HL Deb 29 June 1989 vol 509 cc873-908

5.13 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 12.

[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

Baroness Faithfull had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 29: Page 11, line 34, at end insert ("or (c) to seek or accept employment at a rate of remuneration such that his net income, after deducting any work-related expenses would be insufficient to support himself.").

The noble Baroness said: I have already spoken to this amendment and the Minister has replied. There is just one point in his reply on which I should like to comment. I shall read Hansard tomorrow but I believe he said that expenses could not always be calculated. I would point out that if you work in Newham and have a job in the West End, you can calculate your expenses from Newham to the West End. Secondly, if you find a child minder or a place in a nursery for your child, you will know exactly what expenses will be incurred. Having said that, my noble friend kindly said that he would look again at this amendment, so I shall not move it.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 30 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 31: Page 11, line 34, at end insert ("or (c) to seek or accept employment at a rate of remuneration such that his net income, after deducting any work-related expenses, would fall as a result of accepting such employment.").

The noble Earl said: I move this amendment with a certain amount of optimism. I listened to the Minister's reply to Amendment No. 29 which suggested that people should not be compelled to take a job at a level which made them unable to support themselves. I believe the Minister said that the employment service would not accept this under any circumstances. I was relieved to hear that. It made me wonder whether the Minister might be prepared to accept the slightly more precise wording of Amendment No. 31.

I understand that the principle stated in this amendment was originally that of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph. The amendment attempts to recall the Government to some extent to their own free market principles. The problem with governments which go in for philosophies is that they tend to forget about them only when they happen to be right. The Minister will no doubt wish to say that the amendment would apply to only 0.15 per cent. of people on benefit. I accept that figure. The point of the amendment is to try and keep it that way. We fear that if the Bill goes through as it stands the figure could change very rapidly.

This is a case where the Government need to be more consistent in their thinking. We have heard today and previously in Committee about the unemployed pricing themselves out of the market and having unrealistic expectations. Surely, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander? If a job does not offer to pay a living wage, then that job is pricing itself out of the market. If the job cannot afford to pay a living wage, then surely it is uneconomic.

There are circumstances—and I believe that we on these Benches might recognise rather more of them than the Government—where it is possible to justify subsidising what would otherwise be an uneconomic job. However, I believe that that is something which needs a good deal of care and attention. I believe that one has to have a very clear objective which one has to identify and justify and or one has to show with some detail and careful costing that the alternative would cost more.

If the Bill goes through, we have a blanket situation where people may be pushed into accepting jobs which pay below benefit level and then receive subsidy from benefit. I believe that this is a blanket subsidy to uneconomic jobs; it is a new Speenhamland system. It seems to me to be indiscriminate. It is liable to subsidise inefficiency and increase the already very large number of people in full time employment who nevertheless are at a low enough level of income to be in need of income support.

I know that we cannot stop employers paying wages below benefit level. If the unemployed wish voluntarily to take a job at below benefit level and to receive a certain amount of benefit on top, they have that right. The fact that so many choose to do so appears to be evidence in favour of the proposition that a large number of the unemployed genuinely wish to work even where there is no economic benefit, simply for the satisfaction of doing a job of work. We do not propose to stop that.

What concerns us on these Benches is the prospect of using the power of the state and using the threat of denial of benefit to force people into taking uneconomic jobs. It is a blanket subsidy to employers; it is inefficient; and it is a degree of coercion for which I can see no justification. It will have the further effect—I should resist the temptation to take a perverse pleasure in it—of making the Prime Minister appear to be the heir of Louis Blanc.

Baroness Turner of Camden

I rise to support the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in this amendment. To some extent I spoke to it on the first amendment. I agree absolutely about the subsidies which can be regarded as being made available to employers who are offering employment at uneconomic levels. We on these Benches would regret to see unemployed people forced into employment which pays below benefit levels.

The amendment refers to "work-related expenses" and that seems to us very important, because most jobs also involve expenditure in actually accepting the jobs. There is the cost of travel, which in London is considerable, and the cost of providing oneself with appropriate clothing. Often, after people have been out of work for a long time, they do not have the proper clothing in which to go to work and that has to be acquired if they are to present themselves for work.

This is a compassionate amendment. The intent is to ensure that people are not forced to accept work which is below a certain level. We do not in this country, regretfully, have any legislation on a minimum wage which prevents employers from offering work at below a certain level of payment. We do not have that legislation and I wish that we did. Such protective legislation as we did have has long since disappeared under this Government. Therefore it seems to us quite legitimate to have an amendment of this kind to prevent the degree of exploitation which otherwise we fear may very well become widely applicable if the Bill goes through unamended. I therefore support the amendment.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

Perhaps I may say a few words before the Minister replies. Although my name does not appear on the amendment, I very much support it. I expressed the view on Amendment No. 27 that if it were not carried it would be necessary to carry one of the subsequent amendments, and this is one that I believe is necesssary.

When the Minister was replying to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on Amendment No. 27 he repeatedly referred to "usual" employment. Unfortunately, the word taken out of the Bill is "suitable". The word "suitable" seems to be exactly right and should remain in the Bill. This is nothing to do with whether employment is "usual", which is a narrower word. I draw particular attention to the fact that the Minister was referring to "usual", which is not the word taken out of the Bill and not the word which the noble Earl seeks to restore.

Having said that, without the word "suitable" this is the minimum amendment which should be included in the Bill in its place. It is humane and I support every word uttered by the noble Earl. It is not compulsory in any way. As I understand the amendment, it is still possible for a person to take work at a rate of remuneration such that the net income would be insufficient to support him if he wishes to do so. If that is so, there is nothing wrong with this amendment and I support it unreservedly.

Lord Skelmersdale

As has been made clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, just said, this amendment seeks to introduce into legislation the concept that a person should not be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefit if he turns down or fails to follow up an opportunity of employment which would leave him less well off than he had been on benefit.

I can understand what noble Lords, and the noble Earl in particular, are getting at, but I have to say that there are a number of problems with this approach. The amendment refers to income. I have already said on a previous amendment that I have difficulty with the word "income" in such amendments. How is the applicant to know in advance of getting the job precisely what the take-home pay will be? As I said earlier, there are many jobs where the pay varies from week to week because of special payments, overtime and so on. I shall not repeat the list now.

From the figure of take-home pay other work expenses have to be deducted. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, appreciates the problem of unsuitable clothing. I agree that this might occur when someone has been living in squalid conditions, perhaps even living rough. In spite of what was said in Committee last week, there are occasions when people who have been living rough successfully apply for work. These initial expenses may be quite heavy in the first week or two of work if tools, working clothes or equipment have to be bought. It may be necessary to buy a new pair of jeans if serving in a shop and, on rare occasions, perhaps even a suit needs to be purchased. I fully appreciate the point made by the noble Baroness. However, we must all realise that these are initial expenses that subsequently will tail off.

Therefore, under this amendment a system would be needed to deal with these so that high expenses on starting a job would not automatically rule out that job for the individual claimant. Once a net figure for take-home pay, less expenses, is arrived at, one then has to add income from other sources—housing benefit or family credit, or perhaps payments from other members of the household—which are used in the calculation of other social security benefits. Claimant advisers already make an estimate on these lines to help claimants who may not understand their possible title to in-work benefits; but that estimate, well informed as it is, cannot be 100 per cent. accurate.

Once we get this sort of situation into legislation, estimates are not good enough. The noble Earl may also be surprised to learn that there is no protection in the existing legislation to allow people to refuse a job simply because it pays less than they receive either in unemployment benefit or income support. Indeed, social security commissioners have ruled against people who have contested disqualification on the ground that the job paid less than their benefit.

The noble Earl prayed in aid the remarks that I made in answer to the last group of amendments when of course I was speaking about poverty wages. I intended to say—and I repeat—that the employment office will seek to offer suitable jobs at suitable rates, which meets the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. I should add that if the employment counsellor is wrong, having quoted a rate for the job which the claimant subsequently finds was too high, the claimant can turn down that job without any benefit penalty whatever. I hope that that explanation goes some way to assisting the noble Baroness.

Perhaps I may spell that out in a little more detail. Claimants will risk losing benefit only if they turn down a job offered to them through the employment service. I spoke earlier about the approval of the employment service, but it comes to the same thing. This offer will be made after full discussion with one of the employment service counsellors, who will take into account all the circumstances in deciding whether the vacancy is appropriate for the claimant. I repeat, the employment service will act in good faith and will in many cases make detailed calculations on the likely in-work income. I say yet again that one has to be precise if one is to use the new proposal in this amendment.

The Committee will be pleased to hear, as I was, that the employment service has increased its capacity to give personal advice to claimants on such benefits by bringing into use a further 600 special benefit computers in addition to the existing 300. Family credit ensures that few people could really be worse off in work. Through our tax and national insurance contribution changes, and through benefit changes, including the introduction of family credit, we have ensured that in practice nearly everyone is better off in work than remaining on unemployment benefit or income support.

I return to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, with whom I started. He deprecated the fact that the word "suitable" does not appear in the Bill. Under current law, "suitable" is defined by reference to the rate of pay. That is what we want to avoid. It is not realistic for any unemployed claimant to expect to receive the going rate of pay, but we should not be offering jobs which in other respects—conditions and type of work—are not suitable for the claimant.

