Extent, commencement and short title

Homelessness Reduction Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 18th January 2017.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

To conclude the debate on clause 12, the original intention, as I said in my speech last week, was rather broader. The concerns that colleagues—not least the hon. Member for Westminster North—have raised need to be looked at again. I am glad the Minister has agreed to do so to see what further action we can take to broaden the scope of clause 12.

Clause 13 is the final clause in the Bill, but this is not the final debate we will have. It is a relatively straightforward clause that obviously relates to the usual matters, namely the extent of the Bill, the provisions for commencing its clauses, the ability of the Secretary of State to lay regulations as necessary and the title.

There have been some questions about the fact that the Bill, if it becomes an Act, would extend to Wales. For the avoidance of doubt, I will explain the wording in the Bill. If the Bill is passed and becomes an Act, it will form part of the law of England and Wales. It would not make sense for a Bill to extend to England and not to Wales, because England and Wales form a single jurisdiction—legislation cannot form part of the law of England without forming part of the law of Wales. However, the application of the Bill’s substantive provisions, which is basically their practical effect, will be restricted to England. I understand that the Welsh Government have confirmed that they are happy with that approach and with the way in which the Bill works in relation to their legislation.

One major facet of the clause is the statutory instruments that may follow from the Secretary of State when Act comes into force if it is passed by both Houses. I hope that the Minister, in his response to the debate, outlines some of the actions that may be required to bring the Act into being. Yesterday, we had the long-expected announcement of the finance that comes with the Bill. Without the finance, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible for most local authorities to implement the Bill, make it live and help the people whom it is intended to help. The Government announced some £48 million to implement the Bill, which was extremely welcome. However, I have heard some local authorities voicing concerns that the funding that the Government have provided will not be sufficient to deliver the burdens of the Bill.

We still have clauses and Government amendments to debate, but it is important that we examine how the Government intend to roll out the measures. If the Bill becomes an Act, does it become operational on 1 April or on another day in early April? If so, does that mean that local authorities will suddenly be faced with a burden of how to implement the provisions of the Bill?

My intention in promoting the Bill was always to change and revolutionise the culture of local authorities, and to ensure that people who face the terrible crisis of homelessness or are threatened with homelessness receive help, advice and support from their local authority as soon as possible. However, I recognise that it will not necessarily be in the gift of every local authority in this country suddenly to implement this very revolutionary legislation and new burden.

Equally, there is a concern that, although there is funding in the next financial year and in the following one, the Government obviously consider that the Bill will be revenue-neutral thereafter. I would love to be in a position whereby we can say that we have solved the problem of homelessness, and that no one will be threatened with homelessness or become homeless.

Order. I am interrupting the hon. Gentleman because we are moving into a discussion about financing. Obviously it is legitimate to have a discussion about financing, but we will have only one such discussion. I had rather expected that it would be when we were discussing clause 1 or clause 7 stand part rather than now. My own view is that it would be better to discuss financing in the context of clause 1 of the Bill rather than in the context of the commencement date.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I will take your guidance, Mr Chope. As the Bill’s promoter, I am very happy to discuss finance under clause 1.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

I, too, see the force of discussing finance under clause 1. On clause 13, my hon. Friend mentioned timings, on which he is being understandably sensitive. As the promoter of the Bill, when does he envisage the measures we have been debating so extensively coming into force?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

In an ideal world, I would like this to be implemented immediately, but I recognise that councils will need time to prepare, and to recruit and train staff. They will also need to capture a lot of data. Local authorities that do a good job on homelessness prevention will have data on potential landlords, properties that may be available, help and advice from the third sector and other organisations that have the capability to provide the help and assistance required under the legislation. The concern is that there are a large number of local authorities that are not in that position and will need time to gear up. They will need to begin the process of staff recruitment and the time to train people. They will need to change the culture in which they work—we must remember that the original culture is denial of service to homeless people unless they are in priority need. The Bill will change the cultural aspects. I hope local authorities around the country are planning how they will implement the legislation.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole, and notwithstanding your comments, Mr Chope, on financing, when the finances are likely to be made available to local authorities so that they can undertake transitional work is clearly of some importance for commencement.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

In planning how they implement the legislation, local authorities will need to consider how much it is going to cost them. I take your guidance, Mr Chope, that you do not want us to debate finance at this point, but in putting together those plans, local authorities will have concerns about the resources that they will need as well as the potential for large numbers of people, knowing that the Bill has become law, turning up at their local authority, which is when I suspect we will discover large numbers of hidden homeless people in this country—the sofa surfers that we spoke about in earlier debates.

