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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Ms Sally Keeble): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) on securing this debate on an important issue for Haringey and people across London. He set out clearly and eloquently the size of the task facing the Government in meeting the housing needs of people in London. He is right to say that this is the second Adjournment debate this week on the subject of housing in London, which shows the concern that exists and the need to find a strategic, London-wide solution.
Two issues in particular need to be addressed and both were inherited by the Government from our predecessor. The first concerns the backlog of repairs and the need to bring social housing up to a decent standard after the Tory years of neglect and lack of investment. The second concerns the failure over those years to deal with upgrading some of the recognisable standards of what we would regard as being suitable housing. I shall deal with those matters during my speech. The main ones include the need to revise the overcrowding standards, the need to get a definition of homelessness that resonates with what people would recognise as homelessness, and the need to deal with some of the fitness standards. My hon. Friend set out clearly the consequences of those failures for his constituents.
In looking at the need for a strategic, London-wide solution, my hon. Friend may be aware that tomorrow there will be a conference to launch the consultation process for the 2002 London housing statement. It will set out the key housing policies and priorities for the capital, and describe the contribution that local authorities, registered social landlords and other major stakeholders can make to improve the quality and the quantity of the housing stock. It will form the basis of the Housing Corporation's investment strategy for 2003-04 and give direction to the housing strategies of all the London boroughs. The Minister for Housing and Planning will address the conference and I am sure that all London Members will take a great interest in that debate and will have a lot to say about it.
The Government are very aware of and concerned at the steep increase in the number of homelessness households in London and elsewhere, and in particular about their being placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. While we should be concerned about any increase, particularly about families with young children who are forced into bed and breakfast, 10 years ago the crisis in London was very much worse. That is not to say that we are complacent about the present situation; the Government have promptly taken action to address the figures showing an increase over the past couple of years.
We are aware of the phenomenon of landlordism which has afflicted the north of the country as well as London with annexed accommodation. Although in some cases such accommodation may have advantages over traditional bed-and-breakfast accommodation, it causes severe problemsespecially when landlords simply go for housing benefit and make no effort to provide the housing management that would be expected of a social landlord.
My hon. Friend highlighted the difficulties in respect of high numbers, costs, turnover and standards. His points are well taken. The bed and breakfast unit has been asked
The scale of homelessness has not been properly recognised in some legislation. As my hon. Friend knows, the Homelessness Bill is completing its passage through Parliament. We shall also introduce a priority needs order. For the first time, those measures will include some groups of homeless people in London who have never had housing rights, especially 16 and 17-year-olds and care leavers. It will be a major challenge to meet their needs.
As part of our commitment to tackling the problems of homelessness, my Department is setting up a new homelessness directorate. It will include the bed and breakfast unit and will work with local authorities, such as Haringey, to reduce homelessness and the number of people in bed and breakfast and temporary accommodation. It will also be responsible for ensuring the effective implementation of the Homelessness Bill.
We are also introducing the "Supporting People" programme. My hon. Friend mentioned that for some people their home is not just the roof over their head. The programme will provide an opportunity for some of the most vulnerable people in our societyespecially in Londonto have a home with support services. They will be able to live properly. The programme will provide more sustainable communities.
Affordable housing is of prime concern to many people in London. The Government have a range of strategies to ensure that, over time, we improve affordable housing and increase it. As my hon. Friend knows, we have increased investment in housing in London.
My hon. Friend also identified the problem of housing standards. Many people are condemned to live in unfit housing. That is why the Government made a clear commitment to bring all social housing up to a decent standard by 2010 and a third of it up to a decent standard by 2004. Money has been put into achieving that target. It will not be an easy task for Haringey and other London boroughs that have huge repair backlogs. However, with good business planning and careful consideration of all the available investment options, I am confident that those targets can be achieved.
My hon. Friend mentioned overcrowding and the fact that, at many of his advice surgeries, constituents turn up accompanied by one or two children, with whom they are living in a one-bedroom flat. They suffer significant problems of overcrowding, and the children have nowhere to do homework.
The Government are intensely aware of the concern about the current overcrowding standards. The current room and space standards date from the Housing Act 1935 and have not been revised since. The fact that they have passed unchanged from 1935 to 1985 and then on into the 21st century is in itself a reason for taking a close look at them now. We have been taking a keen interest in that issue. I believe that it is time for the standards to be re-examined, although primary legislation would be required to change the overcrowding standards.
We are currently considering the best way to tackle the problem. We need to investigate the issues that surround overcrowding and the effect of a change to the current
Over the next two years we are injecting an extra £300 million above current levels into London's social housing. Even with the massive increase in investment in London's housing since Labour came to power, it is clear that it will not be possible to fill the gap by public subsidy alone.
No one agency and no one measure will solve the problem. Our aim is to think creatively about how to make a difference. Private funds in the form of planning gain are already providing more than 2,000 affordable units in London each year, but we need to ensure that we are obtaining best value for money from public funds and private sector contributions, so we need to make better use of existing housing, whether in the social or the private sector, and we need to provide more sites on which affordable housing can be built.
We can learn greatly from the good practice that is being piloted in some London boroughs and some of the models that they are pioneering of partnership developments involving the public and private sector, to create high-standard affordable homes in which Londoners want to live. That will also provide sustainable communities.
My hon. Friend mentioned the range of disadvantage experienced by people in his constituency. It was in recognition of that type of disadvantage and the urgent need to address it that the Government introduced the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal, and the new deal for the community. My hon. Friend has a new deal project in his constituency.
In conclusion, the Government have inherited some major problems with the housing stock in London and throughout the country. We inherited a backlog in the funding needed just to bring housing up to a reasonable standard, and a need to improve standards in regulation. However, we have taken structural steps to increase the funding to tackle the most pressing problems, specifically of homelessness and of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and have looked to a range of measures to improve people's rights to housing and access to housing.
I am confident that we will provide some of the solutions to the problems that my hon. Friend mentioned. I am sure that the conference tomorrow and the discussions that flow from it will be a major step forward in finding some of the strategic solutions that will apply across London and the measures that will benefit my hon. Friend's constituency. I believe that the debate has highlighted some very important issues and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising them.