HL Deb 03 February 1992 vol 535 cc135-48

11.25 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will extend the emergency provisions made for the homeless in London and elsewhere.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is an unusual time to begin debate on an Unstarred Question. There was some suggestion that the issue might be better served if I did not move the Question today but at a later date. However, the debate does not relate to those people who are registered homeless but to those who sleep rough. That issue is as important as the eight-hour debate today in this House on the final stages of the Further and Higher Education Bill. I shall not shorten what I had intended to say because of the hour; it has to be said. I assure my opponent who will speak from the Dispatch Box that the debate is not an attack on the Government. It is an attempt to bring further attention to a difficult situation which continues to deteriorate.

I and other noble Lords have referred to the subject winter after winter. Because homeless people are having to sleep rough, on 24th January Shelter produced a document entitled Freezing on the Streets. I have no doubt that, through the efficient civil servants who assist her, the Minister will have been adequately briefed on the document. It states: Last February homeless people sleeping rough endured over a week of Arctic temperature and deep snow. The response from central government was limited help for rough sleepers in Central London only. People outside London had to rely on the help that Shelter and other voluntary groups were able to hastily organise".

The Minister will recall that when that aid was announced I welcomed it from these Benches. However, I entered a caveat. I asked why such help was limited to London. The problem existed elsewhere too and ought to be addressed.

The document states: Since then the census has shown that, whilst large numbers of rough sleepers are in London, at least 60 per cent. of people sleeping rough are outside London. Yet Government emergency help to avoid the worst effects of freezing weather continues to be confined to Central London". I do not believe that any noble Lord will deny that in the past two or three weeks the weather has been severe and very cold indeed. The document continues: Even in Central London the extra cold weather provision will provide only a maximum of 345 places in temporary shelters. Shelter's Night-line emergency telephone service found that hostel provision in London was full during the cold weather in January, leaving many people no choice but to face freezing temperatures on the street. As we enter what could be the coldest period of the year"— we may have already experienced some of it— Shelter and Crisis are on stand by to again mobilise a network of local charities, church and other voluntary groups to provide makeshift emergency shelter in the event of freezing weather. The two charities have set aside a special cold weather fund of £100,000 for this purpose". But on meeting a delegation from both organisations today I was told that that sum would disappear in one week if really adverse weather hit us. It is not a failsafe position in any substantial sense.

The document continues: By setting aside this special fund, Crisis and Shelter hope to prevent severe hardship and the danger of deaths. But, with clear evidence that rough sleeping is a nationwide problem, this emergency charitable help is no substitute for a durable nationwide strategy agreed between central and local government to help homeless people during the coldest part of the year. Shelter estimates that as many as 8,000 people are sleeping rough throughout England. This estimate is based on a count that Shelter and local homelessness workers undertook during the freezing weather last year. Although no figure can be produced yet, I am told by well-informed people that at the moment the figure is in excess of 8,000 and is on the increase. I continue the quotation: The count revealed 2,078 people sleeping rough in 35 towns and cities. Extrapolating this figure to cover the whole of England indicates that as many as 5,000 people are sleeping rough outside London. Other people cannot be counted as they cannot be located or tallied and properly identified.

The document goes on to say: The figures clearly show that the majority of people sleeping rough are outside London. The most important corroboration comes from the census count on the night of 21–22 April 1991. A total of 2,703 were found in 453 sites throughout Britain. Significantly, almost 60 per cent of these were found outside London … The count was limited to main sites only. It was unable to cover more isolated and dispersed rough sleepers.

That prevents a totally accurate estimate being made of what was taking place.

What has been the Government's response to this matter since June 1990? The Government's announcement of assistance amounting to £128 million from various departmental sources to provide a mixture of hostel and move-on accommodation for people sleeping rough has been welcomed by these Benches and in a general sense. Despite evidence of the geographical dispersal of rough-sleepers, only £3 million of that figure is directed to areas outside London. I am not trying to make the case that other areas want some of the £125 million London is getting but that the Government should provide extra funding to compensate other areas and let them get on with the job.

