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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
Homes Bill

Homes Bill

Standing Committee D

Thursday 25 January 2001


[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Homes Bill

2.30 pm

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): On a point of order, Mr. Gale. You were not here this morning, but during this morning's debates, the Minister accused me of quoting figures that were misleading and inaccurate. The Minister normally chooses his words carefully, so I took some time during the adjournment to check the figures that I quoted. I have them in front of me. They come from a table produced on 12 September by his Department and available on his Department's website, which I commend to him.

There is also a press release, again from his Department--unless somebody is going around with a John Bull printing press claiming to be the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions--which also sets out some statistics that show that homelessness is rising. I shall not quote it in extenso, because this is just a point of order. What it states, roughly, is that the increases are getting less, rather than that homelessness is decreasing. It might help the good-natured debate that the Committee has become used to if the Minister were to withdraw what he said this morning.

The Chairman: As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, all hon. Members are responsible for their own statements and their own statistics. Happily, that is not a matter for the Chair. It has now become a matter of record and a debating point, and if hon. Members wish to refer to it later, no doubt they will find an excuse, a manner or a way in which so to do.

Clause 16

Duty of local housing authority to formulate a homelessness strategy

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 101, in page 10, line 4, at beginning insert—

    `In conjunction with its strategic partners'.--[Mr. Don Foster.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following: Amendment No. 88, in page 10, line 4, after `authority', insert—

    `and its strategic partners, to include registered social landlords and housing co-operatives; landlords of houses in multiple occupation registered with the authority under the Housing Act 1996, members of landlords' forums, voluntary organisations and relevant bodies (``strategic partners'').'.

Amendment No. 102, in page 10, line 8, at end insert—

    `( ) For the purpose of this Bill strategic partners shall include registered social landlords and housing co-operatives, landlords of houses in multiple occupation registered with the authority under the Housing Act 1996, members of landlords' forums, voluntary organisations and relevant bodies (``strategic partners'').'.

Amendment No. 64, in page 10, line 12, at end insert—

    `( ) The registered social landlords holding accommodation in the district of the authority shall give such assistance in connection with the exercise of the power under subsection (1) as the authority may reasonably require.'.

Amendment No. 98, in page 10, line 20, at end insert—

    `(4A) The authority shall maintain a list of those organisations which are its strategic partners, which it may modify from time to time.'.

Amendment No. 65, in page 10, line 25, at end insert—

    `( ) The registered social landlords holding accommodation in the district of the authority shall take the homelessness strategy for the district of a local housing authority into account in the exercise of their functions in relation to that district.'.

Amendment No. 66, in clause 17, page 10, line 34, after `authorities', insert—

    `, registered social landlords holding accommodation in the district of the authority'.

Amendment No. 89, in clause 18, page 11, line 10, after `authority', insert `and its strategic partners'.

Amendment No. 68, in clause 18, page 11, line 29, after `organisation', insert—

    `, registered social landlords holding accommodation in the district of the authority'.

Amendment No. 71, in clause 19, page 12, line 17, at end insert—

    ```registered social landlord'' has the same meaning as in Part 1 of the Housing Act 1996'.

New clause 10—Co-operation between relevant housing authorities and bodies—

    `( ).—(1) Section 213 (co-operation between relevant housing authorities and bodies) of the 1996 Act is amended as follows.

    After subsection (1) there is inserted—

    ``( ) Where a local housing authority request a registered social landlord or a housing action trust to assist them in the discharge of their functions under this part, the landlord to whom the request is made shall co-operate in rendering such assistance in the discharge of the functions to which the request relates, if to do so is compatible with their constitution and does not unduly prejudice the discharge of any of their functions.''

    (2) In subsection (2)(a) the words ``a registered social landlord or housing action trust'' shall cease to have effect.''.'.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Nick Raynsford): Thank you, Mr. Gale. I intend to return to the issue of figures. I hope that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) will recognise that what he said to the Committee was misleading, and that he will consider whether it would be appropriate to withdraw his remarks. However, I will leave that for the moment.

The Chairman: Order. The Minister is well aware that hon. Members never, ever mislead the House.

Mr. Raynsford: I am sorry, Mr. Gale. I hope that there has not been any question of misleading the House. This morning I informed the Committee that we proposed to make available two documents. A research study on the working of allocations systems was presented to the Committee this morning. This afternoon we have made available a summary of the elements that are likely to form the basis of the strategic review of homelessness that we debated this morning. The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) asked a number of pertinent questions about that, and I am delighted that we have been able to respond with such rapidity to his request. I hope that he will find the information in the document helpful.

I had just begun to respond to the debate this morning. I was highlighting the importance of having an effective framework in place to ensure that people who face the trauma and misery of homelessness are helped. The causes of homelessness are varied and complex. Some are broad, national issues, which can be, and are being, tackled by Government initiatives outside the Bill. One such issue is the supply of affordable housing. Other causes of homelessness are localised, and some are personal to the individuals concerned.

Turning to the national causes, the hon. Member for Eastbourne made a number of allegations about the Government's failure to tackle the problem of homelessness. During the latter years of the Conservative Government, there were continual, year-on-year cuts in housing expenditure and investment, which led to a steep decline in the sums being allocated for the construction of new social housing and for the renovation of existing homes. We have reversed both those declining trends.

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): Will the Minister explain—or is he going to challenge his own figures again—why the number of social houses built in this country in the last four years of the Conservative Government amounted to about 96,000, whereas the number of those budgeted for in the first four years of this Government has fallen to 59,000?

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Member for West—I was going to say West Shoreham, which probably would have been right. The hon. Member for Shoreham and East Worthing—

Mr. Loughton: Almost.

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) is being prophetic if he thinks that the Government have been in power for four years. We still have another three months to go. The figures clearly show, year on year, a decline in output of new social housing in the last four years of the Conservative Government. Of course, he aggregates the figures to provide a better average over four years, but that decline continued.

The hon. Gentleman will know, as will anyone who studies the subject, that investment in housing takes time to produce results. We have low figures at the moment, but we have reversed that trend and current substantial increases in investment will lead to increased output in the years ahead. I do not for a moment resile from the fact that there is a low output of social housing at present. That is the consequence of progressive cuts through the 1990s made by the previous Government, and it will take time to reverse.

Mr. Loughton: The Minister knows that the four years refers to four years of budget forecasts, so the figure will be for more than four years, and will turn out to be almost half that for the last four years of the Conservative Government, whether aggregated or not. Will he say when we will return to the higher levels of social house building seen under the Conservative Government? Can he forecast a year when we might have good news on that score?

Mr. Raynsford: Yes, I can. Our spending plans over the next three years allow for almost a doubling from £690 million to £1.2 billion of investment through registered social landlords and the Housing Corporation's approved development programme. The hon. Gentleman will know about the increased investment made available to local authorities that has increased throughout this Parliament, and is planned to continue to increase under the spending review in the years ahead. A proportion of that will be used for investment in local authority social housing grants.

I expect a significant increase in the output of social housing through registered social landlords, including those assisted by local authorities in the years ahead, and that will increase year on year. Such an increase will contrast with our inheritance from the final years of the Conservative Government, in which there were reductions, year on year.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne has made much of the figures. I understood him to say this morning—I will give him an opportunity to correct me if I am wrong—that in the financial year 1996-97, 102,000 households were accepted as homeless by local authorities, and that the figure was now higher than that. I put it to him that that is not correct.


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Prepared 25 January 2001