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Volume 511: debated on Thursday 10 June 2010

That will be me then.

The most important thing is that there is an honest street count, but there has not been such a count up to now. We will introduce measures to take street counts into account. The last street count said that there were just 468 people sleeping rough in the entire country: it is nonsense, and we are going to get it sorted.

May I welcome my right hon. Friend eventually to the Dispatch Box? We have a fine record in Blackpool of inter-agency working to tackle systemic structural homelessness involving both the council and NHS Blackpool. Will he tell me, as part of his collaborative efforts in government, which Departments he will target and which thematic issues are important in tackling the rough sleeping that he has just described?

I will make sure that I am quick in reaching the Dispatch Box, to announce that Ministers across Government will be involved in helping with homelessness: there will be a named Minister in each of the key Departments to ensure that, at long last, there is some form of joined-up government to help to reduce the number of rough sleepers.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to one of the best jobs in government. All of us who are passionate about housing are disappointed that the new Government have downgraded housing and that the Housing Minister no longer attends Cabinet. On homelessness, does he accept that co-ordination is fine, but we need to build more new affordable housing to tackle the problem? Some £230 million of cuts this year is a bad start. When the £6 billion of cuts were first announced, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told the House that the Government were

“putting more money than the previous Government did into social housing.”—[Official Report, 26 May 2010; Vol. 510, c. 160.]

Is that true or false?

I welcome my opposite number to my former position. I feel a little bit bad: I have taken both his offices and his car, and I have even got his red tie on today. But I can reassure him that we will do all that we can to undo the mess of the lowest level of house building since 1946, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned. Indeed, if one takes out the war years, it is the lowest since 1924. That is the heart of the problem with house building in this country. Leaving us with a bill—it is highly dubious whether £780 million of it is available to the Government—was not the smartest thing to do, and it means that we are in the position of trying to rescue house building in this country, and, in particular, affordable house building.

As a significant proportion of those who are long-term homeless are ex-servicemen and women, will the ministerial team also liaise with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that these people are properly supported as they make the transition from service to civilian life?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. It is incredibly important, right across Government, from the MOD to the Department of Health and the Department for Education and many other Departments, that there is proper co-ordination between Ministers. It has never been done before at ministerial level; it has always been left to the officials. We will have Ministers in charge of homelessness across the Government, including in the MOD.