HC Deb 18 December 1996 vol 287 cc941-3
9. Ms Roseanna Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met Shelter to discuss homelessness in Scotland. [8140]

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

On 29 November.

Ms Cunningham

Does the Minister agree that the right to a warm, secure and affordable home is a fundamental human right? Has he seen the recent figures from Shelter, which show a 63 per cent. rise in homelessness in Scotland in the past 10 years? In view of that, how can he justify the devastating cuts in the public sector housing budget this year? Will he not at least try to do something to help by commuting the housing debt, in the same way as was done for the private water authorities in England?

Mr. Robertson

The selective quoting of statistics does the House no good. The hon. Lady should perhaps have quoted the figure which shows that homelessness in Scotland is falling—last year it fell by 3 per cent. Shelter does our local authorities no credit by not giving them the credit for providing homes for 90 per cent. of families deemed unintentionally homeless and therefore in priority need. As for the commutation of debt, the hon. Lady tries to imply that there is some magic way of getting rid of the £4 billion debt. It must be picked up by someone. She has asked for it to be transferred to the national Exchequer. Her party's spending proposal have been independently costed and would cause a budget deficit of about £8 billion in Scotland. She has just said that she would add 50 per cent., bringing it up to £12 billion.

Mr. Davidson

Will the Minister accept that his unwillingness to express any concern about the levels of homelessness in Scotland causes regret within Scotland? Simply to bluff and bluster and to put questions to the House does not answer the real difficulties in Scotland. Simply to shout and bawl is not an adequate response to the many people in my constituency and in others who do not have a warm, dry house to live in. When will he take those problems seriously?

Mr. Robertson

If I did not care about the plight of the homeless in Scotland, I would not have issued a new draft code on homelessness as guidance for local authorities. I would not have put it out for consultation, nor withdrawn it because of some of the concerns that were expressed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have repeatedly said that we are willing to consult all the relevant bodies in the next few weeks with regard to revising the draft code to ensure that it meets Scottish circumstances in a particularly Scottish way. That does not strike me as the action of a Government who do not care.

10. Sir Russell Johnston

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what progress is being made in introducing a rough sleepers initiative in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. [8141]

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

My right hon. Friend issued a consultation paper on the rough sleepers initiative on 11 December.

Sir Russell Johnston

The Minister knows that my question was tabled before the statement was made. Following the variety of questions on housing, has the Minister seen the latest Shelter estimate that the housing waiting list in Scotland is now longer, at 194,579, than it has ever been? Is that not a dreadful comment at the end of 17 years of Tory government?

Mr. Robertson

I regret that the hon. Gentleman chooses to question me about rough sleepers. When we introduce a rough sleepers initiative, he chooses to ignore the fact that we have done so. That is a matter of real regret. If the hon. Gentleman genuinely had at heart the issue of rough sleeping in Scotland, he would not have continued with that question.

In reply to a previous question, I said that 2.5 per cent. of all council houses in Scotland are vacant. I hope that all local authorities, including the hon. Gentleman's, will turn their attention to getting those houses back into use.

Ms Rachel Squire

Is the Minister aware that approximately 1,800 pensioners in Scotland become homeless every year and that there is a severe shortage of all types of sheltered accommodation, especially public rented accommodation, to meet the needs of elderly and disabled people? Is he aware that, far from enabling local authorities to adapt and improve unsuitable housing that would allow the elderly to remain and live in the community, the Government's housing policies—especially the increase from 25 per cent. to 75 per cent. for debt redemption—will force many elderly people to abandon their homes and communities and go into institutional care?

Mr. Robertson

First, the hon. Lady obviously has not heard of our care and repair policy, which provides funds to allow elderly people to do the very thing that she describes—to adapt their own homes so that they can stay in them. The hon. Lady is right to say that that is where many of them wish to remain.

Perhaps the hon. Lady's remarks would be better directed towards hon. Members on the Labour Front Bench, who have committed not one more penny than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has committed to spending on housing in Scotland. I am happy to stand by the plans that my right hon. Friend outlined. The hon. Lady's own Front Benchers will not commit one penny more for housing in Scotland. I hope that she questions them in the same way as she has questioned me.

11. Mr. Welsh

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many responses he received in the consultation process on the draft code of guidance on homelessness; and when he expects to report his conclusions. [8142]

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

We have received 140 responses to the consultation document and we shall publish the final code early next year.

Mr. Welsh

Will the Minister admit that not one closing date submission supported temporary housing for the homeless? Does he accept that temporary housing will not solve the problem, and that only permanent housing will meet the needs of individuals and families who are homeless in Scotland?

Mr. Robertson

Indeed, not one response supported it, which is why we have gone on to further consultation, and that is one of the elements under review.