Section 8 — Suitability of accommodation for homeless persons

Part of Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:45 pm on 5th March 2003.

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Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 3:45 pm, 5th March 2003

I am not sure how I will follow Murray Tosh's speech on amendment 6, because I was going to say the same kinds of things. I will make the core commitment, which is central and unifies the Parliament. We want to eliminate the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation. However, we want to leave ourselves some flexibility at the margins where it might be in the best interests of a family to use bed-and-breakfast accommodation for a short period of time. That would happen within the framework of the principle that bed-and-breakfast accommodation is not in the best interests of families.

We have been trying to find better, more extensive, different forms of temporary accommodation for all kinds of homeless people. The amount of investment that has gone into that is substantial. Murray Tosh is right that the route forward is a strategic approach that gets the provision in place and pushes local authorities as quickly as possible towards the fullest possible range of provision to meet current need.

We made clear in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 our intention that local authorities should have regard to children's best interests when considering solutions to homelessness and the bill reiterates that. We are also updating the code of guidance on homelessness during the course of the year to reflect those concerns. However, we need to ensure that what is in legislation is deliverable and takes account of the need to respond flexibly to the full range of circumstances that might arise. I reiterate that we want all homeless people to be housed properly and we recognise the devastating effects that homelessness can have on children, particularly if there is an inadequate response, as there used to be.

We need an approach that allows some flexibility and that ensures that local authorities and other providers take account of the need for change, are fully signed up to it and are able to deliver what is best for homeless families and children. That is crucial. Amendment 6 offers us a sensible way forward. It offers us a flexible power that can be used to define as unsuitable not only bed-and-breakfast accommodation but other types of accommodation as necessary. It also allows exceptions to be defined, as well as the circumstances in which those exceptions should apply. It allows proper consultation to be undertaken to ensure that everything that is enshrined in legislation is effective and deliverable. I assure members that consultation will take place. I say to Linda Fabiani that it is not realistic to expect full implementation within weeks of everything that we want to do or can do, but we will proceed as early as possible with consultation on the matter and try to put the arrangements in place.

The point that Karen Whitefield made about standards is crucial. Kenny Gibson mentioned the unacceptable standards of the past, when people were put in entirely unsuitable bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The proposals in amendment 6 give us the capacity to deal with that situation and ensure that that does not happen.

What we have arrived at is a flexible structure framed in the principle of attempting to end the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation while recognising that we always need to offer what is best within that framework for families, and particularly for families with children.