HC Deb 08 February 1991 vol 185 cc536-46
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what emergency action can be taken to deal with people sleeping rough on the streets of London during the inclement weather.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tim Yeo)

Five hundred extra bed places have been made available in emergency shelters which were operating last night. Those will remain open while the very cold weather continues, and 200 of the places, at the Paddington Green and Soho Square hospitals, will remain open until the beginning of March. These shelters are being funded by the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health, but I should like to pay tribute to local authorities and voluntary bodies which have responded very quickly to the cold weather by organising these shelters.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I thank you for granting a private notice question on this important matter, Mr. Speaker.

Last night, along with many of my colleagues from the north of England and Scotland, I found myself snowbound at Euston. While returning to the House, we witnessed some of the most appalling sights imaginable —ill-clad people shuffling through the streets with nowhere to go, and people sleeping rough in indescribable squalor, caked in snow, lying on pavements and in shop doorways.

I understand that people in London this morning have been expressing the deepest concern over what has happened. I understand that deaths and innumerable cases of hypothermia have been reported in the capital. Something has to be done—not next week, not tomorrow, but today—now. I am afraid that 500 places are simply not enough. We are dealing with thousands of people. We need action now.

The bad weather has been forecast for as long as a week. Not one of the thousands of people whom it is estimated are sleeping rough should be left to sleep on the streets of the capital tonight. Will the Minister announce a state of housing emergency in London, with the requisitioning of a number of major public properties? Will he get the police to set up an emergency rough sleepers' search programme in the capital and instruct them, where possible, to collect those people in need and ferry them to locations such as school premises, empty Government buildings, church halls where available and whatever public buildings can be found to take these people off the streets? Can he ensure that hot food and bedding are made available? Most of all, people need a roof over their heads tonight. We are confronted with a real crisis in the capital today. Something must be done, and it must be done now.

Mr. Yeo

I entirely share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the fact that, during the past few weeks, people have been sleeping rough in central London. As it happens, we have asked the voluntary organisations, which are in the front line of contacting rough sleepers in the streets, to conduct a careful count for us of those people sleeping rough at present. There are a number of organisations which specialise in different parts of central London. The count, which was conducted towards the end of last month, showed that just over 1,000 people were sleeping rough at that time.

The voluntary organisations, which have a great deal of expertise in this field—I am glad that we have Mr. Nick Hardwick on secondment to my Department, since he has considerable experience in this field—have agreed with us that the programme that we have put in place is sufficient to meet the needs as they see them on the ground.

Our aim is to ensure that there is no need for anyone at all to sleep rough in central London during this very cold weather. There is no need for anyone to go without food, because it is available, both in the night shelters and day centres, whose location is well known to outreach workers for the voluntary organisations and the police in central London—who have also been very co-operative. I can assure the House that my Department is reviewing the situation not just every day, but every hour, and if we find that it is necessary to make additional places available, we shall do so. Additional places may be made available even before this evening.

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

While my hon. Friend's response is very welcome, will he ensure that all steps are taken to publicise the availability of these beds? Will he continue to keep the matter under review and does he agree that our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's statement yesterday on cold weather payments is very welcome and shows that the Government are prepared to take action where necessary?

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend is quite right about the very rapid response announced by the Prime Minister on the availability of cold weather payments. As regards publicising the additional places that we have made available in the past few days–we have increased the number of places by 250 since the beginning of this week —we are confident that the most effective way to do so, in a manner which will reach potential rough sleepers who will need the places, is through the voluntary organisations' outreach workers and through the police.

Steps have been taken to ensure that, where additional places have been made available, as they will be from 9 o'clock tonight, people likely to come into contact with potential rough sleepers are aware of the location. Indeed, if someone who is on the point of sleeping rough on a very cold night arrives at one of the shelters where places are fully occupied, we are trying to make arrangements for them to be tranported to another shelter where space is available.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Of course what the Minister has said is welcome, but it does not go far enough. When I was dropping off my colleague, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) at Hyde Park underground station at 6 o'clock this morning, people were sleeping there. People are liable to be sleeping rough in every tube station, railway station and road in central London.