The expenditure has been allocated as follows. In June 1990 the Department of the Environment allocated £15 million for the street homeless in London. In July 1990 the Department of Health allocated £5 million to provide 70 to 80 hostel places in London for homeless people with chronic mental illness. In January 1991 the Department of Health allocated £3 million over three years to provide on a national basis short stay accommodation for young homeless people. A sum of £3 million was provided for that national problem. In May 1991 the Department of the Environment allocated £96 million to ease the plight of rough-sleepers in central London. In November 1991—only a few months ago—the Department of Energy allocated £1 million to provide 300 places, as I said, but once again in London. In January 1991—only last month—the Department of Health allocated £8 million over three years to provide accommodation and psychiatric care for mentally ill people sleeping rough on the streets of central London.

The Government's policy of providing resources solely to London to deal with issues that other authorities are trying to deal with will lead to only one result. It has already started to show, from what I have been told. The problem is being sucked from other cities into the centre of London because those other cities have no facilities to deal with it. They have little hope of receiving help.

There has been a response from Shelter and Crisis which suggests a policy which could help the position outside central London. There should be a more national and general approach. First, a clear statutory responsibility should be placed on local authorities to draw up and implement contingency plans for making provision for people sleeping rough in severe weather. Government funding should be made available to local authorities to enable them to meet the cost of such an operation and plans. Linked to that, the Government should allocate resources to extend the four-month cold weather initiative in central London, announced on 27th November 1991, to other parts of the country. That would ensure equity of provision inside and outside London, enabling extra bed spaces to be provided in the four worst winter months.

The Government should carry out an urgent inquiry into the failure of the DSS Resettlement Unit closure programme and take immediate action to ensure that adequate replacement facilities are in place before the next four units planned for closure disappear on 31st March, with large bed reductions. That would be a retrograde step. The Government should require local authorities to establish the number of single homeless people sleeping rough in their areas and include them in their quarterly statistical returns to the DoE to help identify the extent of the problem.

I did say that I was not criticising the Government, and I hope that the Government do not take what I have said in that way. When increased provision was announced for London some time ago, I said that I could not understand why cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and Liverpool were not receiving the same help as London when they were grappling with similar problems. Manchester has said that it is just coping with the position with the help of charitable organisations. It is short of funding and is dealing with a deteriorating situation. Manchester does not know how long it can continue. It has a problem that requires immediate assistance.

I have a cutting from the Yorkshire Evening Post which states: Homeless people in Leeds could face a nightmare winter if the Government does not provide immediate emergency cash to ease the city's growing housing crisis, it has been claimed". It goes on: Urgent action needs to be taken now to ease homelessness, the majority of which can be found outside London".

Once again, one of the major cities (Leeds, which I represented in the other place) is not making a special plea. It is saying that it believes that it is entitled to help.

A brief has been provided to me by the Bristol Cyrenians. In June 1989 it was reported that groups of people had been sleeping rough at major sites in Bristol. In 1989 the same group reported that of the 2,000 visitors to its day centre, 600 were sleeping

In making the case to the noble Baroness, I do not criticise the Government. I am reluctant to accept the views which the Prime Minister allegedly expressed on "Desert Island Discs". I hope he has been misquoted and that he did not say that people choose to sleep in cardboard boxes. I know the Prime Minister, having worked alongside him as a Junior Whip in another place. I did not find him to be that kind of man. It is a tragedy if he has been misquoted on such an important subject.

The Government do spend money on needy cases. I do not suggest there is a lot of surplus money, although it is calculated that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have £2 billion to spend in his give-away Budget before the election. I ask the Minister to join with the local authorities and charitable organisations as regards this problem. Charities such as Shelter and Crisis are doing a magnificent job in trying to deal with the problem. I know that the Government have provided funds for various schemes but I am told that the money provided in this sphere is spent on administration rather than the provision of services. I understand that negotiations were taking place with a view to Crisis carrying out some research in this field. It looked as though agreement would be reached and a figure of £500,000 was quoted to carry out the work. The Department of the Environment was making sympathetic noises but the Treasury has sat on that scheme. Shelter's helpline is paid for by the department to help improve co-ordination of effort. It works closely with the voluntary organisations on the initiative, but, once again, that is restricted to London.

