HL Deb 08 March 1977 vol 380 cc974-1020

5.43 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action has been taken by them to implement the recommendations of the Government Working Group on Homeless Young People, published in August 1976. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, in asking the Unstarred Question standing in my name, I am all too well aware of the restrictions which are placed upon me by the nature of this short debate and the necessity, therefore, to be highly selective in the issues which I seek to raise. If, therefore, I disappoint some of those who share with me a like concern about the plight of the young homeless, because I have omitted this or that aspect of the problem, I would assure them that I have done so only because of the limitations of the Question and the nature of the discussion. I hope that other noble Lords will fill some of the gaps which I have left.

I want also to say from the outset that I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, is to reply to my Unstarred Question. His personal concern over homelessness is well known. The outcome of this debate will, I hope, give him further encouragement and justification to ensure that action is taken to remedy a problem which we all know is of great personal concern to him. My Unstarred Question asks what action has been taken to implement the recommendations of the Government Working Group on Homeless Young People. Resisting the temptation to initiate a wide-ranging debate on the urgent and complex nature of homeless ness, I shall endeavour to restrict myself to the terms of this Unstarred Question.

The Report of the Government Working Party was published in August 1976. In answer to a Question which was tabled in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Janner, on 11th October 1976, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, replied that Government Departments were examining what could be done to help homeless young people, short of incurring additional expenditure, and were going to consult with local authority associations. The House was told that five Government Departments were involved and that a considerable amount of work would be entailed. The noble Lord was not at that stage in a position to say when they would report or what recommendations could be implemented. That was five months ago. Since then there has been no information of progress and no indication as to what will be done, save for a letter from Mr. Deakins, the Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Security, addressed to the Campaign for Single Homeless People. Hence this Unstarred Question, which asks Her Majesty's Government to tell us what has been done since last October within the restrictions of expenditure, for it is the conviction of many experts in this field that there is a great deal that could and should be done which will cost little or nothing.

I refer first to the most important issue, that of accommodation. In her important review of the situation, Needs and Provision for Young Single Homeless People, Sarah Waugh points out that the needs of young, homeless people, complex as they are, should be made the responsibility of local government as part of a comprehensive housing service and that the confusion regarding statutory responsibility for the homeless young is a major difficulty in the way of those agencies that want to tackle the problem. There is a no-man's-land in which, unless they are in care, young people over 17 are nobody's responsibility. This is a serious and dangerous state of affairs, since the consequences can so easily be expensive and socially disruptive.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister may be able to tell the House that vigorous action is being planned on a number of fronts. First, that maximum use is being made by local authorities, and through the agency of housing associations, of short-life property. Secondly, that accommodation unsuitable for families or which is hard to let, such as upper storeys of tower blocks, or city centre flats, or flats which are too noisy for families but unacceptable for the young, is being made available. Next, that vacant private sector housing is by agreement through the local authorities made more readily available for young homeless people.

Next, that restrictions on council house tenants and mortgagors to take lodgers should not be as unnecessarily severe as they are at present. Next, that lodging schemes operated by local authority lodging officers and other agencies should be set up. Next, that restrictions on multi occupation should not be so severe as to discourage conversion or maintenance of this form of tenure. Next, that more short-stay hostels should be provided and that the Housing Corporation should be encouraged to give help in this respect.

Perhaps at this point I may be allowed to particularise since I am specially concerned about this type of accommodation in the centre of London. At this moment there are two projects which present great possibility and which could so easily be lost by reason of lack of funds. One is the YMCA building in Endell Street at the top of Shaftesbury Avenue. The YMCA will not need it when they move to their new buildings in Tottenham Court Road in a short time. It presents excellent short-term and long-term accommodation. The building is in the hands of the Official Receiver and could be obtained for a comparatively low price. I am assured that if the capital could be found for the purchase of this hostel, the YMCA would be able to manage the general running costs and the building could be used for emergency and for short-stay accommodation. It would be a shocking thing if this building, so well suited for the purpose and on an unrivalled site, were to be lost and I hope Her Majesty's Government will take direct responsibility to ensure that that does not happen.

The second project ready here and now to be grasped is the Methodist Church training centre buildings in Birkenhead Street just across the road from King's Cross, St. Pancras and Euston. Here again are premises admirably suited for short-term accommodation for young people. Can we, I ask, expect concern and help from Her Majesty's Government in obtaining and equipping these admirably suited buildings? It is in situations such as these that voluntary agencies are taking the initiative and they look for, and they feel that they have not received from Her Majesty's Government, the encouragement that they would welcome. Should such opportunities be lost it would be a terrible reproach to us all. Finally in the area of accommodation I would ask Her Majesty's Government if they have encouraged the sharing among social service agencies of the metro-political counties of the funding of accommodation for special purposes, for in this way the cost of young people's hostels could be shared and minimised across county boundaries.

So much for accommodation itself. The Working Party's Report also makes a number of other recommendations which would not be costly, and I ask briefly what is being done about them. What action has been taken over recommendation 26 regarding the matching of employment and accommodation? It seems that there is a lack of knowledge of the pattern of mobility of young people. We cannot really get to grips with a housing policy until we know the relationship between job and housing. Has anything been done to study this aspect, and have regional economic planning councils been involved in it?

In recommendations 21 and 23 the report refers to the service which local supplementary benefit offices can provide, so I ask whether the staffs of these offices have received sufficient instruction about the places to which homeless young people can appropriately be referred so that they may get proper guidance and encouragement, and are there guarantees that the voucher system is being employed to protect young people without encouraging them to go to places where they will be persuaded to think of themselves as part of a permanent or semi-permanent homeless scene.

Recommendation 24 refers to the importance of bringing the schools into the process of preparing children for the dangers ahead in this area. One of the most important elements in the whole situation is to dissuade young people from coming into the great urban centres, and to teach them that they will not find their salvation there when they arrive. Such information, coupled with training about the rights of young people in the realm of housing and welfare, would do nothing but good and I hope we may hear that action has been taken.

While on the subject of education I should like to draw the attention of the House to recommendations 12 to 20 regarding the safeguards so clearly necessary in the light of the Gleaves case. It may be that if we are able to see the programme "Goodbye Longfellow Road" on ITV tonight we shall be alerted still further to the needs for safeguards. I hope Her Majesty's Government will be able to assure us that action is being taken in this area of the problem, and especially that local authorities have been invited, as recommendation 13 suggests, to appoint senior officers to deal with personal information about those engaged in work with young people; that recommendation 18 is accepted, which suggests that there should be consultation with local associations with a view to issuing guidance on good practice in hostel management; that recommendation 19, that the social services departments should arrange for the visiting of commercial hostels, is accepted: and recommendation 20, that any public or charitable body which is asked for assistance by an organisation should examine and re-examine the credentials of applicants before providing assistance.

Finally, I come to the vexed question of information. On this point the report was quite specific. It said, in paragraph 11 of its recommendations: We have invited the Voluntary Services Unit of the Home Office to consider making a grant for the establishment, by a voluntary group, of information services at Euston railway station and Victoria Coach Station. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, on 11th October, and I, on 20th December last year, pressed the Minister to persuade British Rail to help more effectively and enthusiastically in the provision of this essential service. In answer the Minister was able to give little encouragement or hope.

On 20th December I asked a similar question and was told by the Minister that British Rail had agreed to provide facilities for making information leaflets available. He added that there were Citizens' Advice Bureaux at St. Philomena's Hostel and the Friends House, all nearby, and a car patrol service. My information is that there has not been a Citizens' Advice Bureau outside Euston Station for some time and that St. Philomena's and the Friends House do not advertise an advice service. The car patrol has been discontinued since it was not proving effective, and I am told that British Rail has not agreed to make leaflets available at their information centre at Euston or elsewhere. I should be grateful for any information the Minister may have, for no doubt he is aware that the voluntary bodies were told early in the negotiations that British Rail would not negotiate directly with them, and consequently negotiations have had to be through the good offices of the Department of Health and Social Services and the Voluntary Services Unit.

I must confess that I was much disappointed by the reply given to a Written Question which I tabled on 17th February, when I was told that the £56,700 needed for the information booths could not be provided from the £317,000 still available to the VSU for distribution within the current financial year. I was not able to be in the House yesterday when the noble Lord, Lord Janner, asked his Question but I have read, also with profound disappointment, the reply which the noble Lord had to make. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will appreciate that nothing can replace the personal contact and advice such as would be provided by information kiosks staffed by trained and informed personnel: and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will acknowledge the anger which has been generated by the continued insensitivity and stubbornness shown by British Rail towards those who are trying to alleviate a very real social evil.

I apologise for taking so much of your Lordships' time, but I feel justified in doing so because we are here dealing with a situation which is fraught with danger and the possibilities of great personal suffering. Unless we deal more effectively with it we shall lay upon our society an even greater disruption than it knows today. We believe that at little or no expense many of the recommendations of the report could be implemented. I trust that in answer to my Question the Minister will be able to assure the House that more vigorous action will be taken.

