§ 4 pm
§ The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the arrangements for supplementary benefit payments towards board and lodging charges.
The House will recall that consultative proposals on board and lodging payments were referred to the Social Security Advisory Committee in November 1984 and that in March this year the Government laid regulations which came into operation on 29 April.
The regulations were designed to achieve two main purposes. One was to contain the rapid growth in expenditure and to stop the abuses that had been taking place. The number of ordinary board and lodging cases had risen from 49,000 in 1979 to an estimated 139,000 in 1984, while annual expenditure in this area had risen from £52 million to an estimated £380 million over the same period. There was widespread public criticism that young people were too easily able to settle in such accommodation at the public expense, often at levels of charges well above what could be afforded by people in work.
Our second purpose—at least as important as the first—was to ensure continued help at an appropriate level for young people who really do need board and lodging for more than a short time. We therefore took steps to exempt from time limits people such as those who were recently in care, those who have children, those who are disabled or mentally handicapped, those who are or have been mentally ill, and those who are in board and lodging as part of a programme of rehabilitation arranged by, for example, the probation service. We also exempted people living in homes qualified as hostels.
We made it clear that we would be monitoring the new regulations with great care and would be ready to make changes quickly if the need were shown. That monitoring is of course continuing, but the initial indications suggest that, generally, young people with a real need to be in board and lodging for more than a short time should be covered by the various categories of exemption from the time limits for which the regulations already provide. It is therefore important—I want to emphasise this to every hon. Member—that claimants, or anyone else who is concerned about a particular case, should ensure that any special circumstances are fully explained to the local DHSS office, which will give them careful consideration before any final decision on benefit entitlement is reached.
We have, however, decided that an additional exemption category is needed to cover young people under the age of 26 who are living with their parents or step-parents in board and lodging accommodation. Regulations to achieve this will be laid before the House shortly, and until they come into effect we shall make special arrangements to help those people to whom they would apply.
The regulations will also enable us to extend the exemption categories to cover other types of case if a need can be shown. As I have said, we believe that the present exemptions generally cover those to whom the time limits ought not to apply, but we think it right to ensure that we can act quickly and flexibly if it should become clear that there are other groups who should also be covered.
781 The Government's objective is to strike a proper balance between curbing undoubted abuse and ensuring that genuine social security needs are effectively met. The additional proposals that I have made today will help us to maintain that balance.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
Is the Minister aware that we welcome this extension of the exempt categories, while insisting that this is an insufficient answer to the method of operating the rules, which has been shown to be exceedingly harsh and unjust? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the restrictions which he introduced two months ago have caused hardship to innocent claimants out of all proportion to the limited abuse which they were designed to remedy? Is he aware that because, as the Government's own Social Security Advisory Committee has advised, adequate alternative powers exist for the DHSS to deal with this abuse, these rules should be suspended pending a wider and more thorough review?
Is the hon. Gentleman further aware that even after today's limited relaxation of the rules they still remain unfair, because a period of two, four or even eight weeks is inadequate in which to obtain accommodation from a local authority waiting list or housing association, to register with a GP or a dentist for medical treatment, to obtain legal rights—since bail is not granted if there is no fixed address—or even to register as a voter? Is the hon. Gentleman aware also that extending the exempt categories will not prevent reported suicides, like that of Brian Brown last year in Glasgow, or attempted suicides, like that of David Leitch in Telford, since they were already in exempt categories but did not know it?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that where a young couple have separated and one partner has custody of the children the other partner will still not be allowed to stay for any length of time in the area where his partner lives, so that in many cases children will be deprived of access to their father? Is he further aware that the right of appeal against a decision that is tantamount to an eviction notice is still effectively abolished, since it takes longer than the two, four or eight weeks available to get an appeal heard?
Is the Minister aware that the Government continue to deal with the symptoms rather than the causes of the problems of homelessness? Is he aware that expenditure on board and lodging payments has increased so much in recent years only because of the growth in the numbers of homeless people who have been forced to live in this type of accommodation because they have nowhere else to go, due to the huge cut in public spending on house building which Government policies have brought about?