When I speak about people who are homeless, I do not mean those people who are registered homeless and who are living in bed and breakfast accommodation. I am talking about people who have no choice other than to sleep rough. The needs of such people living outside London are as great as those living either in central London or on the outskirts. The authorities in Bristol, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and other smaller towns need the funds to carry out this extremely necessary social operation in order to give help and succour to the people who need it most.

11.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle

My Lords, in the North there is a jingle: If the sun shines on Candlemas Day, The worst of the winter is still on the way". It did shine yesterday in the North, but it shone wanly and not at all warmly. One therefore does not know what sort of augury that is for the rest of the winter. But one does know that the Question before your Lordships fastens attention on the plight of the homeless in bitter weather.

The Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, mentions the homeless in London and elsewhere. The noble Lord emphasised that the problem is by no means confined to London. Figures are notoriously difficult to come by for the whole problem of homelessness, but I read that in Leeds in 1990 over 200 young people per month became homeless. I am told that in Newcastle in the past 12 months the number of homeless people has increased by 11 per cent., and I am reliably informed that 40 per cent. of homeless people on Tyneside have been in care.

It is clear to all workers in this field that many homeless people are mentally ill; they are casualties of the failure of care in the community to work properly. There is a further aggravating feature in the North East. Two of the institutions that provide direct access accommodation are about to be closed, and I am told that there is no direct access accommodation for women by themselves without children.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I wonder whether the right reverend Prelate will give way. He said that 40 per cent. of the people were in care. Does he mean 40 per cent. of the people or 40 per cent. of another figure?

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle

My Lords, 40 per cent. had been in care rather than are presently in care, if that is the answer my noble friend is seeking to elicit. That was the figure I received.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful again to the right reverend Prelate for giving way. Is that 40 per cent. of the people, 40 per cent. of the homeless or 40 per cent. of whom?

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle

My Lords, 40 per cent. of those who are now homeless on Tyneside have been in care. I am sorry that I did not make that sufficiently plain. I was trying to say that of those who are homeless quite a high proportion had been in care; quite a number are clearly mentally ill; there is the aggravating feature that two of the direct access accommodation units are about to close, and there is no provision, I gather, for women by themselves without children. If women have children there is accommodation for them but not for women by themselves. Those three categories of people—those who have been in care, mentally ill persons and unaccompanied women and girls—are particularly vulnerable and form a substantial number of homeless people. Society surely has a particular responsibility for such vulnerable people and indeed for all who have no helper.

One adds to that the sad fact that young people leave home and find themselves without a roof over their heads on account of the breakdown of family relationships for one reason or another. Charitable bodies of various sorts make valiant efforts in that field, and the noble Lord has given some examples. I read that the Children's Society has provided some safe houses; the English Churches Housing Group has provided some hostel accommodation; Nightstop in Leeds has a wide reputation in this connection; and certain Church premises open their doors to the homeless at night. There is no doubt that there is much more that we could all do; there always is.

However, there is a certain fortuitous quality—haphazard quality—about the availability of charitable help. In any case, I do not believe that a problem of such proportions can be solved solely by voluntary bodies. It is for those reasons that many people who work in this field will be much interested in the reply to the Question before the House. In particular, they will hope that adequate replacement facilities and bed spaces will be provided before the resettlement units due for closure are actually closed. Those who work in this field and we in this House will be listening closely to the reply to discover whether the worst of the winter is already over or not.

11.49 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, we thank the noble Lord for asking this Question which becomes extremely urgent at this time of the year. We know that the Government have done and are intending to do a certain amount about the situation in central London, but the problem does not concern simply central London. It spreads right out to the suburbs where my parishes were. For the past five years I have been in Richmond. Until recently it was not thought of as a place where people slept rough. Now it, and suburbs like it all round London, have become places where emergency accommodation must be provided. In Richmond a most remarkable lady, Mrs Penny Wade, had campaigned for and set up a shelter for the homeless, but as soon as that was done, it was swamped. It became clear that the needs were greater than had been thought. That is true everywhere. However much has been done so far, there is still greater need. And very little has been done outside London. It is time that something very much more positive was done.

