§ 5. Mr. Skinner
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how he intends to change the rules of local connection in the Government's review of the homelessness legislation.
§ Mr. Michael Spicer
We are committed to discussing with local authority associations a thorough overhaul of the "rules" of local connection. It is for local authorities to put forward their views on the most appropriate arrangements.
§ Mr. Skinner
I hardly dare ask whether the Minister is aware that, whatever rule changes are made with regard to local connection, they will be insignificant compared with the need for a massive public sector housebuilding programme throughout Britain. When the Minister goes to the Strand and sees people living in cardboard boxes, he will understand the reality of the past 10 years of running down the housebuilding programme. There are millions of bricks in stock, thousands of building workers ready to be employed and millions of homeless people. One does not need to be a Pythagoras to put the three together.
§ Mr. Spicer
The hon. Gentleman and I have been sparring over coal matters for many years. He seems to be as wrong about this subject as he is about coal. A massive increase in funds is going through the Housing Corporation to housing associations. That will double the rate of build by those associations during the next two years. The hon. Gentleman is right that shelter must be provided. That is precisely what the Government are doing by means of a panoply of policies that affect both the private and the public sector. As those policies affect the private as well as the public sector, the hon. Gentleman ignores them.
§ Mr. David Evans
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is sufficient housing accommodation in London to accommodate 10 times the number of homeless people there? The long-term homeless have turned their back on 879 society. Young offenders should be the responsibility of their parents, not of this Government. The Government have done quite enough for the homeless. I hope that they will spend no more money on them.
§ Mr. Spicer
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the problem of homelessness goes much deeper than Opposition Members seem to imply. It has to do, for instance, with the relationship between parents and their children, as my hon. Friend said. It is also an international problem; one of the countries in which it is rife is Denmark. The problem has been in existence for years. I was involved 25 years ago in the setting up of Crisis at Christmas, so homelessness has been with us for a long time. It is a great problem and it will be a great challenge to solve it.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Is the Minister aware that homelessness goes no deeper than the fact that there are not enough homes at affordable prices for people who desperately need them? One does not need a degree in housing administration to work that out. Will the hon. Gentleman take note of the fact that in the mid-1970s local authorities in London were building about 25,000 units of accommodation a year, whereas last year they built fewer than 2,000? That is the problem of homelessness: the homes are not being built.
Will the Minister assure us that the Department will carry out a full survey of homelessness in London? As he is new to his job, will he take up the offer made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and go out to the streets of London to see this critical problem?
§ Mr. Spicer
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised, perhaps, to know that one of the first things that I did in my new job was to go out to see the problem on the streets, as he might have expected of me. Part of the homelessness problem has been caused by the tremendous mismanagement by councils of their estates throughout the country, which has resulted in uninhabitable properties being empty. That is one of the reasons why we are spending £250 million to upgrade those properties—that is a contribution to solving the homelessness problem.