§ 4. Mr. Jim Cunningham
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many empty houses there are in the United Kingdom. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. James Clappison)
There are 845,000 empty houses in England.
§ Mr. Cunningham
When will the Minister stop being complacent about the large numbers of homeless people? Specifically, what will he do about the Department of Trade and Industry's void properties and the Ministry of Defence's void properties?
§ Mr. Clappison
The hon. Gentleman should know of the importance that we attach to reducing the number of empty Government-owned homes. We made that a priority in our White Paper; and the announcement of the privatisation of married quarters will also assist the process. The hon. Gentleman should also realise that, included in the total that I have given him, there are a large number of empty private properties, many of which have been brought into use in the private rented sector during the past few years as a result of our deregulation proposals. The Labour party always wants more regulation—that is the party's instinct—which would reduce the supply and reduce the amount of private rented accommodation available for homeless people.
§ Mr. Clappison
Certainly. It is a shame that some local authorities with high numbers of vacant properties cannot reach the standards of those with low numbers. Hackney, Labour-controlled, has the highest number of empty properties—5 per cent. It is a shame that it cannot match the standards of Wandsworth, fewer than 1 per cent. of whose properties are vacant.
§ Mr. Raynsford
Why will not Ministers acknowledge their failure to tackle the scandal of empty properties, instead of attacking local authorities? Incidentally, local authorities are the only organisations to have reduced the number of their empty properties in the past few years. Will the Minister recognise that the Government's record is the worst of all? The number of empty Government properties has increased scandalously, in fact. The Ministry of Defence has the worst record; its homes should now be offered to people in need instead of being privatised under the disgraceful deal which the Secretary of State for Defence is doing with his adviser.
§ Mr. Clappison
It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman cannot join me in maintaining that the worst performing local authorities should try to reach the standards of the best. It is also a shame that he had to ride to the rescue of the beleaguered Labour-controlled Hackney council.
We have attached great importance to bringing empty Government homes back into use, as the hon. Gentleman knows. The White Paper gives great priority to that, and to our proposal to auction surplus empty homes after they have been vacant for six months. 1333 The hon. Gentleman must decide, with the hostility to privatisation that he has just displayed and his commitment to more regulation, whether he is part of new or old Labour. At the moment he is certainly pitching his tent with old Labour.