The first priority is to deal with the cold weather and emergency provisions. There is a danger that if we just stick there, the real needs will not be met. Warehousing people is not the answer to the very real housing shortage that there is for certain types of people and for the lack of care for them. There is a great need for the long-term provision of different types of housing. Night shelters are of course needed, but housing for those who have mental illness and who should be looked after in the community is also needed. There is also a great need for homes for the young and single and those who cannot find anywhere with the resources that they have at their disposal.

These different forms of housing should all be inter-connected so that people can move from one to the other as necessary. As has been suggested by Shelter and as the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, has already said, these facilities should be tied up with the work of the local councils. They need to be asked firmly by central Government to provide not so much the resources, because the Government must do that, but the machinery for finding out which people are sleeping rough, and for making returns to central Government so that they know and we all know the size of the problem. Thanks to Shelter and other such bodies, we have some idea of the problem, but we do not really know the full extent of it. That information should be provided by the local authorities. The Government should ask them to submit quarterly statistical returns to help identify the extent of the problem.

The facts are known. Many of them are in the Shelter report and many of them have been rehearsed tonight by the the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. All of us here have read the report. We are now waiting for the Government to reply with something which is really helpful that we can take back to those bodies which are trying to cope. I refer to the churches, Shelter and other such bodies. With inadequate resources they are trying to cope with a job which, in any civilised society, is ultimately the responsibility of government. I am delighted that this Question has been asked tonight. I only hope that it gets a worthy answer.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dean, for again bringing this very important debate to the House. I am also grateful to him for saying that this was not tabled as a criticism essentially against the Government, but to bring and keep before the House this important subject.

We are now over halfway through a three-year programme, the aim of which is to make it unnecessary for anybody to sleep rough on the streets of cental London. We are spending £96 million to provide a range of accommodation for those who are actually sleeping rough or in imminent danger of having to do so. We have already created 1,900 new bedspaces and by the time the initiative ends in March 1992, we shall have provided over 2,500 new bedspaces. In the process, we have also freed up a lot of existing hostels which prior to our initiative were silted up.

The initiative was worked out with the full co-operation and support of those voluntary organisations which work most closely with homeless people on the streets. They told us that the major problem was a lack of accommodation for those in hostels to move on to. This was having the effect of silting-up the existing hostels and preventing them from offering accommodation to those sleeping rough. We are therefore using the bulk of the £96 million to provide permanent homes for those in hostels to move into. That was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. At the same time we are using 10 per cent. of the available capital resources to provide some 900 short-term hostel spaces which, being provided relatively quickly, have enabled people on the streets to gain immediate access to accommodation.

And I am pleased to be able to tell noble Lords, that the initiative has already had a significant effect. One year ago, the voluntary organisations estimated that there were 1,046 people sleeping rough in central London. Twelve months later, in mid-December, they estimated that there were only 430. I shall deal shortly with the specific measures which we have put in place to help those 430.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. However, I was not making a focal point of a criticism of central London. My main point concerns extending the type of assistance that the Minister is quite correctly highlighting now to the other areas where the need is shown to be just as vital.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I take the point that the noble Lord is making, but I am coming now to those areas outside of London.

Although as noble Lords will readily appreciate, the problem of rough sleeping is at its most acute in central London, we recognise that there is a problem outside the capital. My department therefore funds a programme of grants under Section 73 of the Housing Act 1985. This year we have made grants of £4.5 million to voluntary organisations throughout the country. Next year—1992–93—this sum will increase to £6.1 million—a real terms increase of around 30 per cent. Over the next three years, a total of nearly £20 million will be made available. More than 90 voluntary organisations, two-thirds of them outside London, already receive grants under this programme for a variety of projects providing practical help to homeless people. Most of these projects will continue in 1992–93. In addition, many other voluntary groups outside central London have applied to the department for the extra resources available in 1992–93. In assessing their bids the department will give priority to imaginative new projects offering direct, practical help to single homeless people in areas with significant numbers of rough sleepers.