Would it be a good idea, first, to ensure that the Red Cross and the St. John Ambulance—whose workers are indentifiably people who care—are asked to go out tonight in uniform, supported by the outreach workers, who may be unknown and therefore may arouse more suspicion in those sleeping rough, as might the police? As angels of mercy, they would identify the people who are sleeping on the streets and say to them, "Come with us and we'll take you somewhere safe." They could be backed up by the ambulance service.

Secondly, could a phone number be provided which is commonly available in the capital, which could be used either by anyone in need or by anyone who indentifies someone else who is in need? It would not merely be for those sleeping rough but for the elderly and the sick, who may be vulnerable because their homes are not sufficiently heated.

Mr. Yeo

The hon. Gentleman's last point goes rather wider than the original question, but I shall draw that matter to the attention of my colleagues.

As regards the people that the hon. Member and his colleague may have seen last night, we are advised that spaces were available in the increased places that we have made available this week, and were not taken up. If we are not communicating the message sufficiently well to people who are still sleeping rough I shall consider his suggestions about other voluntary organisations and find out whether there are any other ways in which we can publicise the existence of places. I reiterate that our aim is to ensure that no one needs to sleep rough. Perhaps, although we are making extra capacity available, we need to review how that message is being communicated to people on the streets.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware that I have frequently gone out on the Salvation Army soup run to those people who sleep rough, and that the Salvation Army should be praised more than any other organisation in our nation for the wonderful work it does? Is my hon. Friend aware that we need to persuade some rough sleepers who have no confidence in the authorities to come into shelter and that we must make sure that that shelter is provided? The Salvation Army has the confidence of those people, who will willingly talk to Salvation Army officers and confide their needs. Will my hon. Friend therefore do everything he can to back that organisation and ensure that it has the extra support that it will probably need to do its wonderful work?

Mr. Yeo

I gladly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Salvation Army's work, which is of immense value. I also had an opportunity of touring the streets before Christmas, in an entirely unpublicised study of the problem on the ground. I was impressed that the voluntary organisations concerned not only commanded the confidence of many of the people who were sleeping rough but had a detailed knowledge of the problem. They seemed to know the background of many individuals concerned. We see the interface where the voluntary organisations act, and we are providing resources.

It is clear that the immediate problem has nothing to do with financial resources; it is purely a matter of making sure that we have the physical capacity, that we are able to staff the extra places that are being made available and that the people concerned who might want to use them are aware of them. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the role of the voluntary organisations and their workers is critical in that function.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Minister mentions voluntary organisations and says that it is not a matter of financial resources. Is he aware that the various financial restrictions that the Government have placed on London borough councils, including poll tax capping and the restriction of expenditure, have forced some of them unwillingly to cut the grants to some of the very organisations that are trying to address the problem? Will he now give an assurance that any expenditure by such affected councils will be made, and will be made legally, by them without risk of prosecution and going against the restrictive and anti-social legislation that he and his hon. Friends have imposed on the people of London?

Mr. Yeo

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should demonstrate such complete ignorance of the subject. This matter has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the excessive community charge that is levied in many parts of London. Although I recognise that many local authorities have been very helpful in the past few days, organisations that are in the front line of dealing with rough sleepers are not under-resourced in terms of meeting the needs of the next few days of extremely cold weather.

To the extent that people were still on the streets last night, it is, as far as I can tell, the result of those people not being aware of the additional spaces that we have made available and resourced.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

May I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for what he and the Government are doing in this matter? As he rightly says, it involves a relatively small number of people, which means that it can be solved with determined and co-ordinated action. Once one has the proper estimate of the figures, which should not take too long, bearing in mind the fact that we anticipate, unfortunately, that the cold weather will last for some time, surely the Government can bridge the gap. Only the Government have the strength and financial resources to bridge the gap between voluntary bodies and their own determination.

