HL Deb 07 March 1990 vol 516 cc1176-210

3.24 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs rose to call attention to the work of the citizens advice bureaux and the problems they face; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am happy this afternoon to have the opportunity to debate the work of the citizens advice bureaux and the problems faced at the moment by these very respected centres. I am grateful to those noble Lords who have put down their names to speak in the debate.

This debate is an important one because at present we hear a great deal about the existence in Britain of a property and share-owning democracy. We are told that people have never been so well off. But we do not hear so much about those who have been left out of the new prosperity and those who have not been beneficiaries of the so-called Thatcher miracle. So believing as I do that what goes on inside the walls of these advice bureaux is an indicator of how the lives of our less fortunate fellow citizens are shaped, I hope that this debate will reveal the other side of the coin so to speak in regard to those people who in the past decade have been squeezed harder and harder by present social policies.

By way of background perhaps I may remind the House that the citizens advice bureaux service is made up of about 1,000 outlets and deals with as many as 7 million inquiries each year. Out of its 15,000 workers only 10 per cent. are paid specialists, which means that the other 90 per cent. are volunteers. That is a very high proportion indeed. The network now deals with an average of more than 3,800 inquiries every hour of the working week. Although in the past two or three years the number of queries has not gone up, the complexity of many of those inquiries has increased dramatically. This means that many bureaux are now overstretched, a state of affairs which can only get worse with the introduction of the poll tax and other pieces of legislation.

The funding arrangements for NACAB are somewhat equivocal in that while the DTI provides money—in 1989–90 nearly £9 million—for the information system, for training, for the development of services, for social policy work and so on, local bureaux rely on their local authorities for funds to operate. In 1989–90 total local authority funding was £23,223,000. Unfortunately this funding is inconsistent across the country. In some areas their work is strongly supported, while in others centres are provided with only precarious support, depending on the finances of the local authority concerned. The anomaly is that the quality of service the CAB can provide varies across the country and is often weakest in rural areas. When one considers the importance of these advice centres, this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

The problems which over recent years have been brought most frequently to the bureaux relate to social security, debt and housing and employment. The increased demand for advice in these areas has been caused by the staggering amount of new legislation affecting the less well off. I refer to the Social Security Act 1986, the Wages Act 1986, the Housing Act 1988, the introduction of the community charge, the major changes in unemployment benefit entitlement, the small claims legislation in Scotland and the changes brought about by the employment protection legislation. A wealth of new legislation has created problems of understanding for those people affected by it. Advice workers make the point that it is not so much one single issue such as serious debt or homelessness that brings about disaster for their clients but the interaction of a whole range of factors. It is not a question of one thing coming after another but more of one thing coming on top of another.

I should like to quote some statistics to illustrate the extent to which poorer people have suffered from recent government measures and how inequality has increased over recent years. First, in the last six months of 1989 mortgage arrears brought about a 17 per cent. increase in repossessions. Secondly, single people claiming income support lost out by as much as £8.84 a week as a result of last year's changes to the benefits system. Thirdly, the London School of Economics estimates that between 1979 and 1988 the bottom 20 per cent. of households experienced a 6 per cent. fall in real living standards. At the other end of the scale we note that as a result of the 1988 Budget the richest 1 per cent. of the population saw its unearned income rise by 89 per cent. These figures point to a shameful picture and compare most unfavourably with those relating to inequality among our more socially conscious European neighbours.

I should like to highlight one or two of the complex problems which people bring to the citizens advice bureaux. As I said, these fall within the areas of social security benefits, housing, debt and the employment situation. I hope that other speakers will consider them more deeply. With regard to social security, the citizens advice bureaux report that replacement of single payments by the Social Fund has brought about not only great hardship but also the creation of a vicious circle of debt in which very large numbers of people are being trapped. It is thought that as many as 400,000 people were repaying Social Fund loans at the end of 1989.

One begins to wonder why the Government allow so many opportunities for people to get into debt. First, there is the debt which arises out of the rise in interest rates; now it is debt through the Social Fund and soon it will be debt through student loans and the poll tax. It is a fact that there has been a massive increase in the number of clients seeking help with debt problems. That is reinforced by a series of reports which have been published on the subject of consumer debt. Yesterday in my newspaper I read that the Policy Studies Institute published a report stating that one in nine familes struggled with debt and that last year's debt was £2.9 million.

According to the citizens advice bureaux there are two very distinct reasons for indebtedness. First, there is the debt which is precipitated by a crisis in the family, for example, by a job loss or by illness. In such circumstances advice is given on how best to restructure payments. However, the second type of debtor is the individual or family with long-term dependency on benefits who over a period of time finds it harder and harder to pay for the essentials of living. Such people simply do not have enough money. However much you juggle around no money, it will end up as no money. The only hope for the CAB is to ensure that these clients are claiming everything they possibly can.

For nearly the first time ever the CABs report that young people of 16 and 17 years of age are coming to them for advice. They do so for reasons which they cannot control themselves; for example, eviction by parents, pregnancy, emotional disturbance and so on. For them it is impossible to take a YTS place and of course they find themselves completely destitute. Moreover, the advice workers find themselves in the very heartbreaking position of having no advice to give them.

A CAB on Humberside reported the case of a 17-year old who had to leave home because of violence. She was granted a council flat after a year in a hostel. She lost her YTS place after an illness but has been refused income support on grounds of severe hardship. It is very difficult to obtain income support when you have to prove grounds of severe hardship. She had to wait six months for the decision. She has no other source of income; she has rent and rates arrears and an electricity bill which she cannot pay. I suspect that there are many similar cases where young people through no fault of their own cannot get a YTS place and therefore are left in a very problematic position.

The lone parent is a regular citizens advice bureaux client. Very often such people would like to move on from the position of receiving benefit and take a job. However, they are very often caught in the poverty trap, finding that they would be worse off if they had a job. Therefore they are forced to remain on social security. In such circumstances the CAB can only advise such clients to stay on benefit.

Elderly people in private residential care homes find that the level of their income support has now fallen well below the amounts charged by the homes. That is another problem which has been brought to the attention of the citizens advice bureaux. These people either risk eviction or have to accept a serious reduction in the quality of services and care. That presents a horrifying picture where within one residential home there may be elderly people receiving different levels of care; for example, one may receive a cup of tea while the other may not. The position is most serious. I do not think that we can possibly blame the residential care homes for the situation. With inflation and the increase in costs, they are unable to provide the services at the level of income support.

Many inquiries are also received about employment protection. That is due to the erosion of the powers of the wages councils and the Wages Act 1986 which produced many quandaries for people. Again, such people consult the citizens advice bureaux. Finally, from that point of view, there is an indication of the level of inquiries as regards the poll tax which comes from the citizens advice bureaux in Scotland. They say that between April 1989 and January 1990 there were 46,000 inquiries about the community charge. That is a sign of the increase in the number of inquiries that these bureaux can expect when the community charge commences in this part of the country. That is a very brief snapshot of these insoluble dilemmas which are presented to the citizens advice bureaux. They reflect the high degree of confusion and anxiety to which so many of the most vulnerable people are subject.

Finally, I turn to the problems facing NACAB. The bureaux are certainly working under enormous and increasing pressure. I witnessed that fact in a bureaux which I visited on Monday in Marylebone. It is one of the oldest bureaux and was set up in 1939. I found that the office consisted of very small accomodation, which of course is given by the local authorities, a queue of about 50 people, seven paid workers and four volunteers. The workers told me that it would be most unlikely that they would be able to deal with all the people who were waiting. They said that the telephone lines were often permanently engaged during opening hours and that they themselves were under great strain due to working under such conditions.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, the funding for NACAB has not been increased in line with costs; that is, costs to cover pay awards and inflation. In 1988 the DTI carried out a staff inspection of NACAB. Despite the obvious workload and the relatively low pay, the report only recommended a total increase in resources of £64,000—that on a grant of nearly £9 million was really a pitiful offer. The main burden of funding is carried by local authorities, but the restriction in their finances make it very difficult for them to expand the services as they need to be.

Another concern of NACAB is that there will be a return of more women to paid employment as the number of school leavers diminish. These are the women who form a large part of the volunteer service. NACAB is entirely dependent upon such women and is greatly worried about what will happen when the numbers decrease. The association believes that there should be a development plan for the services with central government playing a much more creative role in backing new initiatives, investing in bureaux expansion and backing the use of information technology to assist advice work.

In conclusion, there can be little doubt that seen through the lens of the citizens advice bureaux government policies have brought anxiety and great hardship to many people in this country. In turn, this has brought intolerable pressures to bear upon those workers and volunteers in the bureaux who are trying so hard to meet this urgent and real community need. I hope, having listened to the debate, that in reply the noble Viscount will have something positive to say as to how the Government plan to support the CAB service in fulfilling its aim. I should remind noble Lords that the aim of the CAB is to: Ensure that individuals do not suffer through ignorance of their rights and responsibilities or of the services available or through an inability to express their needs effectively;

and to: Exercise a responsible influence on the development of social policies and services, both locally and nationally".

I am sure that noble Lords will agree that those objectives are extremely important to the less well off in this country. There is unequivocal proof that the public respect and trust these advice workers. There is growing evidence that as we move into the 1990s there will be increasing demand for services. Together with the demographic changes, this will have a profound implication for the bureaux. Something needs to be done. I beg to move for Papers.