I hope with those very careful explanations the noble Earl will not find it necessary to press this amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Earl Russell

I thank the Minister for that reply which, as he says, was careful. He accused me of attempting to introduce into law the concept in this amendment. I am aware that recent decisions by the commissioners tend to take the line that a person may lose benefit for refusing a job by which he may be worse off. I am also aware that not so very long ago, when the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, was Secretary of State, most of us believed the law to be as the amendment asks it to become. We have here a case of tightening the spirit in which the regulations are administered. This has appeared in a good many places recently. When the noble Lord accuses me of trying to introduce something into law he may not be inaccurate but he is slightly cutting a corner.

The noble Lord is worried about a notion of expenses. He makes the point that they are hard to calculate. I can understand that, but they are hard to calculate for claimants too. They give rise to a real problem. To an extent it is fair to say that we have two problems. The problem of work-related expenses is one about which a good many of us are not happy but which may perhaps require more lengthy consideration. We have also the problem of subsidising uneconomic jobs. I take the noble Lord's point about family credit. But does he accept that if family credit is regularly used to subsidise low wage jobs it will not be easy to keep down the social security budget and it will not make it easy to attempt any practical form of targeting? It is liable to become a blanket and inefficient subsidy. I would find it helpful if the noble Lord could reply to that point before I decide what to do with the amendment.

Baroness Phillips

Before the Minister replies perhaps he can explain why these answers are made so complicated. Is this deliberate, or is the Civil Service unable to explain in simple terms some of the clauses of the Bill? It seems to be assumed that we are dealing only with people who are also in receipt of other benefits. Surely people who have been made unemployed remember clearly the income they received when they were working. Surely that is a deciding factor in determining the benefit.

Perhaps I should put it in simple terms in case the Minister does not follow what I am talking about. If I received an income of £200 a week, surely it is not unreasonable that after six months I would only take a job that also offered me £200 a week. By that time it would be worth less anyway under this Government. Heavy weather is being made of straightforward facts which every worker understands. Someone loses his job. He knows what he has lost. He knows what he would need in order to take another job.

I cannot let this opportunity pass without mentioning the fact that yesterday we heard another new word when dealing with pensions. We were told about lower and higher "quintiles". I looked up the word in the dictionary. I thought of mentioning it to the Prince of Wales who seems interested. What exactly is a "quintile"? It is crazy. In the Statement today we heard about automaticity. That is another one. I have a collection of them now. They may be modern terms but they do not help explanation. In his replies the Minister is making heavy weather of simple amendments to which we could have much shorter and clearer answers.

Lord Skelmersdale

I should not really refer to the Question which I had the privilege to answer yesterday. However, if it will help the noble Baroness, a "quintile" is a fifth.

Baroness Jeger

Why not say "a fifth"?

Lord Skelmersdale

Because a "quintile", for some unknown reason within social security statistics, is more readily understood. I am sorry that it was not readily understood by the noble Baroness. That is what I was informed, and that is why I used the word. However, we digress somewhat dramatically from the question which the noble Earl put to me.

I do not believe that family credit subsidises employers paying low wages. It is there to help working families with children who do not have enough money coming in from their earnings. The amount of family credit received depends on the individual's personal circumstances, rather like income support applicable levels which depends on individuals' personal circumstances. An employer has no means of knowning those unless the employee tells him. Therefore if the employer deliberately offered an unrealistic wage hoping for it to be topped up by the state, he would be unlikely to recruit the best workers.

Earl Russell

I am not quite sure that I followed the Minister. Is he saying that it is not reasonable to expect an employer to pay a living wage to someone with children? That would be quite a significant statement.

Lord Skelmersdale

No, but there are all kinds of other considerations besides children which go into the calculation of the applicable amount.

Earl Russell

We have not heard the last of this. We have here a good many issues running round together and becoming confused with each other. By the leave of the Committee, it might be best to come back to this matter on a later occasion with a different draft—perhaps two different drafts. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 32 to 34 not moved.]

Clause 12 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 35 not moved.]

Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 36: After Clause 12, insert the following new clause:

("Extension of invalid care allowance payments.

. In section 37 of the principal Act, the following subsection is inserted after subsection (6)— (6A) An invalid care allowance under this section shall continue to be paid for a period of six months after the death of the person who has qualified for an attendance allowance and who was in the care of the holder of the invalid care allowance." ").

The noble Baroness said: This new clause relates to the invalid care allowance which, as the noble Lord will be aware, is dependent on the attendance allowance. Once the attendance allowance is paid, anyone looking after the person receiving the attendance allowance is eligible to receive the invalid care allowance. When the invalid care allowance was first introduced it carried with it not only a payment to the person who was doing the caring, which was important in its own right, but also an insurance stamp qualification to keep up pension payments for the carer. It also entitled the carer to draw unemployment benefit as soon as that was appropriate. In recent years the pension right has been retained but the unemployment benefit has been withdrawn.

A person may on his own have been—this is typical of many—looking after someone who is chronically ill and gradually declining. The situation may go on for years with the person drawing the attendance allowance becoming increasingly demanding and the person doing the caring having little contact with the outside world. But, as soon as the person dies it is assumed that the carer can go back into employment. The whole point about eligibility for unemployment benefit was that it gave carers a breathing space in which to get themselves together after they had buried the person they were looking after. I shall not repeat the phrase which has now become something of a cliché about being required to go from the graveside to the Jobcentre, but that is what it is all about.

We are simply asking, by way of this amendment, that there should be a period of time after the death of the person being cared for during which the invalid care allowance should be continued. If the Minister likes to say that he will put back the right to unemployment benefit, that will be fine. But, if that is not on the agenda, we ask that the invalid care allowance should be continued for a period to give the carer time to get him or herself together. It can be a most difficult and distressing time, with a great void emerging in the life of that person. He or she has been out of touch with the labour market; indeed, out of touch with most social contacts. It takes time to become re-established. We are asking that a period of time should be allowed during which the allowance could be continued and that it should not be cut off immediately the person being cared for dies. I beg to move.

Baroness Jeger

I rise briefly to express my support for the noble Baroness. All of us must know of cases where a son, a daughter or a wife has given up work in order to care for someone who is very ill. The situation may last for many years. When death arises it cannot be an immediate release for the carer. A person may have to sell the home and perhaps move. Moreover, the person will have to try to pick up the threads of life and look into the prospects for a new job, as well as dealing with many other personal and emotional problems.

It seems to me that it would be generous of the Government if they were to permit the allowance to continue for six months. I do not think that a period of six months is to long. Indeed, those of us who have had experience of clearing up estates and dealing with all the consequences of the decease of someone who has been looked after for a long time will surely appreciate that six months is not too long.

In any case, I hope that the Minister will be able to appreciate the point and remember how much money the Government have been saved by the devotion—usually of women, but not always so—of those who care for their relatives at home. They take the burden which would fall on the hospitals and institutions where such people would otherwise have to be looked after. I hope that we shall receive a sympathetic reply to this amendment.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I hope that my noble friend will look sympathetically at this amendment. I doubt whether it is technically sound, but it seems to me to be based on quite an important social point. Obviously one will listen to what he says, but I hope that he will indicate appreciation of the situation which occurs when someone dies and the carer suddenly finds himself or herself left alone in the world. It is, on the whole, very much in the public and private interest that such care should be given and should not be discouraged by dealing with people too harshly when the necessity for the care ends. I hope that my noble friend will be able to say something helpful on the matter.

Earl Bathurst

I rise to support the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Many of us in this Chamber have seen the tragic circumstances of the so-called "carers". It may be that such people have been in the same place for many years. The house may have to be sold and they may well have nowhere to go. I do not know whether the wording of the proposed new clause is exactly correct, but if the noble Lord could achieve something through his right honourable friend, I believe that it would encourage many other people to take on the very onerous job of caring for elderly relatives, great friends or even previous employers. I hope that he can find some reason for supporting this new clause.

Lord Skelmersdale

I think that perhaps I have found something in the new clause. I should like to say straightaway that I understand the problem. However, I am concerned as to whether this is the right solution. While I was listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, my flighty imagination took me into a small village church where I was listening to the lines of the marriage service. "Consider the reasons why marriage is ordained", is one of the lines in that service. I beg the noble Baroness to look at the reason why invalid care allowance was ordained: it was an allowance which was perfectly properly invented, and subsequently extended, to enable people to be supported while they were caring for someone else who was drawing attendance allowance.

That situation is fine. However, when people stop "caring" one wonders whether an invalid care allowance should continue, bearing in mind that the rationale has then disappeared, and whether other social security benefits should not take over.

Lord Carter

Like what?

Lord Skelmersdale

I shall come to that point shortly, in my own inimitable way.

It is true that the rules governing the use of contribution credits to gain entitlement to unemployment benefit were changed last year. I know that it has been argued, especially by the noble Baroness, that such changes had a harsh effect on former carers in the way she described. However, the truth is that former carers can still use their credits to qualify for unemployment benefit under the current rules in much the same way as they could under the old rules. On average, a carer is out of the full-time employment market and receiving invalid care allowance for about two years. That was one of the reasons why we fixed on the changes which we discussed last year. On returning to the employment field after that period, the credits awarded during that period can be used to gain entitlement to unemployment benefit.

