HL Deb 19 June 1979 vol 400 cc807-9

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will suggest to the Governor of Hong Kong that a commission should be appointed to investigate and report on the rent increases in the territory and their effect upon the welfare of the population.


My Lords, this is a matter for the Hong Kong Government. But the Government are satisfied that Hong Kong's public housing programme, which already provides accommodation for nearly half the population at heavily subsidised rents, together with the public assistance scheme and private rent controls, provides a system appropriate to the circumstances of Hong Kong.


My Lords, while recognising the very great contribution which the Government have made in public housing, may I ask whether it is the case that, because of the growth of population, this problem is especially severe in Hongkong? Have not rents in many cases increased by 30 per cent. in a year, and in a few years will they not be 10 times higher? In view of the fact that rent control is ending this year, is not an inquiry necessary?


My Lords, the figures that I have been given show that over the past two years the average family income in Hongkong has increased by 33 per cent. in money terms. In the same period, private sector rents have increased by 32 per cent., and public sector rents by 30 per cent. It is perfectly true that rents in the new estates are two or three times higher than those in the other estates, and that reflects, to a certain extent, higher costs, building difficulties and better amenities. That is only one third of the rents of the private sector. Given the situation as a whole, and with the rent control which is continuing, things ought not to be too bad.


My Lords, while I should like to support my noble friend in his understandable concern that rents in Hong Kong, or anywhere else for that matter, should not increase unduly, I am sure that he would agree with the Secretary of State that the rate of future progress in new building of very necessary homes in Hong Kong is related to the rent policy. Over-subsidisation of existing houses and, indeed, houses now being built, may have an adverse effect on the rate of future building. I am sure that I am speaking for my noble friend when I say that surely the essential aim of the Hong Kong Government is to expand public building as fast and as economically as possible. At the same time it would be very helpful indeed if the Vietnamese Government were to exercise somewhat more humane policies before they send thousands of refugees from their country to swell the number of homeless in Hong Kong.


My Lords, the whole House will agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, has said in the latter part of his supplementary question. It is compounded by the fact that there is an equal number of illegal Chinese immigrants coming into Hong Kong; so the position of the Government of Hong Kong is very difficult indeed. The fact is that every year they are providing housing for between 350,000 and 400,000 people. One should congratulate the Hong Kong Government on what they have done in very difficult circumstances.


My Lords, does the Minister know that I am the first to congratulate the Hong Kong Government on their housing programme? But is it not the case that the present rent control is proving ineffective because of its exceptions? Is it not the case that when a landlord and tenant agree, the rent control does not apply and tenants will pay, in their desperation, almost any rent that is asked? Is it not also the case that the rent control does not apply to occupations after 1973 or to buildings completed between 1973 and December 1978?


My Lords, that is true, as I understand it, in the private housing sector. There is nothing very much that anybody can do if a landlord and a tenant agree to disregard the rent control. There is not very much that a Government can do about that. The fact still remains that the whole of Government housing and 80 per cent. of the private sector is rent-controlled.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware how welcome the news is of his intended visit to the Far East? May I ask him whether he personally intends to visit Hong Kong during the course of his investigations into conditions locally?


Yes, my Lords, I shall be visiting Hong Kong.

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