3.40 p.m.

Lord Wise

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, has described the highly complex nature of the vast number of inquiries with which the citizens advice bureaux deal year by year. There is a tendency to believe that problems such as these exist only in the inner cities and that that is generally where one will find housing and overcrowding as well as unemployment and possibly low wages. However all these problems are experienced also in rural areas where they are compounded by problems of isolation and possibly the scarcity of essential services. It is primarily about the rural problems that I wish to speak.

The bureaux find already that in rural areas the lack of low cost housing is increasingly of critical concern. The comparatively high cost of building and lack of replacement council houses for those which have been sold is most worrying. I deplore it. I am in favour of the sale of council houses but I wish that they could be replaced. More especially, there is the development of the holiday cottage industry, if I may so call it.

All these factors have combined to produce a situation in which it is almost impossible in many parts of the country for people to find anywhere to live. The difficulties are further exacerbated by the prevalence in rural areas of only average or perhaps lower levels of wages. It is common for people to be employed predominantly by smaller firms which are unable to provide anything more than average levels of wages.

A number of bureaux have, I understand, reported on the problems that agricultural workers will face with the advent of the community charge. They are concerned about the situation. Currently, agricultural workers in tied accommodation do not have to pay rent or rates. However, they will have to pay the community charge along with all other adults in their household who are not exempt. Those workers are worried about the financial problems that will arise. Probably in many cases their employers will be able to reimburse them by increasing their wages or paying the charge for them. But that will not happen in every case.

I could describe many instances of financial hardship with which the bureaux deal because of the lack of adequate and reasonably priced transport services in parts of rural Britain and the problems of people who do not have access to a car. There is particular difficulty where the services concerned do not make allowance for the problems of rural areas. I have in mind the policies of the electricity industry and the gas hoards. The increasing use of meter keys and tokens as a system for purchasing power is creating difficulties for many people who are unable to reach places where tokens can be bought or meter keys topped up.

The bureaux play an important part in bringing these problems to the attention of the relevant authorities. Often they find themselves filling the gaps left by the statutory services in rural areas.

The bureaux need to provide services to people living in rural areas which are as comprehensive and effective as any provided to the urban communities. In practice, it is often the case that the rural bureaux are the most poorly funded. The level of funding, as the noble Baroness has already pointed out, is inconsistent across the country.

In many areas the bureaux are struggling to provide an adequate level of service. Some of the costs which need to be met are the same for all bureaux. For example, I believe that there is a need for more paid manager hours. Without a doubt, where an investment in manager hours is made, there is a considerable improvement in the quality of work which the bureaux can provide. A full-time manager can devote time to recruiting new volunteers and providing them with adequate levels of support, thereby retaining staff for longer and reducing turnover. It can be difficult to recruit volunteers in many rural communities. It is evident that more resources need to be invested in finding ways of attracting volunteers into the service.

However, there are costs associated with running a rural CAB service which are additional to the costs in areas of higher population concentration. In order to reach all the people potentially needing help, it is necessary that the service should not remain office-based. It must be taken to where the people are. If there is only a restricted bus service available—probably an expensive one at that—individuals will not be able to visit a bureau unless it is in the immediate locality. The CAB needs to open extensions which ensure that more people have direct access to services. Free phone services can be enormously beneficial to people who live in isolated areas and also to those whose mobility is restricted by age or disability, or to those who have young children. Home visits are an essential additional service to back up any telephone-based work and also to provide help to people who are not on the telephone.

All these services cost money. Extensions involve extra rent, telephones, heating and information systems. They also require extra volunteers whose expenses have to be paid. As the noble Baroness has said, the level of funding in rural areas is proportionately lower than in urban areas. Rural district councils have much smaller budgets at their disposal and certainly less in real terms to distribute to voluntary organisations. I know that everyone is asking for a larger slice of the cake, but the quality of the service cannot be substantially improved or extended unless more resources are invested.

It is evident that there is a need for a co-ordinated strategy on the funding of advice services. If both national and local government are committed to the need for the public to have this provision and for the provision to be of an equally high quality throughout the country, it cannot be left to rural district councils, out of their limited budgets, to bear the full brunt of the disproportionately high cost of rural advice.

The Rural Development Commission has been involved in a joint funding initiative over six years for the development of new advice and information schemes in rural areas. In the first three years 20 projects have been funded, including extension CABs, the provision of advice sessions at outlying venues and free phone services. Analysis of these projects has demonstrated that there is a high level of need which can be met by extending the range of services. However, there is still scope for considerable further development. I believe that people living in rural areas have a right to expect quality advice. The CABs can and will give that, but they need funding in order to deliver it.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

My Lords, we have heard much from the Government during the passage of the Courts and Legal Services Bill through this House about access to justice. The Government have told us that: free competition will ensure that the public is provided with the most effective and efficient network of legal services at the most economical prices". That statement has been attacked from these Benches as false because it disguises the need for a significant commitment of resources. The basic truth about any market is that it operates to provide services only for those who are able to enter it. The free market does nothing whatever for those who have no access to it, and those for whom no one competes because they cannot afford legal services.

Since 1979 10.8 million people and 5.5 million households have become ineligible for legal aid. For the vast majority it is the CABs, the advice centres and the law centres which provide their only access to justice. Yet, as the policies and legislation of central government give these bodies more and more to do locally on the ground, they remain starved of funds, with a hand-to-mouth, week-to-week existence. The free market has no application to those agencies. They receive next to no central government funding. The great bulk of their funding comes from hard pressed local authorities which do not even have any duty to fund them and which, until very recently, have not even had a specific power to do so. What is required is a policy for a geographically fair network of CABs, advice centres and law centres.

Further, what is required is that these bodies be securely funded. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs for bringing before the House for debate the work of the CABs and the problems that they face. The CABs are of course but one major part of a much larger advice sector in England and Wales. The principal weakness of that sector is that it is not fashioned into a geographically fair national network ensuring equal access to justice. Everyone who has knowledge of these bodies is aware that the story of the generalist advice centres is one of serious geographically based inequalities. The story of the specialist centres in many parts of the country is that they simply do not exist. Therefore the crucial questions concern whether the Government have a policy for a geographically fair network of CABs, law centres and advice centres. Further, do the Government have a policy for secure funding and, if so, what is that policy?

The truth is that the Government have neither. The great bulk of the funding of the CABs, the advice centres and the law centres comes from local government. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of people in this country would be shocked if they appreciated that there is so little central government funding; that provision is so haphazard across the country, and that neither local nor central government are under any duty to provide funding for any of these bodies.

Until now councils which have been in a position to offer funding support have not had a specific power to do so. They have had to fall back on a general power under Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972. That enables them to spend a limited amount of money on matters, not otherwise authorised, but which are in the interests of their area or their inhabitants. In other words, local authorities had to fall back on what used to be called the "tuppenny rate".

It is fair to acknowledge that Section 38 of the Local Government and Housing Act of 1989 has made some improvement. That will give—the provision concerned is not yet in force—local authorities a specific power to assist voluntary organisations, to provide information and advice concerning the rights of individuals, to write letters on their behalf and to provide representation for them. However, it remains a fact that central government is under no duty to fund these bodies. Local government is under no duty to fund them. Local government is under no duty even to consider what is required in its area. The matter is left to local authority discretion and the funding position of these bodies after the 1989 Act comes into force, unless there is change, will remain chaotic and insecure.

In Committee on the Legal Aid Bill in this House on 14th January 1988 my noble friend Lord Mishcon, who I am pleased to see is in his place on the Front Bench, moved an important amendment that the new Legal Aid Board should: have regard to the need to maintain and develop a competent accessible independent national network of advice centres and law centres". The amendment of my noble friend won support from many quarters of the House although it was opposed by the Government and defeated by the government vote. In supporting the amendment, however, the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, who sadly is not present today, drew attention to the fact that: the whole country is not covered by citizens advice bureaux, by legal centres or by money centres". She therefore called for: a network—or at least a survey to see how a network can be set up—to meet the needs of every part of the country, including the country areas". I think that will find an echo with the noble Lord, Lord Wise.

The answer of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was, it must be said, disappointing on that occasion. He said that he regarded as: quite outside the legal aid field—matters with which, for example, citizens advice bureaux are concerned".—[Official Report, 14.1.88; cols. 1390–96.] The noble Viscount will have an opportunity at the end of the debate to tell me whether I am wrong, but as I understand it the Government's basic position is that the funding of the CABs is a matter for local government. I believe there will be no review of this matter, but I ask the noble Viscount to confirm whether that is the case. There will be no White Paper and no national effort to provide geographically fair provision or secure funding. It is all to be left to the discretion of local authorities which can do as much or as little as they feel able within their current financial constraints. Yet the need for advice grows and grows. In 1981–82 there were 4.5 million inquiries to the CABs. Last year there were 7 million inquiries. That is an increase of 55 per cent.

The increased burdens on the CABs are substantially attributable to central government action. Over the past decade there has been a 289 per cent. increase in social security inquiries. There have been major increases in inquiries due to the cuts in housing benefit, problems about debt replacement following the huge increases in interest rates and the poll tax, to mention but a few. Therefore the CABs in practice are squeezed between central and local government. Central government have massively increased their responsibilities but still it is essentially up to local government to decided whether it can provide more funds for advice services that have to be delivered locally.