If the Government believe that the problem is caused by young people taking holidays by the seaside, why do the regulations cover the whole country and not just the seaside? Why do the Government not simply rely upon powers which they already possess under requirements regulation 9(14)(b), which has always provided that a person who is on holiday and staying in board and lodging accommodation cannot have his board and lodging charges met? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in many cases the real abuse is committed, not by claimants, but by some landlords unscrupulously exploiting guaranteed payments by the DHSS and installing cookers and switching to self-contained tenancies to avoid these regulations?
782 Is the Minister aware that minor tinkering, like today's package, will not deal with the problems caused by these regulations and that they should be repealed and replaced by a comprehensive programme to deal with the real causes of homelessness, including greater investment in public housing and measures to bring board and lodging within the Rent Acts so that residents are protected from arbitrary eviction? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that if he does not do that — the Social Security Advisory Committee warned him about this — the Government will be creating an army of young people forced to move around the country like nomads, unable to put down roots, to find a job or to get on a housing list, and that his concession today will do nothing to stop that?
§ Mr. Newton
The hon. Gentleman cannot seriously contend that there was only limited abuse, in view of some of the evidence that has been adduced and the huge increase in numbers. It was not confined, as he implies, to seaside resorts. We have evidence, for example, in one leading inland town of a 37 per cent. increase in the number of claimants in board and lodging accommodation during a period of only five months over the turn of the year, and the opening of about 100 new board and lodging establishments in a period of not much more than a year.
§ Mr. Newton
Of course, I accept that there was abuse and exploitation by landlords. We introduced the regulations because we were determined to curb that abuse and exploitation.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that the regulations will cause large numbers of young people to move about the country. He has only to study the number of young people who have claimed board and lodging in recent years, the huge 50 per cent. or more increase in their numbers, and the reports that have come from many parts of the country about the influx of young people to know that the previous regulations were creating that rootlessness.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It might be fair to hon. Members to say that, as we have an important debate in which no fewer than 30 right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part, as well as a ten-minute Bill, I cannot allow questions on the statement to run after 4.30 pm. I hope that all hon. Members will ask brief questions; then they will all get in.
§ Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)
My hon. Friend made an interesting comment about hostel accommodation. In my constituency there is the New Bible college with 60 residents. The owners of that college have applied for registration as a hostel. If the cut-off date —8 July—comes before authorisation for registration is granted, will my hon. Friend ensure that the cut-off does not take place, thus throwing those 60 young people on to the streets?
§ Mr. Newton
May I look into the case that my hon. Friend has mentioned? We have two or three hostel applications currently under consideration. The best thing would be for me to have a decision made quickly.
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
As the whole House agrees that many landlords are ripping off the welfare state 783 through the regulations, when will the Minister make a statement to the House that deals directly with that matter, rather than aiming at those landlords through claimants?
§ Mr. Newton
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be fair-minded enough to accept that the restraints that we have imposed in the regulations through the time limits, and, in respect of landlords, through the financial limits, have been directed at curbing abuse and exploitation by landlords. I should not want to leave the impression that the abuse is caused solely by young people. It is important that we prevent young people from being exploited by others.
§ Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)
I welcome the relaxation announced by my hon. Friend. Is he satisfied that sufficient steps have been taken to ensure that claimants understand the wide categories of exemptions? There is evidence that that is one of the causes of some of the hardship. Secondly, will he take on board the fact that probation officers have been expressing anxiety because of the lack of accommodation likely to be available to young people coming out of institutions?
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend will be aware that probation hostels would normally be exempt under the hostel provisions, and that anyone in board and lodging under a programme arranged by a probation officer would likely to be exempt.
§ Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)
The Minister is to be congratulated on easing these unworkable regulations, which were always a triumph of bureaucracy over humane and political judgments. If he will not withdraw all the regulations, will he consider two immediate exemptions: first, an exemption for those who are offered council accommodation which will be available after the end of their allowed stay; and, secondly, an exemption for those who are offered jobs which will begin after the period of allowed stay? Will he also give instructions that people be allowed to stay where they are pending an appeal? Thirdly, will he commend those authorities which have set up a system of prevention similar to that in Leeds, where the DHSS notifies people when they must move on and also notifies the social services and gives individuals a list of telephone numbers of the citizens advice bureaux and social services, which is a help when people would be allowed to stay but are unaware of their rights?
§ Mr. Newton
I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's first two suggestions within the terms of the power to make the extensions which I propose in the amending regulations. We are anxious that people should be pointed towards proper advice. The letter which currently goes to them tells them of the exemption categories and asks them to talk to the local office if they have problems. I am arranging for that advice to be strengthened, in the hope that we shall he able to move in the direction that the hon. Gentleman would like.
