HC Deb 08 November 1989 vol 159 cc980-1
4. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the operation to date of the assured tenancy and shorthold tenancy schemes.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Michael Howard)

The new schemes have been in operation for less than a year, but there are already encouraging signs—for example, more than £350 million has been invested in business expansion scheme companies letting homes on assured tenancies.

Mrs. Gorman

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Does he agree that in the short term the new scheme is unlikely to do a lot to help young people who come into London looking for low-cost digs and end up sleeping on the streets? Is he aware of what happened in Sweden, where there were similar problems of a shortage of accommodation for young people? A conscious decision was taken to make new property coming on to the market entirely free from restrictions. That has produced a flood of accommodation and, therefore, the Swedes have solved the problem without Government intervention or spending.

Mr. Howard

I do not share my hon. Friend's pessimism about the effect of the changes that the Government have already made. In particular, I hope that she will join me in publicising the extent to which last Session's Act, the Housing Act 1988, has made it easier for people to let rooms in their houses. Under the Act, the charge is purely a matter of agreement between the parties and when the lodger shares accommodation with the owner, the owner no longer needs a court order for repossession.

Mr. George Howarth

Does the Minister accept that the point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) is the opposite of the truth? No matter how much deregulation the Government bring into the rented housing market, the problems related to the expansion in that market lie elsewhere, as he well knows. How many additional units of rented accommodation does he expect to come on to the market in the next 12 months?

Mr. Howard

The business expansion scheme investment to which I referred could provide 6,000 to 7,000 extra properties. We are prepared to look at a range of initiatives to improve conditions in the housing market, unlike the hon. Gentleman and his party who are interested only in turning back the clock.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that many private owners of empty property are still put off renting it because they have heard the scare stories about people losing accommodation in the past due to the regulations brought in by Socialist Governments? Could we do more to publicise the excellent changes that we have made to the housing regulations to get so many empty properties back on the market?

Mr. Howard

I am certainly looking at the possibilities of giving additional publicity to the changes that have been made. It is a sad fact, as my hon. Friend so correctly points out, that the Opposition's only contribution to the debate has been an irresponsible one.

Mr. Soley

Given the decline of 500,000 homes for rent in the private rented sector since 1980, and given that the rate of decline in that sector has accelerated in the 1980s, can the Government explain why their policy has failed so consistently and has accelerated the decline? If not, will the Minister take a walk round to just opposite Downing street and talk to the Shelter workers and the people sleeping rough there, who will tell him what I have been telling him in the House for more than two years?

Mr. Howard

As I explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), the changes about which she has asked have been in force for less than a year. One cannot reverse long-seated trends in as short a time as that. When will the hon. Gentleman join us in looking at new initiatives to deal with the problem rather than adopting this negative attitude? The changes that his party would introduce, if it were ever returned to Government, would undoubtedly aggravate the problem.