The poll tax is a first-class case in point. Government departments see the CABs as an easy way to communicate with the public. Recent newspaper advertisements for poll tax rebates, for example, referred to getting help from the CABs. How can CABs help, how can managers deliver, without adequate resources?

It is true that the Department of the Environment is making NACAB a one-off grant to cover the information and training costs of the introduction of the poll tax. It is a mere £36,000. It is woefully inadequate. It does nothing whatever to provide more personnel in the CABs to give the advice.

The Commission for Racial Equality has recently had to restrict the amount of general advice given by its local community relations councils. Therefore, people from ethnic minority communities who would have gone to their local CRC will now have to go to their local CAB. Yet no provision whatever is made to assist the CABs to take on those extra clients. Many of them obviously need to see advisers with specialist language skills.

The current financial position, which was touched on by my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs, is that during 1989–90 local authorities in England and Wales are paying collectively £23.2 million to their local CABs, and the DTI grant to NACAB for that year is £8.958 million. However, that grant is not, and I repeat not, provided, for services on the ground. The Government say that those are the responsibility of the local authorities. The grant is for the provision of central services for the local CABs, for example, reference information, training, quality control, and support through the area office network, research, press and parliamentary work.

In practice, however, NACAB, to its great credit, succeeds in applying a portion of that DTI grant—currently that proportion is about £2 million—to three-year development grants to local CABS on a partnership basis with local authorities. The highly successful use which NACAB makes of that proportion of its grant should point the way to more effective central government funding. It works in this way. Typically NACAB agrees with a local authority a scheme for the expansion or establishment of a local CAB. In the first year NACAB pays three-quarters of the cost and the local authority one quarter. In the second year it is 50/50. In the third year NACAB pays 25 per cent. and the local authority 75 per cent. In the fourth year, if all has worked well and the local authority is satisfied, the local authority bears the whole cost and will do so thereafter.

Surely that points the way. Not only would it be right for central government to provide more funds when it is central government which is imposing more burdens on CABs. Central funds could fruitfully be targeted in that way. Also, when central government is considering revenue support grant and addressing the standard spending assessments of the local authorities, surely a specific allowance should be made for local advice centres.

There should be a partnership of effort between central and local government, but funding obligations should be the subject of statutory obligation and not discretion.

I do not doubt that when he comes to reply to the debate the noble Viscount will have much that is appreciative to say about the work of the CABs. Like love, a quiet conscience and the laughter of little children, the CABs are great goods. So they earn nothing but applause for their good works. However, the real question is whether the noble Viscount will agree that effective access to justice is a basic right of citizenship and that it is the duty of the state to deliver it. That is the point of principle. Does he agree that that basic right can be realised only through a geographically fair national network of independent CABs and advice and law centres, attuned to local needs and securely funded?

If the Minister can only repeat, if his brief will only allow him to say, that it is all down to the discretion of the local authorities, then the geographical inequality and the funding chaos will certainly continue. Any affirmation that there is in this country equal access to justice will be a sham.

4.5 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, although this debate has been introduced by an eloquent speech by a distinguished Labour Peeress, I believe that we can honestly say that this is a subject which cuts across the parties. The citizens advice bureaux forms one of the most valuable networks that we possess in Britain and is something of which we should be proud. Its work and the enormous problems and pressures that it faces at the moment are, I am sure, of deep concern to all sides of the House.

It is notable that people of all political persuasions are involved as volunteers in the work of CABs. It is also notable—and I was particularly glad to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wise—that the need for CABs is not confined to inner city and council estate areas, like those of my own diocese in particular, but is widely spread throughout the country. The Church Urban Fund has recently been launched by the Church of England. We are still obtaining money and putting forward projects. The fund has similar aims and employs people doing very similar work to the CAB in advising citizens of their rights and how to obtain help.

It has been especially important to have an organisation such as the CABs in our country in recent years because of the growth in the numbers of the relatively poorest in our society. Poverty was once much more widespread in Britain than it is today. When I arrived in Salford I was given two books which drew a wonderful picture of what life was like at the turn of the century and in the early years of this century. I commend them to your Lordships. They are Robert Roberts' studies The Classic Slum about Salford and A Ragged Schooling. They show that in those days of widespread poverty there was a great deal of local support in working class communities under such tremendous financial pressures.

Things have changed today. The fact that the poorest are a minority in society means that the pressures on them are that much greater. They do not receive so much mutual help and support. In those days the pattern of wealth, affluence and poverty was like a pyramid. As we all know, there was a small number of the very affluent at the top of the pyramid, an increasing number of the affluent in the middle and very large numbers at the bottom of the pyramid. That has changed and the pattern is now a diamond. Those at the bottom are the relatively poorest, with large numbers of modestly affluent people living alongside them. The pressures on them are that much greater. Those are the people who find their way to the citizens advice bureaux and the doors of our vicarages and presbyteries in inner city areas.

My inquiries in my own area have shown that those pressures have increased in recent years. Noble Lords who have spoken, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, in opening the debate, have already indicated where the pressures are most heavy. They come from changes in social security legislation. Of 15,000 inquiries to CABs in the town of Bury in the past year, 25 per cent. concerned social security matters. Housing problems have increased tremendously, as has debt. Reference has already been made to the important Policy Studies Institute study reported in the press today which estimates that 560,000 households—5 per cent. of all households—have severe financial difficulties.

The pressures are greatest among young people and poorer families with incomes of less than £150 per week. Those are the people most at risk. Problems of social security, housing and debt and the coming problems of the poll tax increase week by week. In spite of rebate, the poll tax will bear hardest on some of the poorest people in our communities.

I should like to mention briefly the profile of the kind of inner city area from which I made inquiries about CAB work and which will be found widespread across the country. Those are areas in which there are high numbers of long-term benefit claimants who include many single parents; large numbers of elderly people who are spread throughout society but include particularly those on low pensions; a high proportion of the chronically sick; and many ethnic communities. The population of one area from which I wish to quote some individual cases is composed of 25 per cent. from the Indian sub-continent. In addition, there are male unemployment rates of 20 per cent. or even higher.

As an indication of what is happening among local CABs, perhaps I may quote from a letter that I have just received. It states: We are finding it very difficult to cope with the sheer volume of clients. This morning we had 3 trained volunteers. 12 people were waiting when we opened at 10 a.m. We locked the doors at 1 p.m. and have just (2.45 p.m.) finished seeing the clients. No-one has stopped for lunch. I have been here for 6½ years. In that time enquiries have more than doubled, with the same staff resources. Problems are increasingly complex and often insoluble. We have only 30 hours paid staff time with volunteer advisers and clerical helpers. The primary problems are those of poverty. Even family, housing and health problems can often be seen to have poverty as a root cause. In my time in this area I have seen no social improvement—quite the contrary". The correspondent then goes on to talk about debt and points out that that must be seen in the context of the inequalities of British society because many do not have sufficient money to live what would be considered in other parts to be a reasonable, not luxurious, lifestyle.

I have little time to describe individual cases, but perhaps I may briefly quote to noble Lords just three cases so that we realise that behind this afternoon's debate are real people, real families and real problems.

Mrs. C is a victim of domestic violence. Her husband also refuses to give her money. She is torn between wanting to flee from home and scruples about her children and her religion. The CAB has been able to set up a refuge and to obtain legal help for her and to look into her benefits.

Mr. D is a young man just released from prison. He could not obtain a grant from the DSS until he had accommodation. That is a double bind about which we all know. Now he has it, he is told that he must wait four weeks for processing. Even when one is young and fit, Manchester in March is a bit grim without a bed or a cooker. The CAB has been able to organise the loan of a cooker and a settee for him to sleep on from NACRO. It is felt to be vital that that young man is given support and stability to enable him to go straight.

Mr. E is a pensioner in his eighties on a basic pension. He has had a series of estimated electricity bills leading to a final accurate bill for over £200. He came to us in a frantic state. No DSS help was available. We are now looking for charitable funds and we are fending off the North-Western Electricity Board.

That is one small indication of the kind of people who come to the CABs and with whom the CABs try to cope with minimum resources. Let me emphasise that one fully appreciates that poverty has always been a feature of life in this country under whatever government and that it will still be here with the next government, whichever of the parties opposite takes over at whatever point in the future. Yet it has become worse for the poorest in recent years. One of my correspondents has simply put it this way: We try hard to maintain the CAB principle of political impartiality but cannot help but contrast what we see here in the inner city with our own lives and that of our friends and become increasingly depressed at the flow of legislation which makes our clients' lives worse". Government will of course say that, far from making lives worse, the aim has been to improve lives, and they will doubtless try to give evidence for that. Part of the problem has been that it is false to imagine that one can tackle the problems of poverty simply by targeting help to those who need it most. It sounds fine on paper; it does not work very well in practice on the ground.

That is so for a number of reasons. People do not like being stigmatised as poor and having to claim against means tests for everything. Perhaps I may take the example of school meals. That is fine in a school to which I may go in an inner city area where almost everyone claims free school meals. It does not work so well in areas where some kids feel discriminated against because it becomes known that their parents are having to claim in that way. The loan principle also has its limits. A revolving loan sounds fine on paper, but when one tries to work it out in practice, particularly in view of the pressure of debts, it does not work out nearly so well.

