February 25, 2002
I, too, will speak briefly, because hon. Members have covered several of the main points.
I share some of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) as regards the implementation of the provisions. The issue of London, where homelessness is a massive problem, was powerfully discussed by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson). The burden falls occasionally on the shoulders of London Members of Parliament, but most often, unfortunately, on locally elected councillors who do not necessarily have the wherewithal or the time to deal with such a large number of cases. I am worried that the provisions have been insufficiently thought through, and I hope that the Minister will be able to pacify my fears. I agree with the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate that we in London require considerably more resources. I represent a central London seat. Asylum seekers place a great burden on the city of Westminster in relation to housing.
As a quick aside, I want to say that the rough sleepers unit has been a great success during the past three or four years. Although concerns have been expressed about the massaging of figures, that should not detract from its achievements. Ms Casey and the Metropolitan police have played an important role in helping to clear up the streets in central London. I hope that they have done so in an effective and long-term way. I shall move off that subject, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I can see that your tolerance has been taken almost to breaking point.
There is a particularly acute homelessness problem here in London. I hope that consideration will be given to increasing central Government resources or to targeting one or two experimental schemes to ensure that the right policy is put in place, not one that will cost a lot of money and create more bureaucracy further down the line.
The homelessness problem in London turns not only on asylum seekers. Many young people see London as a honeypot and an exciting area to live. They take casual labouring jobs, working initially on a part-time basis, and are then unable to afford to pay rent, start to sleep rough and spiral downwards. That leads to problems deeper than those that are dealt with by housing departments.
Will the Minister provide for an opportunity within a fairly short time say, two or three years to judge whether the provisions are working correctly? Will she ensure, through the new burdens principle, that, notwithstanding the remarks of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), any ongoing problems do not place undue burdens on local council taxpayers here in London?