HC Deb 04 November 1987 vol 121 cc925-6
7. Mr. Morgan

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to reduce the number of people who have to live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Mr. Ridley

The proposals in our recent White Paper are aimed at increasing the amount of rented accommodation available. Meanwhile, we shall continue to encourage all those concerned to make better use of the existing housing stock.

Mr. Morgan

What reaction would the right hon. Gentleman expect from the homeless to the outturn figures given by the Chancellor yesterday, which showed an £80 million fall in housing expenditure this year compared with last year? When does he expect to announce the raising or scrapping of the 20 per cent. maximum on the use of council house receipts?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman may not have got it quite right from yesterday's announcements. He will be pleased to hear that I have announced an extra £45 million of capital allocations during the current year for local authorities to tackle homelessness and other housing needs. I also announced an increase of £384 million over this year's figure for capital investment in housing for 1988–89. Those are sizeable increases in the provision that is being made to deal with the shortage of homes to rent. Coupled with our proposals in the Housing Bill soon to come before the House—which hopes to bring into use many of the empty private sector properties—that is a major contribution to increased provision.

Sir George Young

Following the excellent speech at the Conservative party conference by the Minister for Housing and Planning, when will the Government come to a conclusion on the possible extension of the transferable discount scheme as a means of tackling homelessness in London?

Mr. Ridley

We are looking at that possibility, but I am a little confused about the extent of the bed-and-breakfast system in London at the present time. We have just heard that 631 out of 1,600 rooms booked for bed-and-breakfast by Camden borough council turned out to be unoccupied when inspected. That shows that of the £24 million which Camden is paying annually, some £9 million is apparently being spent on empty rooms for non-existant bed-and-breakfast places. We have a right to demand that this be administered more accurately and that the figures be given correctly.

Mr. Soley

Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to have a word with the Home Secretary about the houses that he is prepared to demolish, which have been empty for up to nine years and which could be used for some of these people. As the right hon. Gentleman is now accepting that there is a problem in the rented sector—and empty houses cause this problem—will he confess that 1 million homes have been lost from the rented sector since 1979, over half of which have been in the private sector? Why is it that Conservative Governments, both in 1957 and now, have presided over the worst ever loss to the rented sector? Is that not an explanation of why so many people are suffering the misery of bed-and-breakfast and homelessness?

Mr. Ridley

With 550,000 empty private properties and 113,000 empty council properties, the first recourse must be to find ways of bringing those properties into the market so that people can occupy them. That is an infinitely preferable solution to the hon. Gentleman's solution the other day, when he said that he would look at ways of relaxing planning consents on the green belt. I think that we have a better answer than he does.

Forward to