Why do not the poor manage their affairs better? That question is often asked, perhaps not quite as crudely as that. Why, for example, is so much spent on smoking, drinking and betting by people from poor communities? It is important for us all to appreciate that those habits become built into a lifestyle. In a way, they become symptoms of the poverty syndrome. It grieves me to see women in poor communities smoking inordinately when we all know what that may lead to in later life. Yet it is part of the pattern and culture and is difficult to break. Lifestyle and the abuse of lifestyle cannot simply be blamed on individuals, although I fully accept the duty of the Churches, among others, to struggle to point people towards a better lifestyle and a better use of money and towards taking care of their health. All those things are important and we must continue to commend them to people in those areas.

However, as CABs know all too well, the trouble is that many of those who lead unhealthy lifestyles and misuse and mismanage money are caught up in a cycle of poverty. I believe that a distinguished Member of this House once coined the phrase, "the cycle of deprivation". One can certainly see that evidenced on the ground.

I return to the question which has been touched on by noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Irvine; namely, the question of funding. Every pound of central government money will be well used in the work of CABs and it is essential that they should receive an increasing grant from central government. On the question of local authorities, I found myself yet again rather angry at the exchange during Question Time. I am sick of hearing accusations flung across the Floor of the House from one side to the other about profligate, extravagant local authorities. What matters is what the expenditure goes for. It is true that one can always find instances of mismanagement in local authorities. One can always find instances of silly spending on things that do not matter, but, as we all know, the vast majority of the money goes to tackle such matters as education, social security and the funding of CABs.

I hope that something will come out of the debate and that the Minister will be able to give us encouragement that local authorities will hear positive words from the Government about support for CABs. I noted in the report of the CABs that they now receive increasing support from commerce and industry. It is good that commerce and industry should realise that they are worth supporting. However, let us remember that everybody, including the Churches, these days are asking commerce and industry for support for worthy causes. I believe that fundamentally work of that kind ought to be nationally supported by government and by local authorities. I hope very much that we shall hear some encouraging words when the Minister comes to sum up.

4.20 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords. first I should like to express my appreciation to the noble Baroness for raising this topic for debate. It is an important matter and indeed a vital one for the community as a whole. I shall speak more or less about the areas in which I have spent most of my life and which I have represented; namely, the inner cities. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wise, about the need to consider the rural areas. In those areas a citizens' advice bureau might be the only lifeline for people on their own and in need of services. The need for the service to be provided in such areas could very well be a high priority.

I start on the basis that without question the citizens' advice bureaux will need increased central government funding. They will have an expanding role. The legislation now coming forward is complex even for some noble Lords. So what chance will ordinary people have immediately of assessing it when it affects them? I do not know. We know that the financial strictures now placed on local government will not enable it to respond to the same degree and with the same generosity that it has done in the past. Unfortunately, when local government is in the business of having to make cuts and wants to maintain its housing, education and social service programmes, it is that type of service that is affected. Therefore, without question, there is an overwhelming case for government funding. The right reverend Prelate referred to the response of commerce and business, but even so they will only respond to a degree. The main burden will have to be carried by central government.

The areas which will most need the service are the poorer parts of the country. I do not say that other areas will not need it, but the poorer areas will need it most. I say that as one who comes from, and who has represented, such an area. Those Members of your Lordships' House who have been Members in another place will know how very different areas can be found within one constituency. I have a colleague who is Member for a constituency in the north-east of Manchester. The social make-up of the people who live there represents almost a split down the middle of the constituency. One part is almost a deprived area; the other part is pretty affluent. The people who live in the affluent area are capable of dealing with problems, as the Member's mail bag shows. The mail does not come from the other area—the large council estates which are run down and so on. The people there are not so affluent, not so well trained to pick up a pen, write their complaint and send it to the right authority. They are the people who need this service.

The other day I was in the other place when the Prime Minister referred to a very important question which has been raised before and which is now starting to show itself again. It is the question of how landlords are starting to behave to tenants in the private sector. It is a subject that has also been raised in your Lordships' House. The Prime Minister said that she hoped the landlords would behave properly and that they would not charge tenants for the rates but would deduct them in view of the poll tax. She said that a guideline leaflet would be issued.

However, I have to say that many people will need to have someone to whom they can go in order to be told just what to do. I do not like to use the word but there is more than a whiff of Rachmanism coming back into London in the private tenant sector. People are being exploited. People now require advice and aid to an increasing degree because of the complexity of such things as the poll tax legislation. They want to know whether they are entitled to relief and how to apply for it. I do not want to discuss the poll tax. I think that enough has been said about it and this debate is on another topic. However, the fact is that when I go to the other end of the building and see the mail bags which some Members of Parliament now collect I realise how astronomically large they are—to the point at which Members with even the most efficient secretaries find it almost impossible to cope. Nearly all their mail now relates to personal services which people require. Members of Parliament of all parties do a tremendous job in trying to respond, but they are becoming overwhelmed. If it gets to the stage where they cannot help, to whom will their constituents turn?

I held a surgery in Manchester when I was a councillor there, as did most other councillors. There would be a reasonable attendance. I should not like to hold one now. I do not think that I could cope with the questions that people would ask me. Nor would I be qualified to deal with them.

Citizens advice bureaux have a history of being able to cope with most forms of advice. They are able to direct people towards the best sources for dealing with their grievances. They are able to help them with their problems. To an increasing extent the CABs are now dealing with housing problems. Such problems form the third largest category of inquiry to citizens advice bureaux. In 1989 the service dealt with over 800,000 housing inquiries. That is a tremendous number by anybody's standard.

Most of the housing problems dealt with by the citizens advice bureaux fall into one or two categories: problems of availability and problems of affordability. I should like to cite just one or two individual cases which I believe typify the problems with which the CABs are trying to deal.

A citizens advice bureau in Essex reported a client faced with homelessness who had no security of tenure because he was the former licensee of a pub. I suppose that one could say that it was a form of tied employment. He was told by the local authority to ignore the notice to quit and await a court order for repossession before it could consider his claim. If he left before then, he would be considered to have made himself intentionally homeless. In that case he would be outside the responsibility of the council who would not be required to deal with him.

In another case, a citizens advice bureau in central London reported a family with two disabled children under five who had spent nearly five years in bed and breakfast accommodation awaiting an offer of permanent accommodation from the council. Yet another case, reported by a citizens advice bureau in Manchester—the right reverend Prelate spoke about this earlier—concerned a 19 year-old man who was homeless following the divorce and remarriage of both his parents. The local authority waiting list offered no help. There are, I believe, about 30,000 people or thereabouts in Manchester on the waiting list. All are very pressing cases.

Many private landlords do not want the unemployed. Those who would have accepted the man I have mentioned had no vacancies. He is therefore in a Catch 22 situation. However, at least he can go to the citizens advice bureau. He can talk to the people there and discuss his problem to see if there is any way forward.

It is reported also that housing associations find themselves under increasing pressure as any growth in that sector has nowhere near matched the decline in local authority letting. As a result, many waiting lists are at a complete standstill. A citizens advice bureau in Lancashire reported the case of a single parent with a 10 month-old baby who had taken a shorthold tenancy for six months. At the end of the term the landlord issued a notice to quit. The local housing department classed the single parent as intentionally homeless under the 1985 Housing Act and refused to accept responsibility for her.

The Act to which I referred has also led to many protected tenants being harassed to leave by their landlords who wish to let under the more favourable terms of the more recent legislation. A north London CAB reported several protected tenants who were asked by their landlords to sign assured shorthold agreements. When one client refused to sign, the landlord returned with his "heavies" who threatened him at knifepoint until he signed the document. The client was so frightened that he was reluctant to inform the police or the tenancy relations officer. That case might sound far-fetched, but I have it on good authority that it is not something that has gone out of fashion. That type of case is becoming more prevalent than any of your Lordships would wish to see.

It is easy—my noble friend Lord Stallard who has been a Member of Parliament in north London will agree—to tell someone that they should go to law and bring in the police. Most people will not do so. They are too frightened. They are therefore wide open to being dealt with in that way by some private landlords. I am not saying that all behave like that. But some of the more undesirable landlords are reacting in a manner that some of us predicted they would.

The Minister, who is from the Department of Employment, talked about the number of people who had lost their homes because they could no longer pay the interest on their mortgages. He seemed to think, as did the Prime Minister, that because they represented under 1 per cent. of home owners the problem was not so bad. When we take the figures, the previous six months were not too bad. However, we are now seeing the effects of the prolonged increase in mortgage repayments. The figure is massive. It is ballooning upwards. This is one area in which the CABs are seeing a substantial increase in the number of people coming to them for help.

People might say that the building societies are sympathetic. One can talk to them about making changes in one's loan repayments so that they are repaid over a longer period. But people tend not to want to do that. They would rather turn to someone who can offer them independent advice. The debate has given a clear indication of what most of your Lordships think about the CABs and their role. Since their inception, their role has increased dramatically. It will continue to increase dramatically because the problems of people at the bottom end of the social scale with which they have to deal are becoming more and more complex in every respect as time moves on.