6.1 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships' House will be grateful to the right reverend Prelate for putting this Unstarred Question today at such a very timely and appropriate moment. The right reverend Prelate has referred to part of the background to the report, and I hope that it will be further appropriate if I go into a little greater detail, because, of course, your Lordships who are taking part in this debate today are those who took part in the debate on a very important Unstarred Question brought before your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, on 25th June 1975. I may say that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, has constantly reminded us of this particular question, as indeed have the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and many of his right reverend colleagues.

My Lords, at the heart of it is the basic paradox to which the right reverend Prelate referred, the paradox that housing authorities are encouraged to have a basic responsibility for the homeless but they have no duty. The duty lies, of course, with the social services department. Over the years this basic problem has been reviewed in surveys and studies and reports, and perhaps one of the more valuable reports produced over the last six or seven years was the Greve Report produced in 1971. That report underlined the fundamental value of the responsibility for housing the homeless resting with the housing department and not with the social services department.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has referred to the whole problem of housing young people. Of course, it is the case that rather more than 35 to 37 per cent. of the problem lies in London, and the right reverend Prelate so rightly referred to the situation in London. But it is not the whole position. The problem covers the country as a whole, the large centres of population. In previous debates we have looked at other cities. It is difficult to leave out of account the problem which was thrown up in the 1971 Census of 676,000 empty houses. It is also difficult to leave out of account the Government's Yellow Paper, The Review of the Rent Act, the Consultation Document produced recently. At the heart of it lies not only the basic paradox but also the particular problem of letting accommodation, in the private sector as well as the public sector.

The right reverend Prelate referred in detail to the recommendations, and I should like to refer to specific recommendations which he mentioned, although perhaps in a little greater detail than he did. If I may refer first of all to better use of accommodation, to which this report rightly gives special emphasis, I should like to refer to the paragraph which relates to the removal of unnecessary restrictions on lodgers in houses occupied by local authority tenants. In paragraph 2.13.5 the problem is written off in one sentence. It goes so much deeper than that. I do not think, with due respect to the body reporting on this subject, an accurate reflection was given in that one sentence of the very real complications involved.

Let us suppose that a house is let under a scheme which is becoming increasingly popular—that is the North Wiltshire District Scheme—a house which is owned by a private institution or person and is let through a local authority. The tenant for that property would be selected by the local authority, and in 90 per cent. of cases probably approved by the individual or institution owning it. If this recommendation is put into effect, the local authority is asked to relax the restrictions on lodgers. Let us suppose that in a particular case the tenant thinks it would be a good idea to encourage two lodgers to move in: two lodgers do move in, and shortly after that two more lodgers with their sleeping bags accompany them. This is a basic difficulty; it is one which the vast majority of potential private landlords, both in London, and, I may say, throughout the country, recognised the moment that the 1974 Rent Act reached the Statute Book. It is not a lack of willingness to let. It is lack of willingness to let in sensible circumstances. Itis the background which we must consider.

The next problem to which I must refer in regard to better use being made of existing housing is the recommendation in paragraph 2.13.8 that planning authorities should relax unnecessarily restrictive criteria for the conversion of large dwellings into smaller self-contained units. How often have we gone into this question? I suppose most recently in the Unstarred Question put down by my noble friend Lady Young on 24th February. It was also dealt with in some depth by another noble Lord. The problem is one of considerable difficulty. We are here dealing with the question of the 1965 building regulations and their application in conditions which were not even dreamt of 11 years ago.

My Lords, I believe, we on this side of the House believe, and I expect many of your Lordships would agree, that circumstances today would not permit of the suitable implementation of those building regulations. Why is this so? Very largely on grounds of cost, but also on grounds of experience. Since 1971 building costs in this particular field—that is, the conversion and repair field—have risen by no less than 140 per cent., and this is so large a factor that it must be taken into account.

I in no way suggest that the fire hazard has become less, and indeed in approaching the problem of converting dwellings, either into self-contained accommodation or into some other form of use, this must surely be one of the first considerations. One must also consider previous reports in this field. Surely, in this context the Culling-worth Report, dealing with Scotland's older houses and the fire hazard in that particular sphere, should be recognised. Nevertheless, I think there is a case for the Department of the Environment considering a review of the regulations and their relaxation in an amended form.

My Lords, one must return to the question, so aptly underlined by the right reverend Prelate in bringing forward this Unstarred Question, of the reduction of the number of housing units available in London. I am informed—and I think this is a reliable figure—that it has been reduced from a factor of 750,000 units before the 1974 Rent Act reached the Statute Book to less than 150,000 today. What has happened? One most significant factor has been the disappearance all over London and our major cities of those small postcards stuck in windows of houses or corner newsagents saying, "Room to let". There is a very real lack in the availability of housing and it is surely the fact that this lack led to the report which, of course, gave rise to our debate today.

Even if one went to these potential landladies and offered them copies of the many speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Janner, they would be totally adamant, saying that they were not willing to let their houses for two excellent reasons: first, the great difficulty of getting rid of an unsocial tenant and, secondly, the potential risk of violence. I am entirely convinced that their grounds are very strong and nothing has led me to believe that the situation has changed one whit since the report was published last year.

We have looked at the review of the Rent Acts and I should like to revert to the previous Green Paper on homelessness which was published by the Department of the Environment in 1975. I refer to paragraph 19 on page 4 where the Government say: The Government are anxious to avoid a legalistic approach to homelessness. One may agree entirely with that point of view, but when one recognises—and this has been recognised in every debate—that the first need is a simplification of the Rent Acts, one surely cannot today cast aside the absolute necessity for a consolidation Act. I know that the report, which is the substance of this Unstarred Question, does not mention a consolidation Act; nevertheless, this is one of the fundamental needs in bringing about a satisfactory change. Perhaps I might end by quoting the Chinese proverb, that the way to calamity is paved with good intentions.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support the right reverend Prelate who has tabled this Unstarred Question and also the report on which it is based. The lack of accommodation for single people has increased since the end of the war. After the war there were quite a number of Rowton Houses around. Two have certainly gone—the one at Mount Pleasant and the one at Hammersmith. I believe that three are now surviving. I do not know what number have been destroyed. It is extremely difficult to discover the total number of the young homeless. All sorts of people have made various attempts to reach a figure but it is very difficult. I have been in touch with a place in Soho called Centre Point which dealt with about 2,000 teenagers last year. That gives noble Lords some idea of the substantial number involved.

We have been told that the suggestion was for services to be centred on Euston because that is near St. Pancras and King's Cross stations. The reason is similar to the reason for building the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in its present location—so many women come to London via these large termini and therefore could reach the hospital fairly easily. The hostels in that part of the world, which have been mentioned, are very unsatisfactory. St. Philomena's, which is in Eversholt Street and next door to the power station, is run by the Trish community for Irish girls. It has 20 beds but at present is shut due to reconstruction. The Royal Scottish Corporation told me that they had opened a similar hostel in Bina Gardens which, as your Lordships may know, is in Kensington, quite a long way from Euston. The Citizen's Advice Bureau, at the corner of Marchmont Street and Tavistock Place, again is quite a long way from the station. It is not at all easy to find because Marchmont Street changes its name twice before it gets to Euston Road, so if one is told to go to Marchmont Street one cannot find it. Friends House can be most kind and helpful but it is not their job to advise on accommodation and matters of that sort.

I agree with what has been said about the extraordinary attitude of British Rail. It was suggested that a kiosk might be set up on the station, which could be staffed by six trained personnel at an annual cost of between £23,000 and £31,000 a year. One appreciates that British Rail is in considerable financial trouble, but even so the sum of £31,000 a year in order to carry out an extremely valuable and precious service does not seem to be all that high. The situation at the Victoria Coach Station is far more hopeful. It has two full-time staff who deal largely with people coming from Scotland.

There is something to be said for the suggestion that houses which it is proposed to demolish but which are not in too sub-standard a state should be used as temporary residences for the homeless. It is always dangerous to put people into unsuitable premises, but there are certain degrees of unsuitability with which we might cope. I agree with both the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, that advantage should be taken of changing the regulations so that those in council houses may, if they wish, let rooms. The most vulnerable time when the young come to London is probably in the first four weeks during which what money they have will be spent, when they will not have work, and may not have accommodation. One must realise that they are not an homogenous group; they may be totally different people. Therefore the accommodation available for them must, up to a point, be varied.

