between those who have a priority need and those who do not, between those who have become homeless through no fault of their own and those who have brought homelessness upon themselves. It is simply not practical or reasonable to expect local housing authorities to arrange accommodation for everyone every time they have to find a new home.
Local authorities have an immediate duty to secure accommodation for new applicants where there is reason to believe that they are homeless and in priority need, until the authorities have had a chance to look into the circumstances and satisfy themselves whether there is homelessness, whether it was caused by the applicant, and whether there is priority need. It is right that authorities should have that immediate duty and that applicants should have the right to ask the authority to review any decision that goes against their interests—that they do not have priority need, for example, or became homeless intentionally. However, it is important that authorities should have the discretion to decide whether there is good reason to continue to accommodate applicants during a review, and that that discretionary power should not be undermined by the possibility of routine intervention by the courts. The question is whether there would be a danger of such intervention by a court on a routine, or fairly routine, basis if the present arrangements for review were changed.
It is important that that discretion should not be undermined by such intervention on a routine basis. I have mentioned that legal challenge to the authority's decision should be made only in exceptional circumstances, for example where the authority has failed to take account of all the circumstances or has acted unlawfully. The Court of Appeal has made it clear that the High Court should give permission for applications for judicial review of such decisions to be heard only where there appear to be exceptional circumstances. In the Government's view, that is the right policy and the right approach.
I entirely agree with the Minister that there should not be a system that allows people to intervene routinely. We need an appropriate filtering mechanism in whichever court is ultimately decided on. Will the Minister tell the House whether the filtering mechanism used by the High Court through the judicial review process is different from what would have to be used by the county court? If so, why is the legal opinion wrong that the London borough of Camden ex parte Mohammed is the standard procedure in either case?
I do not have that case to hand. The hon. Gentleman's point about the filtering mechanism is important and I was about to deal with it. If the Government give the county court a power to consider local authority decisions not to continue to accommodate, the county court judges might interpret that policy change as indicating that Parliament has had regard to the Court of Appeal view that applications to the court should be heard only in exceptional circumstances, and has decided that the jurisdiction should be given to a level of court which has no permission stage. In the absence of such a filtering process, there would be no certainty that county court judges would hear only those cases with exceptional circumstances. Although some people in Parliament think that the courts should have the opportunity to intervene in such local authority decisions, almost routinely, the Government are not among them.
The Government do not consider that the filtering process—as it has been referred to—is the same as between applications to the High Court and applications to the county court. There is, for example, no permission stage for the latter. If homeless applicants had a right to appeal to the county court about decisions not to continue to accommodate them pending a review, all such applications made in accordance with the proper procedure would have to be considered by the court. Shelter's experience, according to their briefing on the Bill, is that in most cases local authorities reverse their decision and agree to accommodate at the point the High Court gives permission for a case to proceed and grants an injunction requiring the authority to accommodate. That demonstrates just how effective the possibility of court intervention is. Most authorities will decide that it is not worth the cost of fighting the proceedings—regardless of the merits of the case. I am concerned that the possibility of intervention by the county court in a much larger number of cases would bring similar responses from local authorities which will decide that the cost of continuing to accommodate is preferable to the legal costs of fighting the case.
For those reasons, the Government do not consider that the tempting case for symmetry is made. There are substantial differences between the High Court and the county court in the filtering mechanisms, so we cannot accept the new clause.
On amendment No. 21 and the issue of housing standards, I am grateful to hon. Members for raising the matter. Of course it is true that overcrowding and poor standards are unacceptable, but it will take some time to address those deep-seated problems. Pressure on housing, especially in London and the south, is growing. Many households live in unacceptable conditions.
The Government have made a start in addressing the problems of poor quality housing stock and insufficient supply of affordable accommodation in some areas. We have, for example, doubled the Housing Corporation's budget for new affordable housing from 2001–02 to 2003–04—an extra £872 million. We have set a target over three years of 100,000 new or improved homes for low-cost rent or ownership. We have doubled the programme of affordable housing in small rural settlements, from 800 in 2000–01 to 1,600 in 2003–04. We have increased resources for local authority investment from £750 million in 1997–98 to £2.5 billion by 2003–04. Those increased resources include a new major repairs allowance of £1.6 billion from 2001–02, to encourage efficient management and proper investment in council housing.