§ Mr. Warren Hawksley (The Wrekin)
I thank my hon. Friend for his statement. Can he confirm that the BBC, in trying to exploit the case of Mr. Leach, who is a constituent of mine, was misleading the public by saying that he was still in hospital when the programme was put out and that he had tried to commit suicide because of a threatened cut in the lodging allowance that he was to receive? Will my hon. Friend confirm that in that case my 784 efficient DHSS manager, Mr. Eade, had, before the programme went out, advised Mr. Leach that he was covered by one of the exemptions in the original proposal and arrangements and that he was exempt from the cut that was threatened?
§ Mr. Newton
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I shall take the opportunity to say that I am grateful also to the "That's Life" programme for the trouble that it took to put me fully in the picture with the details of the cases that had come to its attention. I am happy to confirm that Mr. Leach, who was interviewed by the local office last Friday, will be in an exempt category when he is once again available for employment, and he has had a letter confirming that fact.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Is not the Minister, who is normally so compassionate, thoroughly ashamed of his nasty little regulations? Was he not warned by the organisations working in this sphere—Shelter and the Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless—of what would inevitably happen? He went ahead notwithstanding, and the results flowed from that. Will he and his officials listen in future and disabuse themselves of the illusion that under-26-year-olds, born and brought up in their own towns and cities, have families to which they can return?
§ Mr. Newton
I do not see, and have never seen, anything compassionate in permitting the continuation of a system which was allowing the kind of exploitation which rightly worried the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). It has led to many tens of thousands of young people being trapped in inappropriate accommodation in circumstances where they probably could not even afford to take work if it were offered.
§ Mr. Gerrard Neale (Cornwall, North)
It is impossible to suggest ways in which my hon. Friend could have been more compassionate or sensitive in his consideration of this matter. There was immediate anxiety in my constituency because of speculation that he was intending to relax the scheme. There are examples of connivance by youngsters with landlords, and that must not be forgotten. The one thing that is clear, which I hope my hon. Friend will bear in mind in all his considerations, is that there is no genuine incentive to link the search for board and lodging with finding work. In fact, at the moment there is every incentive to seek accommodation where no work exists, in order to perpetuate unemployment and the receipt of benefit.
§ Mr. Newton
I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. I am grateful for his earlier remarks. The time limit and the structure, with the longest limits in the large travel-to-work areas, such as the metropolitar areas, are designed to take some account of that point.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
Would the Minister care to put aside for one second the cynical disregard and callous unconcern that the Government have so far displayed when considering these issues and examine for a minute the decline in the availability of public housing stock for rent? Does he accept that if he measures one against the other he will see that the decline in public housing stock for rent reflects the dramatic increase in claimants which he has identified today? His hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security said that 785The Department have established a very carefully worked out catalogue of exemptions for those who would be affected by the new regulations"—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ask a brief question, because he made an application on this subject yesterday under Standing Order No. 10.
§ Mr. Cook
He said—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] I am reading because it is a quotation. He said:Nobody in need can slip through that net of exemptions.Who is to be believed? Were the exemptions that were announced last Thursday afternoon adequate? If they were adequate then, why do they need to be extended now? Furthermore, how does moral and physical danger stop at the age of 19?
§ Mr. Newton
I confirm that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State said that there was an extensive list of exemptions in the existing regulations, covering many of the difficult cases which have caused controversy in recent days. However, it was necessary to extend the exemptions in the way that I have announced this afternoon, and it is wise for the Government to have the power to act quickly should other needs be made known to us.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)
One welcomes the changes, but there is a large number of cases of real hardship. Would it not be right to have some form of appeals procedure whereby one case could be judged adequately against another?
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend will know that there is an appeals procedure in respect of the category into which a claimant is placed. If he is denied exemption, he can appeal against the decision on that basis. That is a wide-ranging and important right, and it is the appropriate course to adopt, as with other parts of the benefit system when benefit is refused.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
What advice would the Minister give to the two 16-year-old girls in my constituency who live in a hostel at Watson road, Worksop, who deliberately got themselves pregnant last month so that they could stay in the hostel and not be evicted? Was it the subsequent publicity on breakfast television, on Radio 4, in the Worksop Guardian and in other organs of the media that persuaded him to change his mind?