I turn to the country at large. It would be agreeable and proper if our large towns had accommodation for single people because for the young to leave the family is quite different from leaving the family town. If they wish to leave the family and be independent, they should not be forced to leave the town where they have been brought up. When we debated the National Assistance Bill in 1946 or 1947 I raised the point about what would occur when the umbrella of the Poor Law was finally taken away. I do not hold any brief for the Poor Law. Its administration could be harsh and unpleasant. But some of the people who administered it were extremely good and it provided a universal umbrella of some sort. I was assured by the Minister who replied to my Question that there was no need to worry about this because the situation would always be taken care of by the National Assistance Bill when it became an Act. One final point, my Lords. If you are going to have hostels the warden has to be carefully and well chosen because it is probably upon his advice that the future of the young persons coming to London and to his hostel will depend.

6.21 p.m.


My Lords. I thank my noble friend for raising again this imperative question. I agree with him that much more should have been done, and it is a melancholy reflection that sine my noble friend Lord Janner raised the question last autumn there has been no consultation with the local authorities. But two things have happened which can form a not unsuitable text. One is that Mr. Reg Freeson in another place on 26th November indicated that it was the purpose of the Government—and this will particularly interest the noble Lord, Lord Sandys—to bring the responsibility for homelessness firmly and squarely upon the shoulders of the housing authorities in local government rather than the social services. I believe that very soon a Bill will be introduced by Mr. Rossi in another place which confirms what Reg Freeson had to say and indicates that the purpose of the Government is to put the responsibility on the shoulders of the housing departments.

That is a text not unsuitable for this reason: that in that Bill it will still not be regarded as of priority that the responsibility for housing single homeless people will take its place alongside the responsibilities for housing families and old people. It is my suggestion to your Lordships that until and unless the young homeless are regarded as a priority class, they will not sufficiently receive the kind of help to which they are entitled. That brings me immediately to my great disappointment with the Consultative Document, the Working Group's pronouncement. I found they were very quick to pass over any attempt to define, or at least to describe, the particular group, the young homeless. May I add a number of reasons for which it seems to me they are in a peculiar and particularly vulnerable category and in fact demand this priority. I hope the Government will recognise that they have as much and in some respects more entitlement to be regarded as of a first charge than even those who are elderly—and their need is obvious—and families whose need is equally obvious.

As the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has just said, the group about which we are being invited to think this afternoon is not a homogeneous one, but there are certain characteristics which belong to it today which are distinguishable and ominous. It is a group within which there is a much higher rate of delinquency than any other homeless group. I cannot give particulars and data but after long experience in this field I am convinced that this is so. They are obviously a group which come under the general designation, so often used as an "in" word, of alienation. They are a group in which there is a higher percentage of racial tension, and for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that there is nothing more disturbing to a young Pakistani youth or a young Indian—rather more perhaps than the more tribalised youths which come to us from Africa—than that they will find within their own family a tension and a division as between the habits and the ethos of that family and the conditions which they find in a city like London. I have knowledge of many of these youngsters with darker skins than mine whose problem is accentuated by the fact that they are regarded in the first instance as dangerous; that they fall into the alienation category more easily and are much more difficult to reclaim into any sort of society. I believe that this racial tension is very considerable, is growing, and in places like Brixton as elsewhere is of very great importance to those who would look upon youthful homeless people as having a particularly dangerous condition at least for the community as a whole.

Furthermore, this is a group of people of whom I might make the strange comment that the drought last summer had something to do with it. Let me explicate that extraordinary statement, but I am sure it is true. A great many young people of both sexes became habituated and conditioned to living what they regarded as "rough", because "rough" was fairly smooth during that time and they became accustomed to a way of life which has now become much more difficult and very much more unpleasant in an unusually wet winter. They have become detribalised in the sense that they are accustomed to a way of life now which is very difficult to reclaim to the kind of society to which we would think they would more fully express themselves. For those and other reasons, I am convinced that unless we regard this group as of priority status we shall not be in any position adequately to deal with the problems that they raise and indeed to assuage the troubles in which they find themselves.

Already there has been evidence, very properly given, of the resentment that many of these homeless young people feel, because as they travel abroad in the great cities they find themselves confronted with innumerable notices of houses to let and to be sold and they do not need to be convinced, as I am afraid some other people need to be convinced, that quite apart from the building of new accommodation there is a tremendous amount of accommodation in London which with fairly small expenditure could, at least for short-term occupation, be recovered, particularly when the short-term attempt to provide some new kind of accommodation in rebuilding is much more unlikely in the present economic stress than it was say two or three years ago. The short-life accommodation is abundant and would be much more quickly available if only the Government would take the proper steps, in some cases by self-help, to see that this accommodation is made available to those who need it.

May I commend to the Government the evidence that comes from London and Quadrant Housing association of the way in which this particular effort can be advantageously and successfully undertaken. Reference has already been made to the walk up accommodation, the hard to let accommodation. Many of these youngsters are not dispossessed of a great deal of happiness if they have not got a garden or if they do not live in the kind of situation of which proper requirements are set for those who would let them to, shall we say, families or young people in other kinds of community life. There is a great opportunity for the use of this hard to let accommodation and it would not be disadvantageous, as in the Camden experiment, to think that many of those youngsters would respond to the opportunity of a bit of "do-it-yourself" if they had at least the carrot, if you like, of some kind of regular occupation—because many of them are unemployed—and still better accommodation which at least would give them a place to lay their heads at night.

There is yet another aspect of this problem; that is, the provision of some kind of regular hostelry on the part of voluntary associations. I know a bit about this and it is only fair to put into such conversation as we are undertaking today certain comments. There can be no doubt at all that the provision of hostels for homeless youngsters is a precarious and costly exercise. In the hostels for which I am responsible the life expectancy of a colour television set is about six weeks; after that it is "whipped", and with all the precautions that can be taken it is impossible to prevent wholesale thieving.

I do not make that statement with any stomach; I record it as a lamentable fact, a fact that underlines two things. The first is the way in which many of these youngsters can and do exploit the voluntary services that are offered to them. The second—the Working Party was well aware of this—is the way in which they can be exploited. I therefore make some suggestions with regard to hostels. I am satisfied that the Working Party is right in refusing registration as if it is peremptory; I do not think it would work. However, I believe it is necessary for there to be a much closer relationship between the setting up of such hostels and responsible public bodies which can advise and in some cases superintend, if for no other reason than to adopt the old principle "no subvention without representation". It is clear that very few hostels could prevail for any length of time without public money of some kind to help them. If that money is forthcoming, then I believe that those who provide the money should find access to the workings of those hostels, and in the cases of which I have personal knowledge we have representatives from public bodies on our committees and we would welcome others.

What we are confronted with in the world at the moment is a lack of the society about which I will not dilate at this point in the debate, except to say that if the argument is that we cannot afford the kind of public money which will provide housing for those people who are homeless and particularly youngsters, then in my view that kind of economic argument is bad. I was delighted when I first heard Bach's music described as celestial arithmatic or mathematics—I cannot remember the exact phrase—and I believe there is a celestial kind of economics. I am satisfied that it is not a question of whether we can afford the necessary resources to provide homes or at least lodgings for those youngsters who are homeless. We cannot afford not so to do, for the total result will be an impoverishment of the whole society in which we live. What scares me almost as much—I say this with considerable hesitation and after long thought—is that I believe there is a moral deteriortion in a great many young people today. One of the causes producing that situation, lamentable as it is, is their lack of any sense of belonging, and one cannot belong unless one has somewhere to live.


Before the noble Lord sits down, my Lords, may I ask him whether the phrase for which he was looking was "the celestial logic of Bach", and was that not written by the late Lord Brain?


I accept that, ray Lords, so long as the noble Lord is in favour of Bach.

6.35 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I am glad of this opportunity to take part in the debate and I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on his choice of subject. I wish also to join with him on the question of the building in Endell Street. I believe that it could be bought for about £100,000. It is an admirable building which I understand would accommodate about 40 people. I have been to see it and I hope that we may get some help today—if the Government cannot help, then perhaps the voluntary organisations could get together in this matter—in order to make some use of this building.

I was interested in what the right reverend Prelate said about booths in stations. For many years, when I was chairman of the British Vigilance Association we ran, in conjunction with International Travellers' Aid, booths at both Victoria and Liverpool Street stations; in those days they were designed particularly of course for au pair girls and others coming from overseas. Once we had joined the EEC that activity was not really necessary. I cannot understand why there is now any objection to having such booths. The only thing that worries me is what the report says about the cost because when we ran them the cost was not anything like that suggested.

I may be rather critical, but I assure the Minister that I am not being critical of him. He is in a very difficult situation and I know from experience that he has this problem very much at heart. I know he would do everything he could if it were in his hands alone. In a Parliamentary reply to a similar Question mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, he referred to the Answer he had received; the one I have in mind, which was given to the other place, was much longer and much more definite. Part of it read: The Government are not committed to the acceptance of these recommendations but consider it desirable that they should be fully discussed". We seem to have discussed this on more than one occasion. It went on: They will have to be considered carefully by the Government in consultation with the local authority associations and other interested bodies. In view of current economic circumstances, and the Government's call for restraint in local authority spending, there is little prospect of early implementation of those proposals which would require additional expenditure, but in the consultations particular attention will be paid to what can otherwise be done to help homeless young people. That was a most depressing view from the Government. However, there is in the report one hopeful suggestion at page 56, item 6, to the effect that the Housing Corporation should consider increasing the allocation of finance to hostel and other accommodation for single young people.

