HC Deb 18 May 1994 vol 243 cc797-8
5. Mr. Garnier

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what action he has taken to increase the availability of private rented accommodation.

Sir George Young

The private rented sector has expanded considerably since deregulation in 1989. A number of initiatives have been developed to revive the sector and increase the availability of rented accommodation.

Mr. Garnier

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Harborough district local draft plan, which requires the building of several thousand houses in the villages of Billesdon, Great Glen, Kibworth Beauchamp and Kibworth Harcourt, will do nothing whatever to increase the availability of rented private housing? Does he also accept that what it will achieve is to destroy those villages in particular and rural south-east Leicestershire in general?

Sir George Young

As my hon. Friend will know, the Harborough plan is in draft form at present. Proposals will be formally placed on deposit for objections to be made later this year and my hon. Friend has rehearsed a number of those objections. They can then be examined at a public inquiry.

Mr. Pike

The Minister will recognise that there would be little private rented sector housing if it were left purely to market forces and that rent allowances are absolutely crucial to underpinning the private rented sector. Does he recognise the difficulties that have been caused to local authorities because of the increased portion of the rent allowance that they must meet, which is causing problems to many local authorities at present?

Sir George Young

There would be even less private rented accommodation if we had listened to the Labour party over the past 20 or 30 years. The factor that the hon. Gentleman mentioned—the percentage of housing benefit that falls on local ratepayers—is taken into account each year.

Mr. Brazier

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the provision of more private sector accommodation is central to the idea of providing diverse solutions to the problems of homelessness, but that that should not distract us from the central point that he made earlier: that we must continue to have a unified list with genuine flexibility for local authorities if they are to be free to tackle homelessness in the way they wish to do?

Sir George Young

I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that all hon. Members will welcome the increase in the number of households renting from private sector landlords. The figure has increased from 1.6 million in 1988 to just under 2 million in 1993. If one is genuinely trying to increase the supply of good-quality accommodation to help those in housing need, that increased supply is something that all of us who share an interest in housing should applaud.