§ 1. Mr. Kilfoyle
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what information he has concerning the number of people registered homeless in Liverpool.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tim Yeo)
The information available to me, provided by Liverpool city council, is that it accepted 397 households as homeless in the second quarter of this year.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
Is the Minister aware that since 1988 in the city of Liverpool there has been a 48 per cent. increase in the number of homeless families? We have had the smallest number of new home completions in the city since 1982–83. In addition, nationally in the first six months of 1991 there was a 53 per cent. increase in the number of mortgage repossession orders. In this year, the 25th anniversary of Shelter, does the Minister agree that the time is right for him to give effect to the Prime Minister's boast in his letter of support to Shelter that the Government would employ public expenditure where necessary? Or does he concur with the view of the Minister for Housing and Planning that the homeless are merely the people whom one steps over on the way out of the opera?
§ Mr. Yeo
I share the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman for homeless people in Liverpool. It is because I share it that I must draw attention to the scandalous mismanagement of the housing stock in Liverpool. There are 5,733 empty council houses, almost 2,000 of which have been empty for more than a year. There is £16 million of uncollected rent, more than a quarter of the total rent roll. Those resources in property and money could be put to good use to top up the £23 million housing improvement programme allocation this year, the £12.5 million of estate action money, the £71 million of Housing Corporation money and the £15 million for the 244 vacant dwellings initiative. Those are huge resources which taxpayers are making available to Liverpool. If the city council was doing its job, it would put those resources to good use on behalf of the tenants.
§ Mr. Alton
Is the Minister aware that in addition to the 5,700 empty council-owned properties, there are a further 7,000 empty properties in the private sector, bringing to over 12,000 the number of empty properties in the city of Liverpool? Although I agree with the Minister that empty properties could be used to house homeless people, is not it the case that until capital receipts are released from the sale of council properties, councils will not have the resources to put properties back into use for people who need them?
§ Mr. Yeo
I have already listed the extensive resources that are available to the council. In addition, the vacant dwellings initiative, which provides £15 million of public money, topped up by £17 million of private investment, is designed to bring privately owned empty properties back into use. There is even more good news on the horizon for Liverpool in the form of a housing action trust. Despite the unremitting hostility of the Opposition Front-Bench team, I am glad to say that the majority group on the present Liverpool city council, in contrast to its predecessor, is showing interest in a housing action trust and my Department is discussing the matter with it.