The Committee will appreciate that the social security benefit system offers a wide range of financial support to meet various circumstances: retirement pensions for people no longer of working age who have retired from regular employment; unemployment benefit (which we have just discussed at great length) for those of working age who are without a job; sickness or invalidity benefit for those who are incapable of work; and invalid care allowance for those who have withdrawn from the full-time employment market in order to become carers. Those are but a few examples.

Underpinning all those aspects is the income support scheme. Having said that, I said that I would like to be helpful in the matter. I understand that there is clearly a difference between those who have not paid contributions for so long that they have effectively severed their link with the employment market and those who have clearly maintained such a link by making themselves available for full-time employment and claiming unemployment benefit until they had to sever it in order to care for a severely disabled person.

As my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State indicated in another place on 17th February, we recognise that former carers in such a situation are a special case. For that reason we shall be bringing forward regulations to extend for them and for people in other deserving groups who are in the same situation through no fault of their own or for an extremely good reason the usual 26-week period used in establishing whether a claimant can requalify for unemployment benefit. As I said, this is intended to be helpful. Moreover, I think that it will go a long way towards satisfying my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Bathurst.

I appreciate the problem and we are looking at it. Indeed we have brought forward a solution; but I shall certainly be prepared to consider whether it is a complete solution between this and the next stage of the Bill's proceedings. But I have to say that at this stage without any commitment because I shall need to study the problem.

Baroness Seear

I thank the Minister for that reply. In view of the fact that he is prepared to consider the matter, I would not dream of pressing the amendment to a Division at this stage. However, I give him notice that I certainly shall do so if he does not bring forward a satisfactory solution in the meantime. I should very much like to have the opportunity to discuss the issue with him, if that were possible.

I am not quite sure how the regulations which are being brought forward will work in this case. As he rightly said, there is a world of difference between the people who have been out of the labour market for only two years and many carers who have been out of that market for a very long time. Many of us feel that they are doing a job and see the invalid care allowance as something in the way of pay for the job that they are doing. They are looking after people in need of care who, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, said, would otherwise be in institutions at great cost. I am not in any way wedded to the amendment. The Minister has said that he understands the problem and perhaps we may talk about it to see what can be done at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 [Income support and unemployment]:

[Amendment No. 37 not moved.]

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 13, line 1, at end insert— ("(3) In section 22 of the 1986 Act (income related benefits) after subsection (8) there shall be inserted— (9) In relation to income support and housing benefit the applicable amount for a person in board and lodging accommodation shall include an amount in respect of his being a person in board and lodging accommodation. (10) For the purposes of this section "board and lodging" accommodation means—

  1. (a) accommodation provided to the claimant or, if he is a member of a family, to him or any other members of his family, for a charge which is inclusive of the provision of that accommodation and at least some cooked or prepared meals which are both prepared and consumed in that accommodation or associated premises; or
  2. (b) accommodation provided in a hotel, guest-house, lodging-house or other similar establishment where facilities for the preparation of food are inadequate to the needs of that person.
(11) regulations may prescribe the circumstances in which the facilities for the preparation of food are deemed to be inadequate." ").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment deals with board and lodging and mainly single people, but not only; it also deals with the dreaded bed and breakfast accommodation which is a scandal in our society and, what is more, an expensive scandal.

Housing benefit covers the cost of accommodation, and the theory is that one can pay for meals out of income support. The problem arises because income support is calculated on the basis that one is feeding oneself in one's own home. If one is in board and lodging or bed and breakfast accommodation, one only has breakfast, and sometimes not even that. One has to go out for all one's meals or, alternatively, in bed and breakfast accommodation, buy meals and bring them in and often cook them on the ground floor while living on the fifth floor.

One receives a living allowance which is thought to include all meals, but in fact does not. That applies to homeless families and young people. On 10th April this year, most homeless people, especially families living in bed and breakfast accommodation, suffered a severe drop in income as a result of changes in the social security system. Those changes were designed to place boarders on the same footing, as I have already said, as people in self-contained, permanent accommodation.

The loss of the eating-out allowance will have serious consequences for the health and well being of people in lodgings and bed and breakfast accommodation. It will also lead to an increase in homelessness as people are priced out of even basic accommodation. We are especially concerned at the effects the changes will have on children. Most parents are forced to rely on expensive take-away food due to the lack of cooking facilities in bed and breakfast accommodation. This is a serious matter for families, children and for 16 and 17-year-olds. With the closure of mental hospitals, a number of mental patients are also going into bed and breakfast accommodation or lodgings, and they cannot live on what they receive. I beg to move.

Earl Russell

I support the amendment. The whole problem of bed and breakfast is a major one. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in his review of homelessness, is taking it into account. I hope that he will take into account what the noble Baroness has said. The problem is an immediate one. The basic purpose of the social security system is that people should have enough to eat. That purpose is not being met.

In a great many cases, bed and breakfast means exactly what it says—no more and no less. In a great many other cases, where there are supposed to be shared cooking facilities, the sharing breaks down and people are allowed in only, say, between four and five in the afternoon when their turn comes, or all the pots and pans have disappeared. It is not the situation in which one has the highest standards of responsible housekeeping. I do not believe that it ever will be.

In those circumstances, people are naturally pushed into eating out. The Committee can perhaps imagine the difficulty of eating out in London, night in, night out, with a family on income support levels. It cannot be done. People are pushed over the line from bad diet into real hunger. It is not only in Ethiopia that that is capable of happening. It is capable of happening in London. While I cannot see an immediate substitute for bed and breakfast until local authorities are allowed to spend their capital receipts, nevertheless, while the system continues we must keep people alive. They cannot live on faith until the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has finished his review, which is why I hope that the amendment will be carried.

Lord Seebohm

I support the amendment. The real problem behind it is housing. For the young people about whom we are talking there should be hostel accommodation similar to student accommodation at universities and such places. Once that happens, an amendment of this nature would be unnecessary. Given the desperate shortage of housing that now exists, there is no alternative to doing precisely what the amendment suggests.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

I too support the amendment. I referred to the issue on Second Reading. It is one of the serious issues confronting us. The problem of homeless people using bed and breakfast accommodation is a difficult one. One of the consequences, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has said, is that people have to eat out. We all know the cost of eating out. The April regulations have made the position difficult. They place people who eat out in the same category as people who look after themselves and get their own meals. Putting them in the same category has created the problem. People in bed and breakfast accommodation now receive much less than they did before. They do not have enough to enable them to feed themselves and their children.

Health problems result from bed and breakfast accommodation, as we have mentioned before. An additional health problem results from the diet. People have limited finances and cannot provide themselves with a proper diet. I am talking especially about children. An additional health burden is being created. I hope that the Minister will take the matter seriously because something needs to be done about these people.

Lord Auckland

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look sympathetically at the amendment. Those of us who have seen this accommodation, and I must confess I have seen it only on the television screen, will be aware of the problems faced by those who run such hotels and boarding houses. Anyone who has had experience in the hotel industry—I have family involved in the hotel and catering industry, although not necessarily the type about which we are talking—is aware of the problems of running these establishments and being able to provide adequate accommodation, feeding and so on. I therefore believe that subsection (11) of the amendment is especially vital.

It is difficult for the small hotels and those who operate them to provide the necessary accommodation and facilities, bearing in mind the costs involved. My noble friend the Minister may say that they can get grants for doing that. This may well be the case. I believe that the last part of the amendment is extremely important and I hope that my noble friend will consider it sympathetically.

6 p.m.

Lord Trafford

I have great sympathy with large parts of the amendment; the aims are entirely laudable. I agree with my noble friend Lady Faithfull, as I do with Members of the Committee who have spoken from the other Benches, that there are difficult and serious problems that we have to tackle. What concerns me is whether the amendment produces a suitable answer in this field. What I mean is that, as I understand it, and as I read the amendment—and I am sure that somebody will correct me if I am wrong—the basic aim is to revert to the old system.

The problem with the old system, as is fairly generally recognised, is that parts of it became something of a racket. In other words, there was a tendency to increase the numbers in the field; to increase the number of people in hotels and in bed and breakfast accommodation and then the landlords raised the charges. At that time it did not matter so much to clients or claimants in those circumstances. Therefore it does not seem to me to be a proper answer to the problem—and problem there is—simply to revert to the old system. That is what the amendment appears to do.

I shall not go into enormous detail as to how I personally think we ought to deal with the social provisions and social support necessary in these fields because that conflicts even more with the views of my noble friend on the Front Bench than the current amendment. Be that as it may, the amendment appears to me to have that defect.

After all, we do not wish to reinstate the two basic defects of the previous system. One was the great increase in numbers, the other the great increase in cost when that cost was not necessarily properly directed or well targeted towards dealing with the basic problem. I do not disagree at all with the points made by my noble friend Lady Faithfull in that respect, with regard either to the payments—I am not sure who made the point; I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, or the noble Lord, Lord Pitt—or with regard to health.

However, the amendment is merely likely to restore all the evils of the previous situation without necessarily any great improvement or move forward in a field where we desperately need to take appropriate action, not necessarily for the next six months but in planning forward into the coming decade.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I wish to add my support to the amendment since my name is down to it on the Order Paper. It is absolutely essential for something to be done. We all regard the present system as indefensible. As the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull said, it is a national scandal and one hopes that it will be phased out as soon as possible.

