HL Deb 27 February 1984 vol 448 cc1040-2

2.57 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have for alternative funding for those organisations assisting the homeless at present partly funded by the GLC.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I have nothing yet to add to paragraph 2.27 of the White Paper Streamlining the Cities, Command No. 9063 and to the answer I gave in our recent debate on 8th February, namely, that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has issued a consultation paper seeking views on this and the arrangements that might be involved. We are now analysing the large number of responses we have received.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for his Answer, but I think it will not quell the fears of those many great organisations dealing with the homeless. For example, would the Minister not agree that those local authorities already threatened with rate-capping legislation will be entirely unable to replace the present GLC funding? Is the noble Lord aware that in 1983–84 CHAR alone has been given £928,000 by the GLC for work for the homeless? Would he not agree that future planning for the increasing problem of the homeless must be the responsibility of central Government and that all the voluntary organisations would like to see their fears set at rest by the Department of the Environment bringing out a long-term planned research on how to deal with future problems of the homeless?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I accept that a future strategy will have to be arrived at. But, as I have said on numerous occasions, this will not be done until after we have studied the responses to the consultation paper. Were rate-capping of individual boroughs to become necessary, I am advised that it would not affect the problem to which the noble Baroness is addressing herself.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, will the Minister explain why the Government now have to look into all these matters and did not consider them before they took their political decision?

Lord Skelmersdale

Not at all, my Lords. We decided that this was the right way to go about matters, but we recognised in this case, as the White Paper makes clear, that there is concern in the voluntary sector about the possible effects of abolition. Therefore, it was considered wise to issue the consultation paper.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that the most recent figures on the single homeless in London show that some 14,000 are in hostels and some 2,000 are trapped in very unsatisfactory bed and breakfast accommodation? Will not any reduction in funding of voluntary organisations and other bodies put additional pressure on this type of accommodation? Will the noble Lord see that this factor is taken into account during the consultation process?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, certainly; but, again, my views on breakfast accommodation are well-known. The same money would be far better spent on rehabilitating the long-term empty housing stock.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the problem of homelessness does not affect one particular borough—Westminster, Camden, Hammersmith or Fulham—and that therefore, whatever arrangements replace the present ones, there will have to be an authority that covers the whole of Greater London? Does he agree that the choice, therefore, is between an authority which is elected, such as the present GLC, or an authority which is not elected such as is the implication of the Government's proposals? Does the noble Lord not think that the people of Greater London as a whole should have some say in the provision of these important services for the homeless?

Lord Skelmersdale

No, my Lords; I do not accept the noble Lord's premise at all, because any cross-boundary arrangements that are come to will have to be come to by the individual boroughs, which are themselves elected.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether this is not another example—and I regret to ask this question, but I feel that I must—of the failure to implement what was a general opinion expressed by almost every speaker who took part in the recent debate on the subject initiated by my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs? When the House, and almost every speaker on both sides, directs attention to the importance of a question of this kind and then we find the Government saying that they will have to consider this, that it will take time, that there has to be an exhaustive study, and so on, is that to the credit of your Lordships' House?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, should feel that way. When I wound up for the Government in that particular debate I explained that we were in the middle of a consultation period, the formal written consultation period having finished on 31st January, but that, naturally, because of the concern expressed in your Lordships' House, I would include the various points made as part of the consultation procedure. This is exactly what is going on at the moment.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House whether the results of the consultation will be available before the Bill to abolish the GLC comes before the House?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I shall be most surprised if they are not.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister whether he will take into consideration the vast amount of work done by the voluntary organisations in helping to house the homeless?

Lord Skelmersdale

Certainly, my Lords, Again, I thought that I had made that patently clear on 8th February.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, will the noble Lord not agree that he has not really accepted that there is a very great urgency so far as concerns the planning of the voluntary organisations? I will give him the example, if I may, of the Piccadilly Advice Centre, which does amazing work for all the young people pouring into London with no homes to go to. That organisation cannot do their future planning. Would he not accept that there is a very great urgency as far as they are concerned?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I accept that there is uncertainty, but I do not accept that there is urgency. The funding is currently going on, and there is no reason whatsoever to suppose that the borough councils themselves cannot replace it. That doubt, I admit, exists in the minds of voluntary bodies; and it is exactly this that the consultation has been about all along.

Lord Morris

My Lords, has my noble friend tried to tell the homeless that there is no urgency about the matter?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, we are talking about extra provision for the homeless which is not provided by conventional means. We are not talking about deprivation of the homeless per se.

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