HC Deb 15 October 1975 vol 897 cc1357-8
20. Mr. Costain

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent discussion he has had with local authorities on the question of illegal squatting.

Mr. Armstrong

My Department has recently consulted the local authority associations, and is considering their replies. Authorities themselves are aware of the policies and action they can—and should—pursue in respect of squatting, and of the problems which give rise to it.

Mr. Costain

In the course of the discussion, did the Minister bear in mind that the law, to put it mildly, is a little confused? Will he give local authorities an assurance that during the next Session new legislation will be brought in to clarify the situation? Has it yet become apparent to him that a lot of this squatting is due to the stupid rent controls introduced by the Government?

Mr. Armstrong

If the hon. Member has any direct evidence, my Department will be very pleased to consider it seriously. A change in the law would be a matter for the Home Secretary.

Mr. Madden

Does my hon. Friend agree that many local authorities have been able to reach commonsense and acceptable arrangements with squatting groups, particularly in cases where large amounts of property, available on a short-term basis, exist? Does he agree, having considered the replies from local authorities, that clear guidance should be given to them so that the open warfare which exists in some areas can be stopped as soon as possible and we can return to commonsense co-operation between local authorities and squatters' groups?

Mr. Armstrong

This is an urgent and serious problem. My Department is anxious to make the best possible use of housing stock, and our talks with local authorities are designed to speed up procedures so that empty properties are properly taken over and used for people in real housing need.