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Geraint Davies: As the chair of the London boroughs housing committee in a former life, I know that, as my hon. Friend is saying, bed and breakfast is not only completely socially unacceptable but economically ignorant. Obviously, the cost of keeping people in bed and breakfast is much higher than sustaining them in affordable housing. Does my hon. Friend not agree that the Bill provides extra rights for homeless people and gives extra duties to government to provide more affordable housing, which is desperately needed in London today?

Ms Buck: I agree with my hon. Friend, particularly about the economic illiteracy of bed-and-breakfast accommodation; it is now estimated that we spend £150 million in London alone on it. That is mad. It is not only bed and breakfast that is economically illiterate, but temporary accommodation, too—although I do not say for a second that we shall be able to deal with all that overnight. We are now housing about 50,000 families in London in temporary accommodation, in some cases leasing back former council flats for which tenants would have been paying £80 or £90 a week in rent, whose rent is now £1,000 a month.

Housing benefit frequently picks up the bill, and although families would like to be able to be free of benefit and go to work, they cannot do so because the cost of their rent traps them in welfare dependency. If we are to consider temporary accommodation instead of bed and breakfast as a medium-to-longer term solution to housing need, we will need a new deal that is specially targeted at families in temporary accommodation to enable them to overcome that benefit barrier to work.

The term "temporary accommodation" has become something of a misnomer, because we are talking about interim accommodation. People in temporary accommodation such as a leased flat stay for five or eight years—as long as many people would expect to stay in a social tenancy.

The Government can and should do much to tackle the problems that I have mentioned, but local authorities must not be let off the hook. We need a multilayered approach to the problem of homelessness. The two local authorities that my constituency covers—Kensington and Westminster—have, at best, a chequered record in securing affordable housing from partnerships with the private sector under section 106. Better-performing councils, such as Hammersmith and Fulham, have been able to secure more than 50 per cent. of development on private land for affordable housing, and that is considerably to their credit.

In south Westminster, we recently had to look to an intervention from the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone; fortunately, he managed to raise the contribution from the developer from £850,000 to £2.5 million. That goes to show what can be achieved when the clear political will exists. Westminster has made progress—I congratulate the council—because instead of requiring 25 per cent. of new development to be affordable housing, it now requires 25 per cent. plus a further 5 per cent. to be made available to key workers. However, that welcome change has

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required some pressure from the Mayor. I support the Mayor's initiatives on housing and, as a member of his housing commission last autumn, I welcome the strategies to boost the supply of accommodation set out in its paper, which were advanced in the spatial development strategy.

When we discussed the Homes Bill in the previous Parliament, I tabled a probing amendment, which was not reached because of lack of time, to set targets for a reduction in the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation. In response to a parliamentary question that I tabled, we had the announcement of the establishment of the bed-and-breakfast unit, which is a great step forward. It is the single most pleasing action the Government have taken on the issue of housing recently, because the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation has no place in the 21st century. We cannot allow families with young children, and other vulnerable people, to spend more than the shortest period, in emergencies, in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It damages their health and relationships and severely disrupts children's educational performance. Strategies aimed at tackling social exclusion cannot work effectively so long as thousands of families can expect to spend months, and sometimes years, living in bed- and-breakfast accommodation.

With so many strategies, one substitutes a focus on a particular problem—in this case, bed and breakfast, but it also happened with rough sleepers—for an eye on the bigger picture. In this case, that is housing supply. Overcrowding and the loss of privacy in hostel and hotel accommodation is a critical problem, but it is no worse than the loss of privacy and overcrowding that an increasing number of households experience under existing social and registered social landlord tenancies. In the weeks before the election as I went around my constituency, I met hundreds of families—some already known to me—living in levels of chronic overcrowding that are nothing short of a scandal.

Unfortunately, although the Housing Act 1996 expected local authorities to give due preference to overcrowded households, the legislation on which that definition is based is now 70 years out of date. There is an urgent need to bring up to date the framework of overcrowding legislation to enable local authorities properly to reflect the duties they owe to all households seeking accommodation, especially larger family units, which do not get the priority they need.

One family I met—I could easily have chosen 99 others—living on an estate in Westminster, had seven people, ranging in age from two to 35, sharing a small two-bedroomed flat that the council has, technically correctly, assessed as not overcrowded until the nine-year-old turns 10, when, with the charm that characterises so much of our legislation, he ceases to be half a person. We cannot be serious about a system that allows a family of seven living in a small two-bedroomed flat to be defined as not overcrowded. However, the statutory overcrowding legislation, based on the conditions that prevailed in the 1930s, gives no incentive to local authorities to give due priority to larger households.