Meanwhile the problem is urgent because since the recent changes in the social security payments those in the unfortunate position of having to live, either by themselves or with their families, in bed and breakfast accommodation have suffered the loss of up to 30 per cent. of their benefit. Previously they lived on a bare subsistence, but with the loss of the benefit they are now almost starving. We cannot tolerate that. While the situation exists, the benefit must be restored in some way to those who have lost up to 30 per cent. of it.

The way to do it is along the lines that we suggest in the amendment, not necessarily every dot and comma of it but through something similar. As has been said throughout the Committee, people have to eat out and that is very expensive. There is not merely the problem of eating out; they have other expenses for tasks which they cannot carry out in their bed and breakfast accommodation, such as laundry. Sometimes they are allowed to cook in their hotel or lodgings but they may have to pay a service charge. All these costs have to come out of a benefit which has been reduced by up to 30 per cent. If we do not do something for these families and single people, there will be dire distress. There is a loophole which was perhaps inadvertently introduced by the Government and which they should now close.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

Perhaps I may add a few brief words on the amendment. It is difficult for Members of the Committee, unless they have actually been to some of these hotels as they are called, to understand the situation. These are nowhere near what any of your Lordships think of as a hotel; they are dosshouses/hostels where people live several to a room. They have a roof over their heads; they are very lucky if, as one noble Lord said, they have any breakfast. They are then left to while away the time, doing practically nothing because they are unemployed. They are not unemployable but, on the whole, unemployed. Time is very difficult for them. They are young, middle-aged and old-aged people. We simply must do something for them because the situation is very bad indeed.

I agree with my noble friend Lady Faithfull, that we should be ashamed of letting people in our midst, as they are, sink so low that perhaps they do not want to live. They do not know why they are alive. Their morale is erased by the standard at which they are forced to live. I think of the illnesses; there is a recent increase in tuberculosis. There is their food, and not only that but they have to pay for laundry, as the noble Lord has said. Occasionally they need a new pair of shoes or some warm clothing. Where do they get it, and how do they pay for it? I sincerely feel that it is up to us to see that the situation is rectified as far as possible. We know it is a problem which we must tackle.

Lord Stallard

I too wish to support the amendment. Most of what I wanted to say has already been said, but I certainly support the return—if that is what it is; it is an attempt to return—and the reintroduction of the system that existed. The changes were designed to place people in board and lodging or bed and breakfast accommodation on the same basis as people in self-contained accommodation. From what we have heard today and what we know, by nobody's imagination could one compare the squalid conditions in which most of these people live in the so-called hotels referred to by the noble Baroness; nobody could say that that amounts to the same as living in self-contained accommodation. To suggest it is utter nonsense. If only for that reason, I support the amendment.

I wish to pick up the point which the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, made, that he did not think this was the right thing to do because it would mean a return to the rackets. We all know and are well aware of the rackets that go on. I do not think that is any excuse for reducing the amounts paid mainly to families. It is the children in the families who suffer. The greatest changes and the most reductions were made in the children's part of the allowances. So the more children a family had the more they lost with the new regulations brought in on 10th April. That is no excuse to cut the allowances of these people. It is a reason to improve the management and to deal with the abuses of the system. Some local authorities, to their credit, have tried to do that. However, that is certainly not a reason for saying that we should not return to the system of paying these people a reasonable allowance to eat out as it will reintroduce the abuses. I do not think that that is the answer.

Lord Trafford

With respect to the noble Lord, I do not believe I said that. I was trying to say that we knew the defects of the previous system. I did not say that nothing should be done. I was merely suggesting that we should ensure that we do the right thing, whereas previously we were not doing the right thing. It was known that under the previous system many abuses occurred. The system contained many defects. I was not suggesting that nothing should be done and that the defects of the previous system were an excuse to do nothing. I was making a plea to do something, but to do it correctly.

Lord Stallard

If I misinterpreted the noble Lord, I apologise. However, I do not think that I did. I am absolutely certain that the noble Lord said that this provision was not the right way to achieve our objective and that all we are doing here is to reintroduce the premium that existed before for people living in these squalid conditions. I support wholeheartedly the move to reintroduce the premium.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

In support of this amendment I would say that, if one is a good cook, housekeeper and manager, one can feed a family adequately on income support provided one has one's own kitchen where one can safely store the necessary ingredients. If no kitchen is available, I should imagine it would be pretty well impossible. It would certainly be impossible for people recently discharged from mental hospital who are perhaps a trifle inadequate.

Baroness Jeger

I support the amendment. However, we must all realise that the amendment deals with symptoms. It deals with the symptoms of the Government's total failure to provide adequate housing for the people of this country. I regret very much that the bed and breakfast system has somehow been slotted into housing policy in a way that is expensive, extravagant and deleterious to health. Many reports have been received from health visitors and others about the terrible effects of such accommodation on young children. We hear from school teachers of non-attendance at school and of the difficulties when children moving from one hotel to another and therefore to a different education authority have the sequence of their education broken.

Members of the Committee who are doctors will agree that sometimes one has to deal with symptoms. While we are in despair about the Government's housing policy, we wish to make life a little more bearable and healthy for those who are victims of the Government's failures. I have visited many establishments offering bed and breakfast accommodation in central London. The racket that goes on is abominable. Local councils are paying for bed and breakfast, but I have been to places where no breakfast is provided. Certain establishments may simply provide a gas ring on the fifth floor and perhaps a leaky kettle. People must buy whatever they need to eat or drink. When I raise these matters I am told that such conditions are an indication of the failure of the environmental health officers of local authorities as they have powers of inspection and can take certain action. Unfortunately there is not a single local council in London so far as I know which does not have a shortage of environmental health officers to carry out this difficult and demanding work.

I hope that the Government will try to deal with the fundamental causes of the bed and breakfast racket. Those subjected to the situation must have more help. I agree very much with the noble Lady who has just spoken. A good housewife can come to terms with a good kitchen. If one does not have a good kitchen, one cannot make the right meals for one's children or for oneself.

I notice that Amendment No. 43A is grouped with this amendment—

Noble Lords


Baroness Jeger

I am sorry, but the groupings list I have states that Amendment no. 43A is grouped with this amendment. I can only apologise if someone has given me an incorrect groupings list. I shall return to Amendment No. 43A. For the moment I support the amendment before the Committee.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Winstanley

The noble Baroness, Lady Jeger is absolutely right in suggesting that this amendment, which I warmly welcome and which I very much hope the Committee will support, is in reality a stopgap measure to deal with an immediate and very urgent situation. It is an attempt to deal with that situation while other very necessary things are being done so that we can get rid of the absurd, inhuman and totally uneconomic idea of housing the homeless in bed and breakfast accommodation. It is a ludicrous arrangement; the economics of it defy all understanding. As the noble Baroness has said, other things have to be done. In the meantime, something must be done here and now for people who are in a desperately difficult situation.

My heart always sinks when I hear that the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, has sympathy with a cause that I espouse. The noble Lord said he did not think that we should implement this measure, although he did not say what we should do instead. He agreed that something should be done, but he did not think that this was the right way to achieve our objective. The noble Lord suggested that this provision could in the end lead to a return to some of the racketeering that existed before. It could only lead to that over a very long period. It is no one's wish that an amendment of this kind should prove necessary for a very long time. None of us should tolerate a situation in which a government allowed this situation to continue for a long time. The idea that people are queueing up and clamouring to get into this intolerable situation and that more and more will be seeking out bed and breakfast accommodation is quite ludicrous.

I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, said about the long-term possible effects of a change back to the previous benefit system. Racketeering could occur in those circumstances, but it would take time to become established. What is needed now is immediate help for people in immediate and urgent difficulties. While that help is being given we hope the Government will address themselves to the deplorable situation of homelessness in general and to the housing situation. I support the amendment; I earnestly hope that the Committee will do likewise.

Baroness Faithfull

Before the Minister replies, I must say that I am in a real dilemma. I am grateful to everyone who has spoken and I agree with everything that has been said. However, being a realist, I agree with my noble friend Lord Trafford. It hurts me to say this, but the minute the people who run bed and breakfast establishments hear that the benefit has been raised they will put up the rent. Although the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, says that that will take a long time to occur, I have to tell him that it would only take a week because the rent is paid weekly.

I still stand by my amendment, but I look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister has to say. I believe that people in bed and breakfast accommodation must receive the money they lost under the earlier legislation. But how are we to prevent rents being increased within a week if benefit is increased? I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say. I feel I must make that point so that he can refer to it when he replies.

Baroness Phillips

Surely the noble Baroness would agree that that is not a reason for not introducing legislation? There will always be someone outside this Chamber who will find a way round almost everything we do in Parliament. However, that is not a reason for not including an amendment such as this in the Bill.

Baroness Faithfull

I agreed with my noble friend Lord Trafford when he said that something must be done. I agree with the noble Baroness. Of course something must be done. However, I should have thought of this before: suppose we go forward with the proposal and the people who run the bed and breakfast accommodation put up the rents. In that case the families and their children will not be any better off. That is what worries me, and that is the point I should like my noble friend the Minister to address.

Baroness Blotch

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Faithfull for expressing that reservation, and I hope that that is not taken as a cynical comment. I believe that there is universal sympathy with this issue, but a distinction has to be made between what has occupied most of those Members of the Committee who have spoken.