§ Mr. Newton
Since, on the facts suggested by the hon. Gentleman, the two young ladies in question would be exempt, that does not affect anything that I have said this afternoon about additional exemptions. The suggestion that young women deliberately become pregnant has often been made in respect of local authority housing allocation policies. To the extent that that can be seen to be a problem, it is not unique to these regulations. Unless we are not to take account of such circumstances, it is always possible that people will contrive such circumstances to achieve a particular advantage.
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)
Does my hon. Friend agree that much of the blame for the current anguish lies with certain voluntary and political organisations which, for a variety of motives, have not read the exemptions and have not therefore attempted to apply them? Does he further agree that if we accepted the 786 suggestion of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) that the board and lodging system should be brought under the Rent Acts it would solve the problem because it would wipe out board and lodging altogether?
§ Mr. Newton
I think that there is some truth in my hon. Friend's suggestion. Nevertheless, that does not absolve the Government, nor would I wish it to absolve them, from making sure that these exemption categories are as effective as they can possibly be made. That is what I am seeking to do.
§ Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)
Is it not apparent, from the host of cases of intolerable hardship that have been created in the last two months, that thousands of vulnerable young people who ought to have been exempt have been hit by the regulations, including my constituent, Brian Brown, who killed himself two days after being made homeless under these regulations? Is it not unrealistic and unjust to pass the buck to these vulnerable young people and say that mentally ill people, who may be barely semi-literate, should first work their way through a four-page leaflet to find out whether they are exempt; that, secondly, they should claim exemption; and that, thirdly, they should successfully pursue an appeal through the DHSS bureaucracy? Cannot the Minister grasp the fact that it is up to him to protect such people and that they should not be forced to have to protect themselves against him?
§ Mr. Newton
The letter that would have gone to Mr. Brown would have contained, not a four-page list, but a simple list of exemptions. No question of an appeal would have been involved. It would simply have been a matter of bringing the facts to the attention of the local office. It is important that not only claimants but those who have information which may be helpful to the local DHSS office should make sure that it has it. I emphasised that point in my statement. I would not wish to finish my response to the hon. Gentleman without saying that, whatever the circumstances, the whole House would wish to express its regret for what happened to Mr. Brown's family.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
While one welcomes the flexibility that has been built into the regulations which will enable my hon. Friend and his Department to deal with the very few real cases of hardship that have been caused by the regulations, now that he has taken positive steps to control abuses of the social services system, will he discuss with the Home Office ways of preventing foreign nationals from coming to this country and creating further abuse of the system at the invitation of some of the landlords to whom members of the Opposition have referred?
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend will be aware that we already have powers to prevent a measure of abuse. My colleagues in the Department of Employment, together with the Home Office, took additional steps early this year or late last year.
§ Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)
Will the Minister accept that his statement that exemption categories will be extended to cover other types of case if need can be shown is no more than an admission that the regulations have been an abysmal failure and that it is terrible to inflict them upon tens of thousands of young people? Are her Majesty's Government, who cherish Victorian values, saying that young people should be like Joe in Charles 787 Dickens' "Bleak House", who every time he was asked by the authorities to move on said, "Where?" to which they replied, "Just move on, Joe, move on"?
§ Mr. Newton
If I thought that the regulations had failed in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests, I should have proposed an extensive further list of exemptions this afternoon. I have proposed that the Government should ensure that they have the necessary flexibility to respond. I believe that the whole House will consider that that is sensible.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
In view of the quite reasonable concern of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) about homelessness, will the Government put forward, with my hon. Friend's agreement, a package to strengthen private sector rented accommodation, thereby overcoming the problem at its roots?
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction is present, and I am sure that he will have noted my hon. Friend's question.
§ Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)
Is the Minister aware that it is no use coming to the House and suggesting that there should be flexibility, when so much hardship has been caused to so many young people, particularly in areas of high unemployment like my own? Will he explain exactly what hope this statement contains for young people? He has suggested that young people should explain their circumstances to the local DHSS manager. If he is unable to help young people because of the rules and regulations of his Department, what help will that be to young people who are suffering so much hardship?