Will my hon. Friend seriously discuss with his colleagues in the Government bringing in the Army, the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve and the police, who have installations and buildings that could help to meet the gap? It is unacceptable in our prosperous society that even one person should be on the streets in these conditions. Has my hon. Friend any estimate—I know that it is difficult to say—of people who are suffering from mental disabilities? The full horror of that problem will come home to all hon. Members.

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The problem is relatively small in terms of numbers and therefore can be solved. I believe that the programme that we have in hand will not only solve the immediate difficulty of this cold weather, but, over the next few months, through the extra hostels, medium-term hostels and the move-on accommodation that we are making available during 1991 will be sufficient to ensure that none of the people who are currently sleeping rough need still to be doing so, even in crisis shelters, by the end of this year.

On the possible role of the Army and the TAVR, at the moment the voluntary organisations and volunteers are best placed to meet the immediate need in terms of sweeping up people off the street. They know where they are most likely to be found. As has been said, they are more likely to command the confidence of people who might be deterred from making contact with someone who appeared to be an authority figure. Nevertheless, we shall consider the suggestion.

As I have said, financial resources are no part of the problem. It is a matter of finding physical accommodation, and the volunteers and staff to operate it, and making sure that the people who might want to use it are aware of it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker: Order. I remind hon. Members that the private notice question of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) concerned people sleeping rough in London. I have no doubt that many of them may have come from Scotland, Wales and elsewhere, but questions should be directed to London, please.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

Does the Minister accept that we are astounded by his statement that voluntary organisations are not under-resourced, but are actually satisfied with the Government's actions on this issue? It does not tally with our messages from voluntary organisations. Will he further accept that the problem in London is exacerbated by physical and financial under-resourcing in the regions, which then has a direct effect on the London situation? Will he assure us that local authorities in London and wherever else necessary are given all encouragement—indeed, direction if they are reluctant—and financial recompense for any actions that they take in this emergency?

Mr. Yeo

I can only reiterate that, following the meetings that my hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have had with the main voluntary organisations dealing with the problem—the ones that are experienced in meeting the needs of people on the streets—for the purpose of actually providing crisis accommodation in this period of extreme weather, they are not under-resourced. Such organisations may have wider aims and longer-term ambitions for which they would like additional resources, but, for the purpose of actually providing accommodation tonight and for as long as the period of extremely cold weather lasts, I do not believe that the organisations have a financial problem.

I forgot, in answer to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), to respond to his point about how many of the rough sleepers may have a history of mental illness. When the voluntary organisations conducted their recent survey, they tried to establish the different reasons why different groups of people on the streets actually got there. It is quite true that a number of people who are sleeping rough or who have been sleeping rough have such a history and that is something about which we shall talk to our colleagues at the Department of Health and the Department of Social Security.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Does my hon. Friend accept that, whatever the reason, people are roofless in London and they should not be at this time? The House gives a great welcome to my hon. Friend's announcement today and to the announcements that have been made during the past few weeks about arranging for emergency shelters. Will my hon. Friend pick up the point that was made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and encourage local newspapers and local radio to give out the telephone numbers of social services departments, so that those who are not presently roofless but who are in great need can be referred to those who can give help?

Will my hon. Friend recognise that we are concerned not only about the established contacts of charitable organisations that night after night pay attention to the needs of roofless people on the streets, but about people from overseas and others who come to London for the first time, who are not yet in established places where the voluntary services can make contact with them? It is worth doing extra work to sweep those people into a system in which they can have a roof and warm food during this exceptionally cold period.

