HC Deb 16 February 1994 vol 237 cc939-40
10. Ms Coffey

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about the proposals to change priorities for rehousing families in permanent council accommodation.

Mr. Gummer

The consultation paper on access to local authority and housing association tenancies was issued on 20 January. The consultation period ends on 18 March.

Ms Coffey

Does the Minister agree that, in the allocation of houses, it is not the system but the shortage of decent, affordable housing that is the problem? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that an inevitable consequence of the proposals in the homelessness review will be an increase in the number of children coming into care because their parents are overwhelmed by housing difficulties? Does he really want to go back to a "Cathy Come Home" situation? Will he reconsider his proposals, which only serve to punish the homeless for their housing need, and deal with the real problem, which is a shortage of decent, affordable housing in this country?

Mr. Gummer

I think that the hon. Lady is mistaken, and I shall explain why. At the moment, we have a situation in which some people, who are in very bad housing conditions but are not technically homeless, are left in those conditions, whereas others, who are in better conditions but are technically homeless, take the places that are available. What we are proposing is simply that we should seek a common means of sharing, on the basis of need, the accommodation that is available. The hon. Lady should be ashamed of herself for trying to suggest otherwise. She is using the plight of homeless and sad families for party political purposes.

Sir Anthony Durant

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the current legislation on homelessness works against ordinary families with children who are in need, who often find themselves on the housing list for years despite the fact that they are local people with a right to be housed?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that when the legislation on homelessness was introduced it was intended to give people access to local authority and housing association accommodation on the basis of need. It is clear that that does not always happen, and it is sensible that we should try to ensure that in future it will. I do not understand why Opposition Members, who are supposedly interested in the provision of housing for those in priority need, find it impossible to join us in this effort and, instead, use the situation for sordid party political purposes.

Mr. Battle

On the subject of shame, is not the reality that here, the shame rests with the Conservative party? Will the Secretary of State, instead of scapegoating single mothers and, now, the homeless in general and rubbing out people's right to a secure home by offering only a short-term break of six months in a private rented bedsit, cancel this uncalled-for, unwanted, back-to-basics-tainted review of the homelessness legislation, which is crudely geared to fiddling the homelessness figures—doing to the homeless what the Government have done to the unemployed, and doing absolutely nothing to tackle the real housing and homelessness problem, which the Government are deliberately turning into a crisis?

Mr. Gummer

I do not think that it is acceptable that a family with children living in very bad housing should wait and wait and wait while people who are statutorily homeless, even though they have a better roof over their heads, jump the queue. The hon. Gentleman ought to take the opportunity of his next article in the newspaper for which he writes regularly to explain that Conservatives want to ensure that choices are made entirely on the basis of need rather than on the basis of statutory entitlement. Until the hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept the bona fides of others, as we are prepared to accept his bona fides, he will have nothing to contribute to this debate.