HC Deb 09 December 1992 vol 215 cc828-9
2. Mr. John Marshall:

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will be renewing the rough sleepers initiative in central London.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Sir George Young)

We shall be making resources of £86 million available over three years from April 1993 to build on the achievements of the rough sleepers initiative which, since June 1990, has reduced the number of people sleeping rough in central London by more than a half.

Mr. Marshall

May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on securing additional finance from the Treasury in the autumn statement? Does he agree that the problem of rough sleepers in London would be eased if inner London councils would let their unlet council houses and collect their uncollected rents?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right. It is an affront to the many people in London who are homeless or in temporary accommodation that large numbers of local authority flats continue to be unlet after more than a year. My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of the Government's priorities, in a difficult public expenditure round, in finding the necessary resources to continue further the progress that we have been making in respect of rough sleeping in central London.

Mr. Tony Banks

Does the Minister not feel ashamed and embarrassed to see so many people sleeping on the streets of London when he is on his way to the opera? I do not suppose embarrassment is something that comes easily to Conservative Members because they could not care a damn about people who are sleeping rough. Does the Minister recognise that the problem of homelessness is not confined to inner London? How many outer-London severe weather shelters are being provided? Why has the Minister's Department turned down proposals for such shelters in Croydon, Camden and Newham?

Sir George Young

I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman might find it possible to congratulate the voluntary organisations in central London on their work in the past two years to reduce the number of people sleeping rough, but, instead, he saw fit to deliver the rather ungrateful rant that we have just heard. The Government focus resources on central London because that is where there is the largest concentration of rough sleepers. Roughly half the rough sleepers in this country are in central London, and that is where we are targeting our resources. Outside inner London, we are funding voluntary organisations to make progress. However, we would expect local authorities such as that of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) to recognise that they also have a responsibility and should make provision of the kind mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Salvation Army on its superb work with its soup run to rough sleepers? Does he also agree that the Salvation Army and others minister to a number of rough sleepers who generally refuse to come into accommodation available for them?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the sterling work of many voluntary organisations and charities in London which deliver help and shelter to those sleeping rough. There are a number of rough sleepers who have been approached by resettlement workers and outreach workers and have been offered accommodation in hostels with access to move-on accommodation, but have turned that accommodation down. It is a challenge for everyone who wants to see a reduction in rough sleeping in central London if there are people who turn down offers that are made to them.