I have the report with me and I am rather depressed because on page 14 it says: This has been a year of change for staff, and one of debate on how best to improve and develop arrangements for negotiations and consultation. A Joint Consultative and Negotiating Committee was established during the year to provide a forum for discussion as a possible step towards more formal arrangements and negotiations. It seems to me that we are to do nothing but discuss and that no action is to be taken. Something I should like to see and something that is in the report's recommendations—I believe this could be implemented without extra expenditure—is Recommendation 2(e): Planning authorities should relax unnecessarily restrictive criteria for the conversion of large dwellings into smaller self-contained units. That could be carried out quite easily.

Returning to the report of the Housing Corporation, what worries me is the money they are spending. I have mentioned that they have had a change of staff and it seems that 363 of the staff are paid on average £4,000 a year. I understand that not one house has been built and in my view if the Corporation were to disappear tomorrow that would hardly affect those doing that work, except that it would relieve other workers in the housing sphere from the pressure of bureaucracy. Unfortunately the figures for 1976–77 are not known. Perhaps the Minister can say what is the cost of the Corporation's move to its very palatial offices in Maple House. That question should be answered because it is worrying a great many people.

I suggest that more use is made of the National Association of Voluntary Hostels. I say that because since 1962 that body has placed 67,000 persons in 11,000 hostels, an extremely good job of work. I should like to see it operating as a policy and policing body and also as a coordinating body with other hostels. When I suggest the Association is, so far as I understand it, the one organisation that really goes round seeing whether the hostels are the right type for the young people. After one visit to Gleave's hostel, no more placings were made and I understand—and the right reverend Prelate has already referred to this—that there is to be a programme concerning NOVO on television tonight. Since August 1975, the National Association of Voluntary Hostels has not had them on its list. I should like the Minister to state whether he can give the organisation official powers to visit and make reports to him. I believe that this would be very helpful.

I was rather disturbed by the point of view put forward on a Question yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, who suggested that some of the stations might be patrolled by people wanting to get young persons of either sex for undesirable purposes. I should like to say that, though this may be true, it is not the reason why young people come to London, and I should like to point out one or two things in their favour. As may be known to the Minister, I am a trustee and also help to run what is known as the London Centre. To take one part of the work, because I have not had the opportunity of getting hold of all the figures, out of 14 people at the Centre, 12 are working.

I should like to know what is the policy of the Government for the future because centres like mine want to prepare their policy. We hope to produce 11 more hostels by 1980, and we should like to have some indication whether it is worth our while to go on working on these lines and whether we should get in touch with other centres to find out where the new hostels should be placed and what ratio needs to be provided for the different sexes. As I understand it, a short while ago there were five boys needing accommodation to every one girl but the ratio has now changed to three to one. Perhaps the Minister may have some further details.

I should like also to join in the congratulations to Sarah Waugh on the publication of her excellent document Needs and Provisions for Young Single Homeless People up to the Age of 25 Years and the Needs of Mobility of Young People for Jobs. The Department of the Environment has said in Circular 18/74 that homelessness is concerned with the needs of those who are literally without shelter or likely to lose in the immediate future what shelter they have. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, has mentioned the Private Bill dealing with the housing of homeless persons and I absolutely agree with him that this will not be any use for the type of person we are talking about today because I gather that it is primarily for the elderly, the disabled and pregnant women. There is another Bill which rather worries me as far as the creation of homelessness is concerned. This is Part II of the Criminal Law Bill. The law of trespass, with the fine of £1,000 or six months' imprisonment for those guilty of adverse occupation of residential property and those who perhaps squat illegally, will increase the number requiring hostel accommodation.

I should like to consider for a moment those who are in need. First, we have the unskilled. It is the unskilled who cannot get employment at the present time. Then there are the emotionally unstable. Then, as mentioned by the noble Lard, Lord Soper, there are those overseas persons who are permanently settled here. I should like to see—and I believe that this has been mentioned by the Secretary of State for Education—far better career prospects put forward by careers officers in schools. I believe that they need a much better and more thorough training. The unskilled need really good counselling because not enough preparation is made for the very dramatic moment when they leave school and leave their families and go out to work. We are living in an age of competitive industry and I believe that too many young people, expecially girls, are orientated by the schools towards professional jobs, instead of doing manual work or taking up apprenticeships in, say, engineering and hairdressing.

I believe that the emotionally unstable must be sorted out before they leave school because we find that these are a large number of our clients when they come to the big cities. With regard to the overseas young people, they have a particularly difficult time because their parents were mostly brought up in their countries of origin with a very different outlook in regard to family life. They have lost what is known as the "extended family" system, which is very unfortunate. Naturally, if they live in this country, it is difficult to keep that which they had in their own country. Also, when one gets girls who have been brought up in the Moslem religion, they now want to be far more independent and I regret to say that in a great many cases—or perhaps that is exaggerating and I should say, in a large number of cases—young girls leave home because they cannot accept the strict authority of the parents which they would have had in their own country. There we have what is known as a "split family". I gather that 53 percent, of those using night shelter between April and November 1970 came from split families. One thousand nine hundred and fifty one (9 per cent.) had criminal records. Three percent, were mentally or physically in danger because they had health problems and 2 percent only were there because they were taking drugs or alcohol. Those are the real reasons for homelessness.

I want to finish by making one other point: what happens when these people leave the hostels? I try very hard to see that, when they have a job, they make some savings in order that they can eventually go to live on their own. But what is needed are bedsitting rooms for the single person. There is an organisation called Abbeyneld which does this for the elderly. They have a room with their own furniture and a place to cook. We also have one hostel which will do this for the disabled and we have a lounge where they can all meet and, in the case of the disabled, if they cannot cook any more, their cooking is done for them. I want to encourage the young people to save their money to buy some furniture, but they must have somewhere where they can go. Coming back to Endell Street, I think that this would be a very good place for them to go and pay some rent. I am sure that there are similar problems in Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester which I shall not go into today.

I was glad that somebody mentioned the idea that council tenants could take in some young people, particularly elderly council tenants who do not want to leave their homes or the district where they have many friends but who have too much accommodation and are very lonely. I should like to have a register of landladies and landlords who might take in young people. In Plymouth, we did this for the elderly and it worked extremely well, with many people taking the elderly into their homes. If there is a register, if they have difficulties somebody can go and help to sort them out. May I end by thanking the young people who, I feel, have done more than anybody else to bring this matter to our attention; that is, CHAR. I have attended their meetings and I should like to congratulate them on their persistence in trying to find some way of improving the life of those who are probably the same age as those who are doing this excellent job.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, I approach this subject from an angle which I hope other Members of the House will appreciate; namely, the extreme importance of this problem. I hope that I shall not upset my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell too much if I say that I believe that, if he were not placed under certain restrictions from other directions, he would feel precisely the same as other noble Lords who are speaking on this subject. I say this in consequence of my knowledge of his deep interest in the problem itself and in social problems generally. I should like to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for having taken the opportunity of bringing this subject forward this evening and for the admirable way in which he presented the case and dealt with the problem itself, although this deprived some of us of an opportunity of saying much that he himself said. But that is not unusual with the right reverend Prelate. He covered the ground extremely well and put the problems as most of us would have desired to do.

When I was at the memorial service to Anthony Crosland yesterday I heard something which, in view of the effect it had upon me, I thought it might be useful to repeat in this debate. When the Dean of Westminster was referring to our late lamented friend and colleague he said this: We recall his passion to advance a more just and equal society, his unfaltering desire to raise up the under-privileged, to care for the less fortunate"— I want to underline the next phrase: and to harness the resources of the State to this end. We are living at a time when we are dealing with priorities, with the use of such funds as are available, and we are giving priority to such problems as we think are of the highest importance. I think that the subject with which we are dealing this evening stands high in the list—very high indeed—because it affects to an enormous extent the future of young people. We have already heard how young people can become criminally inclined, how they can lose their sense of being part of the whole of our people.

I believe that the question of the cost cannot be considered in a cold and impassive manner, as a piece of arithmetic, in disposing of the funds available in the Treasury. It is too deep a matter of concern for cold, hard calculation in terms of monetary consideration. Of course, we all know that funds are not available to the extent that we should like for all the causes in which we are interested, but I would repeat that this is an important cause when it comes to the consideration of funds. In the past we have heard answers to the effect that something costs so much, or that it costs too much. The question is asked what can be done without spending money, but quite rightly consideration is given to steps that can be taken without incurring undue cost. I want to emphasise, however, that that is not the main consideration in a case of this description. Whatever other problem arises for which funds have to be made available, I believe that this particular problem should take a very high priority.

