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House of Lords

Tuesday, 7th July 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Addicts: Residential Care Facilities

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for the replacement of Lorne House, the only institution in the country offering residential care to young drug addicts and alcoholics, which has been closed following the withdrawal of grants.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the Government do not directly provide local services for health or social care. Lorne House was funded in a complicated way by local authorities, health commissioners, the Probation Service and charities. None the less, in the last financial year the Department of Health gave crisis funding to Lorne House of £50,000 but did not feel that this action could be unilaterally repeated. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health, together with my honourable friend the Minister for Public Health, recently met with the UK Anti-Drugs Co-ordinator, Mr. Hellawell, to discuss ways in which cross- Government action could be taken to improve the financial stability of residential drug treatment services such as this one. I am glad to say that the three remaining residents of Lorne House have been successfully resettled.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the Government should not take credit for the £50,000 to which she referred, as it was given by my noble friend Lady Cumberlege? Will the noble Baroness, whose courtesy in this matter I greatly appreciate, do her best to persuade the department, before they allow a valuable enterprise such as this to disappear, to take a careful look at the record of people saved and the possibility that there might perhaps be something to learn from those who run such places?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, yes, indeed, we are very aware of the good work that has been done by Lorne House and its parent organising body, Turning Point, which, as the noble Lord will know, is a national organisation. I am glad to say that, in a letter to the Department of Health about this project, Turning Point said:

    "we do intend to use the experience we have gained [at Lorne House] ... to develop new and innovative options for young people's services".

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The Government are committed to working together with Turning Point on those new and innovative services. It is to that end that my right honourable friend has met the UK Anti-Drugs Co-ordinator to try to formulate a general policy.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, I apologise to the House for my excess of zeal, but I was so inspired by watching the launch of the homelessness initiative this morning that I felt that this could only be the other side of the coin. I ask the Minister to reconsider whether this and other such projects cannot be given continued funding.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I hope I indicated in my reply to the original Question, the Government appreciate the good work done by these organisations and regret it when individual institutions cease to offer services which have probably been useful. I believe it is true to say that there are different ways of dealing with this issue, of which, as I described in my answer to the supplementary question by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, the organisation sponsoring Lorne House is aware. We very much want to see those developed. I am advised that there are still over 100 centres in the United Kingdom which provide residential care in this area, although not all of them deal specifically with this young age group.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, bearing in mind the alarming increase in heavy drinking by teenagers, which was disclosed in an Answer given to me by the Government at the end of last week, and the fact that many homeless teenagers suffer from alcohol addiction, does the Minister think that additional funds should be directed at helping homeless young alcoholics? Does she think that enough is being done to prevent young people taking up drink and becoming homeless?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, no, I do not think enough is being done. This is one of the programmes which is actively under consideration for development by my honourable friend the Minister for Public Health, who has, as I explained in my original Answer, recently met with those involved in the UK co-ordination of this policy. We very much want to see these services developed. We recognise that this is a serious problem.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, if magistrates do not have residential places to which to send these young people, they will have to send many of them to prison? Does she further agree that there are now far too many young people residing in prison and not receiving rehabilitation?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I think we are all very aware of the problems created when people who should be in specialist residential care for problems of this kind end up in the prison system. That is of concern right across the Government. As I said, I believe that there are a number of residential

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institutions that specifically cater for this area; but, as has been demonstrated again this afternoon, there is clearly not yet enough provision of this kind, although we should not think that residential care is the only answer.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, the Minister may be aware that the General Synod of the Church of England debated this subject last weekend in York. I was present at the debate. A unanimous resolution was passed to welcome the Government's attempt to improve the co-ordination of efforts to tackle drug abuse. However, we have two concerns which I wish to put before the Minister.

One concern is the lack of sufficient, speedy, effective treatment for drug addicts, which is mentioned in the Government's own report. What extra resources will the Government make available to increase access and make access more readily available for effective treatment for drug addicts, particularly those who encounter genuine opposition when they try to get into training and employment?

The second concern relates to support for local community careworkers and projects--not for rehabilitation centres but for local community care on the streets. Could resources be diverted from the assets seized from drug barons who have helped these people get into the dilemmas in which they find themselves?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for drawing attention to the suggestions made last weekend. Overall, funding is an area of policy which will be considered in the light of the outcome of the comprehensive spending review. We hope to achieve significant changes in the allocation of special resources to help authorities. On the more general point, that again is a question for co-ordinated government action and not something I can answer on behalf of the Department of Health. It needs discussion with, for example, my right honourable friends in the Home Office.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, following what the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said, has the Minister ever visited Lorne House? I did so when I had her job and was deeply impressed by everything that it was doing. Is it not a great pity that something which is working extremely well should be destroyed by a lack of what is relatively little money?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I did not visit Lorne House, but for many years I worked with Turning Point--the parent organisation which was specifically involved with its activities--when I was working for the National AIDS Trust 10 years ago. I am therefore familiar with the good work done by that specific organisation across the whole area of addiction. As I explained, this was an institution which we felt was providing a useful service. However, it was considered

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to be somewhat expensive. As I said in my original Answer, there were only three residents in Lorne House when it was finally closed.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the fact that there were only three residents--

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but we are now eight minutes into Question Time. We should move on.

Housing Benefit Review

2.45 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What principles will underlie their review of housing benefit.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government remain committed to ensuring that people can afford reasonable accommodation. Therefore any changes in the principles underlying the Government's review of housing benefit will be designed to make it more user friendly by making it easier to understand and simpler to administer. The Government will also seek to minimise work disincentives and the risk of fraud.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that commitment to ensuring that people can afford accommodation. In the light of recent attempts to cap levels of housing benefit, does the department believe that there is any evidence to suggest that caps on housing benefit may lead landlords to reduce the level of rent?

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