Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 2:17 pm on 25th January 1995.

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Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East 2:17 pm, 25th January 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to outline the Government's proposals on homelessness following the responses to the consultation paper "Tackling Homelessness"; and when he intends to resume the planned consultation exercise on amending the 1991 code for guidance.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

We are still considering the 160 responses received to the consultation paper, "Tackling Homelessness", and we shall announce our decisions in due course. A revised draft code of guidance on homelessness, taking account of those decisions, will be issued for comment later this year.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East

Does the Minister accept that homelessness is an acute and growing problem in Scotland? He issued a consultative document entitled "Tackling Homelessness", but he has done absolutely nothing about it and his reply today is a disgrace. Will he acknowledge publicly that 97 per cent. of responses want local authorities to retain a duty to house homeless persons in priority need? In England there was action within four months, but six months have passed and the Scottish Office has done nothing. That is quite unacceptable.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The hon. Gentleman is completely incorrect: the Scottish Office has done a substantial amount in that area. I recently attended the opening of a homelessness advisory centre in Dundee, not far from the hon. Gentleman's constituency, which was funded to the tune of £80,000 by Scottish Homes. Earlier this year, an advisory service run by Shelter was established in Edinburgh with funding of £94,000. We have given £29 million in capital allocations for homelessness.

The hon. Gentleman's constituency received a supplementary payment of £290,000—which it asked for—in February 1992. Since then, his district council has not asked for any further supplementary allocations in that area, so he is incorrect on the first point. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, we shall give the matter the most thorough and complete consideration and we shall announce our decision.

Photo of Mr Gordon McMaster Mr Gordon McMaster , Paisley South

Will the Minister confirm that many hundreds of families in Strathclyde are still homeless following the floods in December? Is he aware that those families do not wish to return to their homes until they know that there are adequate flood prevention measures to ensure that such floods will never happen again? Instead of passing the buck to cash-starved local authorities, will the Minister admit today that, under section 155 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, he has the powers to introduce flood prevention schemes? If he does not, will he support my private Member's Bill on 10 February, which will give him those powers?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

We shall need to study the fine print of the hon. Gentleman's Bill. With regard to his question about section 155, that is why we have Bellwin. As I promised the hon. Gentleman when I visited his constituency and saw the houses in Ferguslie park, we shall be looking fully at the entire housing budget before we make final decisions on housing. We shall have the issue of flooding particularly in mind and the interests of his own district council and other interested district councils, including Strathkelvin and elsewhere.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Is the Minister aware of the growing concern in Inverness specifically and the Highlands generally about the homelessness problem there? On Monday this week Albyn Housing, a local housing association, briefed my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and myself on the problem and told us of the alarming rise in the number of homeless people sleeping rough in the streets. It was highly critical of the Scottish Office in particular, for the continuing squeeze and cuts in real terms on the housing budgets for both Scottish Homes and the relevant local authorities. Will he look again at Inverness and the Highlands with urgency? It is now a matter of considerable public concern.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The hon. Gentleman's housing association is impressive and has done an extremely good job in Inverness. About £900 million will be spent on capital investment in housing this coming year. That is a very substantial sum. We expect the work of housing associations, such as the one that he mentioned, to be on-going, and we shall give them the necessary support.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

The Minister mentioned Shelter. Has he had any discussions with Shelter and other organisations about the scandal of homelessness among young people who have been in local authority care and who end up on the streets? Does he know that children coming out of care are 70 times more likely to become homeless than their contemporaries? Does he agree that, if local authorities should have powers to advise and assist care leavers up to the age of 21, they should have the resources to do so?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

Homelessness is one of the top strategic priorities for all local authorities. We are giving hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of grants to voluntary bodies such as the Scottish Council for Single Homeless, Borderline and other bodies and initiatives. In the Bridges project, one initiative in Edinburgh, we are ensuring that all the voluntary and statutory agencies work together. We expect local authorities to give the subject top priority.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Scottish Homes rural initiative in my constituency, whereby empty properties have been brought back into use at low cost, goes some way towards dealing with some of the homelessness? In addition, is he aware that the help given to Perth and Kinross district council after the flooding was very well received?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Scottish Homes has an impressive record. It will provide 2,500 units for homeless people this year, and the rural empty homes initiative developed in Tayside in conjunction with the Scottish Landowners Federation has been evaluated as a success. There have been other initiatives such as the lead tenancies initiatives, under which housing associations are enabled to lease empty properties and sublet them to the homeless. There is also an important initiative in many towns in Scotland, to identify empty properties in upper floors in town centres and bring them back into use. Grants for rent and ownership are also a help in that respect.