I want to mention one other point here. I was a little sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, thought it necessary to introduce the question of the Rent Acts in this matter. This is not the time that I should like to enter into a disputation on whether or not the situation which we are discussing is the fault of the Rent Acts. I have my own views about that, and in passing I can say only what I have said before. I think that the reason why people do not allow their places to be rented is that they have been frightened by the kind of propaganda that has gone forward. Many people have been frightened by the manner in which the Rent Acts have been presented to them, so causing a deterrent which arises from the unfortunate way in which a case has been presented—


My Lords, I think that I must remind the noble Lord, Lord Janner, of what he said on 24th February, as reported at column 463 of the Official Report. He said: Blame the person who fixes the rent, blame the tribunal, but do not blame the law. This is a dispute between us, and it would be unprofitable to continue it.


That, my Lords, is why I am spending only a few moments discussing it. Perhaps one day the noble Lord and I will be able to get together and I will try to explain my view regarding this question.

I think I can agree that young people are almost totally dependent on the private rented sector at present, and those who become homeless are those least desirable to landlords and landladies. The private sector is shrinking, and the supply of good landladies is diminishing. Therefore the number of young homeless is increasing. There is a disproportionate number of the unacceptable who have already been referred to—the unskilled, the unemployed, the emotionally unstable and, unhappily, some of the coloured people. Those most at risk, in my view, and I think in the view of the Committee which investigated the matter, are those young people who wish to live independently and to make their own way, but who cannot afford to do so with the present scarcity of single accommodation. They move from place to place, become disillusioned and restless, and tend to form a hard core of drifters who are vulnerable to evil elements in society. They require special social support—and I want to emphasise this—for their resettlement in the community.

Council houses are largely offered to families and the elderly, and owner-occupation is largely out of the reach of young people, so provision for hem falls largely on the voluntary sector. There is a special need for night shelters such as Centrepoint and St. Anne's, Soho, but these cannot function adequately without follow-up accommodation. Many voluntary organisations provide hostel accommodation, but hostels, too, need the backup of more permanent on-going bedsitters or shared flats. The Stonham Association, for example, named after a former and revered Member of this House, runs widespread hostels for the single homeless with special needs, who require a stable period of social support as a basis for resettlement in society. All too often, when they are ready to leave the hostel there is literally no place for them to go to. They have to stay in hostels longer than they need to do, while those who are in urgent need of hostel support have to go without. When we are considering the question of the cost, I would respectfully suggest to my noble friend that considerations of this sort have to be taken into account.

The most urgent need of the single homeless today is for bed-sitters—and I agree with the points which have been made—or single units, and the voluntary sector is concerned to provide them. Housing associations are being widely frustrated in this aim, I would point out to my noble friend, by the present policy of the Housing Corporation of limiting housing grants to stress areas. There are local voluntary groups all over the country concerned about single homeless persons, particularly the young, which would embark on such projects in co-operation with housing associations, like Stonham, if only the funds were available in their area. It is very sad that the largest cuts in the housing programme for 1977–78 have fallen upon housing associations. One-third of all the cuts of £180 million has been obtained by a major reduction in housing association programmes, yet they are responsible for little over 10 per cent. of total housing expenditure. This 10 per cent., however, is significantly related to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, and it is they who will be directly hit by the damage to the housing association movement.

It is indicated that, as unemployment has increased, so has homelessness also increased, particularly among young people who leave home in search of employment. It has been observed that at Centrepoint (to which the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, and I think one other speaker have already referred) young people from provincial areas of unemployment have been able to find work in London but no place in which to live. There are numerous voluntary agencies which are seeking to provide social support for people with special problems and are co-operating with the statutory agencies involved, but it is painfully clear that, however dedicated their endeavours may be, their efforts at promoting social resettlement are largely dissipated without the provision of a residential back-up.

While the provision of emergency accommodation such as night shelters, day centres and crisis centres is such a valuable contribution to the voluntary sector, the authorities should never allow this provision to be a substitute for the real need, which is for long-term accommodation. For example, the Centrepoint night shelter in Soho renovated a large and dilapidated house which was one of several standing empty in a row owned by the GLC, and converted it into shared flats for young men who had slept at the shelter but had nowhere to go. It is a scandal that so much of this local authority property is standing empty and derelict while there are so many voluntary associations which are only too anxious to put them to good use in this way. An example of what can be done by a flexible and co-operative local authority is that in 1975 a voluntary group providing short-life community housing was housing 72 families, 50 couples and 132 single people in property it had renovated in the Borough of Camden.

My Lords, there are other aspects of this subject. I do not want to detain the House much longer, but there is the question of ex-offenders who at the present time are being housed in order to allow them to have some kind of opportunity to get back into normal life. Many of them could leave the organisations providing that kind of housing if there were opportunities to take up housing accommodation elsewhere; and, in turn, that would provide an opportunity for young people who have offended and who need the kind of protection that these organisations give in order to enable them to come back into ordinary life.

The problem is a very serious one, and I have asked Questions about it. I have had replies which, I am sorry to say, are not satisfactory. In particular, in the case of the one that I asked only yesterday, the idea of not making provision for people at railway stations is, in my opinion, a disgrace. That is an opportunity which should not be missed, and what we have heard as resulting from that opportunity not being taken should really have stirred all of us, on whatever side of the House we may sit, into ensuring that action is taken. I hope that my noble friend will see to it that, instead of the matter being delayed again, as it has been since October, we have proper consideration given to the position, and that adequate protection will be given to these young people who will eventually become the men and women of our nation.

7.8 p.m.


My Lords, there is a great deal of homeless-ness in this country today, but due to the initiative of the right reverend Prelate we are fortunate in being able to discuss the young homeless tonight. This is a late hour, and I shall not keep the House long. It seems to me that the young homeless fall into four or five categories. There are the unemployed; the single who have left home; the one-parent families, of both sexes; and the alcoholics or drug addicts. Last Wednesday I had in front of me in a juvenile court a woman of 23 who had three children. She could not find anywhere to live, and she had no money with which to provide any accommodation for her three children. She was being thrown from my borough back to where she came from, a big city in the Midlands; backwards and forwards, from the housing authority to the social services. Nobody wanted her, and nobody wanted her children. The only way, it seemed, that she could get accommodation for her children was to put them into the care of the local authority, and that we had to do.

Most of the agencies working with young people which are worried about the number of homeless in our areas today are very worried about the girls from the immigrant families, as has been mentioned. It is estimated that there may be 1,000 second generation immigrant youngsters drifting in London; and a great proportion of them are girls. My noble friend Lord Sandys mentioned the Rent Act. I must mention it, too, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Janner, has said. From what I have been able to discover, not all homelessness, but some of it, is the direct result of the Rent Act; for there is so much less accommodation available in London because people will not let their bedsitting rooms and will not let their flats because they are terrified of not being able to get the youngsters out.


My Lords, I agree that people are terrified. The point is why they are terrified. Is it not because this kind of thing has been greatly stirred up and people themselves do not understand the possibilities open to them to get their tenants out if they want to?


My Lords, I agree; but surely we are all hoping that there will be an alteration of the Rent Act. I think that that will be helpful, because it seems from all the inquiries one makes that the fewer and fewer bedsitting rooms and fiats being available is the direct result of this Rent Act.

Before 1939, a long time ago, there were over 300 statutory reception centres up and down the country. In 1961 there were 33 and in 1963 there were 25. Now there are 21 centres with beds for 2,500 men and 90 women; but nobody may stay in these centres for more than three nights. One noble Lord referred to the Rowntree houses which had 2,000 cheap rooms. Those, as we all know, no longer exist. The problem today is difficult to quantify, as noble Lords have said, but I have a survey brought out by Crisis at Christmas this year which took the year 973 when there were 8,000 young people sleeping rough, of which 20 per cent, were female. Twenty-five per cent, came from Scotland, 18 per cent, from the North of England, 13 per cent, from the Midlands, 13 per cent, from the South and the remainder from the London boroughs. I, in company with other noble Lords, have asked Questions about the problems of homelessness and about what is being done as a result of the Working Party report.

It seems to me that too many people are not doing enough. We have been told that five different Departments are contributing to committees which are sitting on this problem. I suggest that it is about time that those Departments got together and stopped passing the buck from one to another. If you are young and far from home and have very few friends except those with whom you are squatting or sheltering underneath a bridge, it is cold comfort to know that despite what the noble Lord in person does and tries to do—and I pay tribute to all that he does—nothing, apparently, is being done.

It is very easy if one sees the young people around to become emotional on what is a very difficult subject. I should like to suggest to the Minister that there should be appointed an overlord who would weld together the work of all the agencies and their representatives; who would weld together the work of the Ministries, of the voluntary societies and of the local authorities until we have some body which can find out what the policy should be and then implement it forthwith. Despite the fact that it might cost money, I do not see that we are otherwise going to get anything except buck passing.