My noble friend Lady Macleod mentioned the squalor which people have to endure. Some of the responsibility for that situation lies with local authorities which could do more to make sure that if they pay for bed and breakfast, breakfast is provided. I believe that a great deal more could be done.

I should like to return to the reservation of my noble friend Lady Faithfull. Simply 1.o return to the system which applied before 10th April would encourage an increase in rents. That would happen very quickly and the very people we want to help would not be helped.

There is another group of people who, although they did not live in squalid conditions, were encouraged to leave home—young, single people—knowing that board and lodging expenses would be met and that they would be paid an allowance to cover three meals a day, which I believe is an outdated concept. One has only to examine the figures to see the incredible rise in the number of young people leaving home and staying at seaside resorts, or other parts of the country, and not necessarily living in squalor. Landlords have found it very useful to have tenants at those times of the year when there are no tourists.

I believe that there is a practical problem in the suggestion that we revert to the system which applied before 10th April. However, there is certainly a problem. I believe that all energies and minds should be addressed to doing something practical which would really help people and rescue them from such dreadful conditions.

The one point for which I have the greatest sympathy is that mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger. We should be looking at the reasons why people find themselves in such a position and tackling the causes of the problem. At the moment I believe that there is a real dilemma for the Minister.

Lord Skelmersdale

There is certainly a real dilemma for the Minister! Perhaps I may dispose of the question of the long-term effects. Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber have mentioned with approval what my noble friend Lord Caithness is trying to do in the field of housing. I know that noble Lords opposite do not approve 100 per cent. of some of his actions. Nevertheless, he is making great efforts to persuade local authorities to do all those things which all Members of the Committee, including myself, want to see done—to get people out of bed and breakfast accommodation and ensure that others never have to move into such accommodation. There is no question about that whatsoever.

For some time local authorities have had great difficulty in administering their housing stock. In London in April 1988 there were over 23,000 empty local authority houses. Of those, 9,000 had been empty for one year. It is interesting to note in that connection that there are some 10,000 homeless families—almost as many families as there are local authority dwellings which are empty for more than one year. The problem need not exist. It would not exist if someone other than local authorities were directing housing policy in this country. I believe that if someone else were responsible the problem would not exist.

The noble Baroness looks amazed at what I have just said. I do not say on behalf of the Government that we shall strip responsibility for housing away from local government because there are many other considerations in the housing field which do not weigh on this particular problem. However, I say that if those local authorities put their empty dwellings back into use quickly this problem need not exist.

Baroness David

If the Minister has studied the Audit Commission report he will know that there are many reasons why there are too many empty houses. If the local authorities were given more money in order to maintain those houses and put them into good order there would not be so many.

I disagree very much with what the Minister has said. He has tried to put the entire responsibility on to local authorities. That is quite unfair.

Lord Skelmersdale

In answer to that point, one cannot earn rent from an empty property.

I shall respond to the point made by the noble Baroness about the Audit Commission, which estimates that if the average national re-let period could be cut to six weeks in London and three weeks outside London the number of people in bed and breakfast accommodation could be reduced by 2,400.

I did not necessarily want to give a housing speech, but the way the debate has developed I must. The noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, brought .the subject up originally. I emphasise what I said earlier. Southwark takes 24 weeks to let a flat or house. That is well above average and is a sign of inefficiency, to say the very least.

To return to the amendment, I agree with those of my noble friends behind me who have said that by reintroducing the premium one will inevitably reintroduce the abuses. The noble, Lord, Lord Winstanley, said that that would take ages. The point which my noble friend Lady Blatch raised is very pertinent. The split into income support and housing benefit took place only on 10th April. I know that the cynics say that the electorate's memory is very short. I can assure the Committee that landlords' memories are a great deal longer than from 10th April to whenever this measure comes on to the statute book and is implemented.

I have another difficulty with the proposal. The amendment states: In relation to income support and housing benefit the applicable amount for a person in board and lodging accommodation shall include an amount in respect of his being a person in board and lodging accommodation". What is that amount? How am I to argue to the powers that be for a sum of money to deal with this particular problem? They will turn to me and say that I do not know what I am talking about and do not have the least idea how much money is involved. From this amendment, no, I do not know how much money is involved.

A number of Members of the Committee have raised the pertinent point of the amount of money needed for people to live, whether in bed and breakfast accommodation or elsewhere, if they do not happen to have a cooker. The proposed amendment provides for a higher rate of income support to extend to any accommodation similar to a hotel, guest house or lodging house where cooking facilities are inadequate. I have already—both last week and today—picked holes in amendments which do not define their terms. As I read the amendment it is quite likely that that could include multi-occupation bedsits where cooking facilities are already provided. In theory, therefore, there is the possibility that landlords and claimants might remove adequate facilities in order to receive a higher rate of benefit. Clearly, that would be quite wrong.

Of course I am aware from this debate that noble Lords are concerned about homeless families who have been placed in board and lodging accommodation by local authorities. I share that concern, as I hope I have already made clear, but amending the benefit provisions in the way proposed is not the way to address the problem. As we all know, local authorities are encouraged not to place homeless families in board and lodging and, if they must, to keep them there for as short a time as is humanly possible.

Lastly, the amendment assumes that the normal rates of income support are not adequate to cover the cost of food if the claimant lives in such accommodation; that is to say, the accommodation described in the amendment. That immediately raises the problem of attempting to define and determine what might be regarded as adequate or inadequate cooking facilities in any particular case. There is a prospect that claimants would have to be asked intrusive questions about their cooking facilities, with local office staff perhaps forced to impose a nationally set standard on, for example, the number of hot plates available for a family member. That would plainly be ridiculous. Income support personal allowances and premiums are intended to cover all normal day-to-day living expenses.

I believe that the main point to remember is that meals allowances payable under the old rules were too generous. As has been mentioned by the Committee this afternoon, eating habits over the years have changed. No one is suggesting that we are a less healthy nation as a result. Indeed, we are rather proud of the health of the nation. Perhaps I should not stray into matters covered by another department in which I had the honour to serve recently, but it is a fact that we obtain extremely good value for money in that respect.

Lord Winstanley

I am quite sure that the noble Lord would not say that anyone should be proud of the health of families living in bed and breakfast accommodation.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

I did not say that anyone should be proud of the health of families living in bed and breakfast accommodation. I was pointing out that, across the country, wherever people live, eating habits have changed and, I believe, have changed for the better. The adequacy or otherwise of—

Lord Stallard

The noble Lord made the point about cost. He has said more than once that the Government were being generous in their allowances. A few minutes ago, he said that he could not lawfully go to the DSS and say, "How much may I allow? What is the sum I am supposed to give?"

At present, homeless families placed in bed and breakfast accommodation by local authorities receive £10.85 per week from the DSS for every member of the family. There is nothing generous about that. That sum is intended to cover lunch. The noble Lord will spend that sum tonight. The DSS allowance for dinner is £10.85. So those meals are not provided out of the basic charge. What is over-generous about that? Why cannot the Minister go to the DSS and say, "Leave it as it is. We shall deal with the abuses, the shortages and empty properties in the way that we normally deal with them", instead of saying that the Government are determined to fight those rapacious landlords and squalid hotel-keepers at the expense of every bed and breakfast family in the country. That is no way to go about the matter.

Lord Skelmersdale

By my calculations, ¤10.85 for two meals a day is £21.70.

Lord Stallard

That figure is per week.

Lord Skelmersdale

I apologise to the Committee; that figure is per week. Perhaps we can all get a little less emotional and calm down for just a moment. The calculation that I was trying to make comes to £21.70 a week. The figures mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, have just been confirmed to me as absolutely correct. However, it might be relevant to point out that my medical advice is that an authoritative source calculated the cost for a moderately active man as £9.46 a week in 1986 which, in today's terms, comes out at around £10.80 a week.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us whether that sum was calculated for someone being cooked for at home or for someone who had either to eat every meal in a restaurant or buy it from a takeaway?

Lord Skelmersdale

The noble Lady jumped in just as I was about to say that the figure is closely reflected in the average shopping basket which is about £11 a week. We all know that the average person has cooking facilities. That is true, but there will be occasions when it is not appropriate to have cooked meals all the time. No one has suggested that an uncooked meal cannot be eaten in a bed and breakfast hostel.

There is yet another point; namely, that, with the permission of the landlord, the applicant himself can have a cooker. Those are very poor people. How will they get their cookers?

Baroness Jeger

The social fund stops that.

Lord Skelmersdale

The social fund does not stop that. I have just had it confirmed that, so long as the landlord does not mind having a cooker in the place—I cannot see any good reason why he should—application to the social fund would be likely to succeed.

I have gone into enormous detail and strayed over a large number of points, but a large number of points were put to me. I certainly understand the problems of this group of people, but, returning lastly to—

Baroness Seear

Is there any reason why landlords should not be told that they must give permission for a cooker? Why should it only be in cases where they are prepared to give a cooker? If they let people have a bed, they could perfectly well be told that, along with a bed, they must allow a cooker or any other bits of furniture that one would like to tag on. Presumably, one can obtain the cooker from social security, if one cannot afford it from anywhere else.

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes—one can obtain the cooker from social security, as I have just said, but it is the landlord's dwelling. It is possible that, on the one hand, the landlord might be perverse, but, much more likely, it could be that the wiring in that particular establishment would not be up to the strain of having a cooker. That is why I tried to say that it was not a complete, but a partial solution to the problem.