§ Mr. Newton
There are two points on the hon. Gentleman's question. First, if young people make sure that their circumstances are made known to us, we can more effectively ensure that all those who are in the exemption categories are covered. Secondly, I am very anxious to ensure that if any special circumstances emerge which should make us consider using the flexibility to which I have referred, we are fully informed about them. We shall then be able to act quickly to meet those circumstances.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
Will my hon. Friend decisively reject the typically exaggerated call from the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) for the complete suspension of these rules, for the very good reason that their original purpose — the curbing of undoubtedly widespread abuse — is still completely valid?
At the same time, will my hon. Friend accept that the flexibility and extra discretion that is to be given to DHSS managers is widely welcomed? Should not discretion be applied to genuinely local young people who have been alienated from their homes and families, so that they may have a longer period than two weeks within which to find a job and make other arrangements?
§ Mr. Newton
I should make it clear that the greater flexibility that I am proposing is not a discretion for local office managers in the sense that my hon. Friend implied, but greater flexibility for the Government to define exemption categories to cover further types of cases if such a need should be shown. I shall reflect further on the last 788 point made by my hon. Friend. On his first point, I think that everything that I said implicitly rejects the call made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher).
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the scale of benefits makes it advantageous in some cases for people to leave the stability of their homes? Is he aware that parents in my constituency have expressed great concern about that? Despite all the stories that we have heard—which we accept—the maxim that hard cases make had law is valid and the regulations can, in some cases, be socially disruptive and divisive.
§ Mr. Newton
I would, indeed, accept the general proposition, which is one reason why we felt that we should take action in this area. Nevertheless, I am anxious—and I hope that the House is clear about this — to ensure that we cover genuine hard cases.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
Why is the Minister so intent on imposing hardship and homelessness on several hundred of my constituents who this week face the end of the eight-week period? If he is concerned about abuse and irregularity, why does he not extend the fair rent system to board-and-lodging accommodation, instead of clobbering the claimants?
§ Mr. Newton
If I understand correctly the call for the extension of rent control, the House should perhaps realise that that would mean bringing virtually every hotel in the country within the ambit of rent control, which might create more problems than could be picked up from the hon. Gentleman's question.
I hope that it is clear from what I have said that I am not in the least intent on imposing hardship on anybody. On the contrary, I am concerned to ensure that the balance of the regulations is right.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)
Why is the Minister so reluctant to deal with rogue landlords, and so determined to hound young people? Does he not realise that, uncharacteristically, he is giving a good performance this afternoon of having these minor concessions dragged from him? Does he expect to come forward with any further exemptions? If so, does that not prove our case that the regulations should be withdrawn?
§ Mr. Newton
At the moment, it is a case not of expecting to come forward with further exemptions, but of recognising that we need to respond quickly and flexibly—which is part of what I have proposed.
On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I hope that I have already made it very clear that one of our purposes is to curb abuse by landlords.
§ Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Billericay)
Will my hon. Friend investigate the extent to which those claimants not covered by the exemptions—and this should be widely publicized — have, under the incentive of these new regulations, taken on work since their introduction?
§ Mr. Newton
If I understand my hon. Friend correctly, I confirm that that would be a significant factor to which I would wish to draw attention.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Is the Minister aware that to apply a time limit of two weeks to Workington is to treat Workington as some sort of holiday resort—a seaside town? Is he aware that that town has an unemployment rate of 20 per cent. and that it is an industrial town which does not have a tourist industry? Will he review that decision?
§ Mr. Newton
If the hon. Gentleman cares to make specific representations to me—and I shall take this as the start—I shall certainly consider that point.
§ Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)
Will the Minister stop crying crocodile tears, come clean and accept that this is a folly of gigantic proportions, which has already led to tragedy in one case? Is not this policy, which is designed to catch a few who might abuse the system, in fact discriminating against the majority? It is ill-thought out, unwarranted and should be scrapped.
§ Mr. Newton
If there was a problem, to use the hon. Gentleman's phrase, of gigantic proportions, it was the escalation in board and lodging, which was creating social problems and, quite frankly, diverting resources within the social security system from the real cases of genuine need on which they should be spent.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
Is the Minister aware that in my constituency it is not uncommon to pay between £50 and £70 a week for bed and breakfast and often to be expected to share with two, three or four other people for that money? Why has he turned these people into the scapegoats of a couple of editors of the Daily Express and the Daily Mail, who feel that it is more important to pursue them than to pursue people for such things as avoiding tax or fiddling expense accounts? Does he not listen to the voluntary groups, which tell him that these wicked regulations will force more people into crime, drug abuse, alcoholism and vagrancy?
