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Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. What concerns me about the Supporting People programme is the various rumours we hear about not being able to accept the total amount of money that is needed for it. I should be grateful if the Minister could reassure us that there will be enough money. That is the big fear of all the people involved in making that work. As other noble Lords have said, the programme is absolutely crucial for keeping homeless people in their tenancies once they are found for them.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I understand totally the importance of the Supporting People programme over the long term. The funding streams that Supporting People will bring together will deal with many of the categories covered in our debate today. Recently we published a consultation paper setting out how the sums are to be calculated. The best way forward for those with particular concerns is to respond to that detailed consultation which sets out with some degree of precision how we intend to calculate the amounts for the funding stream.

The noble Baroness also referred to the publication of the national homelessness strategy. I cannot guarantee that it will be ready by December, but if we produce a Bill that puts a duty on local authorities to produce their own homelessness strategies, then it is incumbent on central government to set out with some degree of precision what they intend to do in this area.

Perhaps I may turn to the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. He set out the reasons underlying homelessness and expressed his support for a strategic approach by local authorities and central government. We endorse that with enthusiasm. He raised a fear that housing policy has been a Cinderella service in social provision. All noble Lords who have participated in the debate are well aware of the importance of housing. Although it must be considered in conjunction with the provision of other services—health, education and community services—it is an immensely important element when dealing with people who have a range of problems.

The right reverend Prelate also raised concerns about the provisions in Clause 13 covering unacceptable behaviour. I dealt with that point in my response to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. However, plainly this is a matter that will need to be discussed in Committee. I thank the right reverend Prelate for what he described as his warm welcome to

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the Bill and his good wishes for its success. He described it as "good news for vulnerable people". That is absolutely right.

I have already referred to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Fearn. It was truly excellent. Perhaps I may pick up on one point that he made. The noble Lord said that resolving the problems of homelessness will not happen unless more resources, including the best people to solve young people's housing needs, are provided. When addressing the problems of homelessness, resources will always be an issue. Sometimes it is said that the Government do not provide sufficient resources; at other times congratulations are offered. However, the Bill before the House today seeks to provide a structure within which the problems of homelessness can be addressed. Of course I agree that as many resources as are reasonably practicable should be made available, but here we aim to set out a structure to tackle homelessness, which will be with us for some time to come and which, as several noble Lords have rightly pointed out, is likely to rise in terms of cases accepted by local authorities because of the widening of priority needs. I take note of the noble Lord's comments as regards resources, but in the meantime the Bill sets out the structure for dealing with the problems.

My noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen quoted a report produced by Shelter:

    "This Bill, if implemented, offers the best opportunity in a generation"

to deal with the problems of homelessness. I am grateful to her for that quotation. My noble friend also referred to the problem of children who are separated from their parents by local authorities when carrying out their duties either under the Children Act, in the case of social services authorities, or under homelessness legislation in the case of housing authorities. I have said that we shall consider this matter and seek the right course to address it.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, brought the debate firmly down to earth by citing a few figures which make it clear that, if estimates of the number of new households being created are correct, a significantly larger number of affordable homes will need to be built in order to meet the problem of homelessness. From those figures, it is quite plain that homelessness is going to be with us for some considerable time to come. For that reason, it is necessary to ensure that the safety net works well and that all those involved in providing that safety net play their appropriate part.

As regards the issue of affordable housing, we have increased significantly the funding being allocated for new affordable housing investment through the Housing Corporation. That funding will rise to over £1.2 billion in 2003-04, which is almost double the current level. Some 10,000 key workers in high demand areas will be helped to purchase a home through the Starter Homes Initiative. Total capital allocations for local authority housing are being increased from £1.2 billion last year to £2.5 billion by 2003-04. Those are significant increases but, to be frank, they do not reach the level of housing starts

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referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Best. Nevertheless, it marks an important start to addressing the issue. Because of the inevitable gap between the number of new houses being built and the number of people who require them, the need for the housing safety net to function effectively is extremely important.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred to the position of young offenders. I can give the noble Lord an assurance that we shall include in guidance the point that youth offending teams should be included among the consultees regarding homelessness strategies. We shall consider in guidance whether those young offenders who need to move to avoid hardship will fall into the "reasonable preference" category for the allocation of housing. "Reasonable preference" does not equate with "vulnerable" and thus would not reflect the same priority for allocation, a point which I explained in my opening remarks.

The speech of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was moving and impressive. He described the lot of those who live in poor quality, temporary accommodation and referred in particular to two families in a way that brings us down to earth as regards what we are trying to achieve by way of improving the relevant legislation. He also described a conversation with someone living in that kind of accommodation. That person had never experienced happiness in his life, which serves to underline the importance of ensuring that decent long-term housing is provided.

The noble Earl also drew attention to the Rough Sleepers Unit, and in particular to the work of Louise Casey. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that the achievements of the unit are very impressive. Their hard work serves to illustrate that, in dealing with that particular kind of homelessness—as well as homelessness in general—we must roll up our sleeves and get on with doing the job, as well as persuading all the relevant players to co-operate in providing solutions to the problem. He also cited the article in the Observer and the question of whether children would now more easily be separated from their parents. He said that:

    "Sometimes it appears that in this country we are not very good at valuing our children".

That is a sentiment which we should all consider when dealing with homelessness. He also referred to the issue of houses in multiple occupation. I believe that, in responding to the points put by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I have already reiterated our commitment to dealing with it, subject to legislative time being available.