One problem that arises, as we increasingly shift our housing stock from council-owned to registered social landlord accommodation—whether through supply or transfers—is that larger family units cannot be moved out

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of their present accommodation into an alternative that is technically not large enough for their requirements. So, my family of seven, who would technically require four or five-bedroom accommodation, cannot be moved to a housing association property with three bedrooms, even though that would significantly relieve their housing pressure, because the rules do not allow that. The extent of that problem is now so great and so entrenched across London that there is a real risk that tens of thousands of overcrowded families will be trapped in local authority accommodation with no prospects of moving. That is unacceptable.

I warmly congratulate the Government on bringing back the Bill, on all the action that has been taken and on the investment that has been made to tackle housing issues. However, there is much more to do, and I would welcome an assurance from my hon. Friend the Minister that the Government have fully accepted the need for two housing policies, and not just one.

The needs of large areas of this country, especially Birmingham and further north, which have poor-quality estates where nobody wants to live, are completely different from the needs of areas of high demand. On some estates—I know that there are exceptions—we might need to tear down unwanted housing and investigate social and economic regeneration strategies. So long as we have a single housing policy mindset, as I fear still exists at official level, we will not satisfy the needs of communities in low-demand areas or the desperate bottled-up housing needs of communities such as those in my constituency. We expect a consultation paper soon on housing capital allocations, which will be an opportunity to demonstrate that those different needs are being addressed and balanced. I assure my hon. Friend that we will watch developments closely.

I wish the Bill good speed. It is welcome for homeless families, but we now face the huge challenge of delivering for those hundreds of thousands of families, especially in London and the south-east, for whom overcrowding is a daily nightmare.

6.59 pm

Mr. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) on his excellent maiden speech, and wish him well during his time in the House. It is a great privilege to be called to make my maiden speech in this important debate on homelessness, a subject very close to my heart.

I speak as the first new Member of Parliament for South-West Bedfordshire since 1970. It is with great humility that I take the place so honourably occupied in this House by Sir David Madel for the past 31 years. David was respected and liked by hon. Members on both sides of the House for his constructive and courteous contributions in the Chamber. He is a true gentleman, in the finest meaning of that word. He embodies, for me, so much of what is best about conservatism. He is kind, conscientious and compassionate, and his heart is in the communities that he has so faithfully served for the past 31 years. He and his wife Susan have been unfailingly helpful to my wife and me since my selection. No tribute to David would be complete without mention of his faithful secretary, Jill Burge, who so loyally supported him throughout his time in Parliament.

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All elections are full of drama, passion and intense debate, but they also have their lighter moments. There was the time when my intrepid mother-in-law, canvassing hard for our county council candidate and me in Houghton Regis, passed through the security gates of a house only to find them locking behind her. The picture the press missed of her rescue by a fire engine would no doubt have graced several local front pages. Rumours of my collusion with the householder are wholly without foundation.

Just after the election, my speech at my first branch event was rudely interrupted by my five-year-old daughter falling in the goldfish pond during the finale. I was under the illusion that it was new Members of Parliament who were supposed to make a splash in their constituencies.

South-West Bedfordshire is a varied, interesting, dynamic and beautiful constituency. It includes the three towns of Leighton Buzzard, adjoined with Linslade, Dunstable and Houghton Regis, 17 villages, the renowned Whipsnade wild animal park and the London gliding club. The majestic Dunstable downs, with the massive lion carved deep into the chalk, dominate the southern skyline. Much of our countryside is stunningly beautiful. I encourage right hon. and hon. Members to come to South-West Bedfordshire to enjoy our historic towns and attractive villages as well as our tourist attractions.

I would also encourage any entrepreneurs to come to south-west Bedfordshire to expand or locate their business. We have huge advantages in that we are only 40 miles north of London with excellent transport links from Euston and King's Cross, and the M1 and Luton airport are close by. Our towns have preserved their historic character and we can offer a wonderful quality of life in our surrounding countryside.

I wish to raise several matters of concern to my constituents. Leighton Buzzard and Linslade have a significant number of commuters and it is vital that Silverlink retains access to the fast line to London. I also trust that it will not be too long before a new police station, with sufficient officers to man it and with its own cells, is provided for the town. That would mean that police officers would no longer be taken off the streets as they transport those arrested to the cells in Dunstable.

I shall be pressing Ministers to provide a minor injuries clinic in Leighton Buzzard. I shall also be watching teacher numbers very closely at Vandyke and Cedars upper schools to ensure that the pupils in those two fine schools receive the education they deserve.

Dunstable and Houghton Regis need two bypasses very urgently. A full north-south bypass for Dunstable is the first priority, so that the A5 no longer goes through the middle of the town and so that residents, as well as the children in the 11 schools close by, can have an improved quality of life. The extension of the Leighton Buzzard southern bypass from the Thorn turn to the M1 is also urgently needed to relieve congestion on roads not built for the traffic volumes that they are experiencing. I will also be looking to ensure that there is more visible policing in Houghton Regis, and that the town has a bank of its own as a matter of urgency.

