HL Deb 20 April 1977 vol 382 cc129-32

2.50 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to designate homeless young people as a priority group in the order issued under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, as was made clear in the Second Reading of this Bill in another place, my right honourable friend is considering the arguments which were urged on behalf of homeless young people at that time. He has also undertaken to make a draft text of such an order available before the Committee stage of the Bill starts in that other place. My right honourable friend had understood, in the course of consultations with the local authority associations, that the view there expressed was that the priority groups should be confined to those identified as such in the joint circular on homelessness issued in 1974. We have, however, recently started consultations with the associations on the recommendations contained in the report of the Working Party on Homeless Young People and will take into account the views then expressed on this point.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, while recognising the guarded nature of that reply—which leaves one uncertain as to whether anything particular is contemplated—may I ask the noble Baroness whether she is aware of the debate in this House recently? Is she aware of the strong views expressed? Would she be surprised to know that, to take a typical young people's centre, perhaps 2 per cent. or less—nearly all pregnant girls—would be assisted by what she has in mind?

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, my Lords; I am very much aware of the recent debate we had in this House and of the points raised by my noble friend. As I said, at this time my right honourable friend in another place has promised to consider whether the priority groups can be extended; but I must remind my noble friend that, if we extend the priority groups with the agreement of the local authority associations, we have to find money from somewhere to extend the service, and we then have to consider further where that money has to come from.


My Lords, would my noble friend agree that there is a correspondence between the incidence of crime among young people and the number of homeless young people? Would she not regard that as almost a peremptory argument for making a priority group of these homeless young people, in the interests of a greater degree of probity and decency among those who are at present in great danger because of the lack of any home to which they can go and of people in whom they can confide?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I regard it as a very good argument, but, as I said, consultations are already going on with the local authority associations as to whether they are willing for these priority groups to be extended. At this stage I could not give any further commitment.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, while deeply sympathising with the terrible problem of the homeless, whether they he young people or families, may I ask how the noble Baroness feels this Bill will help, since it will provide for no more houses to be built and no more houses to be let?

Baroness STEDMAN

That is as may be, my Lords, but the Bill certainly places the onus of responsibility for housing homeless people on specific authorities.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON

My Lords, will the noble Baroness appreciate that the very muted reply she has just made will be very discouraging to those people who feel very strongly about this terrible problem of the homeless young? Will she ensure that Her Majesty's Government bring every pressure to bear upon local authorities to appreciate the seriousness of the problem and to appreciate that there is nothing upon which money is better spent than on providing housing for the homeless young?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I am sure that Her Majesty's Government appreciate the situation as outlined by the right reverend Prelate, and I am sure they will do what they can with the local authorities. We accept that there is a problem concerning homeless young people and we are trying to do what we can. We think this Bill is perhaps a step along the way. We hope that as a result of the consultations, we might at some future date, if not now, be able to extend the priorities to include the young people to whom the right reverend Prelate has referred. In the meantime, we shall continue to give as much guidance as we can to local authorities on how to handle this specific problem in their areas.


My Lords, while appreciating the reply given by the noble Baroness, may I ask whether it is not time the Government made up their mind that this is a particularly serious problem? In view of the fact that there are so many people who are terribly agitated about the situation—young and old, very devoted and dedicated people—would it not be possible for my noble friend to say that she will now give sympathetic and full consideration to the problem and that, even if the Bill does not go through, my noble friend herself and the Government will see to it that the matter is attended to in the way which has been suggested?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the Government always give sympathetic consideration to problems of this nature, so I have no hesitation in giving my noble friend that assurance. What I have said is that on 18th February in another place my honourable friend agreed to institute consultations about widening the scope of priorities with the local authority associations, and those consultations are now taking place.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness what action the housing corporations are taking in this matter?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, that is a rather different question. I have no information available at the moment, but if there is any information which can be sent to the noble Baroness I will write to her.


My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, both this House and the other place are deeply concerned, as has been said. May we be given a period of time during which we may be told what the Government are doing? May I suggest that, irrespective of what the local authorities do and the tardiness of their delays and deliberations, the Government themselves should exercise their prerogative and authority to do something now about the matter?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, in another place my honourable friend promised to have these consultations before the Committee stage in another place. I am not aware, off the cuff, of the exact timetable of the other place concerning further consideration of this Bill, but I anticipate that there will be some decision from the Government as to whether the priorities remain as they are at present in the Bill or whether it will be possible to widen them by the time the Bill reaches Committee stage in another place. Then, in due course, the Bill will come to this House.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, would the noble Baroness be disturbed to know that a number of us hope to promote a debate about this matter in the near future?

Baroness STEDMAN

No, my Lords; I should not be disturbed.