HC Deb 13 November 1974 vol 881 cc399-400
14. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has estimated the effects of the housing of homeless families in London upon the prospects of families listed on London borough council waiting lists.

Mr. Freeson

The effects are difficult to assess quantitatively.

Mr. Jessel

Is the Minister aware that the number of homeless families rehoused in London has increased sharply since last year? Is he further aware that some people contrive to make themselves homeless so as to jump the normal housing queue? That has been attempted in my constituency and other places. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this practice is unfair and detrim[...]tal to families which have been on the waiting lists for a long time? What will he do to ensure that all local authorities in London prevent this from happening?

Mr. Freeson

To put it mildly, the remarks of the hon. Gentleman are unfortunate. In Richmond, which is in his constituency, 50 homeless families were housed last year. In London as a whole there were approximately 14,500 applications to local authorities by homeless families. I would also suggest that the hon. Member's own borough should have his attention. Its housing programme could be rapidly increased on land which we know to be available. Well over 1,000 dwellings could be started on land known to be available.

Mr. Russell Kerr

It is the worst borough in the country.

Mr. Lipton

Since, as my hon. Friend said, local authorities in the London area have largely failed to deal adequately with London's housing problem, has not the time come for housing powers to be taken away from all the 32 London boroughs and the Greater London Council and vested in one authority that would tackle London's housing problem adequately and in a unified way?

Mr. Freeson

I have heard that suggestion from time to time, although I have not seen it worked out positively and intentionally. More particularly, this whole question of London's housing strategy and the executive machinery with which we tackle housing problems in London is receiving careful and urgent study at my request in the Department. I hope to have consultations on the basis of some proposals that we will work out in the near future.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The Minister is right to suggest that the remark of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) is unfortunate, but is he aware that it is true? It is very sad, but I have a letter in my bag at the moment in which the writer says how pleased he is that he is being evicted, since that is the only chance he has of being rehoused. The Minister knows that this is the problem now in London. People have purposely to get themselves evicted because that is the only way in which they can be rehoused. Will he please do something about it in the stress areas, one of which he himself represents?

Mr. Freeson

As I said, it is unfortunate to say the least to suggest that 14,500 families—in fact the figure is much higher that is the official recorded figure and there are many more homeless families who do not apply—apply to local authorities on grounds of homelessness, or that even a majority of them are doing so. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did not say that."] It is unfortunate to suggest that even a majority or a large number of them are deliberately queue-jumping. The matter is too serious to be treated in that fashion.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

The matter is too serious to be treated in that cavalier fashion by the Minister. Perhaps he will turn his attention to the development of dockland, where in the last two weeks there has been yet another example to prove that the internecine war between his party on the boroughs and on the GLC is holding up development.

Mr. Freeson

I am not aware of any internecine war. I am aware that the present machinery for looking at the future of dockland was sponsored by the hon. Member's right hon. and learned Friend the previous Secretary of State for the Environment.

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