Photo of David Mackintosh David Mackintosh Conservative, Northampton South

Does my hon. Friend have any idea how and on what timeframe the cultural change took place in Wales? Could the Minister look at that? The Bill will affect a larger number of people, but we can learn lessons from what happened there.

Order. We are discussing changing the law, not the culture. This is a very narrow clause about the extent, commencement and short title of the Bill. Normally, such a clause in a Bill would go through virtually on the nod at the end. It is only because we have changed the order in which we are considering the provisions of the Bill that we have not discussed finance. I have already made it quite clear that I think the best occasion to do that is in the clause 1 stand part debate. I am not going to allow this essentially succinct debate on commencement to develop into a Second Reading debate about the whole Bill.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Thank you, Mr Chope. I take your guidance. We do not want another Second Reading debate—we had one that was well attended and covered a wide range of contributions. It is fair to say that I have had representations from London Councils and the Local Government Association, including from its leadership, on the implications of enacting the Bill. There needs to be a discussion among the Committee so that we send a clear signal to the LGA and its membership about how the Bill will be enacted and delivered.

I hope the Minister sets out some of the Government’s proposals for delivering the Bill and the sort of support that will be available from the Department for Communities and Local Government. Following your guidance, Mr Chope, we will not discuss finances, but the resources, training and special assistance that may need to be provided to local authorities are vital. Homeless people and people threatened with homelessness need to know at that crisis point in their lives that they will get support and assistance, and that local authorities are geared up and ready to deliver them. Without that, many of the great aspects of the Bill may fall into disrepute, and as its promoter I am determined that we should not reach that position.

Ideally, we would not have to change the law in this way, but we all parties are determined to change the culture by changing the law. We have already said in debates on other aspects of the Bill that further sticks will be applied if they are needed to ensure that local authorities deliver on the promises that we expect them to make. I look forward to the Minister setting out further details on how the Bill will be delivered, so that local authorities have certainty about what they will be expected to do and what support they can provide.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I will not delay the Committee for too long on this clause. I hear your guidance on discussing cost, Mr Chope, and I welcome the fact that we can debate costs when we consider clause 1.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East is not making an unreasonable challenge on implementation. Given the questions he has asked, I hope the Committee will allow me a little time to provide reassurance. His questions were mainly concerned with the speed—or lack of it, as the case may be—of the Bill’s implementation, which other hon. Members also raised. In an ideal world, it would be great to see the Bill implemented as soon as Royal Assent takes place. However, my hon. Friend is experienced enough as a parliamentarian to be well aware that a Bill of this type takes time to be implemented because of the secondary legislation that will follow, the code of guidance that will have to be updated and the statutory code of practice that may need to be implemented if things do not go to plan. Those processes will certainly require consultation with local authorities. We will work closely with them to implement these important measures because we understand their concerns that they will be stepping into the unknown—they will be supporting a group of people to whom they have not hitherto had to provide such support.

It is difficult to give exact timings. I am not going into finance, but what I can say to my hon. Friend is that the funding for the measure would be available now if we were in a position to implement now, and it will be available when we come to that point.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate 10:30 am, 18th January 2017

Will the Minister be learning lessons from Wales, where there was a lead-in time before implementation? That helped to bring together a collaborative effort. Will he be relying on the trailblazers to be at the forefront, to ensure delivery as we transition to full implementation?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

My hon. Friend has brought me to where I wanted to be and prompted me on to my next two subjects.

First, we can look to the Welsh legislation to learn from its implementation. My officials are certainly doing that, and we have done it in relation to a number of areas in the Bill so far. My hon. Friend suggests an extremely sensible approach.

Secondly, I was about to come on to the prevention trailblazers. We have given £50 million to local authorities to undertake the rough sleeping work. Authorities across the country will already be gearing up for the legislative changes—testing new methods, gathering new data and working with external organisations to meet the aims we all want to achieve. I assure my hon. Friend that in that sense we are looking to what Wales has managed to achieve in a relatively short space of time, and we are also looking carefully at the prevention trailblazers. I have considerable hopes that those prevention trailblazers will really blaze a trail in creating the culture that we need to implement the legislation successfully and help people to get off the streets.

We are absolutely committed to the implementation of the Bill. We will be working closely with local housing authorities to ensure that the process takes no longer than it must, but it cannot be rushed. We have to get it right if we are to make a success of the Bill. On that basis of co-operation and in the spirit of how the Committee has worked, I will leave my comments there.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7