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Mr. Baldry : Last month my right hon. Friend received a copy of the Audit Commission's very useful report "Protecting the Public Purse" which contains valuable guidance on the avoidance and detection of fraud and corruption in local government. I also receive representations from time to time in relation to individual cases which, where appropriate, I refer to the relevant investigating authorities as I have no responsibility for pursuing such cases myself.
Sir George Young : I have placed in the Library of the House today copies of a consultation paper setting out the Government's proposals to reform the homelessness legislation, to introduce arrangements that ensure fair access to local authority and housing association accommodation for all who need it, to make better use of the private sector, and to encourage local authorities to play a more active role in the prevention of homelessness.
The current homelessness legislation provides an important safety net for families and vulnerable individuals who find themselves at risk of losing their home. But the homelessness legislation also provides those people, once they are accepted as statutorily homeless, with access to a permanent home ahead of others in as great or greater need who are on the housing waiting list. The Government believe that there should be a distinction between providing the necessary assistance for those faced with the prospect of having nowhere to live, and providing access to permanent housing. The tenancy of a council or housing association property is a real asset. We want to ensure that these tenancies go to those with the best claim to them.
We want a fairer system, in which, while retaining essential safeguards, local authorities have the flexibility to allocate the long-term housing under their control to those with the best claim to it. Once a household has been given help in finding suitable short or medium-term accommodation, its claim to permanent housing will be assessed alongside others on the waiting list who may be living in difficult circumstances, but who are not in need of immediate help ; we propose to develop a clear framework within which authorities will be able to manage their allocations.
I have also placed in the Library of the House today a newly published research report on the allocation of local authority housing. It shows clearly that those entering council housing through the homelessness route do so more quickly than those relying on the waiting list. Consequently, the homelessness route has become increasingly attractive. The housing of those accepted as statutorily homeless accounts for an ever-increasing proportion of lettings, and in some parts of the country it is now virtually impossible for anyone other than statutorily homeless households to obtain a council or housing association tenancy.
Our proposals will continue to provide for families and vulnerable individuals who are without other suitable accommodation in a crisis ; it is not acceptable that such people should have nowhere to live. For some disabled,
Column 841elderly or mentally ill people, who have no prospect of ever finding accommodation for themselves, a local authority's duty to provide accommodation will be enduring.
An essential element of our strategy for meeting the needs of those who are badly housed is to make the best use of all forms of existing housing stock. This is not confined to local authority and housing association property. There is considerable scope for developing the private rented sector to meet housing needs. Our proposals therefore encourage partnerships between local authorities and private landlords in order to increase access to good quality housing in the private rented sector. We also envisage a more positive role for local authorities in ensuring the provision of housing advice that will help prevent people becoming homeless.
The Government are proposing a fairer and more effective system for meeting the housing needs of those who rely on rented housing, within the resources available. Our proposals would allow local authorities to make better use of the stock at their disposal, and end the unfairness that occurs under present arrangements.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is placing in the Library of the House a consultation paper setting out parallel proposals for Wales. He and I are sending copies of our consultation papers to all hon. Members with English or Welsh constituencies respectively. We both look forward to a constructive public debate on these proposals.
Mr. Gummer : We shall be publishing the sustainable development strategy for the United Kingdom on 25 January. We shall be publishing the United Kingdom's climate change programme, biodiversity action plan and forestry programme on the same day. We shall lay the documents before the House in the normal way.
Mr. Stern : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many responses he has received to the consultation paper on commercial leaseholds ; and if he will list the people or organisations concerned.
Mr. Baldry [pursuant to his reply, 15 December 1993, c. 730.] : I am correcting the information given about the number of responses to my Department's consultation paper on commercial property leases. Some 241 individuals or organisations have responded, while a further 18 respondents have asked that their replies remain confidential. I have placed a revised list in the Library of the House.