Mr. Yeo

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks on the initiatives that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning and I have taken in the past few weeks. We shall do all we can to encourage the local press and radio stations to give as much publicity as possible not only to the location of direct access accommodation but, equally important, to the statutory and voluntary organisations that can counsel people who have not reached the point where they face the prospect of sleeping rough. My hon. Friend made the important point that a number of rough sleepers and potential rough sleepers may have recently arrived in London from abroad. There are advice centres that are specially able to counsel people in that position, but I shall follow up the point and see what else we can do.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

Does the Minister agree that Scotland will need some extra cash during this crisis weather—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Member of what I said a moment ago.

Mr. Wray

Irrespective of where they are, the Government have had 11 years to clear up the problem, and there should not be one person lying out in the street. Does he agree that the social fund has created dire poverty? There were record refusals in October and November—60 per cent. in loans, 50 per cent. in grants and 10 per cent. in crisis loans. Will he speak to the Minister responsible to obtain extra resources?

Mr. Yeo

That question did not bear even a tenuous relationship to the subject that we have been discussing for the past 20 minutes. However, as the hon. Gentleman has ranged more widely, I am glad to say that in England, London and Scotland the quality and quantity of the nation's housing stock has never been so good.

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

Will the Minister listen to his colleagues on the all-party parliamentary group on housing, of which I am chairman? Will he listen to the voluntary organisations about their inability to cope and their lack of funding? Is he aware that the Salvation Army is facing a £7 million deficit this year, that a housing trust has lost five schemes this year, that Centrepoint says that it is in real danger of running, into difficulty because it has too many responsibilities, and that Stonham housing association will carry a large deficit this year amounting to two thirds of its funding? When will he listen to his colleagues and to the voluntary organisations, which cannot be expected to cope with these crises?

Mr. Yeo

It is precisely because we do not expect the voluntary organisations to cope on their own that we are resourcing through my Department and the Department of Health this rapid and flexible response, which we have demonstrated this week, to meet the needs of rough sleepers in cold weather. I recall running quite a large voluntary organisation before I came to this place. My then colleagues in the voluntary sector and I were skilful in putting across a constant image of tremendous financial crisis.

The voluntary organisations have wide-ranging aspirations, which I do not denigrate, but it is not for the Government to meet all those needs. The question is on the problem of people sleeping rough in extreme weather in the past two or three nights and possibly over the weekend. I am confident that, if there are any constraints on our ability to respond to this distressing situation, they are imposed by the difficulty of finding accommodation, whether it be in disused hospitals or schools, and have nothing to do with money.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The severity of the current weather has been forecast for up to a week. To what extent was machinery put in place in preparation for that? Although one must concede that this is primarily a metropolitan problem, with your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, I must say that people are sleeping rough in all the major cities of this country. To what extent will analogous provision be available through local government and voluntary agencies in those other major cities?

Mr. Yeo

My Department's ability to respond to the forecasts of cold weather has been demonstrated by the fact that last weekend we made available 250 additional places, on top of the existing 2,100 direct access places in London. Since last weekend, as we have observed the weather getting colder and have read the forecasts, we have made available a further 250 places, making the total of 500 to which I originally referred.

The possibility is that, following the check that we are making this morning on occupancy levels last night, we shall make additional spaces available tonight. Although the question is confined to London, the problem in central London is different from that in other cities, because people are coming into London from other parts of the country. The Department is playing a co-ordinating role, but in other cities it is a matter for the relevant housing authority to respond to.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

I refer the Minister to column 926 on 30 January, where the Minister for Housing and Planning said that the Department's estimate of homeless people in London alone was between 2,000 to 3,000 people. That shows how Government policy has failed, particularly with direct access hostels, for which the Government are offering little help.

How do the Government intend to deal with the current scale of the crisis, because 500 places is not sufficient? If the Government expect voluntary groups to take the major pressure of this crisis, what resources will be made available to them and what proposals will the Government bring before Parliament to ensure that homelessness is dealt with and that we recognise that there is a crisis not just during the cold weather but all the time?