I would like to see the reopening of the Luton to Dunstable railway, which the people of Dunstable have requested in poll after poll. In time, I would like the line to run all the way from Luton Airport Parkway to Leighton Buzzard, thus linking Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable with Milton Keynes and Birmingham all the way through

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to the airport. I firmly believe that, if reopened, many of the branch lines axed by Dr. Beeching would be huge assets to the community they served.

Dunstable and Houghton Regis supply car components to many companies. I am sure that I am not alone in the House in wanting Ministers to be driven in British-made cars. I was somewhat surprised recently to see a Minister arrive in New Palace Yard in a large Mercedes. Could he not find a British-made car? I can recommend several excellent Vauxhall models made by some of my constituents. Indeed, why do not our police and other public bodies just buy British-made cars? When was the last time we saw the French police drive anything other than French cars? The same applies to the German police. Let us back our workers with the public purse in the same manner.

I am delighted that my constituents can enjoy cheap air travel from Luton airport, but serious issues of accountability to local people, over whose homes aircraft fly, need to be addressed. Aircraft are frequently "vectored off" the agreed flight paths to fly over the homes of many of my constituents. In motoring terms, that is the equivalent of a bus cutting across the village green to save a few minutes' journey time. I find it unacceptable, as it causes repeated aircraft noise over my constituents' homes that could and should be avoided.

The siting of mobile phone masts close to people's homes is also causing anxiety to many of my constituents. Although I welcome the usefulness of mobile phones and the jobs that the industry creates, I feel strongly that we should not enjoy this technology at the cost of causing distress to those whose homes, hospitals and schools are next to the masts.

I have already spoken of our beautiful countryside, maintained by the farmers who are the custodians of so much of our rural landscape. I am, however, horrified at the amount of fly tipping that spoils our roads and lanes. This has got worse since businesses were charged for using municipal tips. We must make the disposal of waste convenient, accessible and free so that we eradicate this eyesore. There should be far higher fines for offenders, and rigorous enforcement of the law by the police to deter people from engaging in this dangerous and unsightly practice.

My motivation for aspiring to become a Member of this House is my Christian faith. It is my wish to see the Conservative party become the party for the poor and disadvantaged. My inspiration hails from those great giants, William Wilberforce, and the poor man's earl, Lord Shaftesbury. We need to draw deeply on their example of perseverance to put right the ills of the present day. Chief among those, in my view, are the pain and suffering caused by family breakdown. Juvenile delinquency, educational under-achievement and homelessness are so often the direct results.

Over the past few years, it has been my privilege to help raise funds for homeless charities, not least the Passage, which the Secretary of State mentioned in his opening remarks. I have raised funds by collecting sponsorship for sleeping rough myself, and I intend to continue doing so. There is a great need for money for charities helping the homeless, as homeless advice centres run by First Place Housing in Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard closed last July as they failed in their bid for further lottery funding. Surely charities helping the

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homeless are among the most worthy recipients of lottery funding. They should not have been denied resources in that way. Lottery funding priorities need to be reviewed to ensure continuing support for such causes.

Many homeless people come from an institutional background, be it local authority care homes, prison or the armed services. Although all homeless people are equally deserving of support, I feel strongly, as a former soldier, that those who have been prepared to die to protect their fellow countrymen and women deserve special recognition. Surplus Ministry of Defence accommodation should be used for ex-service personnel as they reorientate themselves to civilian life. I applaud the first steps taken along those lines by the Government last year, but much more needs to be done. It was encouraging, however, to hear the Secretary of State talk about the veterans taskforce.

One of the major causes of homelessness is young people leaving home when their parents split up and they are made to feel unwelcome by new spouses or partners. The "Cost of Family Breakdown" report produced last year for the all-party family and child protection group estimated the cost at about £15 billion. The total could be double if indirect costs are included. Expenditure on marriage preparation and enrichment is money well spent from the public purse if it saves public expenditure later on.

In Italy, a nation which has significantly higher unemployment than the UK and regional variations as pronounced as any in Europe and where a third of couples divorce within five years of marriage, homelessness is almost unknown—be it in Milan, Rome or Naples. The Italian sense of family solidarity means that 50 per cent. of 25 to 29-year-olds live at home, whereas the average age of leaving home in the UK is 22. Italians are also more willing to let children return home when times are hard. Any moves to encourage similarly accommodating British social attitudes would be most welcome.

It is the greatest honour ever bestowed on me to be an advocate for my home constituency and to be able to contribute to debate that will shape our nation's future. In particular, I look forward to following the progress of this important Bill, which my party is pleased to support.

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