My noble friend Lady Rendell of Babergh drew attention to the problems faced by vulnerable groups. She mentioned in particular the poor administration of housing benefit, a point I believe I have already dealt with. My noble friend also referred to the problems surrounding the provision of bed and breakfast accommodation, a matter raised at the start of our debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. It is a very expensive system and it must be possible to find better ways of dealing with homeless families. Bed and breakfast costs a great deal and I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that such provision has an

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extremely detrimental effect on families. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, pointed out, bed and breakfast accommodation then leads to hugely increased costs in other areas. My predecessor in the post of Minister for Housing, Mr Nick Raynsford, established the Bed and Breakfast Unit, which is now in operation. It is looking urgently at ways in which the problem can be addressed. My noble friend also commented that the statutory framework we are putting in place may provide a good opportunity to deal with homelessness. I am grateful for her remarks.

My noble friend Lady Turner of Camden asked about the position as regards single-sex couples; whether they are suffering from an anomaly. On the basis of the briefing material before me, I am not in a position to deal with that particular point. I intend to write to my noble friend and respond to her comments.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, speaking from the Cross Benches, dealt eloquently with the cost of poor housing. I do not have to hand the up-to-date figures for the 1996 report from the RICS, to which the noble Lord referred. I shall seek to gather together those figures and write to the noble Lord. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that a huge cost is borne in that respect. The more effectively we can deal with the issues of homelessness, the more we shall reduce that cost.

The noble Lord drew attention to the Observer article covering the separation of families by local authorities and also pointed out that it is not only a question of housing but also of offering support to young people. The noble Lord drew attention to the Connexions service, which is seeking to give that support. We are very conscious of the fact that we need to provide support to prevent, for example, tenancy breakdown, which frequently occurs with young people who have been on the streets for long periods before they are put into tenancies.

Dealing with homelessness is a fundamental challenge, not only in relation to the provision of more affordable homes but in preventing people with social problems from ending up homeless. It may help such people to stay in tenancies if we provide them with more support. I undertake to write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and inform him of the "village hall" experience. Perhaps that will inform his approach in relation to the active communities.

I should say to my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton that I do not want the Bill to be called the "Domelessness Bill"; I am more than happy for it to be called the "Homelessness Bill". I agree that every contributor has spoken from the heart. My noble friend spoke impressively about the fact that people who are homeless are people in anguish; that they are people who need help. He described how, when he was an MP, people came to his surgery and brought their children with them because otherwise they would not have been able to speak to their MP. Like my noble friend, I hope that the Bill will make a real difference to the plight of homeless people.

My noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the right to buy. We are sticking with a right-to-buy policy, and the problems of

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homelessness have to be looked at within that landscape. Yes, of course we would like to build more houses. As I said, we have made more money available than in 1997 and 1998, but it will take a long time to reach a point where the numbers are high enough.

My noble friend referred also to co-operative solutions. I agree that they are well worth looking at. Indeed, shared ownership can make a real impact on the homelessness problem. As to a system of "pepper-potting", which was used by my noble friend's council in Enfield, he is right to say that that is somewhat out of fashion at the moment and is said to lead to problems. However, I agree that we need to address the problem of what kind of accommodation local councils should provide to deal with those who are temporarily homeless. Is it right that bed and breakfast is used so often, or would it be better if there were more properties—for example, in the private rental sector—which could be used to house the homeless?

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, underlined the importance of—she did not like the word—"joined-up" services. We agree that there is a need for joined-up services, not only between local authorities, particularly in London, to ensure that they work together to help the homeless, but between central government, local government and the statutory services in providing help for those who are homeless.

The noble Baroness referred to the 26,000 possession orders that have been made. There is a problem in breaking down the causes of possession orders. We are in discussion at the moment with the Lord Chancellor's Department, which deals with the courts, in an attempt to get under the headline figures and to see whether or not we can break down what causes people to have possession orders made against them, and what more we can do to help them.

The noble Baroness also referred to the issue of young offenders. I believe that she supported the Government's proposition that the more you help young offenders to settle into a home the less likely they are to reoffend.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, raised a number of issues, but he broadly welcomed the Bill. He spoke about the issues of lack of affordable housing and housing benefits, to which I have already referred. He referred to asylum seekers making the problem more difficult. Your Lordships will know that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place has made an announcement about reforms for dealing with asylum seekers once they are here. We agree that the quicker one is able to deal with claims, the better it will be for the genuine asylum seekers.

The noble Viscount raised the question of where offenders register. They register where they have a local connection. People do not establish a local connection in an area by reason of being placed in prison there; they register where they have a local connection. He also raised the issue of "jumping the gun", by which I think he meant going up the housing ladder. As I said in opening, we believe that they should be treated as a priority need as homeless people. That does not mean that they are entitled to

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permanent housing quicker than other people—for example, families who have been waiting for some considerable time.

The noble Viscount raised the issue of the mentally ill. Those who are vulnerable by reason of mental illness are already a priority need group under existing legislation. As to young people, it is proposed that the priority needs order should be extended to include all 16 and 17 year-olds, all 18 to 21 year-olds who come out of care or the Armed Forces, or who are young offenders.

It has been an excellent debate. Every noble Lord has contributed from the heart and from a desire to make a difference. I very much look forward to the Committee and Report stages, where I hope we will all agree and try to make it a better Bill.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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