I have accepted on behalf of the Government that the problem exists, but I have also warned of the great dangers which I know that my noble friend Lady Faithfull recognises in her amendment. If I could be told of another way forward, I should be delighted to follow it up, but, at the moment, with the greatest regret in the world, I cannot suggest that noble Lords should agree to the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may ask my noble friend a question, although it may be difficult to obtain a reply straight away. We seem to have honed down the problem to the allowance being adequate if there is access to cooking facilities and to whether it is adequate for eating out seven days a week. The allowance for two parents and one child would be just over £65 a week to provide two meals per day for those people. It seems to me that, with access to cooking facilities, that is possible. It is not ideal, but it is possible. Clearly, if there is no access to cookers, there is a problem. Are we talking about a high percentage of people who are boarded out by local authorities where there is absolutely no cooking facility whatever? It seems to me that, if that is the problem, we should address the practical problem of perhaps providing some assurance, even within legislation, that, if a local authority must accommodate a family in that kind of accommodation, there will be access to cooking facilities.

Lord Skelmersdale

If I had the wit after this long debate to make a summary of the position that I have arrived at in my mind, the words of my noble friend Lady Blatch would serve the purpose very well indeed. I am grateful to her for those words. We know that there are roughly 10,000 such people, but I should have to confirm that fact. In considering the matter, I think that we should all get our facts right and establish exactly what we are talking about and seeking to achieve, and as I said earlier, the cost of it.

Earl Russell

The noble Lord says that he recognises the problem but that it is a great deal too difficult to do anything about it. With respect I find it very hard to accept that answer as satisfactory.

Lord Skelmersdale

No, I did not say that it was too difficult to do something about it. I said that I was absolutely convinced in my own mind—and certainly I am supported by some of my noble friends behind me who have spoken—that this was not the right way to deal with the problem. That is a different matter.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

What is the Minister prepared to do about it? He recognises the problem and says that the amendment is inadequate for certain reasons which I and others in the Committee I am sure understand. But he cannot leave the matter simply saying that the amendment is inadequate. Surely it is for the Minister to find a solution if this amendment will not do.

Lord Skelmersdale

That may very well be so, but I cannot do it off the top of my head.

Baroness Faithfull

Perhaps I may take up various points which have been raised. Unless one has visited a bed and breakfast place one does not, and cannot, understand the situation. The noble Lords, Lord Winstanley and Lord Pitt, have obviously visited bed and breakfast places and know about them.

The first point that I should like to make is that the social security rules were changed in April. I have not yet discovered why they were changed. However, there is no doubt about it. As regards living expenses, before April there was an extra food allowance for those in bed and breakfast accommodation. It is, I believe, correct, as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, says, that under the social security Acts family credit and family income support assume that one is in one's own home and using one's own kitchen. So my first question is: why were the rules changed?

My second point concerns the suggested additional cooking facilties. These places are run privately: the one terror of the occupants is that they may be turned out into the street. I invite the Committee to consider what would happen if cookers were ordered to be put in each room and on each landing. The owners of the accommodation would not do it. Indeed, I should not want them to do it because of the fire hazards involved. There would certainly be difficulties; so that is a problem we are up against.

It is very expensive to eat healthily. I love cold meats, salads and eggs, but the cost is high. I have received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury—unfortunately I do not have it with me because I did not know that this point would arise—giving figures for the rise in the cost of food at Sainsbury's supermarkets. One can go to no better place. Well, there are places just as good but I pay tribute to the quality of the food at Sainsbury's, even though the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, is not in the Chamber at the present time.

I believe that there is a very real dilemma. I regret that I did not think of the point about owners raised by my noble friend Lord Trafford. As is apparent, I have no high respect for the people who run bed and breakfast places. I am absolutely sure that they will put up the charges and that the people who stay there will not benefit.

I am very grateful that every noble Lord who has spoken has supported the amendment in spirit. I suggest that the matter should be discussed with my noble friend the Minister. I promise that the amendment will be brought back at the next stage of the Bill with wording that may make it possible for him to agree to it. On that understanding I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 not moved.]

Clause 13 agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton moved Amendment No. 41: After Clause 13, insert the following new clause:

("Applicable amounts

—. (1) In paragraph 1 of Part I of Schedule 2 to the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987, after the words "applicable amounts and polygamous marriages" there shall be inserted the words "except that, for this purpose, any person aged less than 25 to whom any paragraph in Part 11 of the Schedule 1A applies or would apply if he were aged 16 and had not reached the relevant date determined under regulation 13A (3)(b) shall be treated as if he were aged 25."

(2) In paragraph 1 of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Housing Benefit (General) Regulations 1987, after the words "17(a) and (b)" there shall be inserted the words "except that, for this purpose, any person aged less than 25 to whom paragraph in Part 11 of Schedule 1A to the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987 applies, or would apply if he were aged 16, claiming income support and had not reached the relevant date determined under, regulation 13A(3)(b) of those regulations, shall be treated as if he were aged 25.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment has been grouped with the succeeding amendment, Amendment No. 42. With the leave of the Committee I shall discuss them together. Those who have put their names to these amendments are concerned with the plight (if that is not too strong a word) of 16 and 17-year olds since the changes in their entitlement to income support in September 1988. Withdrawal of entitlement has led to some very real heartbreak. The assumption that all young people are able obtain places on youth training schemes is not borne out by the evidence. For those who cannot find places on such schemes and who are not able to live at home, the financial and social consequences of those changes are extremely serious.

To confine myself to Amendment No. 41, the purport is to enable those aged 16 or 17 who cannot live at home and who have not found employment or a place on a youth training scheme to have the same amount of money as that given to 18 or 19-year olds or even an adult. I defy anyone to say that there is a difference in the cost of living for a 16 or a 17-year old who has no home and an adult who has no home. They are in exactly the same position. I cannot see why they should not be provided for at the same rate.

I shall not go into great detail beyond stating that particular proposition and asking the Government to consider providing the same rate of support. I gather that if the rate of support is the same as that for someone aged 25 then the same applies in relation to housing benefit. I shall not go into the second limb of the amendment which concerns housing benefit.

I do not wish young people who have no home, no job and no place on a youth training scheme to be in the position of having no money and having to go onto the streets. Very recently this Chamber debated the subject of homelessness when this problem was pinpointed. It seems to me to be entirely necessary for it to be addressed in this Bill. Young people should be provided with adequate support. Sixteen and 17-year olds who are driven on to the streets because they have no home, did not obtain a youth training scheme place or have no job are the criminals of the future. They are our responsibility. We must ensure that such a thing does not happen to them. I hope very much that the Committee will support my plea that they should be properly provided for.

Very often these young people have come from bad homes. They may have been abused at home and that may be the reason why they cannot go back there. As the noble Lady who sits beside me described on an earlier amendment, they may be inadequate in some way. If they are, it is even more important that they should be given enough money on which to live.

As I have said, I cannot see why it should be less expensive for a 16 or 17-year old to live in such circumstances than it is for an adult. I beg to move.

Baroness Faithfull

As this amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 42 and 43A, perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 42 and support the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I have received letters from the National Council for Voluntary Child Care Organisations, which covers 75 voluntary organisations; I have received a letter from the Scottish Council for Single Homeless, which covers Edinburgh and Glasgow; I have received a letter from the Scottish Association of Children's Panels, from the British Association of Children's Panels and from the National Children's Bureau. I have therefore received letters from throughout the United Kingdom on this matter.

Amendment No. 42 covers two types of young people. It covers those who have been in the care of a local authority under the social services department, most of whom were cases referred to the local authority by the courts. Therefore it was on court orders that they were removed from home. In all likelihood they do not have homes to return to. It covers young people who have left home on account of harassment and perhaps cruelty. I am thinking of a girl who has an unemployed stepfather. He turned her out of the home. She wanted to go for fear of damage being done to her.

These two amendments do not cut across Her Majesty's Government's policy that, wherever possible and practical, boys and girls of 16 and 17 years should be encouraged to live at home and be the responsibility of their parents. However, that is quite clearly not possible with these two categories. If these amendments are not carried, the following situation will arise. Young people will become homeless, and I have it in very good authority that many of them are homeless because they cannot find accommodation in which to live on the amount of money that they are receiving. Because they do not have accommodation, they cannot obtain a job. Because they do not have a job, they cannot obtain accommodation. It is therefore the chicken and egg situation.

Those under 18 years receive £20.80 for 12 weeks or 16 weeks from the time they leave school until about Christmas-time. The 18 to 24 year-olds receive £27.40. Those over 25 years receive £34.90. Young claimants living independently are hardest hit by the age barrier. As the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, said, we are back to housing again. Whether one is under 18 or is 28 or 30, housing is not graded. No low grade affordable housing is available for people. Therefore one does not need the amount of money to be graded because if one is 16 or 17 years one has to pay the same amount as those who are 25 or 30 years old.

We were very grateful to the social security department for saying, some time ago, after representations that the 16 to 17 year-olds could draw the same amount as the 18 year-olds. However, the problem still arises when at the end of the 12 weeks the money runs out and they are not entitled to income support. They do not have jobs. As the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said, although statistically there are a sufficient number of YTS places for the number of children who need them, in practice it does not work out that way. I know of a number of children who want a job or want to have a YTS place but cannot find one. A number of employers have found that 16 and 17 year-olds are a liability rather than a positive help at work. After all, businessmen have to consider the production of goods.