§ Mr. Newton
I do not, of course, accept the hon. Gentleman's charges. The limits that have been imposed in the hon. Gentleman's area, as in others, are designed to strike a fair balance and, as I have now said on a number of occasions, to prevent the sort of exploitation about which he is rightly concerned.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
Are not these regulations the new poor law, with harsh penalties for being young, single, homeless and unemployed? As well as causing considerable hardship and endangering lives and livelihoods, do not the regulations deny voting rights to several hundred thousand youngsters who will lose their votes because they are forced to move around the country? Why have the Government not come forward with special arrangements to deal with that?
§ Mr. Newton
The arrangements are designed to allow people a reasonable opportunity to look for work if they wish to go to another part of the country to do so. That is part of the underlying rationale, and something to which we shall stick.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
Does the Minister accept that the minimal changes made to these iniquitous regulations to save his face do nothing to make them acceptable or fair? The net result will be to create a dispossessed tribe of young people hounded from place to place, or to drive them into the arms of even more racketeering landlords in flats which will be overcrowded and overpriced?
If the Minister wants to cure abuses in seaside resorts, why has he classified the industrial town of Grimsby as a seaside resort, with only two weeks' grace—similar to Workington—before people are hounded on? Will he reconsider that case?
§ Mr. Newton
As I said to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), taking that as a specific representation about a specific local limit, I shall, of course, reconsider the matter.
As to the remainder of the hon. Gentleman's question, if there is an army or a tribe—whichever phrase he used—it was those 20,000 or 30,000 young people who represented a virtual doubling of the numbers in that age group in board and lodging in only two years. That is the problem which we were creating, and that is the problem which we are now seeking to check in a fair and balanced way.
§ Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the need for the withdrawal of the Government's board and lodging regulations affecting homeless under-26-year-olds—the Supplementary Benefits (Requirements and Resources) Miscellaneous Provisions Regulations 1985.I ask for the Adjournment of the House to discuss a specific matter—the regulations to which I have just referred. The matter is urgent because the Minister's statement today was unsatisfactory and inadequate, as were his answers to the varied questions raised by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The Minister has made a minor change to a piece of legislation that I shall describe in three words — unnecessary, vindictive and wicked. It is unnecessary because it has not dealt with the problem that the Government were trying to tackle. The editorial of the Newcastle newspaper The Journal today emphasised that point when it said:It may be that the Government reacted too quickly and without proper research to deal with a situation which happened to fit their own particular set of prejudices.The Journal is certainly not a Left-wing paper.
The Government have not dealt with the problems of landlords who exploit youngsters, nor have they dealt with the unsatisfactory nature of the property into which many youngsters will be driven.
The legislation is vindictive because it attacks the most vulnerable group of youngsters—those under 26 who are both homeless and jobless. It is especially vindictive, as the Minister should know, because of the many and varied reasons why youngsters are forced to leave home in the current difficult social climate, such as high unemployment and the consequent strain on families.
The legislation is wicked because it will lead to anti-social problems. My hon. Friends have already mentioned suicide and pregnancies, and there will be many more during the next few months.
I request the Adjournment of the House because the regulations must be withdrawn. Nothing else will satisfy Opposition Members. The alternative will be piecemeal changes to the regulations and, as television and newspaper commentators continually tell us, social problems and hardship for youngsters.
I must get this into the Official Report. I wrote to the Minister on 15 April and enumerated 10 to 12 points.—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member must not make a speech. He must make a case to me showing why this is urgent and important.
§ Mr. Boyes
This is part of my case for urgent consideration, Mr. Speaker, because I wrote to the Minister on 15 April and have not yet received a reply. In that letter I enumerated a number of points. If they had been taken into consideration, there would not have been the death of one youngster, attempted suicide by other youngsters and the other social problems that have arisen. I am sure that I speak for every Opposition Member when I say that we wish you to grant the application so that we may express as strongly as possible the need for these regulations to be withdrawn immediately.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the need for the withdrawal of the Government's board and lodging regulations affecting homeless under—26-year-olds—the Supplementary Benefits (Requirements and Resources) Miscellaneous Provisions Regulations 1985.I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member has said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter which he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No.10 and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.