HC Deb 04 March 1981 vol 1000 cc263-4
6. Mr. Soley

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment, of the total of national homelessness, what percentage there is in Greater London.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)

From the latest statistics supplied by local authorities in England, we estimate that in the first half of 1980 local authorities accepted responsibility for securing accommodation for about 29,000 households. Of these, some 29 per cent. were initially accepted by London boroughs.

Mr. Soley

Is the Minister aware that in the calendar year 1980 there were only 4,100 local authority lets in the Greater London area, compared with 24,000 in 1977? Does he agree that this not only deprives the homeless and those on the waiting list of any real hope, but is a damning indictment of the Government's housing policy and that of Conservative local authorities?

Mr. Finsberg

An even more damning indictment is the deliberate attempt by the Labour Party to sabotage shorthold and the inefficiency of the majority of London Labour boroughs in keeping houses empty because of party dogma.

Mr. Squire

Does my hon. Friend accept that while the well-documented aberrations of the Opposition, some of which he has just given us, are well-known and accepted on this side of the House—indeed, they ignore the national surplus in housing—there is a particular problem in London, which I earnestly commend to him and ask whether he recognises that the market alone is probably unable to cope with it.

Mr. Finsberg

I think that my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the particular problems of London, but it is right to point out, for example, that London's HIP allocation is about £548 million, which represents £200 for every household, compared with £85 per household in the rest of the country? London has not done all that badly. It must also be remembered that if Labour boroughs started selling their properties to the tenants they could augment their HIP allocations.

Mr. Alton

I congratulate the Government on at least providing £12 million this year for the renewal of many of the hostels for the homeless that are run by the Salvation Army and the Church Army, but is the Minister aware of the press conference held last week by the Archbishop of Canterbury and those two organisations? Is he aware of the great anxiety felt by those organisations, which deal with homeless people? Is he prepared to meet them to discuss the major crisis that they are experiencing, in view of the fact that they say that £12 million will not be enough to cope with the growing problem of homelessness that they are trying to tackle?

Mr. Finsberg

I am sure that my right hon. Friend and I are always delighted to meet anyone who has a view to put. It is perhaps a trifle unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman omitted to mention, first, that this is the first time that any Government have done this sort of thing, and secondly, that the Archbishop congratulated my right hon. Friend on this initiative?

Mr. Lawrence

Does my hon. Friend agree that the last Adminstration's destruction of the private rented sector did more than anything else to precipitate homelessness? Will he try a little harder to reverse those policies?

Mr. Finsberg

We hope very much that the provisions of the Housing Act 1980—apart from shorthold—to encourage the private rented sector will indicate to people that this is a very important sector. The most helpful development in the provision of additional housing would be for the Labour Party to live in the 1980s, and not in the 1930s.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

When the Minister quotes the HIP allocation for Greater London this year, does he acknowledge that that HIP allocation is less than 50 per cent. of what was requested? Will he also acknowledge that the London Boroughs Association, which is Tory controlled, now says that 75 per cent. of all the boroughs' lets in 1982 will be taken by homeless families, and that the real problem is that they do not have the money to make any housing starts over the next few years?

Mr. Finsberg

I hope that the hon. Lady realises that it would be unrealistic to allocate the limited housing capital available on the basis of bids. The greediest would make the biggest bids. We have tried to relate housing to need. That is what is required.