We have this amendment because young people should be put on a firm financial footing in order to be able to obtain a job and because it is not fair that through no fault of their own young people have been in care.

Finally, under the Children Bill we moved that the local authorities should aid and assist children who had been in care. However, we lost the amendment. The provision in the Bill is that the local authorities may aid and assist. Therefore these young people may not receive help from the local authorities although they have been in care.

I know that many other noble Lords have much to say on this matter. However, I hope that we shall think carefully about these young people. They will become a serious social problem in our country unless we look after them at this stage.

Baroness David

I should like to support Amendment No. 42 very strongly. During discussion on the Children Bill we tried to address the problem of young people leaving care. We were told very firmly that it was a social security matter. Luckily, we have a Social Security Bill. Perhaps we can now do something about the problem.

A great many people have shown sympathy and understanding on this issue. We were all moved by the sight of the young people who came to the House when the Children Bill was being discussed—invited by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. It made the position real for all of us. It is up to us to do something about this problem. I know that Mr. Scott improved the situation slightly, but it is only slightly better. The problem is by no means resolved. We must carry one of these amendments to this Bill.

Earl Russell

I must apologise for standing between Members of the Committee and their dinner. It is always an uncomfortable place to be. Nevertheless, this is probably the most important single issue in the Bill. I hope that Members of the Committee can bear to go hungry for just a few minutes in order to discuss it. I support Amendment No. 41 to which I have my name and Amendment No. 43A. I support also Amendment No. 42, to which I would have had my name if the noble Baroness, Lady David, had not beaten me to the tape by about a yard.

The problem is that a great many of the teenagers concerned simply cannot live at home. That was well brought out in the admirable feature in the Independent last Saturday. Thirty-eight per cent. of homeless teenagers have been thrown out or abused by their parents and are in no position to go home. Forty per cent. of them have been in care and have no home to go to. Therefore asking those teenagers to live at home is in the most literal sense a case of pie in the sky. It is simply not possible.

In a number of areas YTS places are not as freely available as is needed. Glasgow among others has been cited—a quite substantial centre of population. It is also quite difficult to get a YTS place when one has no fixed address. That concerns many of these people. It can also be a problem for those who have been abused. A case has been brought to my attention of a teenage girl. She had left home because she was being abused by her father. She was found a YTS place in her home town. Her father persistently followed her and continued to attempt to abuse her. Very naturally she left town and was deprived of benefit for having wantonly thrown up a YTS place. The word "wantonly" might perhaps have been applied in a different context in that situation. In many of these cases one cannot possibly expect the teenagers to live at home.

Amendment No. 43A draws attention to a Scottish dimension: the younger age on leaving care and the difficulties which are caused to the Scottish stop-over hostel system. There is much doubt as to whether they are properly classified as night shelters within the context of the Minister's small but welcome concession of March.

All this involves the setting up of a great deal of bumbledom. It has involved in Scotland the asking of a great many personal questions of teenagers by people not entirely qualified to do that. We had in the Independent feature on Saturday a defence of the present situation by Mr. David Willetts, which I thought very easily could have been signed "Marie Antoinette". He said that the social security system ensures that people have the money to pay rent. If someone is held not to be eligible for full rate income support, I do not see how he is meant to pay rent. It is difficult enough to pay rent on full income support, as we have just been hearing. In this kind of situation, it is next to impossible.

Mr. Willetts was also pleased to argue that there was no simple solution, certainly not one which required the Government to spend more money. That is a painfully familiar line of argument and not a particularly helpful one. People have to do something to live. At Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, drew attention to the spread of prostitution as a result of these regulations. She is right. The notice boards at my local newsagents around Kilburn are full of a mushrooming spread of advertisements for massage. I do not believe that any of those offering that massage are likely to be applying for licences under the London Local Authorities (No. 2) Bill.

The Government talk about a dependency culture, but we all depend on somebody or something. I do not see that dependency on the state is necessarily more sapping for the character than any other kind of dependency. I certainly do not see an improvement. If we give up a dependency on the state we are forced instead to have a dependency on the ponce or the fence.

7 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I should like to add another point to those already mentioned. The idea that someone under 18 needs less to live on than someone over 18 is not only quite ridiculous but I believe it is the other way round, because many 16-to 18 year-olds are still growing. That means not only that they need more food, but they outgrow their clothes and have to have new ones.

I should like strongly to support what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has just said. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said that hunger and homelessness are driving young people onto the streets and into crime. But they are also driving both girls and boys onto the streets and into prostitution. I believe that that is absolutely wicked.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I should like to ask a question of those who have moved these amendments; in particular my noble friend Lady Faithfull. I understand how one differentiates precisely the teenagers who have come from local authority care. But how in a case such as that described by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, does one establish the cause of someone walking out of a YTS scheme or going to a job and giving it up? How can one establish the cause of that? I can remember in the past circumstances where many patients in the section in which I was working, on leaving school preferred not to take a job because it was so much nicer just to collect the money and go on living the life they lived when at school.

I should like to know how one selects the deserving case, and how this provision can be made in such a way that it does not deter the young from seeking work. I think it is helpful when people cease education if they can go on into employment and training.

Earl Russell

Perhaps I may cursorily answer the noble Baroness. The case to which I referred came before the courts. I should have been perfectly happy to accept the verdict of the court.

Baroness Jeger

We support these amendments. I feel that the case has been well outlined. If the noble Lord is not prepared to accept the facts as put before him by the various speakers tonight, I hope that he will read, as he probably has, some of the literature which most of us have received from the voluntary organisations that are dealing with the problem at the coalface. They are the people who are trying to look after homeless young people. Their message to us is of too many failures and too few resources to solve the problem.

It is no use our saying, as has been said in another place, that these young people should be at home with their parents. We know all the reasons why they are not. One of the cases that I have come across most frequently is where there has been a marriage breakdown followed by a second marriage and possibly an impossible relationship with a new stepfather or stepmother. Sometimes a new baby is the impetus that causes a teenager to feel thrown out, or at least to have to get out.

I hope that with all the case histories that are available and all the impartial information which is before the Government, the Minister can help us this evening.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

The problem with all social security legislation—and your Lordships will perhaps know that I have some experience of that—is that one deals item by item with the various aspects of it. It is always possible, only too easy to make a powerful, strongly emotional case, sometimes a strong intellectual case, for the particular proposition which is being debated. On the other hand, the Minister has the responsibility of looking at all the various directions in which the now vast expenditure on social security goes and trying to work out his priorities. Without expressing very strong opinion on this amendment, I should with great respect say to your Lordships that if one is to consider this responsibly one must look at it not merely on its own merits but also in comparison with and in relation to the very large number of other matters that the Committee and people outside are discussing, where there is a perfectly good case to be made for improvement.

It would help us in reflecting on this if, when my noble friend replies, he could give some estimate of what the cost of the amendment would be and perhaps set that cost against the other matters with which he has to deal, including the one he sympathetically indicated earlier this afternoon it was his intention to consider.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

When the Minister replies, I hope that he will not be thinking merely of the financial cost of paying the benefit, but of the cost, which matter has been raised by at least two of the speakers, of the consequence of what is happening. We now have young people on the street, homeless and in danger. The cost to the state of allowing that situation to go on is very much greater than whatever may be the cost of providing those young people with benefit. Therefore I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us that the Government will look much more sympathetically on young people who are estranged from home.

To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, what is really needed in the department is some counselling. One of the ways to help is to have people to see these young persons and decide whether it is right that they should be allowed to do what they want to do, which is to leave, or whether they should be persuaded to stay at home in spite of the difficulties. When people need to be allowed to leave home, and want to leave home, they should be able to get the benefit; and if they are to live independently the benefit should be sufficient to meet the cost of living independently. There are the two problems and I hope that when the Minister replies he will address himself to both.

Lord Skelmersdale

I will try to be a brief as I can, but I should start by making a general point rather like my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I cannot at this moment furnish the Committee with the actual cost of either one of these amendments —though I hope to do so by the time I have sat down—but clearly it would be substantial.

Talking on this general theme for a minute, I believe that social security and the safety net provided by the state, has, over the last 20 or so years—indeed, ever since Beveridge in 1948—slowly got better, bigger and more comprehensive. At the same time, there have inevitably had to be priorities at any particular moment. I think that was the point which my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter was addressing to the Committee.

These three Amendments, Nos. 41, 43A and 42, are attempts by noble Lords to amend existing income support and housing benefit legislation. Their aim is to increase the rate of benefit paid to people under 25 who are living away from home. It has already been mentioned that we have recently announced not a concession but a very good improvement which will provide extra help for 16 and 17 year-olds on income support, who for good reason have to live independently or, in the words of the noble Earl, perhaps I could say estranged. From July, this group will get the personal allowance normally appropriate to 18 to 24 year-olds—£27.40 compared with £20.80 at April 1989 rates.

This new clause in Amendment No. 41 seeks to give the over-25 personal allowance to income support claimants under 25 who live away from home. It also makes a similar concession for some young people claiming housing benefit. The people who would benefit from this amendment are chiefly those who have no parents or persons acting as such. And it would help those who cannot, or do not, for certain specified reasons, live with their parents.