These programmes have benefited many homeless people, but there are still people on the streets. These people are, of course, particularly vulnerable over the winter, which is why the Government are providing temporary winter accommodation for those in central London where the problem is most serious.

We began planning with the voluntary organisations and with "Single Homelessness in London" back in September. We identified 340 bedspaces in emergency shelters. That is 340 bedspaces on top of the 500 short-term hostel spaces which we have opened under the main initiative in the past year. Moreover, these shelters, unlike those in previous years, do not rely on a temperature trigger to determine when they should open. We took the common sense view that at some time during the winter, it will get cold, and so we decided that the shelters should be open from December right through to the end of March. And we are still looking for more bedspaces.

It is very easy for individuals or organisations not personally involved in running emergency shelters to sit on the sidelines and criticise. But in doing so, they demean the dedication and commitment of those organisations which have been able to help and which, as we speak, are again providing accommodation for homeless people all over the country tonight. I should like to pay tribute to all the organisations which are taking part in the winter shelter programme and to place on record the Government's acknowledgment of the good work they are doing.

It is also fitting to remember the great movement of Open Christmas, which was started by the late Sir lain Macleod in 1967 and is carried on to the present day by my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve and many others. It extends care, hospitality, advice, food and shelter to those sleeping rough in London and at Christmas time when many other volunteers take a well earned break. I hope I can be forgiven for paying a tribute to my honourable friend the Minister for Housing who has been diligent in tackling the problem of homelessness and has shown great personal commitment to this work not just from his office in Marsham Street but through getting out and about in London to witness the problem at first hand.

Even so, we always recognised that we would probably need to find more beds if the weather got particularly bad. There are people sleeping rough who will only abandon the streets when the weather is especially severe and who, as yet, have not taken up places in the shelters already provided. We have therefore put in place contingency plans to provide additional bed spaces if the weather gets particularly cold. In all, we are planning to have 500 bed spaces available for use when the weather is particularly severe. I can assure noble Lords that we are making every effort to see that nobody, but nobody, is left on the streets if, and when, the weather gets worse.

Outside central London, the situation is entirely different and we take the view that it is for local authorities to make provision for those people sleeping rough in their areas. As last year's census showed, the concentration of rough sleepers in individual local authority areas outside central London is comparatively low. Moreover, the problem is ovewhelmingly a local one; a problem of homelessness among local people. It is interesting to note that by and large the rough sleepers in London come from across the country, from Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and so on. The problems in the provinces are very often Liverpool people in Liverpool, Leeds people in Leeds, Newcastle people in Newcastle and so on.

The problem of rough sleeping in central London, on the other hand, is totally different both in scale and nature. Many people are attracted to the heart of London from all parts of the country and from Scotland and even Ireland. The concentration of rough sleepers is therefore very much higher than in any other local authority area. We took the view that it was unreasonable to expect local authorities in central London to deal with the problem without some assistance. Outside central London, however, local authorities have a responsibility to help those sleeping out in the event of severe weather, in just the same way as they have a responsibility to respond to other local crises.

Sadly, as Shelter reported last year, too few local authorities took their responsibility seriously and too few local authorities responded positively to the needs of those sleeping rough last winter. For this reason, Shelter in co-operation with the charity Crisis has this year established a fund to provide financial and practical assistance to voluntary organisations outside London to help them establish emergency accommodation. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the Government are assisting this work by meeting the salary and other costs of running this project.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean, was worried that if all the resources were targeted on London people in other places might not be helped. As I have said, there is no evidence that the rough sleepers initiative—

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I think she will find that her theory is not quite correct. As a former chairman of housing in Manchester I can tell her that in my day Manchester was a catalyst for Irish people, Scottish people and people from all over the country with housing problems. I think the Minister will find that those sleeping rough in the centre of Newcastle are not all Geordies. She will find that those sleeping rough in the centre of Manchester are not all Mancunians and that those sleeping rough in the centre of Liverpool are not all Liverpudlians. She will find that there are also Irish accents, Scottish accents and all kinds of other accents among those sleeping rough.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord. However, I have much more recent statistics based on a survey which has been carried out countrywide with which I shall deal in a moment. It is important to note that the measures taken in London have had a dramatic impact on the numbers as a whole in the country.