Hon. Members will agree that, taken together, those measures will bring all social housing up to a decent standard by 2010—at least, that is the target. They will improve the supply of affordable housing in areas where it is most needed, and promote sustainable home ownership and a healthy private rented sector.
On the point about costs being borne by local authorities, will my hon. Friend assure us that those costs will be closely monitored? The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has estimated that the costs will be £8 million. Many London boroughs have reason to believe that the costs will be far in excess of that. I fully welcome the provisions, but I beg my hon. Friend to realise that they need to be funded.
My hon. Friend's point is well made. Those costs will be closely monitored. It is not intended that there should be arbitrary cost over-runs for no benefit. Certainly, the operation of the process will be closely considered and monitoring will continue. I take my hon. Friend's point. I am sure that she will agree that none of these things will happen overnight, even with our substantial programme of investment and new provision, but we are making progress and we know that more needs to be done.
The amendment would of course strengthen the duty on authorities, but that would not tackle the real problem. It would not increase the supply of suitable accommodation on the ground, and it would make no real contribution to the efforts being made physically to improve the standards of existing accommodation. Furthermore, there must be some concern that in the immediate term it could add to the difficulties that many local authorities in high demand areas are experiencing in securing sufficient accommodation to discharge their statutory obligations to homeless people. Mr. Clifton-Brown made that point.
The issues of fitness and decent standards are important, and have been neglected by previous Administrations for far too long. They are real issues, but they must be addressed by devoting real resources to finding real solutions. That is what the Government are doing.
There is consensus that the housing fitness standard in section 604 of the Housing Act 1985 no longer reflects a modern understanding of the health and safety risks within dwellings. I trust that the hon. Member for Bath will hear this point with warmth and approbation. We are planning to replace the standard with a housing health and safety rating system, which will apply a modern, risk-based approach to assessing housing conditions. We have consulted widely on that proposal and we are currently carrying out further work to strengthen the system and ensure its robustness.
We intend that the housing health and safety rating system should apply to all dwellings and that it should underpin our proposed scheme for licensing houses in multiple occupation—a point raised by the hon. Gentleman. We have made a commitment to legislate on that proposed scheme.
We also see provisions to enable the selective licensing of private landlords in areas of low housing demand as being part of such legislation. Those measures, on which we are currently holding consultations, would give local authorities the power to tackle the problem of unscrupulous landlords who will not meet minimum standards of management.
All those reforms will secure better standards of accommodation, and we plan to legislate for them as soon as we have a suitable opportunity.
As right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Ms Keeble, has already given an undertaking to review the current overcrowding provisions, which are extremely outdated. As she said on another occasion, it is unacceptable that families in overcrowded accommodation should have to resort to such ingenious but desperate measures as converting airing cupboards into make-do bedrooms. At this stage, I cannot say what the outcome of the review will be, but I can give an assurance that the Government are determined to address poverty in all its manifestations and will take the necessary steps to do so.
On that basis, I ask the hon. Member for Bath to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 22 is a technical Government amendment intended to clarify the right of a homeless applicant to request a review of the suitability of accommodation offered by a local authority. Clause 8(2) was drafted on the basis that, under current law as interpreted by the courts, section 202(1)(f) of the 1996 Act provides that homeless applicants can ask for a review of the authority's decision about the suitability of accommodation offered under part VI of the 1996 Act. However, it has subsequently come to our attention that the Court of Appeal ruled that the right to seek a review of such a decision does not flow from section 202(1)(f), as accommodation offered under part VI is not accommodation offered as a discharge of any duty under part VII. The court ruled that, in effect, applicants can ask for a review of the suitability of a part VI offer by requesting a review of the authority's decision on what duty, if any, is owed them under section 193. That will include any decision that a section 193 duty is no longer owed because the applicant has refused a part VI offer which the local authority considers suitable. Under that ruling, the right to request a review in such a case currently flows from section 202(1)(b).
Government amendment No. 22 will clarify the position by explicitly providing that section 202(1)(f) gives applicants the right to request a review of the suitability of accommodation offered under part 6, as well as accommodation offered as a discharge of the section 193 duty. I commend the amendment to the House and trust that the hon. Member for Bath will withdraw new clause 4.
When the Minister said that he hoped we would withdraw our amendment, my hon. Friend Mr. Sanders whispered in my ear and suggested that I say, "We are prepared to withdraw ours if you will withdraw yours." However, we have no desire whatsoever for the Minister to withdraw his amendment; indeed, we support it wholeheartedly.
