HL Deb 16 July 1985 vol 466 cc603-5

2.38 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the most recent estimates of the number of privately owned homes in England which are significantly under-occupied and of the number of such householders who take in lodgers; and whether any study has been undertaken to determine how many additional householders would take in lodgers if the fiscal and legislative framework were more favourable.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the 1981 census showed that about 3.5 million owner-occupier households in England had more than four rooms and more than two rooms per person, but whether these were under-occupied is for the individual households to judge. No estimates are available of the number of householders who take in lodgers and nor has there been any recent study of the attitudes of householders to taking in lodgers. The existing fiscal and legislative framework should not discourage householders from taking lodgers

Lord On-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it is important for the creation of jobs that we should make available accommodation to rent so that people can move to areas where jobs are available? In that interest, would it not be good to start now to revise the Rent Acts whereby new rents would not be so strictly controlled? Can my noble friend prepare some pamphlet in simple language which could convince householders that they could let accommodation to lodgers and could still retain control should those lodgers, on rare occasions, prove very difficult to evict?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the difficulty in drafting legislation to amend the Rent Acts is made all the greater by the official Opposition's attitude—an unconstructive attitude, if I may say so—to any kind of approval of such a change. I would agree with my noble friend that it is not widely known that lodgers are normally outside the scope of the Rent Acts and associated legislation. I also accept that this is not explicit in the departmental booklet, Letting Rooms in Your Home. I can therefore undertake that it will be made so in the next reprint.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister would consult the universities about the number of households which are prepared to take in lodgers, because although he said there are no official estimates, most of the major universities keep lists of people who are prepared to let rooms. It is a fact that in recent years there has been a general decline in available accommodation, whether because of the legislative and fiscal framework or otherwise. Would he seek the opinion of the university authorities concerned about the availability of lodgings and about the possibility of increasing the supply through legislative and fiscal means?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am interested in the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury; but, of course, universities are principally interested in student accommodation, and I certainly agree that in that regard they have a very good record.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this Government, in the interests of the nation as a whole, have carried through legislation which was not approved by the Opposition? Can the Government not make similar strenuous efforts in the interests of the nation in this case and do what they think is right, whether the official Opposition, for propaganda reasons, like it or lump it?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords; I agree with my noble friend that it is certainly something which could be done. The question is really on the timing.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, if the Government intend to look at the fiscal and legislative framework which affects owner-occupiers, would the Minister care to tell us when he intends to make an announcement about enhancing improvement grants? While it is right to look at the better use of existing property, may I ask when the Government are going to be shamed into doing something? I have in mind increasing the number of newly-built houses available to be occupied. I remember that last year showed the worst house building record since 1924, when Neville Chamberlain was in charge.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I have said already in my original Answer that the existing fiscal arrangements should not discourage householders from taking lodgers. I would also make the point that, if they take lodgers, the cost of any repairs to their houses that are consequent upon their taking of lodgers is of course eligible for tax relief. When the noble Lord talks about newly-built houses, he is totally excluding the private sector.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that wherever we sit in this House our interest in solving unemployment and making it easier for people to move to where the jobs are available must be paramount, and that we should not be weakened in our example by threats of the Opposition that they would counter the legislation? Anyone interested in solving unemployment should solve this problem by making improvements in the present legislative processes.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes. I totally agree with my noble friend. Mobility of labour is paramount, and the more people can be persuaded—through, for example, the booklet which I mentioned earlier—the more will be added to the mobility of labour, which is in the interests of all of us.