It is high time—and I agree with the other noble Lords who have mentioned this—that the Government got their priorities right and looked after the young people of this country. I also think there should be more hostel accommodation in the big cities, because so many young people have run away from home. If they have somewhere to run to, without catching a train to London from Birmingham or Liverpool or Manchester, then perhaps they would not run as far as London and perhaps then we should not have the juvenile delinquency that relates to homelessness and the juvenile delinquency that relates definitely to their having no roof.

This is a difficult subject. It is an emotional subject, or can be so. I beg the Government to treat it with the utmost urgency because our generation needs to see that young people are looked after. As I believe the noble Lord, Lord Soper, said, they are the future, and they are blaming us and blaming the Government—all Governments—for not taking this situation seriously enough. I beg the noble Lord to do all that he can to implement parts of this report.

7.17 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I certainly echo the last words of the noble Baroness and beg the Government—and I know the noble Lord himself personally needs no begging—to treat this matter with even more earnestness than hitherto. A famous man whose name escapes me—somebody may supply the omission—asked to speak after Edmund Burke, contented himself with observing, "I say 'Ditto' to Mr. Burke". Someone may be able to tell me who it was; it might have been Goldsmith. But I resist the temptation, the House will be sorry to hear, to say, "Likewise" and sit down. I must just say a few other things; but I want to endorse strongly the lead given so effectively by the right reverend Prelate and to back up many of the other speakers. In particular, I should like to support with a great deal of feeling the insistence by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, that the Government should give strong encouragement to the inclusion of young homeless people in Mr. Ross's new Bill.

The Government are said to be supporting this Bill. For our purposes, for the purpose of this debate, they are not supporting it—up to now, at least. Perhaps we may get more encouragement tonight. They have not given any evidence of supporting the inclusion in the Bill of the young homeless, as pressed for by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and others. In criticising the Government, I do not want to seem to be paying an indirect compliment to the Opposition which might be beyond their desserts. There is no reason to suppose that they would include this in their proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, was not heard to say anything on this matter, unless one missed the point. It is not a question of one Party or another; but of all Governments and of those in authority whatever Front Bench they happen to be sitting on, here or elsewhere. That is the first point: that we must ask and press the noble Lord who is speaking on behalf of the Government to say whether the Government favour the inclusion in Mr. Ross's Bill of the young homeless people who are our particular topic this afternoon.

My Lords, other noble Lords have spoken from their own long and direct experience and I will say a few words from mine. I am one of those who helped found the New Horizon Youth Centre in Soho, now in Macklin Street, Drury Lane. I have spoken to the young people who do the work there and who run it—for I am just the chairman, which is, as we all know, the least important thing you can be except being the president, as I have heard the noble Viscount, Lord Amory remark before now. I am in close touch with our centre and I asked the young people who run it to give me a brief example of the life story of someone who is homeless. As has been remarked by more than one speaker, there was an infinite variety of young people.

One cannot say that one person exemplifies the lot; but, my Lords, let me give you one short story on which to focus our thoughts. One young boy of 19 years of age came to London from Liverpool a year ago. On the face of it, he was neither better nor worse than lots of other people. He soon spent the money that he brought with him on bed and breakfast accommodation. After a few days of sleeping rough he came to our New Horizon Youth Centre. The staff tried to help him find accommodation but the resources available to them were either full or had waiting lists. The young man spent weeks moving from night shelter to lodging house, sometimes sleeping rough and sometimes spending the night in cafes. He soon lost sight of any plans to get a job. Because of his lack of accommodation, he was unable to obtain any work that lasted, and the few casual jobs he had did not enable him to pay for any accommodation that was at all secure. A year after his arrival in London he no longer has any personal possessions. His health has deteriorated and repeated failure to get out of the West End has destroyed his confidence and he feels that he has no future. We in the New Horizon Centre are sure that this particular young man's present circumstances would be totally different and infinitely better if accommodation had been available to him on his arrival in London. He is one case among many; that is the kind of person that we are talking about this evening.

I do not want to deal with the main points which others have treated so effectively, but I should like to touch on one topic that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and others referred to; that is, whether we can afford these facilities. I was glad to hear him quote my old friend Lord Beveridge. When Beveridge was asked whether we could afford the so-called Beveridge Plan, he said, "We cannot not afford it". In a deep sense that is true. If we look into this matter in terms of a balance sheet, we can give a further answer. We were told by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and other speakers that in many cases it is a very uninviting prospect for landladies to take in homeless young people. It may be an uninviting prospect now, but it would be a much less inviting prospect when they are asked to take in the same people a year later. Those people will be permanently damaged unless accommodation is found for them. If the colour television vanishes after six weeks now, then if those same people are housed in that accommodation in a year from now the colour television will vanish in a week.

We must realise that we are laying up a terrible legacy for ourselves or for the community. I do not know whether it is right here to distinguish between our own community self-interest and the interest, the life story, the fate and human destiny of these young people. One cannot distinguish, because I believe in this world that if you do harm to individuals, you almost certainly damage the community. You may ruin the community. I am sure that in the end we will pay for this in every sense, moral and economic. It cannot be economy in any sense that has any meaning to try to skimp and save on these homeless young.

One final matter, my Lords. I should like to return to the matter of information booths which has been referred to by more than one speaker. I am sure that most noble Lords will agree with me—and I am sure that in his heart the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will agree with me, because he is the most compassionate of men and is also very knowledgeable in this field—that it is a scandal that these information booths should not be set up at Euston station and Victoria coach station. Many of the young people that we have seen in recent months at the New Horizon Youth Centre have money when they arrive in London. If they receive advice and information immediately on arrival, the money can be spent on permanent accommodation rather than on beds in hotels, when the money vanishes very quickly.

My Lords, we have a Minister who would like to take the right action. I can only hope that this debate will help him to do so, and I hope that this combination of strong feeling and first-hand knowledge will enable him to say to his colleagues, "You cannot go on depriving these young people of their human rights".

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, I feel deeply grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for his Question to the Government, and for his moving, informative speech. I intervene humbly, not the least bit knowledgeable on this subject. I have learned more in this debate from the speeches tonight than from practically any other debate I have attended.

I must confess that those five little words, "What action has been taken?" make my heart sink, because I know that action costs money, and there is not much of that about these days. This report on the homeless young is a rather good one. Its recommendations are relevant and none the worse for being obvious. What is less obvious and even mystifying is the way that a convicted criminal, such as Mr. Gleaves, who inspired this report, was able to build up an edifice of such wickedness because of legal timidity—I can call it nothing less.

My Lords, I will be brief and touch mainly on the information services, which, after all, should not be too costly. The problems of the homeless young are not difficult to diagnose or analyse. The fact that we have no statistics of their numbers or their ages shows this. The Housing Act of 1974 for the first time said that hostels were entitled to a housing subsidy. This report stresses the overriding need for hostels for short-term accommodation for the young homeless, first, to prevent them from coming to London and then, when arriving in London—where large numbers of young people come with nowhere to go—for them to get help. Apart from the need for social worker support, the funding of short-stay hostels as housing projects is crucial. Here the management costs are inevitably high because they require good staffing, and the only way of getting funds for them is from the voluntary organisations.

I should like to concentrate on the need for giving young people information about existing hostels, and as much publicity as we can give them. Here one of the obvious and cheaper ways of giving in-formation is in the last two years of their school life. Though 70,000 copies of a very good information leaflet were distributed to voluntary youth organisations, it is known that many young people who move to London will be unprepared and in need of advice and guidance. Despite this, a Camden Council study suggests that at Euston, King's Cross and St. Pancras the need for information and advice was not met. Such information services could be conducted from any small mobile unit: I suggest a van, a kiosk, a booth, or, let us say, a bus at the Victoria bus terminal, where the office could be upstairs and the waiting room downstairs.

For the prevention of such atrocities as were committed by Mr. Gleaves, conventional wisdom should be by-passed. Rather, help and advice should be given by teachers during the last two years at school before children go to work. The career services, together with further education and training establishments, should be mobilised and given directives to help the homeless young. All that should really be part of teacher training and not involve immediate cost. Finally, life after school can be well described on television. When we consider that out of the 750,000 children who leave school every year, 300,000 receive no further education and training, it is little wonder, my Lords, that the young seek adventure, romance and the glittering lights of the big cities.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, I am going to resist the temptation extended to me by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, and the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, to deal with the Rent Act, I shall not do that because I want to keep this debate non-political so far as possible and I should not be able to do that if I dealt with that aspect. But I am stung into action by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, who said that in this particular field we are discussing tonight nothing is being done. I am now going to establish that a good deal is being done.