I found the Minister's comments on new clause 4 and amendment No. 21 as disappointing as the very similar response that he gave several months ago. However, I am delighted that at last he and I understand the nature of the issue that we are tackling in a complex part of a complex piece of legislation; it is simply somebody's ability to challenge the decision of a local authority not to provide housing during the internal review of an original decision on whether or not somebody should be treated as homeless. The difference between us is whether the opportunity to challenge that decision should be granted in the High Court or the county court. The Minister, justifying the only reason why it should continue to be the county court, claimed that the county court has a better filtering process and will filter out more unjust cases than the High Court.
The hon. Gentleman said that the county court has a better filtering mechanism, but the Government are making the opposite case.
I apologise. The Minister made the case that the High Court has a better filtering process than the county court. When I challenged him as to whether he had any reason for believing that the county court's filtering mechanism is different from that of the High Court, specifically referring to the Court of Appeal's judgment in the case of the London borough of Camden ex parte Mohammed, he said that he did not even know the case, which sets out the filtering process that would apply equally to the High Court or county court, whichever is used.
The Minister's justification for his decision is entirely wrong. In addition, he will be well aware that the vast majority—99 per cent—of those who make an application will need to do so with the support of legal aid. There is an earlier filtering process which, of course, is the Legal Services Commission and will apply whether the High Court or county court is used.
In fact, I said that I did not have the Mohammed case to hand—but a piece of paper has miraculously come into my possession. It talks about the effect of the Mohammed case, which sets out the criteria but does not, and cannot, alter the procedures. I was talking about procedures; there is no filtering procedure in the county court, but applications to the High Court require the permission of the court which, ordinarily, is a paper process. There is therefore a difference in procedure, which remains despite the Mohammed judgment.
I am grateful to the Minister; we are gradually getting to the difference between us. It may be sensible for me to take the Minister's advice and offer to withdraw the new clause to allow time for lawyers representing both sides of the argument to look at the issue. However, I shall just leave the Minister with one thought before doing so. If we end up in a situation where there is little difference between the two court procedures, and if the Government have their way and stick with the High Court procedure, we will deny justice to many people, as their only recourse will be a High Court procedure in either London or Cardiff, which is extremely difficult to secure and flies in the face of everything else that the Government are seeking to achieve in making access to justice easier and modernising the court process.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the filtering mechanism that the Minister talked about is coded-speak for denying applicants who are refused continued housing by the local authority access to an appeal? Does he agree that if an applicant were refused leave to go to judicial review by the High Court or, indeed, legal aid, and took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, the Government would almost certainly be forced to alter the procedure?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again, because these points are important.
The county court can give a decision much quicker than either permission to go for judicial review or, indeed, the review procedure itself. County court judges are used to interpreting the law to decide whether or not somebody has a justified case. I repeat the points made by the Minister: the reasons for going to the county court on the grounds of unsuitable accommodation include points of law which are bound to end up in a higher court in any case.
The hon. Gentleman is taking the issue a step further, to deliberations that may well be made on appeal, rather than in the internal review which we are discussing. We would perhaps be ruled out of order were we to get into those issues.
There is genuine concern about denying some people justice; if jurisdiction stays with the High Court, that makes it much more difficult for people to access. On the more general point made by the hon. Gentleman, it is worth reflecting on the period that local authorities have for internal review. Leaving aside the 21 days that applicants have before they put in their request, there is a subsequent 56 days before local authorities have to make their decision, which is a long time for people—who may have a good case and who are denied access to accommodation to help them during the period of request—to remain homeless.
On amendment No. 21, I am delighted with part of the Minister's response. He said, as I suggested he might, that these matters may be best left until a later stage, after we have considered the workings of the bed-and-breakfast unit and have had an opportunity to study the proposed legislation in respect of licensing, not least of houses in multiple occupation.
The Minister might do well to choose his words a little more carefully at times. To suggest, as he did, that standards in relation to overcrowding and so on had been neglected by previous Governments for too long is a rather lame excuse for a Government who have been in power for several years and who should have addressed the matter sooner. Nevertheless, they are now doing so. I accept that their way of going about it is slightly different from the way I would have proposed and preferred, but we look forward to further debates on the matter in another place, when the Government will no doubt be able to give us even more information about their plans. In the light of the answers given and of the continuing need for legal advice to both sides, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.