I once again reiterate my appeal to the Minister to listen with sympathy to the pleas which are being made from various parts of the House, and if the case for increased financial assistance is proved, to respond sympathetically so that the CABs can carry on with their worthwhile and essential role.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, this is the 51st year that the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux has been in existence. It is timely—I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs—to have a short debate. It is, as it were, a run around the houses to see how the bureaux are getting on. I am sorry that the tenor of our discussion so far seems to have concentrated more on current social conditions than on the work of the CABs. The few remarks that I want to make will be about the CABs and not about the other conditions which obtain, which of course give rise to the work of the bureaux.

Before I do so, I should like to pay tribute to Sir Kenneth Clucas, who was chairman for five years until October 1989 and who, with his lieutenant, the director, Mrs. Elizabeth Filkin, supervised a move from Drury Lane to Pentonville Road. When I was in the DTI I had the pleasure of opening those premises. I believe that I know a little about the work of the bureaux and the pressures that Sir Kenneth Clucas and his colleagues put upon me, as I had some responsibility at that time for the DTI budget for the bureaux.

The warm praise that I give to those two people should not in any way diminish the admiration I feel for the work of the current chairman, Mr. Stuart Errington, lately chairman of Mercantile Credit Group plc, and the new director, Mr. Martin White, who I am sure will follow their predecessors with as much if not more energy.

I wish to repeat, because they are worth repeating, the two essential aims of the bureaux: To ensure that individuals do not suffer from ignorance of their rights and responsibilities or of the services available or through an inability to express their needs effectively; secondly, to exercise a responsible influence on the development of social policies and services, both locally and nationally". It is that second aim which is of tremendous importance, because the bureaux have a rather more gentle way of persuasion. In the years that I have known it, the national association has not had a compaigning style. It would be wrong were it to change its style and to be pushed into changing it by the pressures that are put upon it. The very strength of the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux is its independence, especially its political independence. I shall return to that point when I mention funding.

We have been given a number of figures this afternoon. I am surprised to learn that the bureaux deal basically with about 900 subject areas. Three of them have always remained top of the list, and that has been the case for innumerable years. They are social security, consumer debt and housing. They have always existed. It is wrong for some noble Lords to say that those three years are new and result from some of the legislation that has gone through Parliament in the past 10 years. The problems may be more numerous but they are not new. If one thinks about it, it is natural that they should always exist. We then have employment, the administration of justice, to which the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, referred, and the family.

Whatever one may think about present social conditions and the amount of legislation going through Parliament, there is no doubt that life is increasingly more complex. It is becoming more complex for a different kind of people. It does not affect simply the less well-off in our society; it affects the young who are starting out in a different world, a world which is far more competitive and perhaps even more hostile than when I was 16, 17 or 18 years of age. There are also many elderly people who, naturally, become confused about their rights and entitlements. The people who work in the bureaux are sympathetic towards clients who go to them with inquiries. There are a thousand bureaux, manned by 15,000 workers, of whom 90 per cent. are volunteers.

I must touch on the subject of funding, because it is crucial to the whole operation. I was glad that the right reverend Prelate reminded the House that, through the Church Urban Fund, the Churches are able to give advice and assistance in the same areas as the CABs. I was also glad that my noble friend Lord Wise mentioned the Rural Development Commission, which gives support particularly in rural areas. Therefore, support and advice comes from several directions and it is wrong to believe that the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux is the only organisation which exists to help people in giving advice.

No one has yet said that the citizens advice bureaux has the spending of over £50 million. Of that £20 million comes from the unremunerated value of its volunteer force; £23 million from local authorities; £9 million from the Department of Trade and Industry. An additional £1 million has been given by the Department of the Environment over three years. A further £1 million over three years has been given by the private sector, notably the banking fraternity—that is, Barclay's, National Westminster, Citibank, and the Finance Houses Association. That sum has been given to deal specifically with the money advice centres. Therefore, a great deal of money goes into the bureaux.

It would be wrong for the Government to find the bulk of the money which the bureaux require because it is a fact that the man who pays the piper calls the tune. The citizens advice bureaux are mercifully free from political influence. However, that would not be so if central government took on the funding responsibility because it could then dictate how the bureaux were to be run and in which areas they should conduct their business.

It is most important that local authorities recognise the separate and different needs in their areas and give support where necessary. I heed the warning note given by the right reverend Prelate but I shall not bandy across the Chamber accusations about who spends what and where. But, my goodness, during the past few years we have seen horrific examples of local authorities' spending on a variety of so-called institutions—clubs, rest centres and advice centres—for so-called deprived people. If they can do that without a statutory need they can aid the citizens' advice bureaux to a greater extent. That is all I wish to say on the matter, and perhaps it is enough. The Government should continue to provide the £9 million or £10 million for the central and support service and then let the bureaux get on and manage their business in concert with other authorities and agencies.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean, spoke about housing. It is interesting to note that an additional £1 million was found over the past three years for a joint programme with SHAC and Shelter in order to make a further inroad into the problem of housing and the homeless.

The bureaux are strong; they are strong in heart. They will always be short of money, as will any advice centre. The problem will not be relieved by spending more central government money. It is essential that we support the bureaux where we can. The public needs the service; it needs a voluntary and not a statutory service, which would be most frightening.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean, also spoke about the town halls, which are, generally speaking, frightening places. Although a bureau office may be small and in a shabby part of town it has a more friendly welcome than the marble steps of most town halls.

The service is useful and necessary. I believe that the bureaux will continue to provide good service and I wish them all the good fortune that they deserve during the next 50 years.

4.46 p.m.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to discuss the work of the citizens advice bureaux and the problems that they face. I do not apologise for raising some of the problems with which they deal. On the contrary, we should be grateful to the bureaux for focusing our attention on some of the aspects of the legislation which we discuss and pass in this House.

I recently expressed my immediate interest when we discussed the social fund and the recent court ruling. I share the interest of the citizens advice bureaux in that judgment. It is my first example of their work. From their experience they were able to comment on the effects and implications of the judgment on their clients. The court decision was welcomed not only by the CAB but by all volunteer organisations who advise people about such difficulties.

The ruling supported the CAB which had already stated that budget limits and discretionary powers of social fund officers meant that the basic requirements of those most in need were not being met. That is a legitimate comment. The High Court stated that the guidance given by the social fund officers in the official manual on the administration of the social fund was unlawful in so far as it indicated in mandatory terms that officers had no powers to make payments for special needs if that would result in their budget being exceeded. Awards in the guidance were found to be effective.

NACAB maintained that as pressure on the social fund increased over time, the major inadequacies of the system to meet even the most basic needs of the claimants would become more apparent. Again, that is a perfectly reasonable comment.

Noble Lords will recall that the social fund was one of the central elements of the Social Security Act 1986 which took effect in 1988. Now a person receiving income support—in other words, someone on an extremely low income—must rely on a discretionary scheme when they have an unexpected expenditure for which it is impossible to budget. For example, the replacement of a broken cooker. Some claimants may be awarded grants but many more receive loans which they must repay out of their benefit at a high rate of interest.

Citizens advice bureaux have been to the forefront in trying to advise and guide people with all those new problems. They report considerable hardship among their clients. Many have been refused social fund payments, and of those who receive an amount, it is invariably less than is needed.

Perhaps I may quote a couple of examples. First a citizens advice bureau in West Yorkshire reported a case of a 25 year-old discharged from hospital following a brain haemorrhage and short term memory loss. He needed to buy 10 tokens to reactivate his electricity supply which is the system used in his area and he needed a £10 grant for food at the weekend when he was discharged. His grant was refused. Although in a priority group, the items were considered not to be of a high priority—possibly because the money had run out.

There is a further example from a citizens advice bureau in North London which reported a case of a refugee applicant who spoke no English, with a disabled child. The applicant was refused a community care grant for a pushchair because the applicant did not present a case of how the health and safety of the family would be affected.

That takes me back to something which your Lordships may recall that the then Government Minister said in debates on the Social Security Act 1988. She mentioned the fact that we should never have to rely on the persuasiveness of clients and their representatives to be able to justify a claim. Had that operated, then the client whose case I have just cited would have been given a grant. However, because the client was unable to speak adequate English and was unable to discuss the health and safety of the family—in other words, was not sufficiently persuasive—no grant was given.

Moving from grants to loans, repaying a loan can and often does cause considerable hardship. In a survey of citizens advice bureaux clients who had received loans from the social fund and were in the process of repaying them, 64 per cent. were repaying £5 or more per week. That is a lot of money for people on income support. At the time of the survey, the rate for a single person over 25 was £33.40. When those amounts are considered as a percentage of the client's weekly income, nearly half are repaying deductions of 15 per cent. or more of their weekly budget. That is a hefty sum from a weekly budget of £33.

The consequences of a 15 per cent. deduction are considerable for those receiving that minimal support. It leaves a person with very little money for essential items like food, water rates, fuel, the community charge and a whole number of essentials. Those costs are fixed unlike the social fund which is not based on a percentage of income.

By pointing out those anomalies and difficulties which their clients experience, the CABs are doing us a service. I do not not accept the view that we should not be discussing the effect of current issues. It is current issues with which we and our people are involved. It is current issues with which the CABs are very much involved. I cannot repeat often enough how grateful I am and have been for many years at the service provided by the CABs and the kind of guidance which they have been able to give me from time to time regarding legislation.

