HC Deb 11 November 1992 vol 213 cc871-2
10. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to reduce the number of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Sir George Young

There has been a reduction of 17 per cent. over the latest 12-month period for which figures are available.

Mr. Mullin

Will the Minister confirm that it costs twice as much to keep a family in bed-and-breakfast accommodation as it does to pay, on average, the cost of a loan for building a new house? Is that not madness? Will the Minister introduce a scheme to encourage building societies to lease homes to local authorities for the accommodation of homeless people? If that is not practicable, why not build more public housing?

Sir George Young

The numbers in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are coming down because there is greater use of private sector leasing along the lines that the hon. Gentleman suggested. Everyone agrees that bed and breakfast is a wholly inappropriate form of accommodation for families. We have been working out much better alternatives which are also cheaper.

Mr. Paice

Is not one way of dealing with the problem to allow housing associations to build many more homes? In that context, is my hon. Friend aware that East Cambridgeshire district council in my constituency, having achieved debt-free status beforehand, transferred its housing stock to a housing association and is now in the position of being able to make annual massive contributions to that association to build new homes?

Sir George Young

I pay tribute to the enlightened view of my hon. Friend's local authority. There are many gains from the policy that he described, not least for those who live in the new homes that are funded out of capital receipts. Housing associations have a role to play in tackling the problem. Completions have gone up from 27,000 two years ago to 53,000 next year, on current plans.

Mr. Clelland

We all await with bated breath the Chancellor's autumn statement on Thursday. Notwithstanding that, can the Minister tell us what representations he or the Secretary of State have made to the Chancellor with a view to allowing local authorities to use capital receipts from council house sales to build, renew or lease properties, to put an end to the appalling housing record of the Government over the past 13 years?

Sir George Young

Certainly not.

Mr. Hendry

Will my hon. Friend, when looking at the problems of homelessness, consider what can be done to bring into use the tens of millions of square feet of empty office space whose owners and developers would be happy to see it used on a short-term basis to house homeless people or students? That could make a significant contribution towards tackling the problem.

Sir George Young

I very much welcome using the lateral thinking in which my hon. Friend engaged to see whether one could convert empty office space, particularly in London, into accommodation which is clearly needed. Studies are going on in which my Department is very interested. Where it is feasible, practicable and possible, I shall do what I can to support such a transition.

Mr. Battle

Of course, it is welcome that the numbers of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are starting to come down, but is not the reason the fact that there is now the highest ever number of families in temporary accommodation? Do not some 63,000 families want to know how temporary is temporary? Rather than further cut local authority housing, change pledges to housing associations and cut their budgets, is it not time for the Government to let local authorities make use of the £5 billion of capital receipts to provide desperately needed housing to rent and at the same time provide work for the severely depressed construction industry?

Sir George Young

The figures for acceptances on the homeless side have started to fall, so it is not the case that there is an inexorable increase in the families being accepted by local authorities. Total acceptances in London in the current year were 40,700—that is a reduction. On the capital receipts point which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, that is a debate which I have had many times. He well knows that if one wants to make the best use of capital receipts, one has to examine the incidence of where they arise and where the need is greatest. One cannot spend the same capital receipts twice.

Mr. Bowis

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Labour boroughs of London were to bring back into use the empty properties that they own and properties that are currently squatted, tomorrow there would be no one in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right. For the last date for which we have figures, there were 74,200 voids in local authority ownership. That is more than the number in bed and breakfast, so my hon. Friend is right.

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