When I first read Amendment No. 43A, I thought it had a similar intention so far as income support was concerned, the main difference from Amendment No. 41 being that, rather than giving the over-25 personal allowance as such, the additional amount would be paid as a premium. However, as I read the amendment again, it became clear that the effect would not be nearly so straightforward. I cannot think, for example, that it was ever the intention that a person estranged from his parents would see a reduction in his benefit at age 18; nor that a lone parent estranged from her parents would see a reduction in her benefit at age 25; nor that some disabled young people living away from home in specially adapted accommodation would receive less benefit than able-bodied young people who were estranged from their parents; nor that a young person could increase his benefit entitlement by over two-thirds by leaving home and following an unsettled way of life, even where he and his parents were on good terms. Yet these are some examples of the apparent effect of this amendment. I am sure that this could not have been the intention of the noble Earl, Lord Russell.

All these propositions have, I am afraid, several problems in common. First, we need to look at the whole of the benefit provision for people under 25 who are living on their own. If they are on income support—and I think this is a fact that many noble Lords did not appreciate—or living at the same level, maximum housing benefit is available; and, of course, maximum housing benefit, as we all know, covers rent and 80 per cent. rates. Housing benefit, as well, is payable from the age of 16 under the law in this country. So the various problems which have been suggested in this area simply should not arise. I would need to know in very much more detail—and I shall be happy to look at specific examples—where problems of this sort arise. But even after paying their 20 per cent. contribution to domestic rates, young people are left with a personal allowance which is sufficient without being over-generous.

Secondly, the way income support is structured reflects the average earning power of different age groups. That of the under-25s is lower than that for older people, and that is one reason for relating personal allowances to age in income support. The intention of this new clause is to return to one of the perversities of the old supplementary benefit scheme. There we had a householder/non-householder test. For non-rent and rates expenses before April 1988, someone under 18 would have received £18.75 if living at home, but £30.40 if living away from home. We thus had a real financial incentive for young people, particularly those under 18, to leave home. That clearly was wrong, and I think it is accepted across the Committee that it was wrong—

7.15 p.m.

Earl Russell

Is the Minister seriously suggesting that people will leave home for the sole reason of enjoying the luxury of living on a benefit of £30 a week?

Lord Skelmersdale

No, but knowing that you have a higher income than you warrant would certainly be an inducement. It is not the sole reason, and there may be all sorts of other reasons why a young person wants to leave home. However, we of course accept that for a few young people continuing to live at home is not an option. This is a particular problem for 16 and 17 year-olds, and that is why my right honourable friend announced on 13th March that we are relaxing the rules for those in this group who have to live independently.

I would remind the Committee that on top of the personal allowance any premiums that are applicable would also be payable. So a 16 or 17 year-old lone parent claiming income support, who cannot for good reason stay in the parental home, will have a total benefit of £49.55 a week from July when we introduce the changes. On top of this, I say again, all the rent and 80 per cent. of the rates will be met from housing benefit. I think the answer to my noble friend's point is that if the rent goes up, so does the housing benefit.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, cast aspersions on the realisation of the youth training scheme guarantee. I am informed reliably that over 141,000 unfilled places existed in the YTS scheme in May 1989. That is not to say that sometimes, in a particular local area, an individual course is not available and for that reason there are travelling expenses paid. But if there is any difficulty for a particular individual, training agents can specifically seek a suitable place and, on the rare occasions when a particular training scheme within a recognised travelling area is not available, this is what happens. For example, even in Scotland, which is a widely flung area, there were 13,770 unfilled places at the end of May.

Having said that, of course we also recognise that some young people could be worse off taking a YTS place or a job than on income support because of the effect of housing costs and expenses associated with their training or work. Therefore, we have decided to extend the over-18 personal allowance to all 16 and 17 year-old housing benefit claimants, not just those in special circumstances prescribed for income support. If we were to consider making any further concession to housing benefit claimants, we should want to do so on the same basis. However, while we thought it right to direct some help towards 16 and 17 year-olds, we believe that to introduce an increase of the order proposed for all under 25 year-olds would not be right. It may provide a perverse incentive for some young people to leave home needlessly.

I return to the problems of those people who leave youth training scheme places without obtaining a job. The Committee will remember that we discussed that matter at some length during the passage of last year's Bill, and severe hardship payments on income support are currently available in such cases. Each case is considered on its merits in the light of the individual facts. Full details are obtained from the claimant. Severe hardship provision is working. There have been 10,721 decisions up to 23rd June. Of those, 65 per cent. were successful.

Given what I have said and the other very pressing problems in the sphere of social security, many of which affect disabled people, which we discussed at length last week, perhaps one should take a large degree of notice of what my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said in his short general speech and perhaps these amendments will not be pressed to a Division.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Before my noble friend sits down, has he the figures for the cost of these amendments?

Lord Skelmersdale

I regret that I have not because I have no way of telling at this moment how many 18 to 25 year-olds there are who would be on income support.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

Before a decision is made on this, will the Minister consider providing guidelines which will make severe hardship less severe? From the cases which have come to me, it appears that if a more flexible—I do not like that word—or softer attitude were adopted, we may find that we have fewer problems.

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, I believe that that is a very valuable suggestion. I shall look into it and write to the noble Lord when I have discovered whether it is possible to move in that area. One clearly has to protect the young person and also do a balancing act in protecting the taxpayer. However, I shall certainly look into the point raised by the noble Lord.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I should like to follow up what the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, said. At the same time, I wish to record my thanks to the Minister of State and Mr. Nicholas Scott for receiving the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and myself on fairly similar matters a few months ago. I should like to thank them for their undoubted sympathy and, perhaps I may say, receptivity of the ideas which we put forward.

I also record my gratitude to the Secretary of State for the concessions which he made after that which have gone some way to meet the hardships that undoubtedly still arise. One matter at which the Secretary of State agreed to look was that the social fund should be administered with more flexibility. Despite the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, dislikes the word "flexibility", it is that sort of sympathetic flexibility which one wishes to see used more and more under the new dispensations introduced by the Secretary of State.

I believe that, if we are pressing the Secretary of State in this way and if he is true to the movements he has made in the past, he will make concessions in that way in regard to these amendments which we are now proposing.

In regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, it may be necessary to look with cold calculation at the cost of these amendments. However, if we are to look at the proposal solely as a matter of cost, we should also in the cold calculation take into account the considerable cost of putting these young people at risk if we do nothing about them. The future cost of looking after them in care, in institutions or in prison would be huge compared to looking after them when they are homeless, without a YTS placement and without a job. That calculation also needs to be made.

In addition to that, I say: High Heaven rejects the lore, Of nicely-calculated less or more. One might put into the balance the human calculation which the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, asked the Minister to consider. That is something which must weigh in the balance.

This amendment has received support on all sides of the Committee. Under the new dispensation which the Minister has brought before Parliament and which is now enacted, one understands that there are difficulties, but something must be done about these people. It is a problem which needs a solution. It may be that the amendments of the noble Baroness, the noble Earl and myself are not exactly right, but we must have something in the Bill on Report, whoever it comes from, and I very much hope that it will come from the Minister.

Having said that, I should like to withdraw this amendment. I believe that the noble Baroness will be prepared to do that or perhaps not to move her amendment, and I hope that the noble Earl will agree to do likewise. I hope that meanwhile the Minister and Mr.Nicholas Scott will consider the special problems of these young people and bring forward at the next stage a proposal to meet the concerns expressed from all sides of the Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Faithfull had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 42: After Clause 13, insert the following new clause:

("Income support for persons aged 16 or 17

. In regulation 13A of the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987—

(a) for paragraph (3) there shall be substituted— (3) In the case of a person to whom any paragraph in Schedule 1A applies, the relevant date is the date on which he attains the age of 18."; and (b) in paragraph (7) the words "(3)(b) and" shall cease to have effect.").

The noble Baroness said: As I said earlier, this amendment refers to a small group of people; that is, 16 and 17 year-olds who have been in care or who for various reasons have had to leave home. Therefore, we are talking about a small number of people.

I am sad that it is not possible for the Minister to give the figures asked for by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter because I believe that he would find that the cost would not be substantial. I also say to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that if we give these children a chance for independent living on a sound financial basis, that is a good investment, because from there they will be able to obtain a job, look after themselves and come off income support altogether. I believe that that is a very important point. My amendment moves towards a constructive independence on the part of young people.

My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes asked how one knew whether a child had to leave home and whether there were reasons for it. I believe I am right in saying that there is an adjudicating officer and that most social service departments know where there are difficulties. Surely the adjudicating officer is the person who looks into such situations.

I have to say that I do not believe a great deal of research into this has been done. I support the Scottish Association of Children's Panels which has written to me giving its view and why it wants the amendment. It states: We would repeat what we have said previously, that it is in the interests of everyone in society that disadvantaged young people are given every chance to begin independent living on a sound financial basis". It is because I want to see these children independent of the state that I believe they should be put on the right lines to begin with.

Having said that, like the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, I should like to discuss this with my noble friend the Minister to see whether we can work out a constructive way of assisting these children. On that basis, I do not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 42 not moved.]

Lord Henley

Perhaps this would be a suitable moment to adjourn the Committee stage and return at 8.30 p.m. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.