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9.47 pm

Mr. Lepper: I welcome the provisions in the Bill. In my area, Brighton and Hove council is already doing many of the things that will be required of all local authorities. Preventive work through our housing advice centre has been important in preventing many local people from becoming homeless. We have devised a homelessness strategy, led by the local authority but involving, as hon. Members have said it should, the other partners in the development of that strategy, including the private sector.

However, there are constraints on what my local authority can do, especially under the Bill. Those constraints are the availability of social housing—only 15 per cent. of our housing stock is social housing compared with a national average of 22 per cent.—and the availability of affordable housing—87 per cent. of the households in housing need in my local authority area

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cannot afford suitable accommodation at market rents. In my area, the average price of a one-bedroom flat is £90,000, and the average rent for a one-bedroom flat is £583 per month. Average earnings per week are about £20 below the national average.

I welcome these measures, especially those relating to victims of violence and vulnerable young people. I welcome the Minister's assurance that they are only part of the strategy to deal with the problem of providing the housing that people deserve. Irrespective of the Bill, market forces determine that in the area that I and my hon. Friends the Members for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) and for Hove (Mr. Caplin) represent this will be only part of the weaponry that we need to deal with the problem of homelessness and threatened homelessness.

I seek the Minister's assurance that the Government will consider other measures to help to provide more affordable housing.

9.50 pm

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am delighted to have at least a short time in which to sum up the debate. It has probably been one of the longest debates that we have had on homelessness for a long time. I am grateful to the Government for producing a Bill which, hopefully, will improve the current position rather than doing the opposite. As I said earlier, over the last three years the number of priority homeless has increased from 102,000 to 114,000. That is an unwelcome trend, which I hope the Bill will address.

Our Prime Minister recently vowed:

We all say amen to that, and I hope that the Bill will help to achieve it. However, the record over the last four years is not over-promising.

Between 1993 and 1996, 150,600 new social dwellings were built by local authorities and registered social landlords, but, sadly, between 1997 and 2000, only 95,500 were constructed. The amount of new social housing has therefore fallen by 37 per cent. We must reverse that trend. Shelter has calculated—I think the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) mentioned this—that we need 100,000 houses over the next 10 years, and I welcome the Government's funding which is aimed at achieving that. If we could achieve it, principally through registered social landlords but with capital levered in from the private sector—

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I have very little time, but I will give way just once.

David Taylor: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that levering in private funds through "coerce transfer" of housing stock from good local authorities is a totally vacuous concept that does not bring in a single penny piece?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I rather wish that I had not given way to the hon. Gentleman. I have always got on well

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with him in the House, but I could not disagree more strongly with what he has just said. Government funding is of course one method by which we will improve our total housing stock, but I feel that the private sector has a major role to play. I have seen some very innovative new housing schemes in my constituency in which registered social landlords have combined with the private sector. Some involve local authority allocation, some involve shared ownership and some are purely in the rented sector. If the hon. Gentleman does not approve of that he does his constituents a great disservice, because what he recommends would mean many fewer registered social housing units being built in this country.

As I have said, I welcome the Bill, but it is a pity that it is slightly in a vacuum in that it does not consider the Government's overall homelessness strategy. I look forward to the legislation that will follow the strategy, to the licensing of houses in multiple occupation, and to measures tackling private landlords who abuse their position in the registered housing sector. All that was announced recently in a press release from, I believe, the Minister of State. So we have more legislation to come, and it will be interesting to see how this Bill fits in with it. It would also be interesting to know when the Government will produce that further legislation.

It is all very well to come up with legislation, but those on the ground have to operate it, and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Some of the Government's actions have not been at all helpful in dealing with homelessness. In her excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) referred to the excessive changes in housing benefit regulations. The amount that we pay out in housing benefit has soared, not entirely under this Government, but over the past 10 years. Moreover, local authorities are finding it very difficult to implement the regulations, partly because they keep changing so often. There are between 70 and 80 circulars a year—more than one a week. There are particular difficulties where local authorities have contracted out the management of their housing benefit.

Sadly, time does not permit me to deal with other aspects of the Bill. Suffice it to say that I welcome provisions to deal with antisocial neighbours and the priority needs orders dealing with vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds and 18 to 21-year-olds.

I hope that the Bill will achieve what it is designed to achieve, but I have some doubts, and I wish that the Government had been prepared to accept some of our amendments.

9.56 pm

Dr. Whitehead: For once we have had a long, informed debate on housing with a solid result in the form of a Bill that has the support and approval of hon. Members on both sides of the House. There have been differences, which were aired and examined in Committee

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and in the Chamber, and there have been changes to the Bill as it has made its often tortuous way through the House. It must be a successful Bill because I know that success has many fathers, and there have been competing claims to the paternity of the changes. I am delighted that, overall, it has enjoyed solid support at all its parliamentary stages.

The hon. Members for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and for Bath (Mr. Foster) demonstrated, in different ways, their support for the Bill. We realise that homelessness will not be transformed overnight, but the Government have the target well within our sights and we are taking action in a number of ways, not least through the Bill. Other initiatives include action on rough sleepers, the bed-and-breakfast unit, the target of 100,000 new affordable homes—not by 2010 but by 2004—new, wide-ranging housing investment, and the homelessness strategy, which is intended to tackle the problem with central and local government and key stakeholders in the housing and voluntary sectors. The strategy will help to set the broad context within which housing authorities will prepare their homelessness reviews.

We must take a wider approach to homelessness and housing need. I was delighted to hear the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright), who is new to the House but clearly demonstrated his great expertise. He will be a great asset to the House in housing matters. He is right to say that we must have a broad strategy, underpinned by the Government's actions. That approach was endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper).

The Bill will strengthen the protection available to homeless people and will encourage local housing authorities to adopt customer-centred lettings schemes. Taken with the Government's sound economic policies, our substantial increases in capital investment in housing and the wider policies that we are pursuing following last year's housing policy statement, the Bill will help us to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live in a decent home. The Bill reflects our decency towards each other in society, whatever our circumstances. The House can be proud to support it, and I trust that it will receive a Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Social Security

Question agreed to.

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