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Volume 115: debated on Wednesday 6 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the present level of homelessness and the cost of the use of bed-and breakfast accommodation.

I refer the hon. Member to the replies given to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) on 16 January and to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) on 18 February.

Does the Minister recognise that, during the eight years since the Conservative Government were elected, homelessness has doubled and that the number of people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation has probably quadrupled? Does he recognise also that it is the most shattering indictment of his Government's policy that more funds are being spent—squandered—on bed-and-breakfast accommodation when, in his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), he confirmed that it would be cheaper to build houses for the homeless than to put them in bed-and-breakfast accommodation?

I know how much the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the issue. I know of his long standing interest in it. However, he is blinkered in his attitude to the possible full range of solutions to the problems of homelessness. I can only draw his attention to the considerable number of empty homes in council ownership in London. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not done what he could to persuade councils such as Brent and Lambeth to make use of the money that I offered them last year to fill empty houses to house the homeless. They turned it down.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House when the inquiry that his Department has conducted into the working of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 will be reporting? Does he realise that many unemployed people move to areas such as the seaside and other areas of great beauty in the countryside and create major problems in towns such as those in east Devon? Will he make certain that the report is published?

I entirely appreciate the concern felt in areas such as east Devon over this issue. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are giving them close attention.

Will the Minister confirm that one of the ways in which he and his fellow Ministers are planning to try to deal with homelessness after the next election is another Conservative attempt to revitalise the private rented sector and that, at the moment, they are planning to give subsidies to private landlords so that they can make a profit out of housing?

It is surely a matter of common interest and concern in the House that there are 540,000 empty homes in the private rented sector. Surely we can find ways of making it possible for some of those homes to be tilled to house people in need.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that much of the additional funding for the Housing Corporation this year is specifically targeted at replacing bed-and-breakfast accommodation? Pending the reduction and elimination of that unsatisfactory form of housing, will my hon. Friend look closely at the possibility of, at the least, registering the landlords of some of that unpleasant property?

I know and respect my hon. Friend's long concern, as a board member of Shelter, in this matter. Almost all the extra money going to the Housing Corporation this year is to provide additional accommodation for the homeless and for young job movers, in close co-operation with the private sector. With £30 million of public sector money we shall draw in about £60 million of private sector money, provide a substantial number of new homes, and get people out of bed-and-break fast accommodation.

The Minister is quite right in saying that there is not one simple solution to the problem. There are a variety of solutions. Why has he not done more to encourage councils such as Bromley and Brent, which have tried, with modest resources, to experiment with making resources available to tenants who do not want to buy the house or flat in which they are living to enable them to have a stake somewhere else in the market, thereby releasing much needed family housing? Why has he not helped Brent council in that direction?

Transferable discounts are an interesting idea. That is why my Department is monitoring, for a short period in Bromley, Brent and in Ealing, the effects of the transferable discounts policy to see whether it works. We have three useful experiments going on. 'We shall look at the matter before the end of the year.