Again, I give a couple of examples of hardship due to high repayment rates on social fund loans. A citizens advice bureau in West Yorkshire reports that a single parent was left with £17 for herself and her child to live on after paying £18 in direct deductions for gas arrears and £6 for social fund repayments. You do not have to be a mathematician to work out the position that that poor client was in.

Another CAB in Berkshire reports a family which received a loan for a cooker and other essential household items. The family received half the amount requested but had to repay the loan at £10.78 per week, which was 15 per cent. of the family's weekly benefit. The family could not afford that as well as meeting payments for rates, water and fuel for their home which is difficult to heat. Therefore, they had to go without.

A CAB in Northern Ireland reported a case of a single parent with six children. She applied for a grant for a cooker but was given a loan. The DSS insisted on repayments of £20 per week arguing that she could afford that because she had no other debts although, as I said, she was a single parent with six children. Whether or not she has any other debts, £20 per week is still a lot of money. She had to meet all her other commitments to pay for fuel, food, rates, and clothing for six children. That is another example of the hardship caused.

NACAB, to its credit, has always been concerned that the social fund was restricted in its ability to respond to need by having a finite budget which cannot be overspent. The reason for most of my examples and the refusals is that the social fund officer believes that he is overspending or that there is a danger that he will do so. That view was expressed quite clearly by NACAB in response to the Green Paper Reform of Social Security in 1985. To me, that is another very important illustration of the valuable work of NACAB whose experience on those issues forms a major contribution to our discussions.

Also, in her opening remarks the noble Baroness mentioned the position in Scotland. I should like to enlarge on that because it is not a part of the world which people often mention when they discuss those problems. The Scottish CABs have their own independent association and a network of advice bureaux which stretch from Thurso in the North to Castle Douglas in the South, and there are CABs in all major cities and many other urban areas. There are also the problems outlined in the excellent contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Wise, about the difficulties of CABs in rural and urban areas in some parts of Scotland.

Money problems form the largest single category in Scottish advice bureaux problems. Forty three per cent. of all queries in 1988–89 were concerned with financial difficulties. Problems of multiple debt increased from 13,000 in 1983 to 55,000 in 1988. As has already been mentioned, the community charge has placed a heavy burden on citizens advice bureaux services in Scotland. The service believes that that was introduced too quickly and the administrative chaos which resulted brought many thousands of people to the citizens advice bureaux.

A recent report from the Scottish Consumer Council recommended that central government and regional, highlands and district councils should get together with voluntary organisations to ensure the best possible service for the public. To all of us, that means adequate funding and a co-ordinated strategy on the part of all those responsible for such funding as soon as possible. I ask the Minister who is to reply to this debate whether any progress has been made in response to that report from the Scottish Consumer Council.

On the general question of funding which was touched on by one or two noble Lords, I should like to have gone much more deeply into the implications of the 1989 DTI report on the CABs because that left many questions outstanding to my mind and to the minds of others involved in the CABs and other organisations. It was felt that the report, if adopted and implemented, would transform NACAB into a kind of local government bureaucracy. Some critics went so far as to suggest that the Government appeared to be seeking an organisation based on CABs which could, with government support, supplant the need for many other voluntary organisations.

In some quarters there is a fear that it may possibly be the Government's intention to create a cheap, centralised and controlled network of information givers. I am not necessarily saying that I agree with that, but I know that those fears exist. I believe that we must have that in the back of our minds when we talk about a national government controlled and funded system. In that report the Government spoke about focusing issues, much like they talk about targeting social security and other benefits.

What the Government mean by "focusing issues" might not be what other people mean by "focusing issues". However, if the organisation was dependent for its funds solely on that source, then it may need to be influenced on where to focus. I therefore agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, when he said that we have to recognise and accept the need for a system of independent advice bureaux: an independent advice service able to exercise its own rights and focus on issues which it considers, from experience, to be essential. To work adequately, such a system would have to be properly resourced and funded from government and local authorities.

5 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was absolutely right to emphasise that the citizens advice bureaux have now existed for just over 50 years, having been set up in 1939 at the onset of war to advise citizens of this country of the problems that were likely to occur during that difficult wartime period. However, the need for the bureaux continued after the war right up to the present. We are therefore particularly indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for enabling us to look at the work of these bureaux and to identify some of the problems associated with them.

During the course of the debate four points emerged, I believe. First, there is not the slightest doubt that every noble Lord who has spoken has emphasised the social importance of these bureaux, their independence and their voluntary nature. A number of noble Lords—in particular the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, and the noble Lord, Lord Stallard—gave telling examples of the kinds of human problem the bureaux deal with every day of the week.

Secondly, I believe that attention has been drawn to the geographical unevenness of the service available from the bureaux. That problem was underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. Attention was also drawn to the problems that occur particularly in rural areas—a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Wise, referred.

Thirdly, the question of the need for linkage with other advisory services was raised, because CABs are not the only advisory services. There are money advice services and legal advice services, and there is a need for linkage and coherence. Many noble Lords referred to that point, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Finally, all noble Lords referred, in one form or another, to the question of funding, which links in with the need to expand the service.

I should like to spend the time that I have available on the question of indebtedness. I want to do so for two reasons. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, mentioned in connection with Scotland, the question of indebtedness spreads through a large number of queries put to the CABs and other advisory services. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, there have been reports in the newspapers of the important study by the Policies Studies Institute entitled Credit and Debt in Britain, which indicated that around 2 million households are in various forms of debt; that over 500,000 are in serious debt and 170,000 in very serious debt. Obviously it is a most important issue.

My second reason for raising indebtedness is that I was involved in a consideration of that issue over recent months. I was invited to act as chairman of a working party set up on the recommendation of the Director General of Fair Trading by the Finance Houses Association to consider how the contribution from the private sector—the finance establishments—to the provision of money advice could be extended and put on a more regular basis. I should therefore like to inform your Lordships of some of the conclusions of that report, which was issued in January.

First, we had to identify the size of the problem. The size of the problem we identified was very similar to that which came out in the PSI report; namely, we felt that there were some 200,000 families in serious debt problems; probably 500,000 in fairly serious debt problems and perhaps many more in some form of debt problems. The finding is therefore roughly similar.

Next, we had to consider how money advice is provided. We found that people's general tendency was to go to a citizens advice bureau. That was their first port of call. In addition, there is a very important service provided by local authorities, particularly by the trading standards organisation, with which I have some involvement. Therefore there is a combination of places to which people can go locally.

What tends to happen is that when people go to a CAB they receive what might be called a "first-aid" service. CABs are largely voluntary organisations and cover a wide range of activities. There is general guidance given to those who work in CABs as to how they should respond, but many problems of debt are becoming very complex. There are multiple debt problems. They raise legal issues; they raise questions of understanding how the law stands; they may raise issues of attending court and how the position of the debtor can best be represented. It has been estimated that in some of the more difficult debt cases up to 18 hours of work has to be spent by skilled people.

What became very clear is that if advice on indebtedness is to be effective, there must, in addition to the front-line service, be more professionally skilled back-up. This comes from the bodies, some of which already exist, known as money advice support units.

We then came to the way in which we felt that the private sector could best help. Clearly we could not turn to the private sector for the very large sums of money needed to put the whole system right. However, we could identify that specific part of the system—providing money advice support—where a concentration of the skills that the private sector could provide, plus the resources that it might be prepared to put in, could have an impact. Therefore we costed out what was necessary to improve the money advice support services which could act in a specialist role standing behind the initial advice given at local authority or CAB level. We worked out that around £10 million would be required to establish the support services reasonably well throughout the country; an extra £10 million. How was that to be found?

First, it could not all be spent at once. We thought that a three-year period would probably be required in order to set up these establishments, recruit and train the people, second them from the financial institutions, and so on. The cost would amount to around £3 million a year.

Secondly, we considered what we thought the private sector could reasonably be asked to contribute. The working party included representatives of both the lending institutions and consumer organisations. After a great deal of discussion we came to the conclusion that a reasonable basis for their contribution could be rather more than double what they are already giving. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned that around £1 million was the present figure. We said "Let us put forward an objective of £2 million for three years". That should provide £6 million out of the £10 million. As to the remaining £4 million, we left that open. We did not feel that we could go to the private institutions for any more. If we went for too much they would probably respond totally negatively. Therefore, by other means—from local authorities or central government—and if our calculations were agreed with, that is the extra amount that would need to be found. I am glad to say that the response has been positive. At a recent press launch of the report. British Gas, for example, immediately contributed £50,000. Other financial institutions are already coming forward with donations of a similar nature. We have further proposed that a money advice trust should be established to do two things: first, to stimulate the provision of, collect and effectively disburse the private sector money, particularly for the money advice support units; secondly, and more importantly—this touches on a point raised by many noble Lords—to study the long-term implications of providing a comprehensive money advice service throughout the country, to integrate the work done by the CABs, the local authorities, the lending institutions themselves and the support units.