Perhaps I may turn now to those statistics. The most recent figures we have are for 1991. The figure for the whole of England and Wales was 2,703. Of that figure, 1,275 were for Greater London, and of that figure 1,046 were in fact in central London. Therefore, it can be seen that the bulk of the problem is in London. We also expect to have a proper count at the end of the month as part of a research project that the department is funding. At that time we hope to be able to update those figures. However, as a result of all the measures taken, it was estimated that the number in London had been reduced to 430. As I have already said, considerable effort is being made now to reduce that figure yet further.

Perhaps I may run through the figures of some of the areas which have been mentioned and which were part of the 1991 survey. In central Manchester the figure was 23, and just 16 if one includes Bolton and Rochdale; in Liverpool, 51; in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 11; in Leeds, 21; and in Bristol, which has been mentioned, the figure is 128 but still it does not compare with the figures about which we are talking in respect of London. It is interesting to note that a very high figure of 99 occurs in Basingstoke in Hampshire. However, as I said, that is nothing compared with the figures for London.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, referred to the resettlement agency and the resettlement units. That is an important point. If the House will bear with me, I should like to spend a few minutes on that issue. Resettlement units provide temporary board and lodging for single homeless people without a settled way of life. The majority cater for men only, as was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, although there is one in London which caters for women. At present there are 19 units throughout the country, six of which are situated in London. The London units are heavily used while the provincial ones are used less.

The units vary in condition; indeed, some are very old army camps which are well passed their best, while others were purpose designed as recently as the mid-1970s. The National Assistance Board took over responsibility for running the units in 1948. Since that time they have continued to be administered by the Department of Social Security and its predecessors. The biggest and best known unit was at Camberwell. That large Victorian hostel known as "the Spike" had in its heyday 1,000 beds. By the early 1980s plans were well in hand to replace the unit, which then accommodated about 550 men.

There are now 95 hostels funded in London, with 837 beds, which form part of the Camberwell replacement scheme. In 1985 the Government decided that facilities for single homeless people with an unsettled way of life could be better supplied by voluntary organisations or local authorities. It was felt that a service more suited to local conditions would be provided in that way. Plans were drawn up to replace the unit by transferring funds used to run the old unit to the new providers. It was made quite clear that this was not a cost-cutting exercise.

In 1989 the resettlement agency was set up to take forward that policy. To date three units have been replaced. In addition to Camberwell, the resettlement agency ceased to operate units in Liverpool and Brighton in March 1991. In Brighton a 38-bed unit has been replaced by a 12-bed hostel in the town, together with 26 new beds in the Southampton area. A direct-access hostel for 20 beds will open in Brighton in the summer of 1992. As a result of providing funding to the YMCA, the agency has nomination rights for a further 30 beds.

In Liverpool, the 51-bed unit at Fazakerley is to be replaced by a 36-bed direct hostel on the same site as the resettlement unit, together with a 20-bed hostel for women which is already open, and a 22-bed hostel for men which will open in two to three weeks' time. Those three replacement hostels will provide 78 beds. That is well in excess of the number of beds previously available which, as I said, was 51. In the meantime, and until these hostels are operational, the existing unit continues to be run by the local authority.

The resettlement agency plans to replace a further four units by 31st March 1992. They are situated in Bristol, Derby, Durham and Manchester. The agency will ensure that sufficient replacement provision is in place in each case before any closure is effected. I believe that that answers a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. For example, in the Derby area there will be 102 beds operational by March 1992 to replace a 74-bed unit, and in the North East 60 beds will be available to replace the Durham unit, which, on average, is occupied by 52 men. The Resettlement Agency can close a unit only if the responsible Minister is satisfied that sufficient suitable replacement facilities are in place.