The right reverend Prelate did at least confine himself to the matter of the wording of the Unstarred Question and, quite rightly, drew attention to the fact that something like five or six months had elapsed. I do not say that the right reverend Prelate said that nothing had been done, but that we do not know the Government's intentions with regard to the Working Party's report. Your Lordships all know there are five Government Departments represented on the Working Party and the report represented a part of their deliberations, along with those of representatives of a large number of other organisations. We do live in a democracy—let us be profoundly thankful for that—and for five months five Departments involved, with a large number of people in each of them, have been discussing their individual responsibilities. People may laugh about this, but if one has been in Government, as a number of your Lordships have, one will know that it is not easy to come to some meaningful consensus in a period of five months.

However, having said that, may I say that the Government have studied very carefully the recommendations of the Working Party and, if it does not come as a shock to noble Lords, the several Ministers concerned are at the present moment considering a draft Consultation Paper. I hope it will be possible to start discussions on that with local authority associations in the very near future—and I mean the very near future. If somebody wants me to put days or weeks to that, I cannot; but there is now a Consultation Paper for the purpose of discussing with local authority associations not only the problem itself but how best to deal with it.

I want to say something about what is being done at the present moment in this particular field. When people talk about "small expenditure", there is a lot of small expenditure. Let me remind your Lord-ships that the latest White Paper on public expenditure provides for a continuing level of public expenditure on housing from all sources of £4,200 million—I repeat, £4,200 million. We are spending an enormous amount of money on housing. I am not suggesting for one moment that that is all to be used for the benefit of the homeless or homeless young people; but there are a large number of married couples—middle-aged and elderly couples—who are homeless and who have to be provided for by the State.

I recognise that a serious problem is involved, and it would be idle not to recognise that fact so far as the young homeless are concerned. I should like to take this opportunity of paying tribute for the tremendous amount of work which is being done by voluntary organisations, not only here in London, where they are doing a magnificent job in the West End, but all over the country. Indeed, the plight would be a jolly sight worse if we did not have the benefit of their expertise and guidance and the work they are doing.

The publication of the report has itself stimulated local interest, and has expressed a great deal of concern over the problems of the homeless young. We have sent copies of the report to all local authorities, and my Department, the Department of Health and Social Security, has received a large number of requests from individuals and organisations all over the country—and indeed, from as far a field as Australia. Even before publication, a conference was held in London, as the right reverend Prelate will know better than I, perhaps, by the British Council of Churches. That conference was attended by representatives of voluntary organisations, central and local Government, and by Members of both Houses. As a result of that, a very eye-catching report, if I may so describe it, was published and commended to the Churches for consideration.

In Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester and Birmingham groups have been looking at the problems of homelessness in their cities. I am not suggesting that is being done for the very first time, but I think it now has added emphasis. These initiatives have been taken largely by voluntary organisations. In London, the final report of the joint London Boroughs' Association with the Greater London Working Party on Accommodation for the Single will be considered by the appropriate committee of the London Boroughs' Association and the Greater London Council w thin the next few days. It has also been considering the needs of homeless people in London.

I do not want there to be n is under-standing about what (albeit probably not enough) is being done. I have re: erred to the initiatives being taken by Voluntary bodies in setting up a group to consider the problems of homeless people, and some of your Lordships may have seen an article in The Times about a month ago which suggested that the Government were not able to offer any financial help to alleviate the serious difficulties faced by voluntary agencies. I welcome this opportunity of putting the record straight.

The Working Group's report drew attention to various Government sources of finance which are available, and which have been available to voluntary organisations for a very long time, and I hope it will be helpful if I mention some of these sources. The Working Group first referred to the role of the housing associations. I am advised by the Department of the Environment that housing associations have been able to undertake a wide variety of projects to meet the problems of single homeless young people. As well as ordinary small flats, there are projects such as that run by the Sandford Co-operative, where purpose-built cluster flats are managed on co-operative principles. I am trusting to memory now, but I believe that it is in Lewisham. Beacon Hostels currently have three projects in the Tower Hamlets area to provide accommodation similar to that which we associate with the YMCA and the YWCA. Some associations make short-life accommodation, in London and elsewhere, available to young people, many of whom would otherwise have been homeless.

I want to answer most, if not all, of the questions put to me by the right reverend Prelate, because I think everyone will agree that not only did the right reverend Prelate crystallise this matter, but he covered the problem which most, if not all, of the speakers saw today. I can assure the right reverend Prelate that the Government attach considerable importance to the better use of the existing housing stock. We feel as concerned about it as the right reverend Prelate himself. Since coming into Office, initiatives have been taken to direct available resources within the municipalisation programme to areas of housing stress. Priority has been accorded to local authority acquisition of properties which have been standing empty for at least two months in areas where there is a serious overall shortage of housing, or where the acquisition would relieve homelessness. Priority has also been accorded to the acquisition of properties for conversion into use as hostels. Local authorities have had the power to charge up to the full rate on empty residential property. Nearly all the London boroughs have taken advantage of this which, in the long run, helps the problem. I know that, in a sense, this may make only a small contribution, but nevertheless it is a contribution.

Some of these issues have been considered in the review of housing policy which has been undertaken by my right honourable friend, the results of which he expects to announce before long. The question of management by local authorities of their own stock, to ensure that the number of vacant dwellings in their ownership is kept to the necessary minimum, is to be considered by the Housing Services Advisory Group within the Department of the Environment. The code of guidance to be issued to local housing authorities, in conjunction with the new legislation on homelessness, will encourage local authorities to make the fullest use of property within their ownership, especially short-life property.

All these initiatives will play their part in meeting the concern expressed by the right reverend Prelate, and because it is an important issue that he has raised, and the Government share his views, my right honourable friend is adopting what, for want of a better phrase, might be called a "belt and braces" approach, for, in addition to the initiatives which I have described, the Department of the Environment is at an advanced stage in the preparation of a comprehensive circular of guidance to local authorities on the range of measures available to them for securing that the housing stock in their area, whether publicly or privately owned, is utilised to the full. I hope that I have at least said enough on that to assure the right reverend Prelate and others that we are aware of the position, and are not being complacent in regard to this matter.

Not all voluntary bodies which try to help homeless young people are expert in the technical aspects of housing, and co-operation with a housing association can provide the property which will be most valuable. Reference has already been made by one or two noble Lords to Centre point, a member of the West End Co-ordinated Voluntary Services, which has a small hostel where homeless young people can stay for a few months till it is ascertained how best they can be helped. An association is building a short-stay emergency hostel for the group, and the Brent People's Housing Association are providing flats for permanent accommodation. Similarly, the Special Projects Unit set up, as many of your Lordships will know, by the Notting Hill Housing Trust and Paddington Churches Housing Association have worked with the ethnic minority self-help groups, whose clients are homeless young people, to provide short-life accommodation and a group hostel.

There is great scope for further co-operation of this kind. Under the Housing Act 1974, registered housing associations can apply for grants towards the capital costs of housing projects. Finance is provided, in the first instance, by a loan from the Housing Corporation or the local authority, and a housing association grant is paid when the scheme is completed in order to reduce the out-standing loan to a level that can be serviced from the estimated net income over the life of the project. The Housing Corporation will be considering, in the light of the report, whether its allocation of funds for hostels and housing for single people should be increased.

But let me put a figure to what the Housing Corporation is, in fact, doing. It is providing approximately £100 million a year in loans approved for single people of working age. This is not chicken-feed. Something is being done, and let us make no mistake about it. Assistance is avail-able towards the running costs of existing schemes, through revenue deficit grant and hostel deficit grant. Exceptionally, an annual deficit grant may also be given to a new project which has been approved for capital grant. Associations are norm-ally expected to contain running costs within certain limits for housing management and maintenance. However, it is accepted that projects for homeless young people may have—and very often do have—higher costs, and the Department of the Environment is prepared to pay grants towards such projects, even if the expenditure is above the normal limits. If the level of the management expenditure is such that the project cannot be regarded as being simply to provide housing, a grant may be available towards the housing costs, provided that there is continuing finance from another source to meet the excess management costs which must be regarded as welfare expenditure.


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell me how much of the £100 million is for young homeless?


My Lords, I cannot break it down. I am saying that this amount of money is provided as loans approved for single people of working age. One cannot break this down, but the fact is that young homeless people do benefit as a result of it.


My Lords will my noble friend agree that the housing association cuts are out of all proportion to what they should be in order to meet the requirements to which we are referring?


No, my Lords, this is not true at all. When one says "out of all proportion" one has to define what one means. The Government are not being ungenerous. Of course, there is not a single enterprise operating in this country today that could not be improved if there were more money. Where a voluntary organisation maintains centres for purposes similar to those for which reception centres are maintained by the Supplementary Benefits Commission, under paragraph 4 of Schedule 5 to the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976, the Commission have powers to make contributions from their funds. Grants are being paid to three organisations which are catering specially for young people—that is, St. Giles in Camberwell, Centrepoint in Soho, London, and St. Basil's in Birmingham. I am speaking about the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976. We have already given £73,000. Other projects receive grants, too, if they are taking in young people.