We know that that will take longer. We originally set out, as a working party, to cover both the short and the long term but wisely decided that we should endeavour to support the existing arrangements, however uneven they may be, and identify some part of the existing arrangements where additional funding could be helpful. We decided on the support services. However, we all felt that more work needs to be done to achieve coherence in the whole area of money advice, to ascertain where the gaps are, to see whether the matter should be handled by the CABs and to determine to what extent the local authorities, the trading standards officers, the banks and other institutions should come in.

I hope that it will not be long before the report is prepared and it could then become an important part of this whole subject of providing citizens with adequate advice. I hope your Lordships will feel that this is an important contribution to the matter. Although the £6 million contributed by the private sector will not cover all the needs, at least it points the way. It has identified where such sums can be usefully expended and it has created an organisation which will look at the overall implications of an important part of this question of advice to the citizen.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the House is grateful to my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs for introducing this debate and bringing the work of the CABs to our attention.

I was glad to note that the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Ezra, referred to the origins of the CABs. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, paid a deserved tribute to Sir Kenneth Clucas, whom I knew in a previous incarnation, if I may put it that way, and who did magnificent work as chairman of the national association.

The CABs were founded, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, pointed out, at the beginning of the war. They were hurried through at the beginning of the war in order to meet the number of inquiries expected by what was then the National Council for Social Services (it became the National Council for Voluntary Organisations) due to the social disturbances in wartime. I take issue wit h the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who said that the inquiries have not changed. In fact, during the war typical inquiries were about the rationing of clothes and other materials, sending letters and parcels to people abroad, compensation claims for bomb damage, and so on. Those were the inquiries which the CABs had to deal with.

After the war the CABs found themselves in some considerable difficulty. It was felt by a number of people, both in government and outside, that this was not a suitable way of dealing with the resettlement programme brought about by demobilisation of the armed forces. Fortunately, the CABs survived and they have grown to a point where they now have about 1,200 offices in England and Wales and employ no fewer than 15,000 people, of whom 90 per cent. are voluntary workers. It is an astonishing fact that such an organisation can keep going in this modern world and rendering such great services.

At this point we must pay tribute to those who give their services for nothing to the CABs, who work extremely hard and, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, frequently without lunch. They are on the telephone the whole day and work late hours to help their fellow citizens who are in need.

The CABs survived an attack, so to speak, in 1983 when the government of the day withheld half the DTI grant to the national association pending a review of the services. The Lovelock Report, which was the result of that review, described the CABs as an invaluable national asset. The grant was restored and, indeed, somewhat increased as a result. The CABs came through that test with flying colours.

However, fine words butter no parsnips, as we say, and we have to look at the problems faced today by the CABs. I am glad that my noble friends Lady Ewart-Biggs and Lord Stallard both mentioned Scotland. Scotland, with an independent association and offices and having had experience of the poll tax for a year, is an example of what will happen in England and Wales. We will do well to note the experience of Scotland.

My noble friend Lord Stallard was right to point out that the bulk of inquiries to the CABs in Scotland concern financial difficulties, but one-quarter of all inquiries in 1988–89 concerned the poll tax. At first, those centred on what rebates might be available under the poll tax but they now refer almost exclusively to the inability of people to meet their debts arising from the poll tax and asking how they are to manage.

We accept that in Scotland there have been particular difficulties in the collection of the poll tax. Noble Lords may be interested to know that recently I learnt that more than 10,000 people in the Strathclyde region had registered for poll tax purposes under the name of Donald Duck. That makes collection of the tax rather difficult. How can you collect the amounts due from 10,000 Donald Ducks? That will happen—not necessarily with Donald Ducks—in England and Wales. There will be problems for the CABs which they are in fact already having to handle.

There are two points in that connection. First, in Scotland the Scottish Office gave grant-aid to the CABs specifically for the purpose of handling poll tax inquiries. The Scottish association says that it is grateful for the grant-aid provided by the Scottish Office to assist in dealing with community charge inquiries but adds that there is no doubt—this is the second point—that the charge has placed great strain on the CABs and their voluntary officers.

Many of the people working in the CABs do so in conditions of great stress. It is not easy sitting at a desk day after day on the telephone and dealing personally with the problems that ordinary people and poor people are presenting, time after time. They queue up to explain their problems. That is work of great stress. While we can rightly talk about funding we must remember the human side of the problem relating to the people who work in CABs.

Therefore, the major problem faced by the CABs in England and Wales is the same as that faced by the CABs in Scotland—the onset of the poll tax. That is not to say that the other problems will go away. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester rightly pointed to the Church Urban Fund. I was glad to hear about that and other ways in which the Church can help. Nevertheless, the bulk of social security problems will land at the door of the CABs, whatever we do.

My noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick spoke very movingly about housing problems and the problems of the homeless. Where do those people go for advice? They go the CABs. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to the mountain of debt that many poor people, and not so poor people, are carrying at the moment and to what he has been doing in various capacities to assist them. I was very glad to learn about a money advice trust which I had also heard about from the Finance Houses Association. I was particularly glad that, in his capacity as chairman, the noble Lord and the organisation had decided that the right route at the moment is to work with existing organisations. It is the CABs which require real help in this area. As the noble Lord rightly pointed out, the problems of consumer debt, if I may use that generic expression, are often much more complex than is realised. It is not simply a question of being overmortgaged or overborrowed on your credit card; it is part of a complex of problems to which we have to pay attention.

There is also the problem of lone parents to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester referred. There is the question of residential care and of elderly people in such care who are flung out because they cannot afford to pay. My noble friend Lord Irvine of Lairg referred to the problem of legal aid. We shall be debating that subject when my noble friend Lord Mishcon moves a Motion in a week or so. In addition, there is the flow of legislation and the imposition of burdens on people. The right reverend Prelate also referred to this matter. Sometimes governments do not seem to realise that when they pour out legislation and orders they expect everybody to be literate, to read parliamentary language and to understand what their duties are. That is almost impossible for some people to cope with. All governments are to blame in this matter and I am not particularly criticising the present government or any other.

I now turn to the matter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wise, and others; namely, the geographic disparity in the CAB network. Quite rightly, the noble Lord, Lord Wise, spoke about rural areas. As I come from the rural area of mid-Wales I am extremely sensitive about the inability of people to find a citizens advice bureau within 10 or 20 miles. Therefore, it is extremely difficult for them to make proper use of the service available.

Where does that leave us? I say quite frankly that I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on one matter. I do not believe that it will be right to have a debate on the CAB without taking into account the present social conditions that the policies of this Government have brought to us. I say that absolutely frankly because I believe that is one of the major problems of the CABs. They now have to deal with what is known as an underclass which consists of between 20 and 25 per cent. of the population, according to figures which are available. That part of the population has to have proper access to proper information and advice about a whole variety of subjects which the noble Lord and I can deal with quite easily. That is a problem that we have to accept.

I wish to draw the attention of the noble Viscount to a suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Irvine of Lairg that there should be a geographically fair network and also secure funding. Those are the two principles on which we should be working. I accept almost everything that every noble Lord has said to the effect that the service must remain independent of government. It must continue to be part-funded by the DTI and local authorities and the donation of time and effort given by the voluntary workers, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out. It would be a terrible mistake if we were to create some bureaucratic monster which was wholly at the beck and call of government.

We must make sure that everybody of whatever race, class or creed has proper access at the right time to a citizens advice bureau. In the end that is a service for which the Government have to be responsible even though we like that service to be independent. We look for evidence from the noble Viscount, when he comes to wind up, that the Government have grasped the nature of the problems that the CABs face. As my noble friend Lord Irvine said, it is not enough simply to say what a marvellous body of men and women they are and how glad we are that they exist.

This is a time when the social fabric of this country is starting to deteriorate badly. It is very important that we make sure that everybody knows what their rights are, what they can do and who can help them. It needs a positive initiative by government. The CABs are crying out for an initiative from the DTI to help them make sure that they will be in place throughout the next decade; that they properly understand their role and that they are properly and securely funded. It is right that a fair network is established throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. Initiative is needed and I hope very much that we shall hear about that from the noble Viscount today.

5.25 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for raising this important subject today. We have had a most informative and wide-ranging debate on the noble Baroness's Motion, during which a number of noble Lords have shown themselves to be both knowledgeable and appreciative of the work of citizens advice bureaux. A number of interesting points have been made and some questions have been raised, and I should now like to respond on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.

Seven years ago an independent review of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux was undertaken by a small team under the chairmanship of Sir Douglas Lovelock. The team's report became known as the Lovelock Report and noble Lords may find it interesting if I were to read out the first few lines of that report. It begins as follows: The Citizens Advice Bureaux Service is an invaluable national asset. The provision of a service of information, advice and guidance meets a real and growing need. The dedication and competence of the Service have earned widespread respect. Because the Service's standards are high and because it relies predominantly on a volunteer workforce, it represents extraordinarily good value for money. The introduction to the report goes on: The workload of the Service has grown continually over the last 20 years. We expect this growth to continue. The problems raised with the Service have also increased in range and complexity in recent years. How familiar those words seem. They are just the sort of things that the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and other noble Lords have been saying today. The Government accepted the findings of the Lovelock Report when it was published in 1984 and we still regard its main conclusions as valid today. Not only do the Government recognise and appreciate the value of the advice and help provided by citizens advice bureaux, but we support the service in a very real way.

