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Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the Government have a whole range of initiatives which strengthen family life. The Children Act 1989 was a charter for children. Child benefit remains a cornerstone of our family policy. The Child Support Act reinforces the principle of parental responsibility. The National Health Service and community care Acts support the care of frail and elderly people within their own families. The adoption White Paper seeks to give adopted children the same prospects as other children and the childcare disregard was introduced in October 1994 for people on low incomes claiming benefits. We have a proud record in this field.

Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, is my noble friend aware—I am sure she is—of the research carried out

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by the Joseph Rowntree Trust and Great Ormond Street Hospital, which reflects that children are influenced by their parents and that their behaviour is dependent on either the happiness or unhappiness of their parents? Does she not agree that at the moment the social services are spending a great deal of time on child support work, but very little time on helping parents? Does the Minister agree that that may be due to lack of resources or to other factors? Does she further agree that it is important that parents—and thus the children—should be helped?

Baroness Cumberlege: Yes, my Lords. I believe that bringing up a family is one of the most difficult things that any parent or individual has to face. The maximum support that can be given is important. However, I believe that the family is essentially a private affair. Although it may need help—which is another aspect—the privacy of family life needs to be respected as well.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Agenda for Action contains some quite specific proposals? Can the Minister respond to some of those in addition to the general points which she has made? They include reinstating benefits for 16 to 18 year-olds, establishing a legislative framework for family leave and abolishing fault as a ground for divorce? These are specific proposals in the Agenda for Action. How do the Government react?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, there will be a full response, which I shall be happy to give to the noble Baroness in due course.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the Minister listed a range of matters which she said supported the family. My understanding of that list is that each one of those items is targeted at individuals, whether as children, parents or mothers and fathers, but that none of them is targeted as regards support for the family. Will the Minister answer the question that my noble friend Lord Stoddart asked, which identifies the action that the Government could take to support the family?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the reform of family credit supports families. In October 1994 there was the offset of childcare costs against earnings, which supports families. A range of things support the family.

Homeless People: London Area

2.55 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are aware of the recent reports from charitable organisations indicating that the number of homeless people in and around London could be as high as 100,000.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the report to which the noble Lord refers was produced by a body called Health Action for Homeless People to inform the Thames regional health authorities of potential demand on their services. Its methodology is flawed in a number of respects. Many of the people described by the report as

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homeless are in fact properly accommodated. The Government are tackling the problem of homelessness and the Rough Sleepers Initiative in central London has reduced the number of people sleeping rough in the capital by three-quarters.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I do not accept for one moment the Answer to my Question, which is based on a report from a responsible body? Is he further aware that the report states quite clearly that more than 100,000 people are sleeping rough or living in temporary hostels around London, according to figures shown today, but that the true number of those without a place to call their own is thought to be twice as great because of hidden homelessness? Is the Minister aware that that shows a gross deterioration in the situation over the past three to four years? Is the Minister also aware that in the Budget last week the Chancellor of Exchequer cut funding to the Housing Corporation so much that it can only budget for 15,000 starts in contracts which can be let in the next 12 months? Ministers at the Dispatch Box have promised me over the years that the target for Housing Corporation and housing association housing was to be 65,000 a year, but that figure is now to be reduced to 15,000. These figures can only get worse. What are the Government going to do about it?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as I said in my earlier reply, I do not accept the gloss which the noble Lord has put on the report. The noble Lord then criticised the Government for cutting back in the Budget on moneys for the Housing Corporation. In an era of difficult times difficult decisions have to be taken. We have to try to find accommodation for people and one of the ways of doing so is by building more houses. We hope that over the next three years 180,000 additional lettings will be created. In addition, we have to see how the existing housing stock can be more efficiently used. There is plenty of potential there to make sure that for many people with housing problems their circumstances could be improved.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, is the Minister aware that charities, such as Centrepoint, and the London local authorities estimate that there are probably about 140,000 single homeless people in London? Above all, there are the very young 16 and 17 year-olds and the mentally ill who face the failure of our social security system and of care in the community. When the Minister says that the response we need is to provide more houses, how does he reconcile that with the fact that the DoE permitted London boroughs last year to build just 250 council houses to meet the needs of about 200,000 homeless people?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, before answering the question, perhaps I may congratulate Centrepoint on its 25th birthday, which I understand is this week. The noble Baroness refers to various statistics which have been produced by Centrepoint and others as regards homelessness in London. It is clear that while the problem is serious—and, as I said, the Government are addressing it—it is extremely difficult to analyse the problem. It is pretty certain that, looking back over the

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past few years, the nature of the problem has changed. With initiatives such as the Rough Sleepers Initiative, we are trying to tackle the issue in the right way. The figures that the noble Baroness gave do not help to solve the problem. As I said earlier, we must try to identify the problem precisely because if we do not we shall end up wasting large amounts of public resources and not benefiting people.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, although I welcome the progress that has been made by the Rough Sleepers Initiative, does the noble Lord accept that a core of young people and, indeed, children remain homeless? The Children's Society report, Running the Risk, states that 10,000 young people will lose complete contact with their families. Can the noble Lord tell me why the Rough Sleepers Initiative is to be disbanded in March 1996?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the Rough Sleepers Initiative was established for a six-year period and is due to end in March 1996, as the right reverend Prelate said. Over that period more than £182 million has been spent in endeavouring to tackle the problem that we are describing. One aspect of that programme was to build a capital reserve of about 3,300 units of accommodation. At the end of 1996, we shall have to look forward to decide what is appropriate for the future. The department is already having informal consultations with those involved in the outreach organisations to see how we can proceed. One thing is for sure, there is now a capital reserve of 3,300 units which did not exist before the initiative began. Inevitably, future provision will take a different form.


3.2 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend the Leader of the House will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the European Summit.

European Communities (Finance) Bill

Brought from the Commons endorsed with the certificate from the Speaker that the Bill is a Money Bill; read a first time and ordered to be printed.

House of Lords' Offices: Select Committee

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Earl of Gowrie and the Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn be appointed to the Select Committee on House of Lords' Offices in place of the Lord Dainton and the Lord Gibson.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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