HC Deb 10 March 2004 vol 418 cc1509-11
6. Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)

What steps the Departments is taking to reduce overcrowding in housing. [159907]

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill)

My hon. Friend will agree that the basic answer to the problem of overcrowding is to increase the supply of affordable housing. That is why the Government are investing in that twice the amount that we inherited from the Tories in 1997. Meanwhile, I look forward to sharing with my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who have a specific concern about overcrowding the results of the reviews on the subject carried out by and for the Department, My hon. Friend will also know about the commitment that I made in the Committee that considered the Housing Bill to examine what might be done to improve the statutory overcrowding standards incrementally. I shall follow up that commitment on Report.

Ms King

I agree that the answer is to increase the supply of affordable housing. I thank the Minister for initiating research following my comments, and those of others, about the negative impact of overcrowding on my constituents and many others; but what further steps will the Government take to tackle the problem? The current subsidy encourages housing associations to build one and two-bedroom properties, and discourages them from building three and four-bedroom family-size accommodation. What can the Minister do to increase the amount of such accommodation?

Keith Hill

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but we are making significant progress on overcrowding. I am sure that she and others with an interest in the subject will welcome that. I take her point about the nature of the accommodation. We are anxious to ensure that new housing development features appropriately sized accommodation, and we are working to that end.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

Is the Minister aware that last summer there was a near-tragic fire in a private two-bedroom flat in my constituency occupied by 22 illegal Chinese immigrants, victims of people-trafficking? What can be done to prevent such incidents?

Keith Hill

One obvious solution is for us all to support the excellent Gangmasters (Licensing) Bill, which is currently proceeding through the House.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab)

Broxtowe council is trying to reduce the shortage of affordable housing by insisting that 25 per cent. of every new development must consist of such housing, but it would be helpful if deals could be done to enable affordable housing to be developed in other locations in return for luxury housing at the main sites. My constituents in Stapleford would really benefit from that. Will the Minister consider giving councils more flexibility in this regard? [Interruption.]

Keith Hill


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before the Minister replies, let me say that the Chamber is far too noisy.

Keith Hill

I can reassure my hon. Friend by telling him that such flexibility already exists. We are eager to enable local planning authorities to make decisions that fit local circumstances.

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