New clause 10 - Amendment of section 17 of the

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 17 January 2002.

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Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk 10:45, 17 January 2002

I rise to support the new clauses. The hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) has made a strong case for the new clauses, and I hope that we shall incorporate them into the Bill. However, as she mentioned, other Bills are before Parliament and, thanks to the vagaries of the system's operation, the new provisions might not be included in the form that she would like.

We all have examples in our constituencies of parents who are unnecessarily separated from their children. Time and again social services departments say that unless proper housing is sorted out, the parent cannot have the child back. That is understandable, but often a bit of common sense would resolve the situation immediately. I agree with the hon. Lady that care should be the last resort in such cases.

In some cases it is right to take children into care, for example if they are at risk, or if their mother is suffering in some way—perhaps she has had a mental breakdown—and they are neglected. However, we are talking about cases in which the parent or parents are keen to keep the child at home but there is no home available for the family. That is why the law should include a requirement for the local authority to provide such accommodation. It is not a great deal to ask.

Housing authorities have many obligations, but there is a significant loophole in the circumstances we are debating. Conservative members know that the average bed and breakfast in the country is pretty inadequate. Bed and breakfasts can be pretty squalid places for families, so it is not surprising that social services departments say that they are not suitable places in which to bring up children.

However, housing can be made available. I worked out the other day that there are a significant number of family-size units in my constituency are either empty, or occupied by elderly pensioner couples. My local authority is, rightly, looking vigorously at providing more sheltered accommodation for pensioners and pensioner couples, so that such units can be released. In addition, more than 50 family-size units in Kings Lynn and west Norfolk are empty. A more proactive and determined policy of bringing those units back into readiness for accommodation for families would

make more housing available. It is a question of management and efficiency. Replicating that policy in every constituency would make thousands of family-sized units available throughout the country.

I do not accept the Minister's argument that the provisions would put too great a strain on housing authorities. The hon. Member for Luton, South has tabled a sensible pair of new clauses and I hope that the Minister will accept them.