Mr. Yeo

The hon. Lady refers to the estimate that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning quoted in response to a parliamentary question. It was because we felt that our figures were out of date that we asked—and we received full co-operation from them—the voluntary organisations most experienced at dealing with rough sleepers in London to carry out a more recent count. The estimate that they produced came to 1,046. We may have to give or take a few here and there, but that count was conducted by people who have been working in the front line of the problem for some considerable time. We shall therefore use that figure to replace the earlier and out-of-date estimate quoted in the parliamentary answer.

If the hon. Lady had paid any attention to debates and Question Times when this problem has been discussed in the past two months, she would know full well that the 500 places to which I referred have been an emergency response to an emergency situation. We have a bigger and far wider-ranging programme to deal with the problem. This year, we have 500 longer-term hostel places coming on stream, of which 250 will be available within a month. We have 800 places in move-on accommodation and in shared and self-contained flats and houses, which will come on stream this year, of which 500 will be available by the end of next month. We are spending £15 million in the current financial year and £81 million more over the next two years to deal with the problem.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I share the concern and anger felt by my hon. Friends. I am amazed by the Minister's complacency. His estimate of the number of homeless people sleeping rough in central London does not square with the parliamentary answer that was given by the Minister for Housing and Planning. On 30 January 1991, he said: My Department estimates that there are about 2,000 to 3,000 people sleeping out in central London, and up to 2,000 in other cities."—[Official Report, 30 January 1991; Vol. 184, c. 926.] Why is there an enormous gap in the statistics between the estimate of his hon. Friend, the Department's estimate and the estimate that the Minister has given today?

The daunting problem of London's homeless has been raised by my colleagues on many occasions. The Government cannot shelter behind their late and puny action. This is a crisis of the Government's own making. What action are they going to take to tackle the root causes? We heard no answers from the Minister today. The root causes include the Government's failed community care policy, which means that people leave long-stay hospitals for the streets. They also include the economic failures, which mean that unemployed young people are driven away from their homes to search for work in London. Those unemployed young people come from Scotland, Wales, the north-east and all other parts of Britain. They include the Government's social security policy, which denies 16 and 17-year-olds money to support themselves. They include also the Government's housing policy, which denies young people and poor people affordable housing. The Minister has failed to address those matters today.

The main problem facing us today and over the next few days is the 2,000 to 3,000 people who are sleeping out in London in this bitterly cold weather. What is going to happen to them tonight, tomorrow night and the night after that? The fact that thousands of old people, young people and mentally ill people are forced to sleep rough is a national scandal which surely even this heartless Government cannot continue to ignore. What is the Minister going to do about that? The cold weather hits those people particularly hard.

When the weather is as cold as this, the homeless are not just sleeping rough: they are sleeping dangerously. They are threatened with frostbite, pneumonia and hypothermia. Will the Minister make emergency payments available for food? We understand from the charities that some youngsters have not eaten for two days. Will he make that emergency payment available immediately?

Will the Minister also give rents to people for accommodation? People will need accommodation tonight. Will the Minister promise the House that he and his officials will personally accompany me and some of my colleagues around the streets to see the people sleeping rough tonight, so that we can find out what the problem is and what those people need?

Also, the Minister has not clearly explained what assistance he is giving to the charities and voluntary organisations to provide shelter for the homeless. Most of all—

Mr. Summerson

Too long.

Mrs. Clwyd

I am not taking too long. This is a very important problem.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a private notice question. It is not a statement.

Mrs. Clwyd

The Minister made several points, and he has not responded to the concerns expressed by my hon. Friends. It is right and proper that we should have full answers to all those questions. Unless that happens, many of the people about whom we are concerned today will die over the next few days.

Mr. Yeo

I apologise to those hon. Members who are hoping to take part in the debate in which the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) will be speaking shortly. However, the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) clearly wrote out her question before she listened to my earlier reply. I dealt with nearly all the points about which she went on at excessive length.