I think that it may be worth reminding noble Lords of the extent of this support. The Department of Trade and Industry finances, through grant-in-aid, virtually the entire costs of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and its sister organisation, Citizens Advice Scotland. As noble Lords will know, these two organisations provide the central support services for all the local bureaux throughout the country, including training, information and the maintenance of standards.

Contrary to the impression which some noble Lords—and more specifically, the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg—may have given during the debate today, this Government have a very good record on the funding of NACAB. The DTI grant to NACAB this year is nearly £9 million, compared with £1.7 million in 1979–80. That means that this Government's contribution to the CAB service in England and Wales has more than doubled in real terms since 1979. In Scotland it has more than trebled in real terms in the same period. I hope that the noble Lords will agree that those are impressive figures.

Noble Lords will know that local bureaux are funded locally: in practice by local authorities. This has been the case since 1945, when local authorities were first given the power to fund local information centres. The Lovelock Report came to the conclusion that this division of responsibility between central and local funding was right. Perhaps I may quote again from the report. It says: It [the system] enables the bureaux to maintain a degree of autonomy and ensures that they can be seen as separate from the Government bureaucracy and responsive to local needs. This autonomy enables bureaux to develop services, including specialist services such as tribunal representation, debt counselling and money advice, in response to local need. At the same time it allows central government to support the service through NACAB. The system is, in other words, well calculated to sustain with public money a service which is reliant on local volunteer labour. In our view this is an overriding advantage and outweighs the disadvantages". Those words are as apt today as they were in 1984, and of course they apply equally to the situation in Scotland.

The Lovelock review considered the other options for funding local bureaux, including direct funding by central government and a statutory duty on local authorities. The report rejected these options and the Government continue to reject them for the same reasons as Lovelock did. That is the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg.

Obviously the service has come a long way since it was set up in 1939. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, explained the concerns of many people in those days. The service has had to keep pace with social trends and with changes in legislation and has had to meet the demands of an increasingly sophisticated society. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester vividly brought to our attention the lasting problems of poverty and how a sophisticated society seems to increase the pressure on some families. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, referred to them as an under-class.

The advice and help that bureaux provide today is of a professional standard, even though it is free at the point of delivery. But the essential feature of NACAB, and what makes it the envy of the world, is that it is a professional service which is delivered mainly by volunteers. The voluntary effort which the CAB service harnesses is its most precious asset and it enables a service to be provided which has a value much greater than that of the money which goes into it. The volunteers of the CAB service are a fine example of the active citizenship which we should be encouraging wherever we can. They show the sympathy to which my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth paid tribute, as well as the value of the work given by volunteers, quite rightly emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel.

Noble Lords will be aware that in one sphere at least the CAB service has already achieved some considerable success in attracting private sector funding. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester mentioned this point. I refer to the area of money advice and the funding that the finance industry is providing for it. More than £2 million has been contributed or has been pledged by the finance industry and there is the prospect of other significant contributions to local and national projects.

Last month saw the publication of the report of the working party on money advice funding. This working party, which was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, was set up by the finance industry in response to an appeal by the Director General of Fair Trading that it should provide more funding for money advice. The working party's main conclusion was that money advice needs more funds and that a minimum contribution by the finance industry of £2 million per year for the next three years is realistic and achievable. I am glad that the noble Lord said those words today.

The working party suggested that such funds would be used mainly to support functions which, for one reason or another, tend not to attract local authority or government funding. There are, for example, already several money advice support units, financed by the private sector, which provide support services for citizens advice bureaux and other money advice agencies in certain parts of the country. I believe that the working party had in mind the idea of extending this network as one possible use for additional private sector money. I am sure that such an initiative would be very much welcomed by the bureaux and their clients alike. The Government welcome the thrust of the report and hope that the finance industry will respond favourably to it.

I should like to deal with one or two of the points raised during the course of the debate. Many noble Lords referred to debt problems and in particular to rent arrears, a subject mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick. Such problems obviously take up a good deal of bureaux resources because they can be very time-consuming to sort out. The money provided by the finance industry should be a great help in this respect. The Government have made significant contributions to NACAB and CAS whose members provide the bulk of money advice. There is also a comprehensive framework of legislation to protect the consumers of credit, although nothing can protect people from falling into difficulties when their circumstances change. I refer to the problems of redundancy, marital breakdown or the death of a spouse. All we can hope to do in such cases is to try to pick up the pieces afterwards. That is where the CAB service does such a marvellous job.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred to the NACAB report, One parent families: benefits and work. This matter, as with many other matters this afternoon, would probably be more appropriate to a debate on social security provisions than to one on citizens advice bureaux. I understand, however, that NACAB concluded that there are no simple solutions in this complex area. The Government share that view and recognise that this problem needs action on a number of fronts. For example, the Government have already announced their intention to improve the system relating to maintenance payments. The Government are also actively considering how to encourage the provision of child care facilities by employers.

The noble Baroness, and in passing the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, referred to the problem of the gap when the maximum income support paid for people in residential care and nursing homes is less than the fees charged by the home. I understand that in setting the current limits and those proposed for April the available evidence indicated that the majority of people in homes should be able to meet their fees in full from their income and benefits. But I must stress that it has never been, nor could it be, the policy of any government to meet all fees, however high. Nevertheless, the help that this Government provide through income support has enabled thousands of people to make their own choices about the type of residential care they want.

My noble friend Lord Wise brought to our attention the fact that problems are not confined to the inner cities and he went on to describe some of the difficulties faced by families in rural areas. My noble friend also brought to our attention the fact that NACAB and the Rural Development Commission have a joint funding scheme for CAB projects. This began in July 1986. The scheme provides pump priming finance for projects which provide advice and information in unusual or innovative ways in rural areas. The Rural Development Commission and NACAB each provide £50,000 a year. Since 1989–90 each has provided an extra £25,000 for specific areas of need. My noble friend mentioned the free phone pilot scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, raised the matter of the possible effect of the change to the community charge on the funding of citizens advice bureaux. I have not heard that that has been a problem in Scotland and therefore I do not see why it should be so in England or in Wales. The CAB service has expressed some concern that local authorities may have less money available for organisations such as the CABs under the new arrangements. However, there seems to be no foundation in that theory. It will remain a discretionary matter for each local authority to decide which organisation to fund and to what extent.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, referred to the Social Fund. The fund is helping many people on low incomes—over 1.7 million loans amounting to £240 million and nearly 337,000 grants costing £89 million since the start of the scheme. That does not suggest to me that people in need are reluctant to seek help from the fund or that those most in need are being refused help.

As we have been reminded by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, last year saw the Golden Jubilee of the CAB service. In those 50 years CABs have become part of the fabric of Britain. It seems almost impossible to contemplate life without them and the army of volunteers upon which they so rightly depend. I suppose that they are one of the last remaining examples of the wartime spirit of mutual help and self-sacrifice. At the same time, they have changed with the times and are as relevant today as they were when they were first established. They are uniquely British and envied throughout the world.

The CAB service is recognised and supported by central government, local authorities and increasingly the private sector. Of course the service could use more money. Indeed, I find it difficult to think of any organisation which could not. But, as I outlined, the CAB service has had a very fair deal in terms of support from this Government. I hope that that fact is recognised. I believe that there are real prospects of increased support from the private sector and I know that I speak for your Lordships' House when I say that I wish the CAB service well for the next 50 years. For my part I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for giving us the opportunity to discuss these matters today and for allowing me to put forward the Government's point of view.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he agree that, as seven years have passed since the Lovelock Report to which he referred, there is a case for a review of its recommendations with regard to local authority funding and should this not in some sense be statutory? I think he will agree that one point which has emerged from the debate is that inconsistencies in local authority funding face CABs in different parts of the country with very considerable problems.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I am content to undertake to bring that point, which was not only reinforced by the right reverend Prelate but also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I should like briefly to thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. There is no doubting the fact that there was one aspect upon which we all agreed; namely, the effectiveness and devotion of the managers, the paid workers and the volunteers of the CABs. I very much hope that they will read the Hansard report of the debate and that they will at least take heart from what has been said.

I was glad to hear the Minister's final remark that he will look again at the point raised by my noble friend Lord Irvine of Lairg about funding. The matter was also brought to his attention by the right reverend Prelate. If he reads the speech made by my noble friend, he will recognise that he was not criticising the DTI grant to NACAB because that supports services. However, he queried the fact that the Government make no possible commitment to the local CABs for the services which they provide on the ground. As many noble Lords have said today, it is the complexity of present legislation and the interaction between so many of its features which brings problems to the clients of the CABs and therefore to the CABs on the ground. That is why we feel that perhaps the funding of CABs should be further considered so as to produce a fair and even distribution of their services throughout the country. That was one of the most important points to emerge from the debate. It was also mentioned by the right reverend Prelate.

I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for taking advantage of the debate to tell us about the money advice trust and about the coherence of advice about indebtedness which was planned in the working party. I believe that some very important work was done in this connection. I very much hope that it will contribute towards achieving a better service in the future for this growing problem of indebtedness which is faced by so many of our fellow citizens. Surely it must have the most terrible consequences upon families. We hope that the situation will be improved.

I shall not comment upon any of the other points which were raised in the debate but I should like once again to thank all speakers who have taken part in the debate. I am also most grateful to the Minister for replying in such a courteous way. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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