So far as my own Department, the Department of Health and Social Security, is concerned, under Section 64 of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968 that, too, provides a further source of finance to voluntary bodies which are concerned with the homeless. Grants are made to the national voluntary organisations which function in the social services field, normally to meet head-quarters' expenses. For example, the Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless which has been referred to tonight—CHAR—and the National Association of Voluntary Hostels are already grant-aided by the Department. Not only are these two organisations grant-aided but so are a considerable number of others. In the year 1975–76 we grant-aided hostels to the extent of £142,720, and it goes a significant way towards meeting these situations.

The Department of Education and Science makes a limited number of grants for experimental projects which are of national significance within the context of the Youth Service. There are two projects in the Birmingham area involving homeless young people, and these two projects receive grants in consequence. The first project ran for 18 months and ended in March of last year. It involved the use of YMCA furnished flatlets as short-term accommodation for local homeless young people for whom on-the-spot counselling services were provided by a full-time, experienced YMCA centre leader. The second project, which terminates soon, has attempted to follow up and evaluate the effect of the support and counsel received by those who use the shelter known as the Boot Night Shelter, which is part of St. Basil's, to which I referred a moment or two ago. The Home Office probation and after-care department may also provide deficit finance under arrangements first introduced in 1965 for hostels which reserve places for offenders. One has to recognise that some of the homeless young people are offenders, and a good deal has been done for them.

Finally under this heading, I must refer to the grants being made by the voluntary services unit of the Home Office. The unit is making grants in excess of £66,000 to voluntary organisations which are offering help and service to youngsters arriving in Central London without proper preparation. I do not want to deal with the matter that I dealt with yesterday. The right reverend Prelate said that he has read what I had to say and that he is very disappointed with it. I accept that criticism. Some of us find ourselves in the position of not being able to say some of the things that we would like to say.

Several Noble Lords: Hear, hear!


My Lords, noble Lords misunderstand me. I meant that some of us wish that we were in a position to say that we could do so much more. The right reverend Prelate referred to certain things that I said involving the CAB and two other organisations. Although I did not come here intending to say it, I want to take this opportunity to say that I am sorry—I want to be careful about this because noble Lords will appreciate the difficulty I am in—that I was put in the position of referring to facilities, namely the Citizens' Advice Bureau, which is just outside Euston Station, St. Philomena's, and Friends House, which I subsequently found did not exist. If noble Lords will allow me to leave it there, I hope that they will do so.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he will consider my idea of the English Tourist Board putting up in the meanwhile a large poster containing this information? I put the question to him yesterday and I did not get an answer.


My Lords, if the noble Baroness does not mind me saying so, I do not want to pursue yesterday today. The noble Baroness made the point. No point is made in your Lordships' House in respect of anything with which I am dealing without my doing something about it, even if I do not succeed in the attempt. Whenever I have given an assurance that I will communicate things to my right honourable friend I have done so, as certain noble Lords know.

Regarding the information services to which the right reverend Prelate and a number of other noble Lords have referred, as I said yesterday, very careful consideration has been given to the question of having a booth. It is common knowledge that British Rail refused to have a booth on the concourse. I think it is common knowledge, too, that the lodge which they offered is a considerable distance away from the concourse and that it is problematic whether it would serve any useful purpose. Even if it did, one has to face the fact that a booth at Euston Station would cost something like £35,000 a year. The question of Victoria Coach Station was raised. A booth there would cost something like £28,000 a year. I understand that consideration is still being given to the matter.

When representatives of the voluntary organisations in the West End met at the Home Office on 21st January of this year, there was a discussion as to how best the needs of young people travelling to London could be met. The representatives of the voluntary organisations went away to consider how best those needs could be met and they have been given to understand that the Government will be only too happy to explore and consider any plan, or plans, that they may devise. In fact, they went away having been told that, notwithstanding the fact that the Government are providing £66,200 to those organisations, they are prepared to offer another £10,000 if it will help in some way.

I want to say a word about accommodation before coming to the question put to me by the right reverend Prelate. However important other parts of the report of the Working Group on Homeless Young People may be, I think nearly everyone would agree that as with other homeless people the main need is the one that has been put forward tonight; namely, accommodation. In 1975 we asked local authorities to concentrate new production increasingly on dwellings suitable for small households and we have issued design advice for single person housing. The Housing Corporation have also increased the proportion of their budget devoted to single people of working age and in the first part of this year, 1976–77, about 10 per cent, of their spending was in fact on this particular group.

The right reverend Prelate was good enough to give me some indication of what he was concerned about. On the short life property, I have tried to deal with the subject, even if it was an inadequate reply. The right reverend Prelate wanted to know whether accommodation which was unsuitable for families and which is hard to let could be made available. I have gone into this matter and the only thing I can come up with at this stage is that the Greater London Council are undertaking a pilot experiment whereby they are advertising in the newspapers all the accommodation which is available, and I understand that they are making it perfectly clear that it is for single people or young couples. This may prove to be a very satisfactory way of dealing with it. At this stage the Greater London Council do not know, nor do we, but it seems to me to be a positive way of making known to people who need accommodation that this kind of accommodation is available. The right reverend Prelate wanted to know whether vacant private sector housing could be made more easily available. The only thing I can say is that the Rent Act review which is being undertaken by the Department of the Environment will be examining this very point, but when there is likely to be a pronouncement on it I cannot say.

Another question dealt with the possibility of amelioration of restrictions on council housing tenants and mortgagors to take lodgers. My information is that the Ministers in the Department of the Environment are in fact locking into this. I think it is possible. I would not put it any higher than that, but I think it is possible for the Government to give some guidance on this matter to local authorities. But when we are speaking about mortgages, I think the bulk of them came from building societies although I imagine that that does not mean to say that they in turn cannot be approached if the Government take a view on it. The important thing is that this matter is recognised and is being looked at.

Another question was whether lodging schemes operated by local authorities could be set up under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, to which reference has been made; and I do not want to say anything about it except that the Government support it. If that Bill becomes an Act of Parliament there will in fact be a duty on the local authority to advise End assist young people. This is again a local authority matter, and if and when the Bill becomes an Act then the usual guidance would be issued by the Government as to the best way of implementing it. The next question was whether restrictions on multi-occupation could be made less severe. Again, the Government feel that local authorities should not impose unnecessary restrictions on multi-occupation so long as the amenities are adequate. We share the concern of the right reverend Prelate.

There were one or two other matters. The right reverend Prelate drew mention to Endell Street and the Methodist Church Training Centre in Birkenhead Street. With regard to the question whether the Housing Corporation can find more money for short stay hostels for homeless young people, in the time available to me it has not been possible to make a comprehensive inquiry from the regional officers of the Housing Corporation. But, so far as the Corporation headquarters are aware, no project of the type described in recommendation 4 of the Working Group has yet come forward. When such projects do come forward the Corporation will give them very sympathetic consideration in the light of the detailed proposals. Coming to Endell Street, I have tried to get as much information as I can. The surveyors at the Housing Corporation have inspected the property and the Housing Corporation will shortly discuss with the London Borough of Camden to what use the property might best be put in the light of housing needs.

I am almost ashamed to mention the next point. The right reverend Prelate asked what was happening to the Methodist Church Centre in Birkenhead Street. So far as I have been able to ascertain in the time available, neither the Department of the Environment nor the Housing Corporation has any knowledge of these premises. If the right reverend Prelate feels that he could let me have a note about them, he knows I shall be only too glad to pursue this matter and will let him know what can be done.

The right reverend Prelate raised the question of whether there could not be a sharing by social service agencies across the Metropolitan counties in order that the cost might be minimised. Sharing the cost of hostels for groups with special need is one of the points we shall be discussing with the local authority associations. In the last analysis it is a matter for local agreement that there are no statutory obstacles to this kind of cooperation. The report was able to point, in paragraph 2.29, to the scheme operated by the London Boroughs Association, whereby the cost to social service departments for funding hostels for drug addicts is shared between all the London boroughs. When circumstances permit, we hope that other authorities will seriously consider similar schemes.

I have not even dealt with all the questions put to me by the right reverend Prelate and certainly I have only been able to touch on a number that have been raised by other noble Lords. I do not think I should take up more of your Lordships' time. I have spoken for far too long, but this is a very important subject and whatever subjects I have to deal with always seem to me to be in a field of real significance. I merely want to express the hope that your Lordships feel that the debate tonight has been useful, that it has not fallen wholly on stony ground, that the Government are not so inactive as some noble Lords think, but that a great deal is being done. I shall follow my customary practice of reading Hansard tomorrow and, if I have avoided any important questions—and if so it has not been intentional on my part but due to lack of time—I will deal with them in the usual way by writing to the noble Lord concerned.