I certainly will not, and neither will my officials, respond to the hon. Lady's invitation to accompany her around the streets of London on some kind of publicity stunt. We are out there, without television cameras, looking at the situation for ourselves. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning and I, as I did before Christmas, and my officials are involved in that. We will continue to work in the closest possible co-operation with the voluntary organisations, to which I pay a warm tribute for their excellent role in responding to the situation. We are very glad to have the services of Mr. Nick Hardwick on secondment from the voluntary organisations to my Department.

Clearly the hon. Member for Cynon Valley was not listening to me. I said that the figures I gave were the most recent estimate carried out by the voluntary organisations on the ground. They show the number of people sleeping rough in central London towards the end of January.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley also raised one or two additional points, whose connection with the private notice question was somewhat obscure. However, I remind her that, in this country, every 16 and 17 year-old has a right to training. Any youngster who is not employed or in further education can take part in a training scheme. If the hon. Lady had any concern for the youngsters she claims to be worried about, she would be urging those who are not taking advantage of those training opportunities to go out and register for a training scheme right now.

With regard to the severe hardship payments, I am advised that the local social security offices have some discretion to make severe hardship payments to those youngsters who have not yet registered for the youth training scheme.

In conclusion, I can assure the House that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning and I are profoundly concerned about the problem. We are not in any way complacent about it. We are, with our officials, reviewing the situation not just from day to day, but from hour to hour, and we will continue to do that.

Several Hon. Members

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker


Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am on my feet. We have an important private Members' day before us and it would be unfair to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), whose Bill is before the House, if he did not have adequate time. That would put his Bill in jeopardy. We should return to the Second Reading.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)


Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is a Front-Bench spokesman. I will take his point of order, but it must be one that I can answer and not a point that he would have liked to raise on the private notice question.

Mr. Foulkes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You never fail to remind us every month at Scottish Question Time that this is a United Kingdom Parliament. I know from experience yesterday that many of the people sleeping rough—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I will stop the hon. Gentleman there. I have called an hon. Member representing a Glasgow seat; I called an hon. Member from Wales; and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson is also from Wales; I called an hon. Lady who represents a midlands seat; and I also called the chairman of the Back-Bench committee; I have also called London Members. On a private notice question on a private Members' day, I cannot call everyone who wants to participate.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps you can give the House some guidance. I am seriously concerned that the Minister may have misled the House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must find another opportunity to raise matters of that kind.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that it is not easy on most Fridays to have a private notice question and to call everyone who wants to speak. I am not talking about myself—I am thinking about some of my colleagues.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Skinner

Let me finish the point of order.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman always tries to be extremely helpful to me, but he would be the very first to complain if an hon Member on his side of the House or even he himself had been fortunate in the ballot for private Members' Bills—

Mr. Skinner

Let me explain.

Mr. Speaker

No, I do not need an explanation, because I think I know what the hon. Gentleman is going to say.

I granted the private notice question. If the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) raises points of order of this kind, naturally the Chair may become less disinclined to have business interrupted.

Mr. Skinner

The point that I want to make is that you have said several times that this is a private Members' day. It is, and that is important. However, I must tell you that you may not be aware of the fact that, later on today, the Government spokesman is going to block the Public Safety Information Bill, so this private Members' day will not be a private Members' day.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman persists in making points of order, there will be no need to block anything.

Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you heard anything from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about whether he intends to come to the House this morning to make a statement on a problem which does not have the immediacy of the crisis with which we have just dealt but which affects many of the small investors whom the Government have encouraged to invest? Part of the financial regulatory structure is about to crumble: the Financial Intermediaries, Managers and Brokers Regulatory Association is likely to become insolvent or go into liquidation. It is essential that we have a statement from the Secretary of State on the seriousness of the problem.

Mr. Speaker

I have had no indication that the Government want to make a statement about that matter. I must confess that I do not know anything about it myself. We should return to the Bill.