The mental illness of some of the homeless has been mentioned, and I have to say that that is one of our most serious problems with rough sleepers in London. Under the Department of Health homeless mentally ill initiative announced in July, 74 short-term places in six hostels have been provided in Central London for homeless people with mental illness. Up to 150 permanent move-on places are being provided in 1991/92, and a further 300 beds in the two years 1992/93 and 1993/94 taken together. Community psychiatric teams were set up in the three central London regions to make contact with homeless mentally ill people. The Department of Health is also making available a further £2.7 million over the next three years to enable central London's health and social services authorities to expand their community psychiatric teams.

Last February the department took over responsibility for emergency shelters from the Department of Health. Sir George Young, my honourable friend in another place, agreed to forgo half a million pounds of his budget to transfer to the Department of Health on condition that the Department of Health use the money to develop primary health care services for homeless people, including those in need of psychiatric care. The health department have used the money as part of their £2.7 million programme for community psychiatric teams.

A further initiative was announced in June aimed specifically at young people sleeping rough in London and elsewhere. The package comprises £200,000 over three years to the Children's Society for the short-stay hostel; £250,000 to establish projects to help young homeless people in towns outside of London; guidance to local authorities on their responsibilities under the Children's Act; £118,000 to First Key, a voluntary organisation to provide advice on good practice in dealing with young people leaving local authority care; and funding for a Leeds University research project on approaches to policy and practice affecting young people leaving care.

On 21st January 1992 the Secretary of State for Health announced an extra £8 million for the initiative over the next three years, taking the total resources available to help the mentally ill to over £20 million by 1994/95. In all, over 750 places in more permanent accommodation will now be provided under the initiative as a whole for people in the specialist short-term hostels to move into. The Section 73 grants, to which I referred earlier, of the Housing Act 1985 allow the Secretary of State to make grants to voluntary organisations concerned with homelessness. The amount available for this programme rose from £2 million in 1990 to over £4.5 million in 1991/92, and will rise again to £6.1 million in 1992, £6.7 million in 1993, and £6.8 million in 1994. That is nearly £20 million over three years.

In the current financial year £1.6 million has been allocated to the second phase of the National Homelessness Advice Service, which is co-ordinated through the citizens advice bureaux, with specialist training, consultancy, and referral services provided by Shelter and Shack, the London Housing Aid Centre. The remainder of the funds supports nearly 100 practical projects offering direct help to homeless people either by helping them to find accommodation and to maintain an independent life style, or by providing help and support to dissuade them from sleeping rough in the first place. Nearly two-thirds of these people are outside London.

Most of the current projects will continue to receive support in 1992/93, but voluntary organisations outside Central London are being invited to bid for the extra resources. Priority will be given to areas with a high census count of rough sleepers, but consideration will be given to projects in other areas if evidence of need is provided.

I hope I have been able to deal with some of the questions and problems raised by noble Lords tonight. In concluding my remarks, I should like to underline again the Government's commitment to tackling the problem of homelessness. The problem is complex, as I hope everyone will agree. There is no single cause and there can be no straightforward answer. However, the Government have in place to tackle the problem comprehensively a range of initiatives which range from trying to prevent people from resorting to homelessness in the first place to dealing with the problems of the mentally ill and looking for not just short-term emergency accommodation but moving on to medium and long-term provision too.

To recap, in central London we have already provided 489 places in hostels, 374 places in permanent accommodation and 521 places in flats and houses leased from private sector landlords for up to three years. By early April, the initiative will have delivered a further 158 places in permanent accommodation, 190 properties leased from the private sector and 195 places in hostels. We have provided a further 340 places in emergency shelters, together with free transport to these shelters from a number of pick-up points all over London. We are looking to provide still more.

Outside central London, we are spending £4½ million on a range of practical projects for homeless people, which, as I have already said, will rise to £6.1 million next year. Over the next three years we shall spend nearly £20 million targeted in particular on areas shown by the census to have high concentrations of rough sleepers.

These initiatives demonstrate better than anything the Government's commitment to tackling the misery caused by homelessness. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate tonight, especially at this late hour.