HC Deb 24 January 1990 vol 165 cc882-4
9. Mr. Orme

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what further steps he is taking to tackle the problem of homelessness.

Mr. Michael Spicer

In consultation with local authority associations and voluntary organisations, we are now taking forward the proposals that my right hon. Friend set out in his statement of 15 November, following our review of the homelessness legislation.

Mr. Orme

Following the exchanges this afternoon, does not the Minister agree that this issue is now a national scandal? It is not just a London problem but is to be found throughout the cities and towns of our country, including my own area of Manchester and Salford? Will his Department initiate a census and report back to the House within one month on the size of the problem and how to deal with it?

Mr. Spicer

This is not just a problem in London or the other cities in the United Kingdom, it is an international problem—many countries suffer from the same phenomenon at present.

It is very difficult to get accurate figures because the population is mobile, but we aim to get as accurate a picture as possible because, as the right hon. Member and many other right hon. and hon. Members have said, the matter is one of considerable urgency to us. There is no question about that. I give the House a firm assurance that we are treating the problem in an urgent manner. The amount of £2 million is available to voluntary organisations to be used to the best advantage.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

As my hon. Friend said in answer to an earlier question, one of the main causes of homelessness is the apparent shortage of rented accommodation, especially in London. Does he recall that last year the Environment Select Committee made it clear that Labour-controlled housing authorities were keeping properties empty for inordinate periods? That is grossly inefficient. What are my hon. Friend and his colleagues doing to ensure that those authorities make better use of their housing stock, thereby reducing homelessness in the capital?

Mr. Spicer

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government have launched many programmes that have that effect. The estate action programme is a highly imaginative scheme which the Government introduced to ensure that, in particular, Labour-controlled council property is put to far better use than it has been recently. I agree with my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Fearn

Is the Minister aware that many voluntary organisations catering for the homeless are desperately short of money? How much of the £2 million will be distributed to the north-west of England, where we have a great homelessness problem, or is the Minister leaving it entirely to voluntary organisations to sort the matter out?

Mr. Spicer

No. The Government will be deeply involved in the allocation of the funds. We may use the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux as a means of co-ordinating part of the distribution of the funds. The Government are taking an intense interest in the allocation.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my hon. Friend accept that anyone in his right mind has much sympathy with people who are homeless? Over the past few weeks, and especially last Thursday, the Birmingham Evening Mail ran 48 pages of job advertisements. All those jobs were available for people who wanted them. People who have the good jobs that are advertised in the Birmingham Evening Mail can afford a home. Let us not think that anyone who is homeless is deprived by the Government—often such people do not want to work and do not want to thrive.

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend makes a very strong point. It must be said, however, that one of the features of those who are roofless and sleeping rough is, of course, that they find it difficult to get jobs.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Of course.

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend says, "Of course." That is one reason why the problem is unacceptable. Many of these people are children, and our first advice to them is, therefore, to go back to their parents.