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Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: In one moment.

The Government are facing up to the real issues.We are asking the hard questions, and giving the tough answers that need to be given. We are facing the challenge to set up fair systems that help those who need it most, concentrating our resources effectively, and helping those who can house themselves to do so affordably. We are giving them rights and responsibilities.

To ensure that that will continue, we are introducing a second Bill, which will include measures to improve construction contracts and reform renovation grants. That Bill will be widely welcomed.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) rose--

Mr. Gummer: Before I give way, I want to explain what I want to do in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. We need to ensure that we have a fair way of allocating the housing we have for social purposes. We want not several queues but one waiting list, with people judged according to their need. That is what the system is meant to do.

Some people have temporary needs, and others long-term needs. The allocation of long-term social housing should depend on long-term needs, and not merely on people's short-term needs. People on the waiting lists for council and housing association housing need to know that they are being treated fairly.

At the moment there is a problem. Some people who need housing are in the right category, and others are not but are in greater need. All the Bill does is to ensure that people are judged according to their needs. To each according to his need--or is that another philosophy that the Labour party has thrown out? That is what the Bill is intended to do, as any sane person would recognise.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) rose--

Mr. Gummer: I will give way first to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), as he rose first.

Mr. Mackinlay: When the Secretary of State has finished his swashbuckling fun of knocking the Labour

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and Liberal parties, will he address the criticism made by the Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales, who have referred to the Bill as "ill-timed", and drawn hon. Members' attention to our Christian obligation to have regard for families and the disadvantaged? The bishops regard the Bill, especially part VII, as repugnant. What does he have to say to those caring people with a pastoral role, who have no political axe to grind, who consider the Bill to be unacceptable and uncaring?

Mr. Gummer: I would point to the guidance notes that were produced last Thursday. They said that the categories to which the Roman Catholic bishops drew attention are the very categories that will be at the top of the list for the measurements of need. We have met every single criticism that the bishops put forward. The only thing that was ill-timed was the fact that they did not wait for the guidance notes so that they could see that what they had feared was untrue. Those who misled the bishops had better explain to them why they did so.

We particularly included a provision that concern should be taken for married couples who have waited to have children because the conditions in which they lived were unsuitable for having them. I am sure that His Eminence and the Roman Catholic archbishops and bishops will be pleased at that attitude which, for the first time, is expressed in our documentation.

The Bill provides for a single waiting list route into social housing, but with the first priority for the most vulnerable.

Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: I ought to get on a little further, but I shall come back to the hon. Lady because I am always willing to hear from the Liberal party, given what it has said about its own housing policy.

At the same time that we bring up to date the criteria for the allocation of long-term social housing, we are keeping an effective safety net for homeless households. Families and vulnerable people who are unintentionally homeless would be given a minimum of one year's accommodation, with further help where needed. In many areas, one year will be more than enough for a household with real needs to get permanent accommodation allocated through the waiting list, but it is much more sensible to give people immediate help--the help that is available--and then try to assess what the best help is in the circumstances of those people. Any sane person would accept that.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Gummer: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), because she rose first.

Ms Glenda Jackson: How can the Bill, which will create a longer waiting list, deal with the basic need, which is the gross lack of decent, affordable housing? Will the Minister define what an "unreal need" is for a family without a home?

Mr. Gummer: A family without a home gets a greater advantage if its homelessness is statutory and

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categorisable than does a family with appalling accommodation, which is in a much worse position. The second family would not get a home. The first family gets a home first simply because it is in the right category. I am merely saying that we should judge cases by need.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate says that we have a longer waiting list; that is not true.We have a waiting list based upon the principle of need instead of one based upon those who are lucky enough,if that is the right word, to be in the right category. Such families always beat others, who may be in worse conditions, on local authority housing waiting lists. If she would leave her doctrine aside and look at the facts of need, she would find that what we say is right. She will never oppose the system once it is in operation, because she will see that it works properly.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe): At present, a family with priority need, which will often be a family with children, is entitled to rehousing as a homeless family. Such families still have the great trauma of having to move home, and, especially, of their children having to change schools, but will the Secretary of State confirm that, under the new legislation, they would have to move once to temporary accommodation, and, with no choiceat all, have to move home for a second time within12 months? Will he confirm that that will not only cause housing disruption but education, social and every other sort of disruption?

Mr. Gummer: That is not true. If a family was in the circumstances described by the hon. Gentleman, it could be moved directly into permanent accommodation. The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. As always, he has been reading his own propaganda, not the statements of the Government.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East): Does my right hon. Friend agree that all local authorities should be obliged to provide the temporary accommodation required within their own area? Will he bear in mind problems experienced in places like Southend-on-Sea, where for many years other authorities have had the habit of putting their homeless families into temporary accommodation, making Southend's problems worse?

Mr. Gummer: Under the Bill, local authorities will be able to refer people to their local authority of origin, which is one of the issues that my hon. Friend is concerned about. I hope that he agrees that, if we are to deal with need, we must ensure that people get the accommodation they need.

While some people find that decision difficult to make right at the beginning, others have acute immediate needs that may not continue for long. Still others have an immediate need for permanent accommodation, which is clear to their local authority. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) would wish, such people can be accorded that permanent accommodation. We must be concerned for homeless people, not for some theory of homelessness put forward by the Opposition.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer: No. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) asked me to give way, and I promised

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that she would be next. I wish to proceed with a couple more paragraphs of my speech, after which the hon. Gentleman will have plenty of time to intervene.

Our consultation paper on allocations, published last Thursday, shows our intention to have a fair system that encourages local authorities to stand back and ask who really needs long-term housing, who really needs short-term help, and how they can use existing housing to the best advantage. They can therefore meet the requirement of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate. A better use of housing enables more people to be decently housed, which is an important part of what we seek to do.

Mr. Dobson: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Christchurch in a moment, and then come back to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dobson: The Secretary of State misled the House.


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