HC Deb 20 December 1989 vol 164 cc343-5
4. Mr. McKelvey

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his estimate of the number of homeless people in Scotland in the most recent year for which figures are available.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Some 9,500 households were assessed by local authorities as homeless during the year ending 31 March 1989.

Mr. McKelvey

I am sure that the House will be horrified by those figures, which are probably an underestimate. Will the Minister give serious consideration, perhaps over Christmas when he spends time with his young family, to those young homeless who are out on the streets with nowhere to go? This growing army of modern Oliver Twists have a nomadic life and no respite from their troubles. Will he try to match the money that has been given to England and Wales, so that the authorities can start to lay the foundations to provide somewhere for these young people to live?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The answer is yes. We have ensured that Scottish local authorities have an increase in net capital funding allocations of £64 million, which we have announced. We shall announce the individual allocations to local authorities this week. In those we shall have taken into account the incidence of homelessness. We are revising the code of guidance on homelessness, as it urgently needs updating. I debated this in the early hours of this morning with the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall).

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

I wonder whether the Minister watched a programme on television which showed a typical example of a homeless person who came from Aberdeen to London? He made only £50 a day in the tube stations and preferred, despite the advice of his mother, to remain in London making it, paying no tax and living in a cardboard box, rather than return to Aberdeen where he could have got a proper job.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) spent the night looking into these matters last week It is significant that his advice was that young people should not come to London unless they have accommodation or are going to a certain job. Often that has not happened in the past.

Mr. McAllion

Can the Minister explain why, during the progress of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988, he refused to give any responsibility for homelessness to Scottish Homes and insisted instead that responsibility should go to local authorities? Why, in the time since then, has he increased Government support in real terms for Scottish Homes, while cutting it in real terms for local authorities? Is that not evidence of the Government's betrayal of tens of thousands of homeless people in Scotland?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I specifically told Scottish Homes board members, whom I saw recently, that they should give priority to homelessness projects in co-operation with local authorities; but we have given substantial funding to local authorities by increasing their net capital allocations by £64 million. Scottish Homes will be coming forward with a cash incentive scheme to enable residents in its housing to move out into home ownership, so as to enable homeless families to move in.

Mr. Ian Bruce

How many council houses in Scotland are lying empty, and how long does it take to refill a council house when a tenant moves? Can my hon. Friend give some estimate of the number of homes that are vacant in the private sector because people do not believe that the housing legislation allows them both to let their houses and to get them back when they need them?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I most certainly can. There are about 25,000 empty council houses. Many of them are needed for decanting, but at least 4,000 of them have been vacant for more than three months, and I urge local authorities whenever possible to bring them back into use.

Of the approximately 128,000 empty houses in Scotland, most are in the private rented sector; by means of improvement grants and in every other possible way, we strongly encourage the private rented sector to bring these houses back into use.

Mr. Maxton

When will the Minister stop being so cruelly complacent about homelessness in Scotland, and recognise that the true figure of 30,000 homeless people there represents a major crisis for him, for Scotland and for all whom he represents? Why does he—unlike his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment—not realise that there is such a crisis and allocate as much money to Scottish homelessness as his right hon. Friend has given to England and Wales? Will he announce today that he is giving £30 million to deal with the problem of homelessness in Scotland?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

First, it is up to local authorities, when spending the extra £64 million net capital allocations, to decide on their most pressing needs. I invite the hon. Gentleman to consider the fact that the problems of London are not exactly reproduced in Scotland; most of the £250 million funding goes to London and the province of the south-east. I believe that local authorities should have the discretion to choose their priorities; projects against dampness and provision for the disabled might be given higher priority in certain areas.

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