HL Deb 08 December 1987 vol 491 cc65-8

2.53 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are considering further action to deal with the increasing incidence of homelessness in London and other major conurbations.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the proposals in our Housing Bill are aimed at increasing the amount of rented accommodation available. Meanwhile we shall continue to encourage local authorities and others to make better use of the existing stock and will assist by targeting resources on the homeless.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware of the Department of the Environment's announcement of an extra £20 million approximately being targeted towards homelessness? This amount has been made available only because housing expenditure receipts are £734 million in excess of the amount predicted in the White Paper on housing expenditure. Is it not the fact that local authorities are being allowed access to money that they have already collected and that these are not new resources?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, HIP allocations are spending powers granted to local authorities. They are effectively a borrowing power given to local government by central government. The extra allocations are being funded from extra receipts overall. The Government are not taking away any of the local authority extra receipts. These can be spent according to the usual rules, which allow 20 per cent. receipts to be spent on prescribed expenditure in any one year.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, as the Minister will be aware, this matter has been raised previously in the House. Some of us have expressed views. Homelessness in London, concerning not one borough but a few, although not a lot, is a matter that should be centralised.

Noble Lords


Lord Mellish

My Lords, I am asking the Minister whether he will consider what we have asked many times before. That is the implementing of an overall regional authority which will have powers to ensure that these people are re-housed or sent home.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, on that matter.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, would not the position of the homeless be greatly eased if local authorities were allowed to keep a greater proportion of the money from their council house sales in order to reinvest in existing stock which is not at present available for occupation?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, local authorities are allowed to spend 100 per cent. on capital refurbishment programmes.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is it not the case that this Question refers in particular to London? There are two kinds of problem in London: one concerns the mainly Labour boroughs which are seriously over-burdened and under-resourced to deal with homelessness; and the other concerns Conservative boroughs such as Westminster which have no intention whatever of taking seriously their responsibilities with regard to the homeless.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper clearly refers to London and other major conurbations. To give an example, we have just given the borough of Camden £960,000 to help it reduce its use of bed and breakfast accommodation.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister not aware that we have had this Question before, as has already been said, and we have had the same Answers? As homelessness increases, should there not be selection of certain areas to be provided with the resources to build more homes, first to halt the growth in homelessness, and, in a year or two, perhaps to begin to attack the basic problem?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, will be well aware, one problem about the increase in homelessness is the effect of profound social changes—more divorces, a higher rate of illegitimate births, young people leaving home earlier with enhanced expectations, and a huge increase in the number of unmarried single parents who used to live with friends and relations and no longer do so.

The Government want to see local authorities acting not as direct providers of housing, as in the past, but as enablers and co-ordinators of housing efforts in their areas, providing the right conditions and support for others to build houses for rent. In this way we can ensure that a real choice is available for those people who cannot afford or do not want to buy.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, can my noble friend tell whether there is any hope of assisting many people who have spare accommodation in their houses to let that accommodation without paying tax on the income from it?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, that is another question.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, will the noble Lord ensure that the development agencies that the Government are setting up in various parts of the country do not evict people when they are redeveloping? Some of us saw on a television programme last week a young family being evicted, and the Docklands Development Corporation saying, "Well, we have to do the development." It will be a problem for some local authority in London to re-house the family. It is important that if the Government are pumping money into these agencies they must take responsibility for the re-housing of the people that they evict.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I shall draw the remarks of the noble Baroness to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that bed and breakfast accommodation in London is calculated to cost £140 million in the present financial year, 70 per cent. of which is met from the public purse either from the taxpayer or the ratepayer? Would it not make sense to make these resources available to local authorities to build houses, bearing in mind that that indicates a 2,000 per cent. increase on the financial burden since 1981?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I thought I made quite clear in answer to an earlier supplementary question what the Government intend to see in terms of providing rented accommodation. An example of this is the recent welcome innovation by the Nationwide Anglia Building Society, which has committed some £600 million over five years to its new "Quality Street" programme. This is a typical example of innovation in the private sector which the Government very much welcome.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I echo entirely the call made by my noble friend that more houses should be built. Will the Minister take on board the effect in London of the homeless on the tourist industry? Is the Minister aware that in areas such as Paddington and Bayswater one-third of the hotel accommodation is taken up by the homeless? Is he also aware that more than 7,000 rooms are occupied by the homeless throughout London? Does he not deplore the fact that this leads not only to a loss of jobs but also to lost income to London from tourists by less spending in shops and restaurants? Will the Minister take that on board when he is trying to cobble together a policy for housing Londoners?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, no one is keener than the Government to see a reduction in the number of homeless in bed and breakfast accommodation. Various initiatives, many of which I have already mentioned, are under way to endeavour to achieve the same result.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, in regard to the Nationwide Anglia proposal, will this housing be at the level where it is governed by the Rent Act?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord on that.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend is aware that many of us feel that a great contribution to this problem of homelessness could be made if local authorities gave priority to repairing many of the houses which currently stay empty, numbering scores of thousands all over the country.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, there were 110,000 empty council dwellings as at 1st April 1987. As I mentioned earlier, capital expenditure on refurbishment is an attractive area for local authorities to invest in.

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