HC Deb 04 March 1987 vol 111 cc858-9
4. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to increase the availability of hostel accommodation for the homeless.

Mr. John Patten

Finding accommodation for homeless people is primarily the responsibility of local authorities under part III of the Housing Act 1985. The Government are, however, assisting the provision of temporary hostel places for the homeless in various ways, including in particular the widely welcomed new provision through the Housing Corporation.

Mr. Alton

Given that, in reply to an earlier question, the Secretary of State queried the use of waiting lists as a guide to the number of homeless people, will he dispute the figures provided by Shelter that show that up to 100,000 people will present themselves as homeless this year, and that, by summer, no temporary hostel accommodation will be available for homeless people in London? As the Minister just said that he thinks that more temporary accommodation should be made available, what will he do about it? Does he agree that the problem has been compounded by encouraging young people to become a nation of Dick Whittingtons, to leave the great northern cities, to travel to London and find that the streets are not paved with jobs? They end up living in cardboard cities in conditions that are nothing but undignified.

Mr. Patten

We recently announced the funding of a major programme of analysis into the causes of homelessness by the Birmingham university centre for urban and regional studies. It has been widely welcomed by all lobbying bodies involved, including Shelter. That programme will help to shed some light on the first of the four questions that the hon. Gentleman asked. I shall make a couple of other observations on his other questions if I may.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Patten

I shall not, in that case.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister should answer, but I ask for single questions, otherwise it is unfair to other hon. Members.

Mr. Patten

That is precisely why I asked for your permission, Mr. Speaker, to answer the last three questions. I did not want to see any unfairness to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that in his own area of Liverpool there is no need for anyone to be homeless because there are about 8,000 empty council properties in Liverpool alone.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my hon. Friend accept that the best way to solve the problem of homelessness is not to provide more hostel accommodation—to take up points raised earlier during Question Time — but to bring about amendments to the rent legislation to bring on to the market the private rented units that are currently available but which private landlords cannot afford to put on to the market, and to bring forward public accommodation in the ownership of local authorities which, with rehabilitation, could he made available? Therefore, will he make more money available for the rehabilitation of public housing and amend the rent legislation?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend has given us a lot of food for thought. The private rented sector could provide considerable amounts of accommodation through refurbishment to house the homeless. It is exactly co-operation with the private sector, through the Housing Corporation to which we are looking to try to fund additional temporary hostels for the homeless which will be so important in placing people in permanent accommodation.

Mr. Rooker

I reiterate to the Minister the offer made by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) that if he comprehensively operates in all three areas, we shall do all that we can to facilitate the matter. It is a scandal. Does it worry him that there have been press reports in the past couple of weeks that 40-bedroom hotels in London which changed hands for £750,000 three years ago, are now changing hands for several millions of pounds. It means that the owners can clean up at the expense of the taxpayer and the ratepayer by using three hotels for bed and breakfast accommodation? The Minister cannot ignore that scandal any longer.

Mr. Patten

It is precisley for that reason that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made available to the Housing Corporation enough money to bring in between £50 million and £70 million of investment in hostel accommodation, largely in London, which will make the use of bed and breakfast accommodation unnecessary. That is precisely my right hon. Friend's policy.